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The Gorge, U.S.A

15:24 20th February 2012 by Letitia Hristodorescu
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The Gorge is a unique venue for windsurfing. For one, you’re sailing on a huge river with the wind blowing against the flow meaning you can spend your whole day carving off downwind and being gently taken back to where you started from. Depending on the wind and the local dam release, you can get logo high, rolling swell (perfect for jumping) along with flat water at the edges for some freestyle/carving action! You can also drive to the coast for a dose of wave riding.

Fact File

Windy Season May-September
Water Temp In Summer 17-22 degrees
Air Temp In Summer 25 degrees centigrade
Wet Suit? summer suit
Average Wind Speed 20knots. 4m weather on a good day, 5.8m weather on a bad day.
Flight Time (From UK) 2 stops from Europe . 11 hrs then 3 hrs
How To Get There

From the UK you fly to San Francisco or Seattle with United then onto Portland. With American Airlines they fly you to Dallas or Chicago and then onto Portland. Or try North West Airlines who go to Minneapolis and then Portland. Hood River is a 40 minute drive from the airport. You can also fly direct from Amsterdam to Portland.

Airlines

Renting vehicles:

You do need transport. Hire a car or splash out and get a van.

www.holidayautos.co.uk
(£120-200 per week)

www.airport-carrentals.com
(£60-120 per week)

If you do want a van go to Enterprise Van Hire although this is a bit pricey.

How The Wind Works

It is a very localized, thermal wind based on hot desert land and a cold Pacific sea. It comes up the river from the coast (starting around Stevenson) and stops as the river meets the desert. The river runs the other way back to the sea giving perfect cross-shore conditions on a gentle, upwind conveyor belt!

Sometimes it blows the other way (east) especially in the winter, as the desert is so cold and the Pacific sea is still relatively warm. It can really blow hard in the winter because of this, but boy is it cold!

Watch out for really hot days in the summer where it is too hot everywhere and there is not enough pressure difference to create the thermal wind. However, the windiest month still tends to be August with the average sail size around a 4.5m. On a bad day (according to the locals) you will still be planing on a 6m. It’s just that the locals don’t buy that big!

The Sailing Spots

Intro to sailing spots

There are many spots along both sides of the river but most windsurfers sail from the following places. If you find that they are overcrowded then there are some secret spots which, in theory, only the locals know about. But please remember, the mains spots are busy because they are the best in terms of clean wind and swell.

Info relevant to all sailing spots

Best wind direction: Westerly, blowing from left to right when stood looking out to the river from Hood River Town.
Worst wind direction: A light easterly wind going the other way (with the flow).
Tide: The River is a quick jim and runs between 4-8 knots depending on the width of the bank.
What’s on the bottom?: The river goes deep fairly quickly off the shoreline and it’s sand, pebbles or slippy rocks at the water’s edge.
Any hazards: Bloody great big barges that stop for no one. Stay out of their way. Also watch out for huge logs that occasionally drift down the river.
Other water users: Kitesurfers and the odd shore-side fisherman.
Suitability/levels: All levels from beginner to winner.
Wipeout factor: If you break something, you will gently drift downstream, but it’s not too strong to prevent you from swimming in (and remember you will be taken back UPWIND). Plus there are always sailors out on the water who seem to enjoy rescuing hapless foreigners.

For a real laugh, hang out at the Hood River Event site and watch the odd kitesurfer get his kite entangled in the huge drawbridge that links Oregon with Washington.

The Washington Side super spots

Stevenson

Stevenson is about 17 miles west of the Hood River Bridge. It is quite mellow sailing and rarely busy. It is a grassy launch and there are even a few picnic tables. You only tend to go here when the wind is the ‘other way’ (east). If it is boiling hot and windless in Hood River, check this place out, you may get a refreshing surprise!

Stevenson webcam: www.skamania.org

Swell City

This spot is 5 miles west once you have crossed the Hood River Bridge and turned left. It is just downstream of the famous Hatchery and less busy mainly because of the limited parking for $3 a day. Get there early or sail upwind from the Hatchery.

The Hatchery

The most popular spot for bump and jump with a super flat inside edge. This is ‘Kodak point’ with the river side rocks giving a perfect vantage point from which your adoring partner can click away to his/hers hearts content. The launch can be tricky off the slippery rocks but you can launch further downwind over slightly smaller, slippery rocks! The beach is next door to Swell City and you have to pay to park.

