“We do these things not to escape life, but to prevent life escaping us” – is how an extreme sports enthusiast describes his pursuit and love of extreme sports. The terminology ‘extreme sports’ is itself a loose term for any sport featuring speed, height, danger or stunts.
Windsurfing fits into this niche comfortably although light-wind windsurfing can hardly be called extreme – just fun and a very pleasant way to spend a day.
High-wind windsurfing, on the other hand, is a sport in its own league. It has to be done in a wind of over 10 knots although 15 – 25 is preferred. At this strength riders can get their boards onto the plane and because of this, smaller and more manoeuvreable boards are favoured as they go faster – although this means that more agility and quicker reflexes are required to handle both wing and board so we’re talking about experienced sailors here.
It’s when the winds are strong (20 – 40 knots) and the water is choppy that the fun really begins. Advanced windsurfers perform jumps, spectacular speeds, turns, loops and crashes.
It’s windsurfing on adrenaline!
And that’s where the Columbia River Gorge comes in. This place was designed for the adrenaline junkie. With its unpredictable wind patterns, thermals twisting in from the surrounding hills, currents, waves and shipping traffic, the gorge is a thrilling challenge for even the most experienced windsurfers.
Unlike other windsurfing spots, the difference of only a few miles can mean huge differences in the wind, water and atmospheric conditions so choosing where you access the river is extremely important. It is also worth planning a trip for a few days as the diversity on offer is so vast that you are unlikely to scratch the surface on just a day or two’s visit. It is wise to have some knowledge of the strange winds, the currents and the local law – obstructing shipping traffic in the gorge, for example, can result in a $5,000 fine. Also, you need to keep an eye out for sheriff’s boats, which often perform rescues in the water, requiring you to keep a minimum of 500 feet of distance from the officer’s boat.
Hood River, just 45 minutes east of Portland, is not called the windsurfing capital of the world for nothing. The incredible gorge winds that blow along the Columbia River draw people from around the world. On an average breezy day, it’s typical to see dozens (if not hundreds) of colorful sails dancing across the wide river.
The most reliable (and warmest) wind is from June through September with the temperature ranging from 60-100 F and water temperatures beginning the season around 50 and reach the upper 60s to low 70s during August and September.
A by-note: although the Gorge is for experienced sailors only, there are areas which are equally renowned for beginners and intermediates. The Hook is one of the best places in the country to learn how to windsurf as there is an enclosed lagoon with beautiful calm waters. From there you can progress to the outside (west side) of the Hook, where it’s protected from the river swells and where you won’t end up in the barge channel. But once you’ve mastered the sport and the water start – well then, the world’s, or in this case – the Gorge’s your oyster!