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Wind report have varied slightly for this coming weekend, but latest predictions are looking better. Fears of a slog may be alleviated, but it may not be the gusting ripper that keeps us coming begging to more. Afternoon on Saturday may be the best wind with speeds around 15mph around the hatch. Race organizer JD is tuned into Gorge wind- the ticket may be wait for PM wind to kick-in for best conditions.
After months of anticipation, the container carrying the new lineup of Fenn surfskis, including the Fenn Swordfish and Fenn Elite SL, has arrived and been unloaded at Ocean Paddlesports in Costa Mesa, CA. Both boats will be available at US Surfski Champs in San Franscisco in two weeks for demos on Friday, August 12th from 12-4pm at Shorebird Park in Berkley. Surfski Northwest will also be bringing back a demo boat of each new model, Swordfish and Elite SL, to Bellingham, WA for the Pacific Northwest. I am very excited about racing the Swordfish next weekend in the Wavechasers race and making training/ surfing runs during the week leading up to US Champs.
The Fenn Swordfish has had huge positive responses in South Africa and is making the mark as the perfect crossover boat between high-end speed and reliable stability. The Fenn Elite SL takes the Elite and cuts some volume & trims the line for smaller paddlers. The Elite is a racehorse on flats and a downwind machine, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like trimmed down for smaller paddlers like me, struggling to keep at a buck sixty. The Elite SL could be just the boat….
Interested in demoing a Fenn Swordfish or Fenn Elite in the Pacific Northwest? Contact Surfski Northwest
We rolled into town yesterday afternoon with four surfskis, camping gear, paddling gear, and one German Shepherd after leaving behind rainy dreary weather in Bellingham. We didn’t get set up at camp until later, so just went to Hood River for a relaxing (and delicious) dinner at Celilo Restaurant to kick off the vacation in style. The forecast was looking questionable for Friday’s wind and we crossed our fingers and listen to the wind through the night.
Friday morning rolled around to sunny skies, warm temperatures, and moderate 15-18 mph winds from Stevenson to Hood River. Kristen dropped me off at Drano lake and I paddled the Fenn Mako Elite down to Swell City. Conditions were fun but definitely not epic. Kristen met me down at Swell City and we did laps there for an hour or so. Met a guy, Mark, from Hood River out doing a loop from Hood River to Swell City and back in his surfski. He seemed psyched to see some other boats out and looked pretty stable in his surfski for having taken up the sport in March.
After that loops session, we decided the conditions were right for Kristen to pop her “Drano to Swell City ‘Organic’ Cherry” in the afternoon. We headed to Home Valley for some lunch and a nap out of the wind and then I dropped her off with the two Fenn Mako XTs at Drano and set shuttle at the Hatchery. 30 minutes later we were pulling out into the waves for her first run through this section in a single. The conditions were moderate, with some fun mid sized rollers that were easy to catch and play in for the first half of the run. At the last train tunnel things picked up and the waves got a little steeper and bigger. Kristen managed to handle things well in the glass XT (her new favorite surfing boat) and emerged from the waves still smiling. Things mellowed out at the Hatchery and overall it was a fun run and a great first experience through there in a single surfski.
NOTE: Conditions have changed a bit since our last trip here. The river level has dropped a good 3-4ft and the current is a bit milder. The waves seems a little more organized we noticed on our drive into Hood River tonight that the sandbar at the Hook is back. This might mean less technical and less steep waves for Wildside, but only time will tell…..
Forecast for tomorrow is looking weak for wind (keeping our fingers crossed), but Sunday looks like full on surfing fun…..Stay tuned for more…..
The Wildside Relay is a week away and the surfski and OC race is poised to be bigger & better than ever. Though the Columbia River level has been dropping from peak levels of last month, the downstream current remains strong providing for great downwind conditions this summer. New for this year are some slight changes of hand-off points for boat relay race and new is a ten mile solo downwind race on Sunday.
The four leg relay course has paddlers surfing upstream on the Columbia River from Stevenson, WA to Bingen, WA. Transfer points are always on the “Wildside”. This race is a point to point relay format and paddlers alternate legs with either racing 1&3 or 2&4. This year hand offs will be out of the water on dry land, thereby eliminating just starts and flybys.