The Hatchery webcam:
 www.hatchcam.com

Doug’s Beach

Cross the bridge in Hood River but turn right and drive for about 3 miles. You park up on the road side and then carry your kit across the railway line and rig on the grassy area next to the launch. The river here is narrow so more flow, more swell. Basically, this is jump city with the good guys getting monster air.

Mary Hill

Carry on down the I-84 (going east) and cross the river at Biggs. Take the first right and follow signs for Maryhill. The wind can be stronger here than at Doug’s Beach and it gets better swell so it is usually a haven for the expert sailors and is never that busy. Grassy rigging area, easy-launch gravel beach and hot showers. What more could you want?

The Wall

This spot is a couple of miles up the river from Mary Hill. This is a really narrow part of the river hence great swell and it is often where all the best pictures of the windsurfing in the Gorge are taken. Tends to be for the more advanced sailor.

3 mile canyon

This is a long way from Hood River (85 miles east) but it can be worth the trip with great wind and swell. Like The Wall and Mary Hill, you tend to get only decent sailors here. But as long as your waterstart is bombproof and you’re not easily intimidated, go and join in the fun! Note: it can get super windy!

Thanks to River Rippers for the use of their pictures.
Check out Frank Bingel’s trip to the Gorge here.

The Oregon side

Hood River Event Site

Racer boys, slalom chicks, big sails, gloves, booties, sunglasses and visors – get the picture? The event site is a chilled out place for a very flat water sail. Ideal for teaching your partner how to sail whilst you sunbath on the grassy rigging area. You do have to pay $3 to park and this is where all the local and national racing is held. Sometimes, you can get too many kites so head upwind for a few tacks to avoid them.

Rowena, Oregon

Go east on the I-84 and exit at 76 for Rowena. We only sailed here once as we think it is too choppy and there are much better places to sail along the river. However it seems to be popular place. Nice grassy rigging area and plenty of parking, all be it at $3 a pop.

The Coast

Where: Lincoln City, Pistol River, South Jetty.

Why: Because when Hood River is quiet, the coast is usually windy and you may also want your fix of proper waves after a few weeks of river running. You need a north-west wind so check the forecast and go and chat up the guys in the windsurf shops in Hood River.

Water state: Starboard tack, cross-shore to cross-on and it can get proper down-the-line swell.

Distance: The closest beach is at Lincoln City, a 2 hour drive away. The others take up to 4-6 hours.

Standard: You need to be an experienced wave sailor.

Extra: It is cold. You will need a jumper for the beach and a winter wetsuit for the sea. For some reason, the big clumps of kelp in the water, the constant mist on the horizon and the fact that you could well be the only one out, make it feel real sharky!

Events

Gorge Cup Race Series: 9 events between May and September. Anyone can enter, and it’s a friendly scene all based around the Hood River Event Site.

Hotshot sailors

The Pritchards learnt there as did Levi Silver, Web Patrick, Mitch Gingrith, Nathan Merson, Pascal Hardy and Patrick Bergeron.

Water State

It varies with the wind strength and how fast the river is flowing. (Note that the river flow is dependant on the water released from the local dam.) However, you always get very flat spots at the edges, and then in the middle rolling swell and chop which can be a killer on the knees for the first few days. Some sailing spots, like The Wall and Doug’s Beach, are specifically at the narrow parts of the river which means more flow and more swell. They can be pretty intimidating but provide excellent jumping ramps and some backside wave riding. And of course you get to practice everything on both tacks during one session.

Instruction And Kit Hire

All the windsurfing shops in Hood River rent out the latest kit and run lessons at the Hood River Event Site from beginner to intermediate.

Try Hood River Water Play for lessons. They do a comprehensive kids programme based off a private beach in Hood River. www.hoodriverwaterplay.com

Accommodation

Lots of hotels, guest houses and rentals but it is expensive.

Rentals

The main market is American families enjoying Gorge activities in the summer, particularly around Labor Day (first Monday in September) so the majority of house rentals are decent places with all the facilities like TV, DVD player, washing machine and even wireless broadband! Consequently, you can’t find a cheap ‘hole’ to stay in like you can in Maui or Cape Town.

A 2 bedroom house with garage will cost $600-800 per week with reduced rents for a long rental.

A 4 bed house will cost $1200 per week and much, much more if you want real luxury!

www.hrvacations.com has a comprehensive list of rental accommodation.

www.gorgeres.com is also good.

Hotels: If you want to stay in a hotel then expect to pay $55-250 per night. The cheapest we found was the Sunset Motel and RV Park in Hood River which was $55 per night (Tel. 541-386-6027).

