I am a SUP downwinder, a SUP racer, a SUP surfer, and have surfed for the past 31 years. Please know I speak from a lot of hands-on experience when I tell you to wear safety gear. I don’t just recommend it, I live it.

Brett Downen

The gist of the following ends up with a summary of important safety tips. I might as well start with those safety tips as well for those who don’t want to read the rest =)

  • Wear a leash at all times. I personally use multiple nylon cords attaching the velcro strap to the leash plug instead of the typical single cord.
  • Wear a PFD. Not only will it give you extra floating time, they are designed to be bright for a very good reason, so we can see you. Which brings me to my next point. 
  • Wear brightly colored clothing. Pretend you’re a surfer in the 80’s. Neon greens and pinks are still the style in the Gorge. Go bold, go bright, be spotted. 
  • Go in a group. You need a paddle buddy in the Gorge. Always.  

Columbia River stats:

Average width: 1 mile

Average depth in Hood River area: 76ft (25.3m)

Average wind speed in August: 12mph

Wind speed on August 21: 20 mph

Current temperature: 69.5 fahrenheit

The Gorge is not just another water recreation destination, it’s an EXTREME destination. SUP Connect recently ranked the Gorge the #3 downwinder in the world, which is a pretty good indication the Gorge is a little more intense than most SUP locations worldwide. Which is also why wearing a leash makes the most sense and wearing a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is the law in the state of Oregon. Plus, it should just be a no-brainer.

The Gorge is long enough to create legitimate, pulsed swells similar to the ocean. Be prepared!

The Gorge is long enough to create legitimate, pulsed swells similar to the ocean. Be prepared! Photo: Russel Peart

Look at it this way:Continue reading

I cannot thank enough the volunteers who joined in the search yesterday. A few of the racers selflessly, all of whom traveled across the country or from Vancouver, B.C. to race in the Gorge, instead joined us for a concerted effort to locate Andres. Thanks to the turnout and the local knowledge of Chris Anderson, we were able to expand the search to nearly TRIPLE my earlier proposed search area. As the winds were uncharacteristically out of the east, we put in at Home Valley and split the team into three search groups to work both sides of the river. Additionally, two SUPers put in at Viento and headed west to Cascade Locks. PLUS (yes, there’s more), two paddlers put in at Bob’s Beach and immediately downwinded to just short of the Bridge of the Gods and scoured the northwest side, all while getting beaten senseless by the 20-30mph east winds, which they then had to upwind into (screw that!) to get back to base. For round 2, Jessica Cichra led a team of 6 from Cascade Locks to the Bonneville Dam, which is a crazy endeavor in those nasty currents! But she was amazingly thorough and thankfully tackled the area with the highest likelihood of locating Andres. Altogether, by an extremely rough calculation, we searched more than 30 miles of river. I’m proud of the efforts of this team of mostly strangers who all joined together for one common goal, and who gave up their time, their entry fees, their travel expenses, to help in a greater effort of finding our lost brother. Like I said, I cannot thank you enough!

The actual search routes taken by volunteers yesterday.

The actual search routes taken by volunteers yesterday.

Lost Paddler, Andres Pombo

Lost Paddler, Andres Pombo

Sunday, August 23, 9am

Bob’s Beach in Stevenson, Washington.

Hi everyone. If anyone is interested in joining me tomorrow, I’m planning on being at Bob’s Beach in Stevenson at 9am to help search for Andres Pombo, the paddle boarder who was separated from his board yesterday during a downwinder. I’m going to be paddling west towards the Bridge of the Gods and then, water/wind permitting, towards Cascade Locks. Then from there, east towards Blackberry Beach. This is all wind permitting of course. If it’s blown out, a visual search from the shore is still possible in this strip as is the Cascade Locks side too. 

If you’re driving towards Hood River for the event tomorrow, please consider taking Highway 14 on the Washington side and making a stop or two along the way. If you’re on 84, please consider stopping once or twice and take a quick look along the shoreline.

The SUP folks I’ve met who are helping the search tomorrow don’t really know the Gorge that well and could use some local eyes, please consider joining in the search if you know the area and are comfortable in the river, or are just knowledgeable of that region from the shoreline. Thank you!


These are my proposed search areas (for starters). If the wind is already blowing hard though, I plan on first sticking to the Washington side and paddling west from Bob’s Beach to search the bay region, which is a big chunk of river. Then I’ll drive to the Oregon side across the Bridge of the Gods and head just a couple miles east to Blackberry Beach. From there, an upwinder to Cascade Locks along the shoreline.

Proposed search routes from Bob's Beach in Stevenson, WA

Proposed search routes from Bob’s Beach in Stevenson, WA

Here’s a few events around PDX coming up for SUP riders and racers:

Orange Picnic and Fireworks Spectacular (Aug. 22) – Thank you Alicia Hardin for pointing out this event coming up on Saturday. This is going to be a fun event and a short paddle from Willamette Park or Sellwood Beachpark. Check their site for the details.

Starting Line

Starting Line for the 4 mile race at the SUP Salmon Classic in 2014

Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge (August 22-23) – One of the top 5 world events for SUP racing. The top racers in the world are in town for this event and Hood River is a fantastic place to spend the day (or the weekend!).

SUP Salmon Classic (August 30) – Held on a gorgeous strip of the Columbia River, the SUP Salmon Classic is an entertaining event with racers speeding close to shore multiple times, plus a finish line just a few feet from the main beach. The main site is at Cottonwood Beach near downtown Washougal. The facilities are excellent and the event coordinators did a fantastic job last year incorporating a lot of fun for the race fans.

Oregon Symphony & fireworks at Waterfront park (September 3) – This is not an official event but a fantastic destination for what might be one of the last good night paddles of the season. Most night paddles originate from Willamette Park just before sun down and we head northwest to downtown PDX en masse.

This is my friend Brett Murray taking in one helluva view from the south tip of Ross Island, which has been my favorite spot this season to take in the summer evenings and watch the light fading behind the west hills. I’m feeling extremely fortunate to have spent several recent evenings around the island, paddling and playing while the playing is good. I always cross my fingers for the entire month of August in hopes the weather will hold so I can eek out another warm summer paddle beneath a setting sun. So far, so good.

Brett Murray and our matching Bark Dominator paddleboards in the foreground with a background full of nature.

Brett Murray and our matching Bark Dominator paddleboards in the foreground with a background full of nature.

8 out of 10 days ahead look prime for some fun summer paddling, so pick a river/lake/ocean and get to it Portland! I’ll also be announcing a couple of Ross Island Happy Hour afterwork get togethers next week, stay tuned.

8/10 days of really, really nice weather ahead.

8/10 days of really, really nice weather ahead.

Dry gear is operational gear

Everything comes with me, everything stays dry!

As I recently upgraded my iPhone protection to a Catalyst waterproof case, I didn’t know what to do with my older “bag style” waterproof case. It’s still waterproof after all. Then yesterday I realized I have a fantastic reason to continue using my old case, for my other stuff! Turns out these mega-affordable waterproof phone cases are perfect for keys, credit cards, and cash! And I thought I was only feeling good knowing my phone was safe from the elements? Now I’m ridiculously smug knowing my keys and cards are safe and dry!

Amazon has a plethora of <$10 phone cases that will work for other valuables too.