Summer Downwinding Season in Hood River
This week, the SIC Gorge Paddle Challenge kicks off in the iconic Columbia River Gorge. It’s the culmination of the racing part of the summer downwinding season in the Oregon water sports Mecca of Hood River. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish I was there. But I can’t feel too sorry for myself, since I was fortunate enough to spend a week chasing glides in the Gorge about a month ago during the festive week that is the Gorge Downwind Championships.
This weekend’s race is more SUP-centered, while last month’s event, while very SUP friendly, is more long boat centric. The GPC features the double-downwind Viento run – two times the 8-mile run of fun, while the DW Champs is a longer, more technical (if that’s possible) 10-miler that starts on the Washington side and takes you through The Narrows, downstream of Viento
No matter which race, the Columbia rarely disappoints. And it is no joke. With squirrelly current, conditions that can go nuclear in a heartbeat and a variety of textures on the water, it can be a handful. It demands respect. And it can be humbling.
If the ocean is our mother, then the Columbia is the aunt we love, but also the one who can be brutally honest. The one we want to make proud, the one who pushes us to be better. The one we run to when we need a little help. Listen to what she has to say, and you will unlock the next level of your downwinding. Ignore her, and you could end up choking on a handful of Sport Beans or slicing your cheek open on your Go Pro.
While I was out there, I sat down with Gorge guide Joel Yang of Stoke on the Water: Downwind Hood River and we talked about how important it is to develop a relationship with the river. Races can be great catalysts for any number of things. They challenge us in and of themselves. Yet, when I think about downwinding, it’s not the races that I think about. I have learned that the cumulative time I have been so lucky to spend getting to know Columbia is what is paying off big time. Sure, the racing is fun, but those times on the river, goofing off, playing, trying new boards, trying new techniques, falling – a lot – those are the things I smile about when I think about my progression as a downwind paddler.
After my week in the Gorge this year, where I was more at ease, more relaxed and more proficient than ever before, my thoughts immediately turned to the Maliko Run (Surprise!! Right???) My relationship with her is more intense. She is the Mother. She is the one we are all in awe of. She is the one whose approval I crave. And while I’ve logged a fair amount of time on Maui’s North Shore, my relationship with the Maliko Run is so different. I am hoping that the next time I get back to Maui, Auntie Columbia’s encouraging hand will help me start building an even stronger and more powerful relationship on the those blue Hawaiian waters.
Good luck to everyone racing this weekend in Da Gorge! We are all connected by water!!