THE AMERICAS / USA / OREGON
HOOD RIVER OREGON, USA
An adventure town that delivers unparalleled outdoor experiences and is home to world-class recreation. Soak in the sunshine, the trees, the mountains and the landscape as you enjoy long summer days. End with a cold beer from one of the local breweries and bask into the late evening sun.
WHEN TO GO: Peak Season: July – September Air Temp: 24 – 28°C / 75 – 82°F Water Temp: August - 17°C / 62°F
CONDITIONS: WAVES – 3 FLAT WATER – 2 BEGINNER – 3 WARM WATER - 3 STRONG WIND – 4.5
Here and above: The famous 'Event Site and sand bar in Hood River town / Both photos: Richard Hallman
WORDS: Sensi Graves
ON THE WATER Running progressively further from town, the main kitesurfing spots in the Hood River area are: Event Site, Marina, Lyle, Viento, Rock Creek, Butters, Rowena, Rooster Rock and Rufus. The only true ‘Hood River’ kiteboarding launches are from the Event Site/Sand Bar and from the Marina, with the Marina being an advanced launch. While the aforementioned locations are the primary spots along the Columbia Gorge, the main launch in Hood River is from the Sand Bar. Kiteboarders park at the Event Site (pay for parking), congregate on the grass and shuttle gear across a small inlet to the Sand Bar where rigging, launching and landing takes place. In the main season (from Memorial day 31st May, to Labor day 6th September), you are not allowed to launch from the grass at the Event site and must walk over to the Sand Bar. In the off season you are allowed to launch from the grass, but just watch for the riverbank rocks on the inside! Most surface conditions on the Columbia River are choppy, with rolling river swell occasionally creating epic waves. The true flat water spots are from the Marina and from Butters; both are advanced launches and advanced riding locations.
The Marina is located downwind from the sand bar, providing a protected area and subsequent flat water. Although it doesn’t work on every wind direction (if the wind has too much south in it, riding here is difficult) and sometimes it’s not even that flat. This riding area can be extremely shallow and due to its position at the mouth of the Hood River and therefore has glacial runoff water, so is very cold. Hood River is home to the world's first open-to-the-public, community-run slider park. There are four main features: the Slingshot kicker, Duotone a-frame rail, Cabrinha box rail and the Full Sail Kicker. The features are free to use and are typically out in the water (thanks to the Slider Project) from May through September. The features are almost always situated downwind of the Sand Bar, right in front of the Marina Beach launch. Water depth varies, so riders should be mindful of appropriate riding conditions. Helmets are encouraged when riding. Note: These are advanced features! Kitesurfing on the Columbia River is super popular as high winds create rolling river swells that make for a fun, rippable playground. Waves and rolling swell are best after it’s been blowing strongly for a day or two. You can also head East to Rufus or Arlington for excellent wave-riding conditions on the river. Kitesurfers looking for true wave-riding conditions are encouraged to make the three-hour drive out to the Oregon Coast. Spots include Fort Stevens, Manzanita and Newport.
Hood Jam slider event / Photo: Vincent Bergeron
Sensi's clinic on the flatwater off the sandbar
Sam Light competing in the Hood Jam 2018 / Photo: Vincent Bergeron
WIND, WEATHER AND WATER The best wind forecasting services in the Gorge are Ikitesurf.com and Thegorgeismygym.com which provide a detailed daily forecast in regards to all available recreational activities in the Gorge. Hood River is known for its consistent winds. There's the cool ocean to the west, dry desert to the east and the Columbia River Gorge creates a Venturi effect as wind sucks eastward, moving from high to low pressure. This decrease in pressure creates an increase in velocity and, as a result, the Gorge gets windy! Like really windy. On average, we have around 25 out of 30 windy days in the Gorge. However, it’s also very gusty with average daily wind speeds existing across a 10mph spread. Some days this even looks like a 20mph spread (10-30mph). The key with Hood River kiteboarding is to watch the wind and go when it’s good. A patient kiteboarder is a rewarded kiteboarder. Most visitors to the area head down to the beach as soon as it looks windy, but the real key with maximizing your time on the water is to observe and then act!
Sensi Graves in summer mode / Photo: Debbie Jean Hollomon
In the prime season the wind direction is predominantly from the west. In the shoulder seasons, we tend to get more easterlies. There are a few obstacles and safety concerns when kiteboarding in Hood River:
- Huge barges transporting logs, trash, etc. travel along the Columbia River and they do not slow down or stop as they pass directly through the main kiteboarding areas and hordes of kiteboarders. The barges travel in both directions (upriver and downriver) and therefore it’s always a good idea to have a peek upwind or over your shoulder every once in awhile and get well out of the way if you see one coming.
- There are A LOT of people that launch directly from the Sand Bar (the main launch). Most kiteboarders congregate at the beach closest to the cars, but if you’re willing to walk just 5-10 minutes further out on the sand bar you will be rewarded by a much more open launching and landing area. As you’re navigating the sand bar, keep an eye out for incoming kiters, out of control launchers and kooks in general. It gets nuts out there.
- The river current is (typically) moving in the opposite direction to the wind. Your board could very well end up upwind of you and you could end up moving downriver. Always keep an eye on your board, start body dragging directly after you crash and always have a safety plan in place.