Leg 1: Bob’s Beach – Home Valley Park
Typically the flattest leg of the race, this section has been pleasantly bigger then usual this year due to strong downstream current opposing swift winds at Stevenson. Largest waves tend to be in the middle of the river, questionable if trying to grab some back eddies on the Washington side will be better than shooting down the middle of the river.
Leg 2: Home Valley Park- Drano Beach Boat Ramp
The river bends around Dog Mountain on the Washington side and waves & current stack up against the Oregon side. Having raced this section twice in the past, it seems that there is good race strategy to tuck into the Washington shoreline past Dog Mountain and stay out of the bulk of the current during normal conditions. Due to continued higher than usual current, the fastest lines may be close to the Washington side, even maybe looking for upstream eddie current to take advantage of. The hand-off point was been changed to the Drano Beach Boat ramp, adding and little more distance onto this leg and easier access for the transition.
Leg 3: Drano Beach Boat Ramp – Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery
Potentially the biggest waves are in this section and the added distance with the end being moved upriver to the hatchery means competitors will have to run the gauntlet for the handoff. This section often starts out nice and moderate & builds closer to Swell City. Swell City (aka the gauntlet) can be thrilling to paddle through on big days due to large numbers of windsurfers and kite surfers crisscrossing as they take advantage of one of the best playgrounds for windsports. The largest waves tend to be in the middle, but due to the current, fastest lines may in close to the WA shoreline.
Leg 4: Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery – Bingen Sailboard Park
This section of the Wildside relay is probably the most technical section of the race. Amazing views of Mt Hood at the hatchery are to be had as paddlers head upriver against swift current. Usually mixed wave conditions with the biggest waves stacking against the WA shoreline created by a turn in the river prior to Hood River Bridge. Typically it seems the fastest line is to cross the river and head for the barge marker buoy, then just on the Oregon side of the river under of the bridge, then work back to the WA side towards the finish. It’s debatable this year if swinging closer to the Oregon side before the bridge will pay off, or if the sticking to the typical race line and bucking more current will be faster.
New for this year is the solo race on Sunday. Though the course will be wind dependent, it sounds like the race will be from Drano to Bingen. With not having to be on the Washington side at the hatchery for a transition, the faster lines may be to surf across the river early to the Oregon side stay out of the main flow and cross again after Hood River Bridge ??? Time will tell.
Race Website: Wildside Website
Hope to see you there!!!
Just back to Bellingham, WA from five days of seriously fun surfing at the Columbia Gorge with conditions starting big & mixed giving way to moderate surf throughout the trip. Current was a BIG factor and downwinders (going up river) took much longer than usual. Here’s some reflections on the conditions:
The Big Days….
The first two days were big due to strong winds pushing waves upstream against the significant current. The classic Gorge style long glassy waves were few and far between. Waves were big, choppy, and very steep. Longer skis were having trouble keeping the nose above water and wider boats seemed to handle the mixed conditions best. Swims (yes, there were a few in our group) tended to take several remount attempts, and a quality leash system was a must for all. There was a lot of discussion on leash systems after the big days that saw a variety of snapped leashes and lost gear, more on that to come….
I paddled a Fenn Mako XT for the majority of the big days though I did two sessions in big wind conditions in the Elite. I’m a big fan of both boats, but in big, steep, mixed conditions paddling in a group, the XT was the ticket. When we had to ‘circle the wagons’ to regroup or help folks out, I felt the XT gave the ability to better assist the group and safely navigate the waves. To be honest, in the sloppy mixed conditions of the Columbia River, the XT truly excelled. We brought down two XTs and in almost all paddling sessions, both boats were in use. The Elite was fun and challenging in the bigger conditions, but it didn’t offer much support to the group as compared to the XT. At the end of a ripping downwinder at the takeout in Bingen, a kiteboarder was stranded forty feet off shore unable to get back in due to currents and a swift back eddy. After several failed attempts of the group towing him and yelling encouragement to swim harder, I finally had him climb aboard spread eagle fashion on the back of the XT and was able to ferry him to shore. (This was only after he conceded to letting go of his gear, which was one of the main reasons he couldn’t get in in the first place) Morris towed his kite and board to shore which was a challenge in itself. Though we didn’t score any beer from this save (or even much of a thanks), we hopefully earned some Karma points. Experiences like this made us realize that practicing rescues is an important part of training both for the rescuer and the rescuee.
