words by Dave Nunn // photos by Richard Hallman
Put the gorge on your bucket list. You should do it now or you will only be one year older when you do. Okay, I stole that line from a Warren Miller ski film and he was talking about heli-skiing, but you get the drift. The Gorge is epic during our key months of June, July and August. I weigh 195 pounds and only carry an 8 and 10 meter kite during the summer. However, I also have both my twin-tip, skim-board and directional board in the truck too. Oh yeah, and I have all my mountain biking, fly-fishing and hiking gear in there truck too. Always. It’s a multisport paradise. The whitewater kayaking is world-class, the national ski and snowboard teams train year-round up on the Mount Hood glacier 45 minutes away, the road biking is beautiful and now there are some good kiddy beaches too, so the whole family loves a trip to the Gorge.
THE KITEBOARDING SCENE
The Event Site is the hang-out. In front of you lies a great big sandbar the size of a shopping mall. In front of that is the Columbia River which flows west into the Pacific Ocean 100 miles away. The cold ocean air gets sucked up the Gorge at a nuclear pace, due to the hot air rising in the desert 50 miles to the east. In between lies our wind-blown river. While the sandbar is a super safe launch, at first glance it looks crowded with sometimes 100 kites launching and landing. However no one rides there, it’s just for launching. Everyone heads upwind (with the current) and seeks out their favorite wave or flatwater spot. The scene is just pure joy and no attitude. It’s the Pacific Northwest where people are chill and stoke is the name of the game.
OTHER RIDING LOCATIONS
Rooster Rock, Lyle, Stevenson, Rufus and Viento are all good spots to visit but offer slightly more advanced launches. The all-time epic ride while you’re here is the Viento to Hood River downwinder. It’s seven miles of freshwater swell riding with zero traffic and you’re surrounded by mountains. Way cool.
WHERE TO GRUB DOWN
I heard that Hood River has more brewpubs per capita than any other town in the US. Double Mountain, Everybody’s, Full Sail, Big Horse, Pfriem, Solera, Walking Man; need I say more?
If you are driving bring it all: 6-12 meter kites, all your boards, bikes, ski gear, camping gear etc. If you are flying you have to bring your kites, you can’t rent kites anywhere. You can rent boards though, at my shop we rent them for $40/day or $235/week. Yes, we do wear wetsuits most of the summer. Locals ride in shorts and neo-shirts or right up to 4/3 full length suits depending on their personal preference. Some places rent wetsuits, but we don’t. That’s gross.
June to August the air temp is in the 80s and the river is 75ish. It blows almost daily with the odd two-day break. It’s always from the same direction and usually 20-30 mph. In the spring and fall when the rains come we start to get both lighter westerlies and nuking easterlies (up to 60 mph). Some hardcore kiters ride right through the winter months in drysuits, most people vacate the town, but those of us who do stay mountain bike year-round and hit the ski hill before work on powder days. I love it here.
HOW TO BE COOL AND NOT A KOOK
Wear plaid, drink local beer, get a flat brim hat and drive a beater loaded with tons of gear. You can leave your board leash at home; people here will retrieve your board for you. Hoot and holler while riding, give waves away to anyone and please don’t ride in front of the launch site (but that goes for anywhere in the world).
STAYING HERE FOREVER
It happens. Your vacation turns into an occupation. Lots of kite brands have offices here: DaKine, NSI, North, BEST, Naish and our homebuilt brand, Slingshot. Bring your resume.
Windance Boardshop, Big Winds, & Second Wind.
A PLACE TO REST YOUR WEARY HEAD
Call Leslie at Hood River Vacation Rentals. Or camp. My favorite spot is at Tucker Park which is cheap and far from the train tracks. Or try the Best Western, which is stumbling distance from
downtown Hood River.
GETTING TO THE GORGE
Drive(hours): 42 hours from New York, 37 from Toronto, 16 from Los Angeles and 7 from Vancouver.
Flying: Portland Airport(PDX) to Hood River is a one-hour drive.
Dave Nunn is the boss man at Windance Boardshop in The Gorge. He is a lifelong boarder and used to own Boardsports in Toronto. For the last eight years he’s lived with his family in the Gorge and loves everything about the Gorge except for it’s lack of hockey rinks. Drop by the shop for a chat and top tips on secret spots.