KITESURFING HOLIDAYS - HOOD RIVER
With the Cascade mountain range creating a large barrier between the cooler/moist coastal weather of western Oregon and the warmer/drier desert weather of eastern Oregon, the Gorge creates a natural funnel or pathway as the cooler westerly winds are sucked through the Gorge towards the warmer desert climate. This 'funnel' or 'gorge' also accelerates the wind in the narrower sections of the river, providing some very exciting kitsurfing conditions.
Locals will kite primarily from April to October, in either westerly or easterly winds, but for out of town visitors, May to September is the primary season for reliable kitsurfing conditions. The predominant wind direction for 'gorge conditions' are via the westerly winds brought on by the thermal gradient created by the cooler temps of Western Oregon being sucked inland by the drier hot air of the Eastern Oregon desert. Westerly winds can vary depending on the strength of our pressure gradient and at what part of the river you are kitesurfing. Wind speeds can vary from the 10-20mph on the lighter days and 20-40mph on the typical nuking days. In the main section of the river from Stevenson to the Dalles (known as 'The Corridor'), winds typically run between 10-25mph and offer a variety of conditions from flat water to large river swell. For those with a more adventurous spirit, the Eastern Gorge provides some more challenging conditions via even stronger winds and larger swell-riding as a result of the stronger river currents.
Gorge locals have quivers of kites from 7 to 13m in general. They recommend bringing everything you have so that you don't miss out on any of the high wind or low wind days. If you are limited to bringing only two or three kites and/or one or two boards, bring between a 7, 9 or 11m kite and either a twin and a directional, or a medium sized twin (130cm-ish). If you have to choose between another kite or another board, bring the kite. The local shops are not able to rent/demo kites, but will typically have a decent selection of boards to try out.
During the very early and late parts of the season, we will occasionally get the opportunity to also enjoy some nice easterly wind flow patterns when the desert temps drop and Western Oregon gets warmer air temps. Spring easterlies are usually very consistent with little gustiness and are great for advancing intermediate kiters to go on downwind treks from Home Valley Park, WA, to Stevenson, WA, which is about a seven mile run. Fall Easterlies are typically not for the feint of heart with cooler temps and nuking winds in the 30-50mph range (occasionally you witness a desperate local going for it on the water with their 3m trainer foil kite just to take care of their wind-jones).
EARLY SEASON: From April to June take at least a 4/3 steamer or a 5/3 and booties for those kiters that don't like to get chilly. Water temps range from 45-55°F/7-13°C and air temps will generally be very nice and in between 65-80°F/18-27°C, with any weather from sprinkling rain to blinding sunshine.
You will be kitesurfing on a river, will be in fresh water and won't have any tidal changes to worry about, however there is a varying river current to be aware of. River speeds can range from 1-3 knots in the slower sections and up to 5-7 knots in the narrower sections (or launches nearer to the damns). There are some positives and negatives to the river current situation.
The positives are that during stronger wind conditions you can enjoy some super fun river swell (from the wind going against the opposing river current) for either getting big air on the twins or slashing turns on the directional surfboards. For beginners, the river current is the best thing you could ask for when learning to body drag with the kite or work on your upwind technique. The only disadvantages from the river current is that when you lose your board, you had better have some good upwind body dragging skills since the opposing current will immediately begin taking your board upwind. Brighter coloured boards or bright fins/straps are recommended for finding your board quickly in the darker coloured river water.
One other very important factor to be aware of when kitesurfing in the Columbia River Gorge is the barge factor. We have fairly large river tugboats that regularly run up and down the river with one to two barges that can be up to 100 meters in length. The local joke (or warning) is that if you had to duck under a barge, you'll need to hold your breath for 20 seconds per barge. Luckily there have only been very, very rare occurrences of this ever happening, but please keep your eyes open and warn others of oncoming barges in case they are too preoccupied with their kiting to notice.
PDX (Portland Airport) is located about 45 minutes from Hood River, is about ten minutes from down-town Portland and about a one hour drive from the Oregon Coast. PDX is also an international hub location for Lufthansa and a destination airport for many other airlines offering fairly reasonable airfare rates. Delta typically offers some of the more competitive rates for those wishing to travel over from the east coast, while American Airlines typically takes care of most travellers from South America.
With easy access via Portland international airport and a reasonable vacation drive from anywhere in the western side of North America, the Gorge is a destination of choice for many summer and winter recreation makers wishing to travel to a destination offering multiple sports activities. You are probably reading this as a result of your interest in wind-sport activities, but there are also many non-wind related activities that are offered in the Gorge, maybe even more than the wind related activities. There are over a hundred hiking and mountain biking trails located within a 50 mile radius, world class white-water kayaking and river rafting locations, road biking and trail running, camping, mountain climbing and one local ski area is even open clear to through the end of August with snowboard and ski rentals available on a daily basis. It's pretty hard to come to the Gorge and find yourself bored or without anything to do. Even if you are not the athletic type, there are around 27 local wineries (20 with tasting rooms) to visit, some of the best fruit orchards in the United States, scenic riverboat trips, and not to be overlooked, the fine restaurants and retail businesses of down-town Hood River, all privately owned and run by local families. Hood River was listed in the New York Times as one of the last small down-towns in America that has not been tainted with any major retail or restaurant chains.