The Viento to Hood River downwind run is arguably one of the best downwinders in the world. Situated in the heart Columbia River Gorge, the Viento downwinder provides endless glides, strong wind and beautiful scenery. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you watch the video below.
I’ll be sharing more details about this run and other Columbia River Gorge downwinders in the coming months. For now, here’s a quick look at what makes the Gorge so special to me.
Is that a word? The primary element for a good downwind run are good conditions, and the Gorge offers plenty.
The current in the Columbia River runs from east to west while the wind predominately blows from west to east (and strong!). The Viento downwinder is actually an upriver paddle. The added resistance of the water against the wind helps to create larger bumps to ride. Larger bumps equals more fun!
In addition to creating bigger bumps for longer glides, the current creates a unique challenge to paddlers trying to find the fastest line to take from Viento to Hood River. If you’re just cruising then your line is not as big of a deal but still important knowledge. However, those looking to perform their best in a race should watch the video below to learn more about the best lines to take.
Wind is a key element to a downwinder and the Gorge is windy!
According to windfinder.com, there is nearly a 70% chance to have winds of 18 mph during the entire month of July and a 50% chance in August.
Wind is not a problem here. Put it this way, I look forward to the no-wind days to rest my tired paddling muscles. It’s hard to rest when the river is epic almost everyday!
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been. As soon as you begin the drive from Portland into the Gorge you’ll realize you’re entering a special area. Rolling hills, towering pine’s, numerous waterfalls and two volcanoes from the Cascade Range surround the Gorge.
Downwinders can sometimes be a bit of a logistical nightmare. Dropping cars, stacking boards and traffic can all take away from an ideal downwind experience.
If you had to design a man-made downwind paddling run, it might look something like the Gorge set up.
It’s roughly 10 minutes to drive the nearly 8 miles from Hood River to Viento State Park along highway 84. I’ve never encountered traffic and you can even get a good look at conditions on the river during the drive up.
For an easier start, Big Winds offers two downwind shuttles a day during the summer months. Show up with your board where the downwinder ends and you don’t need to worry about dropping cars.
At no point during the run are your more than a hundred yards or so from the shore. With a leash and PFD, the Viento to Hood River downwind run is extremely safe. Be vigilant when paddling around the windsurfers, kiters and barges and you’ll be good to go.
Lastly, because the wind funnels up a river gorge, there can be less cross chop or side waves than in an ocean downwinder. The bumps can be more groomed and easier to read than some more technical ocean downwind runs.
Fear of sharks? Salt in your eyes and mouth? These things are not the biggest deal, but paddling downwind on fresh water is quite refreshing! No worries about salt-crusted eyes and you can take a little longer to jump back on your board without panicking about what’s lurking below.
There are a number of towns you can base yourself at in the Gorge, but Hood River stands alone in it’s quality of location and activities. Here are a few reasons I love this town.
- The Viento downwinder ends in Hood River.
- It’s home to a handful of breweries, wineries and great places to eat.
- Not too big. Less than 8,000 people live here. Although, that number is likely a bit higher in the summer.
- It’s a community of outdoor enthusiasts. The official vehicle here has to be the geared-out sprinter van. You’re likely to see dozens loaded up with windsurf boards, SUP’s, kite gear, kayaks and mountain bikes any day of the week. Most people are here to get outside, on the water and enjoy the search for that ultimate session. It feels like home to be surrounded by this kind of community.
- Any given week you can attend a festival, live music or some kind of event. There is a lot happening for such a small town!
- Easy access to what feels like hundreds of hikes to waterfalls and sweeping vistas.
- Want to do a downwinder and snowboard on the same day? Mt. Hood is less than an hour away and is the only year-round ski resort in North America.
- World-class mountain bike trails at your doorstep.
- And the list goes on….
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that Hood River, the Columbia River Gorge and the Viento to Hood River downwinder are worth checking out. Now enjoy this aerial view of the Viento downwind course preview.