High-Speed Turns & Aerials
The colorful sails of windsurfers dot the water in the Columbia Gorge, which is landlocked by cliffs that climb up to 4,000 feet (1,200m) above the Columbia River causing the wind to whip through. The Columbia River slices through the Cascade mountain range here as it flows westward to the Pacific Ocean, but summer winds usually sweep against the river’s current so you get rolling swells. Locals will tell you with a grin: When the swells get big, smooth, and are widely spaced, there’s lots of room to make high speed carving turns and sneak in a forward or backward loop. You can ride the waves like a surfer on the ocean but without a breaking lip. This smooth ride brings a gratifying rush.
The winds average between 20 and 25 mph (32–40kmph) but can rush along even faster at times, which is when you’ll get a show from skilled windsurfers doing aerials. If you have a car, you can follow the wind from one prime launch spot to the next. However, windsurfing/lodging packages are available (see below) and outfitters will likely know the best spots to hit.
Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area encompasses an 80-mile (129km) stretch of river that is the border between Oregon and Washington. Although dozens of launching sites for windsurfers and kitesurfers crop up along the river, the heart of this watery sport is in the town of Hood River. Here, you’ll find lodging, restaurants, and sport shops, from whom you can rent or buy windsurfers and take lessons. Beginners are welcome, as are experienced windsurfers who want to learn aerials. The town of Hood River, located at the base of Mount Hood and about 60 miles (97km) from Portland, is a good base for a variety of outdoor activities. You can go whitewater rafting on the White Salmon or the Deschutes rivers, fly fishing in nearby streams, mountain climbing, and hiking. It’s also a big mountain biking region, with trails starting just minutes from downtown.
The Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association, a non-profit group, is dedicated to enhancing windsurfing on the gorge. Their website offers information about river access, popular sailing spots, and links to live gorge cameras. Big Winds Hood River, one of the region’s largest shops and run by experienced windsurfers and kitesurfers, has a large lesson and rental center in the gorge. —LF
When to Go: June–Sept.