It's no secret that the Columbia River Gorge is fast becoming a "go to" destination for paddlers from around the globe. Long a windsurfing stronghold, surfskiers are discovering the world class area to be a veritable buffet of tasty downwind runs and all around top shelf paddling.
Several factors converge to make the Gorge an unforgettable location. The area features a unique geological and atmospheric signature that routinely funnels heated winds from the nearby Pacific up through the river canyon, creating sizable standing waves set against the incoming current.
If the larger waves make you weak in the knees, no worries; you can tailor your surfing experience in relation to your location from the river bank. Want a daisy run? Opt for closer to the shore. Looking for a bit more but not ready for the big leagues yet? Head a little further out for mid-sized foam. Or maybe you’re one of those paddlers who takes your quest for the perfect wave to great lengths? Make your way out to the center of the river and tackle Swell City and get all you can handle. If you’ve hit that “wind-driven waves are so yesterday” stage and are looking for something new. Grab the wake of a passing paddle wheel boat and try your hand at “stern wheeling”.
For many, the downwind runs would be reason enough to pin a flag on the Columbia River, but the area has a bit more to offer. The warm water is a welcome contrast from the nearby ocean, and if watching Jaws 17 has you concerned about ending up as a shark biscuit, relax. If one of those smiling Noah's make the long trip up the river and into fresh water, they've surely earned the right to have a go at you.
A road trip to the Gorge will pay downwind dividends for sure, but if racing is in your blood, you’ll want to plan your visit to coincide with the World Surfski Series Gorge Dowwnwinder race held annually in July.
Race Director Carter Johnson has set his sights on creating more than a race. He aims to create a week-long festival-- a paddlers Woodstock.
The epicenter is located in Hood River, Oregon, and it’s here that Johnson has established headquarters for all the temporary denizens of this inland surf empire. In addition, he has arranged for food, music, a beer garden and all manner of paddle porn provided throughout the week. With all this and free fast-moving shuttles daily, you can run the river until your head explodes.
With many attractions nearby, you can easily find other activities for you or your whole family to enjoy in addition to paddling. The entire region is an outdoor playground with epic road and mountain biking, hiking, fishing, shopping (Portland) and nearby landmarks such as Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood. Or stay close to the action in Hood River and enjoy local fare with an array of microbreweries and restaurants to choose from.
If you are planning on attending the race, Johnson emphatically advises making reservations no later then April, as lodging will be difficult to find come July. He also recommends bypassing the hotels for vacation house rentals as the better bargain. Especially if you'll be sharing the house with others. Lower end hotels will start around $150 per night and scale up to $250. House rentals will cost between $200 and $350 for the WEEK! Split between others and you'll have your wallet thanking you.