Is it going to be windy tomorrow? That seems to be the question of the day when you are in Hood River, OR. On our first trek down to the river it was blowing, or “nuking.” Nuking = A very windy day! There were at least a 100 kiteboarding & windsurfers on the water. Usually when I paddle board, I don’t want it to be windy. It makes the water choppy, and I get tired when I have to paddle against it. But we were at the Columbia River to learn how to downwind on our stand up paddle boards, and compete in the Naish Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. For a downwinder on the Columbia River you need a Westerly wind. Conditions are best when wind gusts are 20-30 kts.
Day 1 the winds were blowing-hot damn! We met up with Pro SUP Racer and Coach-Chase Kosterlitz for our first downwinder. He shuttled us to Viento State Park, approximately 8 miles West on the Columbia River. There were about 8 of us and nerves were a little on edge. We are all SUP racers, but only a couple of us had done a downwinder before. For downwinding, a leash is mandatory! The water is moving so fast, and the wind is blowing so hard that you would not have time to catch your board. Not only do you need a leash, but you should wear a pfd, water, and maybe a helmet. One of my concerns was hitting my head, when I fell off the board. You get spread out pretty fast from everyone, and it can be a little intimidating to be out on this huge river kinda by yourself. The average width of the Columbia River is 1 mile! We would stop and meet up several times along the river during our downwind to discuss upcoming sessions. Interesting enough you could just sit on your board with your legs dangling, and they would anchor you in the water. Chase knew the river really well and explained the different areas where it became more narrow, and therefore steeper waves. He also alerted us to the shallow areas, and areas with tree stumps. If you paddled on the Oregon side and didn’t venture out too much in the middle, you could avoid the steeper waves. Catching the bump and glide was super fun. Sometimes you would just be flying-an amazing experience!
It was around 2pm when we finished the first run. We were tired and hungry when we got back to the Hood River Event Site. Chase informed us that the next two days were going to be flat-no wind! So we should take advantage of the wind and do another downwinder! I was tired, stomach was nauseous-sounds like fun let’s go again! I seem to always be fine once I’m back on the water! The 2nd time was a much better run. The waves were clean the wind was a little calmer, and I had a little bit of experience! The first time I probably fell at least 10x-to the side, off the back, off the front. The 2nd time I only fell off my board about 4x.
We didn’t get to do another downwinder on the Columbia River until race day! It was flat for the next 3 days. For race day the conditions were epic! Epic for the elite racers! Knowing that I would not be able to do another downwinder here probably until next year, I decided to relax and enjoy the Columbia River. It was still a challenging day, but filled with so much gratitude for mother nature and all it’s beauty.
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