After a few years of dreaming about making a summer trip to get away from the east coast duldroms, I decided on the Gorge. Of course prompting from a few of my friends helped out a lot also.
Several "locals" made the trip out there in early August with John Atkinson leading the pack for a nine-day stay. I followed a week later while Greg Schuster followed me by two days and used-to-be-local, Karl Moeller, showed up for an abbreviated trip with his wife Lisa.
I had the opportunity of staying with another used-to-be local, Dean Norris, for a few days who showed me around and gave me the grand tour. While there, I unexpectedly ran into several other locals including Ann Minehart who used to participate in the Mid-Atlantic series races. I also ran into Dana Miller a few times but of course he is rather hard to miss if he's anywhere around.
I even stopped in to see Margaret and Olaf at their sail repair shop in town. They spend the summers there and the falls and springs in Hatteras. Baja is their ticket in the winter. The wanted me to tell everyone back home hi for them. Olaf is back to full strength after his injury, usually seen at the Hatchery with margaret in the mornings before work.
Although the gorge is simply a river that makes its way from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean via Portland along the border between Oregon and Washington, it's geography is not so simple. Combined with the thermal effects it can be a pretty complicated system. If we ever think we have gusty conditions here, the gorge by far can be even gustier even on a good day.
With the westerly winds opposing the strong easterly flow of the Columbia River, what would be a light wind for us, a 20 knot wind there becomes 5.0 easily. Between the additive property of the two and the resulting swell that was over 4 feet occasionally, small winds quickly become a lot more than they seem once out on the water. But 20 knots is a light day, at least it was during our visit. The norm was more like 30+ with gusts much higher...and much lower. One such day saw winds around 34 with gusts from 17 to 56!
Dean and I spent some time at Rufus and Doug's Beach. Rufus, an Oregon launch, is pretty far east at about 40 miles from Hood River. It has a pretty large swell due to the strong current there. The launch leaves a lot to be desired as it consists of smooth fist-sized rocks with no sand to be found anywhere. The opposite shore is a vertical rock wall and less than a half mile away. It's easy to get a lot of jibing/water starting practice here.
Doug's Beach is a popular launch. On the Washington side, its launch is more of a loose dirt with only a few small rocks. While we were there we ran in to Pascal Hardy, Sean Aiken, and Mark Williamson. If these names are not familiar just watch some videos and you will see them. They were throwing huge forward loops and many other tricks in the 3.7/4.0 winds.
For the beginners and intermediates, the Hood River Marina and the Event Site offer nice rigging and launching with fairly protected waters. Although you can access the channel, with its higher winds and strong current, the wind line is quite a ways out from the shore.
The Avery boat ramp is also on the Washington side. It's an unpopulated launch which has the advantage of the best view of Mount Hood of all the launches. Greg and I sailed small sails there one day.
Swell City and the Hatchery are popular big swell sites near the town of Hood River. Although their launches are tough and parking can be limited, they are popular because of the bigger, cleaner winds along with big swell. I enjoyed both of these launches.
The town of Hood River is the focal point of the gorge area. It's a small town right on the banks of the Columbia where the melt waters of Mount Hood flow via Hood River. It's the home to many popular shops such as DaKine, Northwave, Windwing, and Sailworld. DaKine was gracious enough to lend me a demo harness while they repaired/upgraded mine. My buckle blew apart on my very first run at Doug's. Can you say windy?
Hood River is also the home to the offices of United States Windsurfing. I walked up the stairs to the small office where Holly Macpherson was sitting with her new puppy beside her. It was sure nice seeing familiar faces so far away from home. In case you don't know her, she runs the place.
Aside from windsurfing, there are many things to do while in the Hood River area. There is snow skiing year round, white water rafting, hiking, biking, fishing, and a multitude of other activities for almost anyone. The scenery there is beautiful. With a desert climate, good weather is guaranteed almost all the time. Bottles of drinking water are a must for this area though as the humidity is almost nonexistent.
On your way back to the airport in Portland be sure to check out the old scenic road. It will take you to several really nice waterfalls and scenic overlooks. There are other scenic roads including the one Greg and I took up Mount Hood after a recommendation from Karl and Lisa. We had the opportunity to do a double diamond in our huge Budget rental van on the ski slopes of the mountain.
Would I go back again? I think so. It was a lot of fun. The food was great, the people were friendly, the land was beautiful, and the windsurfing was challenging. I'm not a whole lot better than I was before I went but I think I have learned a little. It's hard not to with such concentrated water time.
If you're looking for a summertime break from the windless east coast, consider the Columbia River Gorge. Oh, and don't forget your camera. You will want to take the memories with you.