Because the Columbia is the only major break in the Cascade Range, it acts as an 80-mile-long wind tunnel. The wind blowing through the Columbia Gorge provides some of the best windsurfing and kiteboarding conditions in the nation. In 1991, a windsurfer set the national speed record, 47.4 miles per hour, here.
This place isn’t for beginners: Gusty winds, large waves, a strong current, and frigid water make the Gorge challenging for even experienced sailors, and the constant parade of tugs and barges adds more hazards. Winds average 16 mph between March and mid-October, but most surfers and boarders prefer to come in July and August when the water is warmer and the current is slower.
The most protected waters in the Columbia Gorge are at Vancouver Lake near Vancouver, and at Horsethief Lake near the Dalles bridge, but here strong winds may make it difficult for the beginner to return to the upwind launch area. A good place to learn is The Dalles Riverfront Park, just across the river in The Dalles, Oregon, where you can take lessons and rent equipment in a relatively protected location.
Board rentals are also available in Stevenson and Bingen, Washington, and Hood River, Oregon. If you just want to watch, the best place is near the Spring Creek Fish Hatchery three miles west of Bingen, where you may see upwards of 300 boarders on a windy August day.
Several good places for intermediate-level boarders are near Stevenson, Home Valley, Bingen, and Avery Park (east of Horsethief Lake). Avery Park is especially good because it has a long, straight stretch of river that gets nicely formed waves.
Expert-level conditions can be found at Swell City, four miles west of the Bingen Marina; the Fish Hatchery, 3.5 miles west of White Salmon; Doug’s Beach, 2.5 miles east of Lyle; Maryhill State Park, where the river is less than a half mile wide; and the east end of the river near Roosevelt Park. Experts head to The Wall, 1.5 miles east of Maryhill State Park.
For general information on the sport, contact the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association (541/386-9225, www.cgwa.net) in Hood River, Oregon. The Gorge Cup (541/386-6561, www.gorgecup.com) has windsurfing contests throughout the summer.
More than 50 sites provide access on both sides of the Columbia River; check with local shops for details. For up-to-date wind conditions, listen to radio stations 104.5 FM and 105.5 FM, or check with windsurfing shops in Hood River, Oregon — the center of the windsurfing universe. On the Web, head to www.windance.com for live Gorge “windcams” and weather updates. Showers are available at the Lyle Merc store or the Bingen School Inn.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition