While downwinding is still a niche activity in the SUP world, it’s popularity is growing and this year will be busier and more exciting than ever on the Columbia River. For those who haven’t downwinded on the Columbia before, it can be a very stressful experience. You really don’t realize just how big that river is until you’re paddling down the heart of it with 35mph winds pushing you through wind swell after wind swell! It’s exhilarating, fun, and extremely tiring!

It's a big river out there, bring safety equipment! Photo: Karen Parkkonen

It’s a big river out there, bring safety equipment! Photo: Karen Parkkonen

Which is why you should take a lesson.

Big Winds has downwind lessons to help prepare you for one of the most exciting areas of SUP. It’s a 90 minute class, all equipment included, and will help prepare you for your first downwinding adventure. While many of us just jumped in and made it up as we went along, there just weren’t lessons back then; now there’s an opportunity to learn before you take your first plunge (and second, and third…).

For those who have never downwinded but are not interested in classes from qualified, experience individuals, I would recommend you start on the Oregon side at Viento State Park (The Viento Run). Start on a day under 25mph, which will force a little more effort out of you but also provide you with easier bumps to train on while you develop your sea legs. Don’t forget, it’s a one way journey, have a vehicle, or friend (or friend with a vehicle) at the event site to get you back to your vehicle at Viento. BTW, Viento is $5/day for parking.

Downwind checklist:

  • SUP (preferable a downwind-style board) and paddle
  • PFD or Life Jacket
  • Whistle (it’s the law in Oregon, and it can save a life!)
  • LEASH!!!
  • I bring hydration (camelback), others wait for the destination before drinking again
  • Sunscreen and hat (it’s a long afternoon in the summer sun)
  • I wear water shoes, or stow them under my camelback for the exit and walking after we arrive at our destination

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

Portland is heating up! Now if the rivers would do the same thing we’ll be in business! Conditions appear to be on the fun/casual side on Saturday and cooling quite a bit, but not unreasonably so, on Sunday with a high of 67 fahrenheit. The Willamette River is heating up a little and it looks like it will be upwards of 60-63 degrees by end of day Saturday. The Columbia River is far cooler in the lower-mid 50’s so if you’re headed that direction please consider a Farmer John/Jane 2mm to keep you safer. The Big Winds shuttle isn’t running until May 25 but Fanatic Team Rider Chris Anderson is organizing a downwinder this Sunday, contact him on Facebook, you’ll find him on Stand Up Hood River and Stand Up Portland group sites. I’d give you his phone number but then he’d probably change it and not give me the new number. Chris is a Washington resident and knows the Columbia River and local conditions inside and out. He is the master at determining entry and exit points and if you’ve never downwinded the Washington side of the Columbia, it’s well worth it. Depending on conditions, many downwind runs take you straight through Swell City, which has legit, surfable waves much of the time. It’s a ridiculously fun stretch of river especially because there also tends to be about 200 kite surfers and sailboarders also enjoying the waves. So be aware and have fun!

Where will I be this weekend? SUP surfing on the coast! A 5-8ft northwest swell could provide some fun waist high surf. Mild offshores start the early mornings but will give way to a straight north flow at about 10mph. Short Sands or Otter Rock might be fun destinations, or just deal with the wind direction and hope for a few barreling lefts!

Leashes and PFDs!!!


Chris Andeson, Team Fanatic Rider and all around cool dude.

Chris Andeson, Team Fanatic Rider and all around cool dude.

SUPPDX wants to give a big welcome and congratulations to windsurf legend, kiteboard pioneer, now the newest team rider for Fanatic, Chris Anderson. Chris has been a local Gorge resident and celebrity for four decades in all kinds of sport and all kinds of insane Gorge conditions. Chris has been spending the better part of the past two years committed to mastering Gorge SUP downwinding and encouraging growth in the sport for both water adventurers and those seeking a new cardio outlet in the heart of one of the most picturesque natural channels in the world. You’ll find Chris around the Hood River area this summer bringing the stoke to SUP newcomers and veterans alike; he also regularly announces fitness and fun paddles on Stand Up Hood River and Stand Up Portland Facebook sites. Do yourself a favor this summer and introduce yourself to Chris if he hasn’t met you first; his energy and stoke are wonderfully contagious.