Gorge FAQ

Here are some common questions and their answers about the Columbia River Gorge. Compiled by Wilton Hart (wiltonh@-remove-hotmail.com)

What and where is the Columbia River Gorge?

The Columbia River Gorge is a large cut through the mountains which allows the Columbia River, to get from the Eastern part of Washington and Oregon, to the Coast. It creates the border between Washington and Oregon. Hood River, which is located at the base of Mt Hood, is the town which has the most windsurfing activity. It is located about 60 miles East of Portland Oregon. The closest international airport is in Portland but there are small airports in Hood River and The Dalles. There is also an international airport in Seattle, which is 4-5 hours drive from Hood River.

Here is an ASCII map of the Gorge from Portland to Maryhill, which shows the approximate distances between towns.

          W<-|-E           I-84
Portland <45 Cascade Locks <15 Hood River <20 The Dalles <20 Maryhill
         Miles            Miles           Miles          Miles
Here is a URL where a much better map:  Map

What is the windsurfing season in the Columbia River Gorge?

Early season starts in April or early May and lasts through August. West wind is most common with many windy days.

Late season starts in September and goes through November with West and East wind days and more no wind days. Windsight has provided some data on sailable days for the year 1994. A sailable day is defined by them as a day that contained a 3 hour time period where the one minute wind speed average was 15 MPH or greater. This calculation does not include wind gusts. For a day to be considered sailable there only had to be one place on the river that met the above specifications. This means that there could have been sailing from Rooster Rock in the West to Arlington in the East or anywhere in between. East wind days were included which helped the numbers for March and November.

                                                     Air    Air
Mo Stevenson Swell Doug's Maryhill Arlington Water F High F Low F Rain
Jan    22      0     0      0        0       43-46   49      34    1.02
Feb    10      3     2      0        3       39-42   43      29    1.96
March   9      2     1      5        8       40-48   59      34     .51
April   9     13    11     10       12       48-55   64      42     .25
May    11     13     9      9       13       54-61   71      47     .32
June   14     18    19     14       20       60-65   73      49     .23
July   23     26    24     18       18       65-73   85      56     .01
Aug    18     24    22     14       16       70-73   91      54     .00
Sept    7     15     7      7        9       68-70   81      47     .08
Oct     8      8     6     10       15       57-68   63      37    3.05
Nov     8      5     1      7       11       48-57   41      32    2.26
Dec    11      0     0      2        1       44-48   43      32    1.30
Average Water Temperature at Bonneville Dam Average Air Temperatures & Rainfall at Hood River Note: September 94 was unusually calm; 20-22 sailable days is more likely.

Updates to the Temperature data can be found at the followintg URL. It also contains outflow data from the Dams which should give a very good idea about how big the swell will be.

Water Temperature and Dam Outflow Information

Where can I stay?

Depending on the race schedule there may be very few motels available in Hood River. You can travel East to the Dalles or West to the edge of Portland.

There are a number of state parks where you can camp. Most of the year you can find a place to stay without a problem. On holiday weekends you should plan to get a camp spot by noon or you may have trouble. The favorite windsurfing camp spot is Memaloose State Park. It cost about $8.00 per night which includes hot showers.

Some of the other parks are as follows:

Name            Location                                   Comments 
Home Valley     Washington - 15 miles West of the Hatchery Trains/Sailing
Viento          Oregon - 5 miles West of Hood River        Trains/Sailing
Tucker Park     Oregon - 5 miles South of Hood River       Quiet 
Great American  Oregon - 15 miles South of Mosier          Quiet 
Memaloose       Oregon - 12 miles East of Hood River       My favorite 
Avery Park      Washington - 8.5 Miles from East of the    Free/Sailing
                Dalles Bridge 
Maryhill Park   Washington - North end of Sam Hill Bridge  Expert Sailing
Peach Beach     Washington - Just East of Maryhill Park    Expert Sailing
Here is a URL where more camping information can be found:  Camping

People who do not wish to camp you can try one of these:

    Name             Location               Phone             Comments
  Skamania Lodge     Stevenson Washington 1-800-221-7117  New and nice
  State Street B&B   Hood River             541-386-1899  River View
  Columbia Gorge Hotel Hood River           541-386-5566  Viev of Hatchery
  Inn at the Dalles  The Dalles             541-296-1167  View of Dam
  Hood River Inn     Hood River           1-800-335-9145  On the River
  Vagabond Lodge     Hood River             541-386-2992  View of River
  Bingen School Inn  Bingen                 509-493-3363  Inexpensive
     Cgoc@gorge.net   http://www.gorge.net/lodging/cgoc
  Hood River Hotel   Hood River             800-386-1900  Downtown
  Lucy & Joe's Heavy Air Gorge  Rowena      541-298-1513  800-544-7211
  John Moyer         Rowena                 541-296-8998  On the River
  Hatchery Overlook  B&B Underwood, WA      509-493-4122 
  Steve Higgins      Hood River             503-645-8438

Here is a link to more lodging information:Lodging Informaton
People who wish to rent a place should try the following:
    Name                                               Phone
    Northwest Investment Management - Hood River       541-386-3770
    Mid-Columbia Property Management - Hood River      541-386-7666

Do I need a car?

It is possible to sail in the Gorge without a car. You must purchase a package deal from one of the outfits that have equipment as well as a place to stay. There are several that offer sailing from their own beach in Rowena.

A car makes sailing the Gorge much easier. If you find the wind to strong or to weak in one place you can usually move East or West to a place that fits your needs. A good roof rack is a must. If you are driving 65 MPH on the freeway into a 40 or 50 MPH head wind your boards and gear are seeing over 100 MPH of wind.

Where can I rent or purchase equipment?

There are more than 20 windsurfing shops in the Gorge. Most are located in Hood River but Lyle has a shop also. Most shops rent equipment as well as sell new equipment. The going rate is about $30 per day.

The largest selection of used equipment is at Windance. They usually have 30 to 40 boards and several hundred sails on consignment. They also have lots of new equipment and good advice. 2ND Wind Sports also has used equipment.

The following lists of phone numbers were taken from the Yellow Pages dated April 1998.

          Big Winds Hood River              541-386-4044
          Front Street Sailboards           541-386-4044
          Gorge Animal Custom Sailboard     541-385-5524
          Lester Polyester'Surf Shop        541-386-5524
          Open Ocean (Lyle WA)              509-365-4115
          Promotion Wetsuits                541-386-3278
          Sail World                        541-386-9400
          Gorge Surf House                  541-386-1699  
          Windance                          541-386-2131
          2nd Wind Sports                   541-386-4464
          Windwing Design                   541-386-3861
The above list shows shops but in some cases they make their own line of equipment. Windance is a good example. They build their own boards as well as run a shop. There are a number of other companies that build equipment but may not have a shop. Here is a list:
             Big Winds Hood River            541-386-6086
             Body Skins-Wetsuits             541-386-3637
             Carbon Creations                541-386-9292
             Cascade Custom Sailboards       541-478-3441
             Chinook                         541-374-5005
             DDG INC/Windsurfing Hawaii      509-427-8113
             Dakine Hawaii Inc               541-386-3166
             Doug's Sports                   541-386-5787
             Fanatic Sailboards              541-385-9500
             Gorge Animal Custom Sailboards  541-386-5524
             Gorge Gear-Soft Goods Access    541-386-2037
             Gorge House                     541-386-1699
             Gorge Jump Padz                 541-386-1980
             Gorge Surf House                509-386-1699
             Hifly North America Inc         509-493-1744
             Hood River Outfitters           541-386-6202
             No Limitz                       509-493-4494 
             Outside Sports                  541-386-9500
             Padz                            541-386-1980
             Petitt Sailboards               541-386-4620
             ProMotion Wetsuits              541-386-3278
             R B S Inc                       541-386-7677
             Real Wind Custom Sailboards     541-386-3693
             Rutger Boards                   541-386-5733
             Sail World                      541-386-9400
             Sun Sacks                       509-365-5421
             Windance Sailboards             541-386-2131
             Windsystems                     509-493-3200
             Windwing Designs                541-386-3681
             Zepher Sailboards               509-493-4811

There are a number of custom Sail lofts in the Gorge. Here is a list:
             Gastra Sails                              541-385-9500
             Gorge Sails (MP 61.3 Hwy 14 Underwood WA) 509-493-4525
             Ezzy Sails (Hood River)                   541-386-8717
             Northwave (Hood River)                    541-386-6156
             Sail Works USA (Hood River)               541-386-7879
             Oceanic Sails (Hood River)                541-386-1428
             Windwing Design                           541-386-3861
Other important Windsurfing Numbers:
            American Windsurifng Industries Assoc.    509-493-9463
            E-Mail  Compuserve  71760,3530     Fax 509-493-9464
                    Internet    scottsee@pipeline.com
             Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association    541-386-9225
             United States Windsurfing Association     541-386-8708
             WIA Windsurfing Instructors of America    541-427-7111
             Windsight                                 541-386-7555

What equipment works best in the Gorge?

You can use almost any type of equipment if you are willing to drive to a spot that has the correct conditions. If you plan to sail the intermediate or advanced spots you will need good high wind equipment. The most popular board would be about 8'6" in length and the sails would be from the low 3 meters to 5 meters. If you plan to bring gear that is not meant for high wind, you might want to bring a credit card along to replace all the broken parts.

How well do I need to sail before it will be fun?

You can sail at almost any level in the Gorge. Due to the wind going from very light to very strong in less than 20 miles you can choose a place that fits your needs.

Where can I take a lesson?

Most of the shops offer lessons but there are some people who make lessons their total business. A typical lesson goes for about $50.
    Big Winds                              541-386-4044
    Rhonda Smith Windsurfing               541-386-9463

Where should I sail?

This is a hard question because your ability will match some sites better than others. The following list shows some of the more common places and what works best there.

Beginners: Long board experience but no waterstarts

 Location  Name                                Notes
  (8)  The Hook (Hood River Sail Park West)  Learning Waterstarts
  (11) The Dalles Sail Park                  Learning Waterstarts
  (2)  Home Valley                           Long board mornings short
                                             board afternoons

Intermediate: Waterstarts are good but may not be able to jibe

 Location  Name                           Notes 
   (9) Hood River Marina                  Learning jibes on flat water
   (9) Hood River Event Site              Small Swells
   (1) Stevenson Sail Park                Small Swells less wind
   (5) Bingen Sail Park                   Small Swells
   (10) Rowena                            Small Swells

Advanced: Can waterstart in 20 seconds and jibe most of the time in rough conditions, including winds to 40 knots and swells to 6 feet.

 Location  Name                                Notes 
   (4)  Spring Creek Fish Hatchery            Large Swells lots of wind
   (6)  Doug's Beach                          Large Swells lots of wind
   (3)  Swell City                            Large Swells lots of wind
   (7)  Maryhill State Park                   Large Swells lots of wind
   (12) Rufus                                 Large Swells lots of wind
The following ASCII map will give an idea of the location of each spot. The numbers in the list above refer to the spots on the map.
           W<-|-E     Columbia River Gorge

            (1) (2)      (3)(4)     (5)     (6)               (7)
                             (8)(9)       (10) (11)                 (12)
Portland <45 Cascade Locks <15 Hood River <20 The Dalles <20 Maryhill
         Miles              Miles           Miles           Miles
Here is a URL where a much better map can be found: Map of the Columbia River

What things are there to do when the wind does not blow?

If the wind shuts down in the Gorge you can almost always drive to the coast and sail there. It will take from 2 to 3 hours depending on where you choose to sail. The Jones Beach area near Clatskanie gets good wind when the Gorge shuts down. It is an afternoon sailing location so plan on sarting in the middle of the afternoon and sailing until dark.

There is good hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking white water rafting, summer skiing, and falls to see as well as lots and lots of shopping to do in the windsurfing stores so you will be ready when the wind starts to blow again. Remember that Oregon at this point has no sales tax.

Many people are afraid to leave the beach incase the wind should start blowing. On at least one hike you can keep your eye on both the Hatchery and Rowena/Dougs. This hike starts at the Rowena overlook and heads up the mountain. You can see both sailing spots from at least one point. It may take you a little while to get to the water but you will know when the wind starts to blow.

What kinds of hazards are in the Gorge?

The commercial barge traffic is a possible threat to windsurfers who do not watch where they are going. Barges create a large wind shadow so you never want to get to close downwind of them. They cannot stop very quickly so if you fall in front of them it is up to you to get out of the way.

The Columbia River Gorge has a plant called Poison Oak. It has three shiny leaves that grow together from the ground or in a bush. The leaves have oil (Urushiol) on them that cause an allergic reaction for most people. The first symptoms are a spot that itches. It will show up about 2 or 3 days after touching the plant. The spot then swells up and finally breaks open to an ugly weeping sore that still itches. The best solution is to stay away from the stuff. If you get into it and start to itch, get so me good strong soap such as Lava and scrub the spot VERY VERY well. You can also use alcohol. If you catch it soon enough, (within about one hour) you can stop the reaction. Remember that anything such as a wetsuit or cloths that you touched during the 3 days needs to be washed. If it gets too bad you will need to visit a doctor.

There are rattle snakes in the Gorge and the farther East you go the more common they become.  I have seen one at the Hatchery so even near Hood River they can be found.  Use common sense and don't get within striking distance.  Long pants and boots will help a lot if you do happen to get too close.

As more and more people come to the Gorge, windsurfers are becomming a danger to themselves. There are no lines painted on the water so each person needs to know the rules. A few simple rules will help:

1. Always look before you jibe. You expect other people will look for you, so please do the same for them.

2. If you are on a reach and your right hand is next to the mast you have the right of way. This means that another sailor who is coming towards you should change course to prevent a collision, and you should hold your course so he can avoid you. If the other sailor doesn't appear to figure this out, you should avoid him rather than have a collision just to prove you had the right of way. If you have just turned or are riding waves, it's up to you to avoid others on a steady course.

3. Many people like to impress their friends by doing high speed jibes as near to shore as possible. This often causes the people who are trying to waterstart a big problem. Some of the worst collisions happen when someone misses a jibe and runs into a person who is down in the water.

How can I get weather information for the Gorge?

Bart's Best Bet wind report can be heard every morning on Q104 FM in the Dalles. He gives the days weather "GUESS" and some information about where the best wind might be found. His message is given at the following times. (7:20,7:50,8:20,8:50,9:20,9:50)

K-105.5-FM broadcasts a Wind Forcast at 6:52,7:56,8:56,and 9:56. They also have afternoon updates. They have a free 24-hour updated weather phone at 541-386-1336 or dial #1340 on your Cellular One Phone.

Most of the shops rent pagers.  These devices will tell you the current wind speads at many of the major sailing areas.  IWindsurf is the current provider of this information and they have several plans.  You can purchase the full pager deal or just web access to the current wind readings.  If you are not familar with the Gorge a pager will increase the number of days that you sail.


Where can I get medical care?

There are hospitals in Hood River, The Dalles, and White Salmon as well as a Quick Care clinic in Hood River.
   Hood River Memorial Hospital-13th & May St Hood River   541-386-3911
   Mid Columbia Medical Center-1700 East 19th The Dalles   541-296-1111 
   Skyline Hospital-211 Skyline DR White Salmon            509-493-1000
   Care Corner-1151 May St Hood River                      541-386-1111

Here is a pointer to a calendar for racing events in the Gorge?

Gorge Events List

What URL's exist for windsurfing businesses and information in the Gorge?

Lucy & Joe's Heavy Air Gorge

Rhonda Smith Windsurfing

Sailworld/World Sails


How can I get more information?

There are a number of places to get more information.

One of the oldest magazine format sources is the Gorge Guide. It is available in most of the shops or from Gorge Publishing Inc PO Box 918 Hood River. Phone 541-386-7440.

A lot of general Gorge information is available at the follwoing URL. www.gorge.net

Specific windsurfing informaton is available at the following URL. www.gorge.net/windsurfing.htm

CGRC(Columbia Gorge Recreation Coaliation) information about site upgrades in the Gorge is at the fillowing URL: CGRC

CGWA(Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association) information is available at the following URL. CGANEWS

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