Travellers to the Hood River area should bring their smaller kites: 5m-9m are recommended as wind speeds can get up to 50mph, although it’s not unheard of to have a 12m session. The Gorge is also a great area to try out all your toys and kiters are encouraged to bring surfboards, foilboards and wings to really take advantage of the conditions! The evenings in the Gorge can be chilly and temperatures fluctuate. In the Summer months, it’s light until 10pm and typically quite hot well into the evening. June can be gloomy (affectionately named June-uary) and puffy jackets are recommended to ward off the night time chill. The average water temperature in the high season (June-September) is around 65 degrees (F). In the off-season, it’s around 50. In the very height of summer the days get into the mid-90’s and, if you’re feeling feisty, you can get away with no wetsuit. However, most kiters will wear a shorty or at least a neoprene top throughout the season. Bring a 3/2 and a shorty to ensure you’re comfortable. In the off-season you’ll need a 5/4, booties, gloves and a hood.
This video was produced by Cabrinha back in 2015 and captures the riding elements found in the Gorge!
"Hood River is known for its consistent winds. There's the cool ocean to the west, dry desert to the east and the Columbia River Gorge creates a Venturi effect as wind sucks eastward, moving from high to low pressure. This decrease in pressure creates an increase in velocity and, as a result, the Gorge gets windy! Like really windy." SENSI GRAVES / SLINGSHOT TEAM RIDER
Check out the scenery!
OTHER SPORTS & OFF THE WATER ACTIVITIES From world-class mountain biking trails to renowned whitewater kayaking and rafting, Hood River is the ultimate outdoor playground. The main kiteboarding spot is located directly at the waterfront in front of town. Visitors to the area will most likely find accommodation directly in the heart of Hood River or in the Heights (one of the neighborhoods adjacent to downtown). Most areas in Hood River are great to stay, but the closer to downtown and the waterfront the better for walking around. Mosier, Parkdale and Odell are the surrounding towns but for watersport folk it’s not advisable to stay here. The best accommodation suggestions are found in house rentals on airbnb. Or stay at the Adventure Lodge, a cute motel that will certainly inspire you to get outside. Hotel rooms run around $140 per night. Airbnb and vacation rental homes are quite active in this area. You can expect to pay around $100 per night.
Hood River is both easy to explore on foot but also not very easy in the sense that there is so much to explore outside of walking distance. Taxis are the one thing Hood River does not have in plenty. In fact, there are only two that I know of and the wait times can be long. Most things in down-town are walkable and yet if you’re wanting to take in the full sites of the town and surrounding mountains and valley, a rental car is a definite must. There is a local bus, the CAT bus which shuttles from the Heights (a neighborhood just south of downtown) to downtown and also to the waterfront. Grocery shopping is easy with two main grocers and a few smaller, family-owned shops who we love to support (Framstand and Treebird Family Market). Be careful with grocery shopping from 17h00 - 19h00, it can be packed! Otherwise, every Saturday morning there is a farmers market featuring produce grown from the many farmers in the area. It’s phenomenal and definitely a must-visit. In the Hood River high-season the town is overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s advisable to take advantage of the freshness and support the local farmers to really get a good feel for the town. We love our food!
Sensi with kite buddy Colleen Carroll
Quieter winter session / Photo: Richard Hallman
Sensi on the wing / Photo: Debbie Jean Hollomon
Located at the base of the majestic 11,250 foot Mount Hood, the Fruit Loop is a huge attraction and must-see when the orchards are in full bloom. You can find fine dining for $25-$30 for a meal or more everyday fare at $12-$20. There are a good variety of restaurants with lots of fresh local grub, sandwiches, excellent Mexican food restaurants and pizza; lots of pizza. A beer will cost you $4.5-$6 at a bar. The valley is also filled with premier grape growers and winemakers. Dozens of wineries can be found in Hood River and feature an exceptional selection of locally grown and produced wines. You can even get adventurous and rent a few bikes from Big Winds for a human-powered wine-tasting experience. Quaint shops, ice cream parlors, outdoor restaurants and a massive stone library line the downtown corridor in town. Take a yoga class, sip some green juice or go wine tasting after your recreation. There’s a great book called Curious Gorge that's filled to the brim with the most beautiful, popular and obscure hikes the Gorge has to offer. Additionally it also features some cultural attractions, namely The Dalles Museum, an old airplane museum (super cool) and explorations of the local fish hatcheries which are all great kid-friendly activities. Non-kiting partners will relish Hood River due to the sheer number of activities available. It’s not uncommon for locals and tourists alike to experience three-sport days. It’s a push, but you can do it.
The closest airport to Hood River is Portland (PDX) which is an hour west of Hood River. The airport is situated on the east side of Portland city, making for an easy route to Hood River.
SCHOOLS Learning to kiteboard in Hood River can be both frustrating (due to the gustiness) and scary (due to the massiveness of the river and you can’t touch the bottom) but also extremely satisfying and just plain fun. If you’re coming to learn, find a school that uses headsets and jet skis for an optimal learning experience and plan on coming out in July, August or September for the 'friendlist' beginner conditions. Cascade Kiteboarding, Oregon Kiteboarding and Kite the Gorge are a few recommendations.
OTHER INFORMATION Currently the US government is requiring a negative COVID test within 72 hours before entering the country. There are no additional specific requirements on flying into Portland. Masks are required for travel.
Open the Covid Protocol info box here.