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

While this pertains to our area, specifically the playground/gym we know as the Willamette River, it pretty much applies anywhere a river or large body of water are being utilized.

I’ve entered the Willamette River on worse days than I’ve ever thought I would this winter. I think it has to do with my paddle addiction being worse than past years and also a growing group of winter condition paddlers who have joined me this year. We’ve gone out in inclement weather to say the least (there’s been more snow in Portland than ever on record this year) and we’ve gone out in what I would consider questionable flow rate levels. I’ve enjoyed pushing the limits and broadening what I’ve considered to be acceptable paddle conditions! There’s still things I want to remind everyone to also consider before entering the river this time of year: Know the flow, know the content, and mind the entry location.

Even on sunny winter days, check those conditions!

Even on sunny winter days, check those conditions!

Know the Flow

Once the Willamette River is flowing above 2ft/sec, you have a couple decisions to make. First, can I get back to my starting point if I paddle downriver in these conditions? At 2ft/sec, you will have noticeable, sustained resistance when paddling back up river. This is a very important consideration especially when entering up river like many of us do at Willamette Park or Sellwood Park. If you are a beginner, or a beginner to paddling in winter conditions, paddle over to the south tip of Ross Island from Willamette Park on a day with stronger current, then paddle back or try to get to Sellwood Park. You will know rather quickly how comfortable you’d be and if you have the strength for a Ross Island loop.

Know the Content

Poop factor is very real as Portland’s antiquated water systems were intentionally designed to overflow and release raw sewage during heavy rains. Check The Oregonian or Facebook paddle sites for updates as to the sewage content currently in the Willamette. Yes, this sounds like medieval black plague kind of technology, and yes, it’s rather embarrassing as a city to have a sewer system that does this by design, but there you have it. The city’s inner structure is aging and outdated, welcome to Portland. So yes, raw sewage is a risk factor that needs to be considered before deciding where to put in. If it’s a day or two after a particularly large span of rain, consider trekking to Vancouver Lake or Hagg Lake as an alternative to poop paddling.

Mind the Entry Location

Winter paddling is great with the right equipment and conditions!

Winter paddling is great with the right equipment and conditions!

If the flow rate suggests you’re going to get a bigger workout than anticipated, consider putting in downstream and head directly into the current for starters. This way, when your back is urging you to call it quits, you just turn around and take a leisurely paddle back to the starting point. There are quite a few paddlers starting at the OMSI dock just for this reason this winter season.

Have fun out there! It’s cold and wet but there’s a growing group of us with smiles on our faces beneath our floppy brimmed hats and face covers, please feel free to join in!


If you mention you saw the sale listing here on SUP PDX, the seller will take an extra $100 off the purchase! $1500 for a nearly new BIC C-TEC Tracer! Make sure you mention SUP PDX though!

A friend of mine just posted this on Craigslist so I thought I’d help him out. It’s a BIC C-Tec Tracer SUP, near new condition (I’ve seen it in person, it’s immaculate). Asking $1600, retails for $1900. He’s also selling that AquaGlide adjustable paddle for $150 ($279 msrp).00S0S_ikZokfAt1ub_1200x900

Here’s the link to Craigslist



Now I’m not aware of any particular sales or specials going on at Gorge Performance at this time but I did recently hear some interesting details that may make one or two folks consider upgrading their quiver or buying a new board. Now this is all word-of-mouth stuff, but… Riviera may (or may not) have recently contacted Bob about some extra inventory they may (or may not) have located in the deep recesses of their warehouse they may (or may not) be willing to let go at discounted prices. Bob may (or may not) have agreed to pick up some available inventory so may (or may not) be willing to work with customers on some sweet deals. He’s also excellent at installing rail tape and who couldn’t use some new rail tape???

In case you’ve never looked at Riviera SUPs in the past, they manufacture some very durable boards. I owned a Riviera surf SUP for two years and it looked practically new when I sold it last month, no dings, no rail damage at all. Riviera has also ramped up their design group and are coming out with some great downwind styles that should make beginners and advanced riders alike take a look at their offerings.

So talk to Bob (or don’t), he may have something in stock you may want to consider for your next board!

(Please also check my First Impressions Review in the Equipment section)

I am LOVING my new O’neill Boost Drysuit! This is a game changer for winter paddling! Don’t get me wrong, I love my neoprene. This though is a comfortable, flexible, DRY experience like I’ve never had with wetsuits. Sure I still perspire in both wetsuits and drysuits, but this is not adhered to my body like a wetsuit, nor is the water or sweat trapped in the wetsuit. I’ve only taken it out twice but I know I’m already a drysuit convert and using it whenever circumstances dictate. Oh, and this drysuit is $395, not your typical $800+ of the other brands. Totally worth the money if you’re a year round paddler in colder regions like me!

 Buy it here and select Wakemakers as the vendor, they provided excellent shipping and packaging, and they are in Bend, Oregon.

O'neill Boost Drysuit

O’neill Boost Drysuit: It’s changed my winter SUP experience for the better! And better and better.

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 own several SUPs and most of them are incredibly fragile as they are built to be light and fast so much of the durability I’d like is stripped away to shed board weight. I really like where this SUP builder is going though because it gives shops, customers, and especially board rentals a far better option for long board life and fewer repairs. Are there downsides? Sure. Like any product with plastic incorporated into the design, it’s a petroleum based product in some regard and will never ever break down. Then again, there’s not a surfboard out there that will. Secondly, the company is focused on very general, beginner type models. While it’s personally not a selling point for me, I know a lot of casual SUPers who would love an all-around board that can take a pounding. Check ’em out and see what you think:

This is the best discount I’ve seen from the popular SUP brands. This is only for hard boards so their popular 14′ inflatable doesn’t qualify, but there is a $100 discount on Facebook right now for that board as well. The code is SAVE200 to save $200, and that Tower Competitor 12’6” looks like quite a deal at $699! If you’ve thought about moving to a more competitive board, this is a great entry point for a beginning racer.

Tower Paddle Sale

Tower Paddle Sale