Opinion » Alta States

Hood River, Oregon: A community in transition

Alta States

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My first encounter with Hood River and the Columbia Gorge happened way back in 1979. And it was a totally haphazard act. I was coaching at a ski camp at Mount Hood that summer, and while exploring the local country one afternoon, I came across this sleepy little riverside burg that struck me as more than just a little breezy. Indeed — the stretch of Columbia River running right by the town was frothing with wind-churned foam. I couldn’t believe my eyes….

Being a keen windsurfer in those days, I worked my way down to the water in an attempt to find a launch spot for my 12-foot long beast of a board (the short board revolution had yet to hit). No luck anywhere. I was getting frantic. Throwing caution to the wind (nearly literally), I rigged up my “storm” sail at the local marina, taped up my dagger board well and launched myself into the watery maelstrom. I don’t know how I survived the next two hours. I was young. I was strong. I was very stupid. Never before had I experienced a wind so ferocious. Never before had I been so badly pummelled.

I finally dragged myself out of the river like a half-drowned rat just as the sun was beginning to set. I was so elated, I felt like kissing the beach. But I should have known. When I got back to camp, nobody believed my story…

Sailing a 12-foot windsurfer on the Columbia River in mid-summer? Yeah right…

Fast-forward four years. It’s now the summer of 1983. The sport has exploded. Inspired by the high-flying antics of a tribe of daring Hawaiians, board shapers are designing new, high-performance windsurfers ideal for the kind of winds found in places like Oahu, Maui — or Hood River. Think of the snowboard revolution a few years later. For water-sports enthusiasts, 1983 is it.

And now, it seems, le tout-Whistler has heard about this magical wind place called “The Gorge”. In fact, between the Vancouver and Victoria crews and the Whistler posse, the Columbia River is definitely awash in Canadian colours. And the Canuckleheads are certainly setting the performance bar on the water. From Ross Harrington to Bruce Peterson, from Pat Correll to Betty Birrell (to name just a handful), the high-wind sailors from north-of-the-border are pushing sailsurfing boundaries at every turn. And they’re doing it with an easy-going boldness — on or off the water — that their American counterparts are hard-pressed to emulate.

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