Hood River is recognized around the world as a major center for windsurfing and related sports for its gusty sailing sites, related businesses, and the sport’s unique subculture. Blessed by a propitious mix of geography, climate, and river currents, the Gorge has strong and very reliable summer westerlies (winds blowing west to east) countered by the strong westbound Columbia River current.
Three of the top-rated sites for advanced sailors and for fans are accessed from the Washington side of the river. Doug’s Beach, the Hatchery, and Swell City are just across the Hood River Bridge.
Three distinct windsurfing beaches are within the Hood River city limits.
Hood River Marina Sailpark
The Hood River Marina Sailpark is the largest and most developed of the three, including bathrooms with showers, food concessions, a picnic area, a grassy lawn for rigging, an exercise course, and a great family swimming beach area with sheltered shallow water for tykes. As the name implies, you’ll find the largest marina and boat launches. Beware of shallow sandbars off the shore as well as the boats entering and exiting the marina. Due to its amenities, including ample close-by parking, this can be one of the most crowded sites around.
The Event Site, a newer and somewhat smaller site, is located to the west of the Hood River’s confluence with the Columbia. Major events, including well-known competitions, happen here. It has a lawn for rigging and a small bleacher for spectators. These amenities, plus a location convenient to downtown, make this an ideal spot for spectators. It provides quicker access to deeper water than the Marina, but it can also be quite crowded at times. Chemical toilets and water are available on-site. The Event Site is located off I-84 Exit 63, or at the north end of 2nd Street.
Several windsurfing schools located in The Hook provide instruction in the gentle basin, an ideal location for beginners; once you’re out in the main channel, winds can be strong. Other than chemical toilets, amenities are scarce in this area. Instead of a beach, the shore is largely steep and rocky, and the dirt road can get a bit dusty in late summer. Conditions are quite variable, particularly as some places are in a wind shadow caused by nearby Wells Island, a sensitive wildlife area vulnerable to human impact. The views to the west (and hence, the sunsets) are just grand.
Access to the Hook is at the west end of Portway Avenue, the paved road that first takes you to the Event Site. All three in-town sites charge a day-use fee ($4 per vehicle). Call the Port of Hood River (541/386-1645) for more info.
Viento State Park
About eight miles west of town, Viento State Park offers good river access for sailing in a beautiful natural setting. The park has a campground, a picnic area, restrooms, and water. Spectators won’t have a lot of room, but the wind and wave action can get spicy. Viento is at Exit 56 off I-84.
In the opposite direction, six miles east of Hood River, you’ll find the Rock Creek launch site in Mosier. Amenities are sparse but include chemical toilets. The river here is wide, and the chop can get high. You can reach Rock Creek off I-84 Exit 69. At the top of the ramp, hang a right, then the first left on Rock Creek Road. The site is on the right just past the dry creek bed.
In business since 1986, Big Winds (207 Front St., 541/386-6086, www.bigwinds.com) offers board and full rig rentals starting at $60 per day and $355 per week, depending on the equipment. Big Winds also offers three levels of beginner lessons ($65 per lesson), or choose the “Learn to Windsurf” package ($180) that includes all three lessons. The price includes use of a wetsuit, booties, and all the necessary windsurfing equipment.
There are many other windsurfing lessons and rental operations in Hood River with similar price ranges and options.
In addition to windsurfing, all the water-sports outfitters also have rental gear for other sports such as kite-boarding and stand-up paddling.
Adepts will tell you that windsurfing is best in the fall. It’s less crowded, the water’s warm, and the winds are lighter at school sites. It easier to find parking and rigging space at launching areas, and there’s a quality of light on the water, with enough clear days to add aesthetic appeal. Best of all for beginners is the availability of individualized instruction during fall.
While conditions are generally good at most locations along the river during the season, the best places are in the east end of the gorge, notably around Three Mile Canyon and other launch sites in the Arlington, Oregon, and Roosevelt, Washington, areas.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel