Nuke Alley: The Gorge, Oregon
There’s a little river between the states of Oregon and Washington. OK, a big river. That big river also happens to traverse the Cascade mountain range. And in a particular stretch of river – extending from about 30 miles east of the city of Portland, for a couple hundred miles – they get wind. Lots of wind. Real wind. Blow your wig off wind. Blow your rig off wind! There’s something to be said about a place when a 100 kilo fella like myself gets by with only a 4.7 and a 4.2. The Gorge blows like few other places on earth, and when it does, it is simply magical. It’s also got a great set-up for the travelling sailor. Fly into Portland airport, and a quick one-hour drive has (you?)in the town of Hood River, where you’ll have your choice of high-end rental kit from a selection of stores. While there’s only one rigged ‘n ready rental spot, the true beauty of the Gorge is exploring – each spot is unique and challenging.
In the rare case the wind doesn’t blow, worry not – grab a mountain bike, your hiking shoes, a kayak paddle or a SUP board, and explore everything the Gorge has to offer. It’s a place where three-sport days aren’t the exception – they’re the expectation. And as for the evenings – well, it’s a town of 6,000 people that happens to have six microbreweries and attached pubs. What do you think happens?
But when the wind does blow – be prepared for the upwind current, constant chop, and school-bus-sized swell on a true 3.7 days. (True 3.7 days happening with slightly more regularity than one might expect.) If you think you’ve got the cojones, try and join locals Dale Cook and Bruce Peterson in the 40/40 club – 40 feet high, 40 knots on the GPS. (Hey… you try and go 40 knots in two-foot micro-chop!)
The Event Site
Right in Hood River proper. Rigged rentals on the beach. This is where the racers hang out. Accessible for intermediates and newbie sailors (Not first-time newbies.) Light current with small swell. Big grassy lawn for rigging and picnicking – it’s as much about the social scene as the sailing!
Affectionately known as “Kodak Point” by those too scared to sail there. (We kid, we kid.) Big swell right off the point leads into buttery flat water on the inside, perfect for freestyle. Can get very crowded on a truly windy day. The natural rock ampitheatre on shore makes for perfect spectating – and shouting at your buddies who biff a trick. This is the go-to-spot for the best of the best freestylers in the US – keep an eye out for the likes of Tyson Poor or PWA competitor Bryan Metcalf-Perez.
Drive east. Keep driving. Cross a bridge. Go through some orchards. Hit a dirt road. You’re probably just about there. The Wall doesn’t fire all the time – but when it does, the narrow width of the river kicks up big rolling swell that’s just perfect for sending it skyward. You’ll want to pack a lunch ‘cuz there ain’t much out there save for plenty of wind and current – but trust us, if it’s good, you’ll probably just want to camp out for the night so you can do it again tomorrow.
This feature originally appeared in the 2013 Spring Summer edition of Boards magazine. To purchase this edition and subscribe for the latest one, click here.