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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 The city’s inner structure is aging and outdated, welcome to Portland.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!

It’s glassy and gorgeous out there but also hitting treadmill style current beneath that seemingly unmoving surface. If you have time to head to Vancouver Lake today, that’d be a far better option if you’re not up for a current workout! 1.6 ft/sec is moving at a pretty good clip, so make sure your shoulders are up for it! Oh yeah, water temp is 42 fahrenheit, so don’t fall in!



This is interesting (at least to me). The river is being so impacted by the tide rushing up from the ocean 60+ miles away, there is actually a 1 ‘ flow UPSTREAM. This can definitely mentally mess up a timed workout if you don’t know why you feel like you’re dragging a bus behind you!


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!!!