The Hood River Inn (www.hoodriverinn.com) is an awesome location right on the river. Pay between $80-$180 per night.

The Oak Street Hotel in Hood River also looked OK and cost $50-70 per night (Tel. 541-386-3845)

Camping: If you really want to camp, then there are lots of choices but these two are closest to Hood River.

Viento State Park is actually right on the water edge opposite Swell City. Get to it from exit 56 on the I-84 going east towards Hood River. Tel.  (541) 374-8811

Wyeth Campground is off exit 51 on the I-84 and costs $7 per night.

Food

Eating out: It’s cheaper than eating in! Lots of choice from very good restaurants to pizza and fast food. Try: BRIAN’S POURHOUSE on Oak Street, ABRUZZO ITALIAN GRILL or SIXTH STREET BISTRO on Cascade Street.
ANDREWS PIZZA & BAKERY on 
Oak Street is great for lunch of a snack. 
BIG HORSE BREW PUB is 
also a good place for a drink.

Eating in: Safeway and Wal Mart are the two big stores. If going for a long time, get a Safeways card. You can buy lots of cheap stuff at Wal Mart if your conscience can handle it.

Nightlife

All based around Hood River with loads of bars full of outdoor folk talking about their latest adventures – crazy! If you want to drink, take some ID out with you, you will get asked.

Bored Of Windsurfing

This is where the Gorge comes into its own. Non-windsurfing partners will be in heaven as long as their idea of a good day is walking the Beacon Rock Park rather than the shopping mall.

White water rafting

On the White Salmon River: Buy an inner tube from the garage, chuck yourself in the river, nearly break your neck and get so bruised you can’t sail for 2 days! Or if you have more sense and a bit of spare cash, get the experts to take you.

www.riverrecreation.com
www.alladventures.net

Snowboarding on Mount Hood Glacier

Summer training ground for the USA Snowboarding Team although you’ll have to get up early for a few hours on the slopes before hitting the beach. The Ski Bowl (www.skibowl.com) converts the winter slopes into a summer playground with Bungee jumping, Indy Karts and a mountain bike park.

Check out these ski areas for winter and summer fun:

Hiking

Hundreds of trails in Oregon and Washington. Talk to the hiking shops in Hood River for the specifics on where to go or try the Starvation Creek State Park in Oregon.

Mountain biking

Loads of roadway, trails and full-on mountain passes and you can also hire really decent bikes from the shops in Hood River.

Golf

Hood River Golf & Country Club with a Pro shop and driving range. Tel:  541 386 3009.

Siteseeing

If you’re really bored, visit the weirdest, dust blown desert town in the US: The Dalles.
You can also visit the Sailworks loft in Hood River and watch a sail being made by Bruce Peterson.
Also Mount St.Helens is only a day trip away.

Hot Tips

Here is some local miscellaneous knowledge

Bridge Fees. The river divides the states of Washington and Oregon and you have to pay around $0.75 to cross the bridges. As a windsurfer, you will do this nearly every day so keep a load of quarters in your car.

Dining. Eating in is expensive unless you want pasta and sauce every night. There are some good pizza joints in town which are reasonable and beat washing the dishes.

Weather. Here is the ultimate Gorge weather site: www.nwweather.com Plus you can rent a pager from a windsurf shop and have hourly updated wind forecasts on your hip.

Dam warning. Don’t sail near the dams, you will either die or get arrested (see below).

Wind direction. We spent a few days sweating it out in windless Hood River not realising that it was 5m weather down at Stevenson. It was blowing the ‘wrong’ way (east, with the flow) but still sailable as long as you could sail upwind. There is a webcam for Stevenson – use it!

Conclusion

Consistently warm & windy in the summer. Ideal for blasters, freestylers and beginners. Being constantly taken back upwind by the river makes learning gybes or tricks much easier. You can also go to the coast for some ‘man-size sailing’ with the waves and sharks. Amazing scenery and you name me one other place in the world where you can snowboard in the morning and windsurf in the afternoon!

Tourist

The tourists were…

Names: Chris Audsley & Mark Warren
Local beach in UK: Hillhead & Boscombe Pier
How many years sailing: lots!
Last windsurf move you cracked:

  • Chris: the Ponch
  • Mark: the catapult

Competition results:

  • Chris:UK Wave Champion 2004
  • Mark: been off the water for 18 months following a motorbike accident, soon to return…
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