The Medium Days….
The last two days settled down to around 15-20mph winds, and in classic Bellingham surfski paddler fashion, we did loops both days at Swell City. Usually going to the Gorge is all about setting shuttle for the downwinders, but we opted to spend some quality time doing some park & play. The conditions at Swell City couldn’t have been better for loops due to the swift currents and consistent 3-5ft waves, with a few rogue 6-7 ft mixed in. By skirting the eddy line on the on the way back upwind, it was easy to maintain 7-8mph with only moderate paddling effort. The downwind sections provided ample practice at connecting mixed rollers, though my GPS never went above 12mph at top steep thanks to the opposing river current. Morris continued his practice of gear water rescues and was
able to fish out a kite board that had separated from it’s owner upstream in Hood River. When the happy owner arrived to retrieve her gear we scored some beer money and much thanks. (Morris: “I’ll say no to beer money once, but it’s just rude to say no if they keep insisting”). Another lesson of the trip: Make sure to write your name and number on your gear in case you ever get separated from it, a six pack is a lot cheaper than a new paddler (or new boat).
Overall, our first Gorge trip of the summer was action packed and fun. Looking forward to getting back down there at the end of next week for some more surfing and warming up for the Wildside Relay and US Champs in San Francisco.
We pulled into Stevenson, WA Wednesday at noon to sustained 11-15 mhp winds and some good looking waves. Our first run of the day Kristen & I were in the double and had a fun fast run down to Home Valley with Pete and an OC paddler from Bend. After some beers and pizza at the Walking Man Brew pub in the warm summer evening, we planned for more surf the next day.
We woke up to whitecaps in Stevenson and knew we were in for a big day. The wind started off light in the morning, around 12 mph sustained and gusting to around 15-20, and forecast called for speeds to pick up in the afternoon. Since we were were waiting on the second wave the B-ham crew to roll into town, we jumped in boats for an hour and did laps in front of Bob’s Beach to fulfill the mandatory vacation double workout regime. Ralph & I were ready to be baptized in the Columbia River but the Club Double stayed upright and we caught some great surf. After was a post workout soak in the hot tub and waiting on the VW to roll into the parking lot.
As the crew pulled in from Bellingham around noon, the winds died down to 5-8 mph and there was some head scratching going on and wondering if we’d missed our window for surf. Then the switch was flicked and winds speeds picked right up to 15mph at 1pm. Boats were unloaded and shuttle was set.
As we put on at 2pm, the sustained winds were between 20-25mph and gusting 25-32mph. This was double the speed of the previous day’s paddle and with the current working against these winds, we were in for some steep, sloppy waves. The Mako XT proved to be the boat of the day. Kristen paddled the heavier glass XT on the first run and enjoyed a little more weight against the strong wind and waves. From Home Valley, there were two XT’s on the water, DJ in the carbon and Kirk in the glass.
A group of 6 did the Home Valley run. With the current being so strong, there were some big eddy lines which offered smaller conditions inside the eddy and 4- 5 footers outside of it from the moment we pulled out of Bob’s Beach. The surf down to the Skamania RV park proved to be smooth and surfable. After that things got choppy, big, and sloppy. This was not your typical Stevenson to Home Valley cake run, this was a full on washing machine on spin cycle. Waves were big, choppy, and coming in from all directions. After another mile or so, things died down slightly as the wave sets cleaned up enough to catch a ride, though still keeping us on our toes. This run generally takes around an hour to do in normal conditions and today we clocked in at around 1:30 as the current is a big factor this year.
In Home Valley there was a changing of the guards, two paddlers out, one paddler in, and a boat swap (to the glass XT) for the second leg of the run to Drano Lake. Four paddlers took on the run and paddled the 8 or so miles to Draino Lake in a record speed of 2 hours (where this run usually takes 1-1.25 hours) Like the previous leg, waves were steep and progress was slow. Watching from the shore when driving shuttle, Kristen and Scott were amazed to see how quickly the boats could move upwind/downstream when circling to regroup yet how slowly they seemed to be progressing downwind. From water level, this legs was a mixed bags as well. There were stretches of big rollers, sections of dicey mixed waves, sections of big steep waves, and stretches that included a washing machine of all of the above. Thinking about Don’s report on a trip here two weeks early of “It was big but not epic”, I started to wonder what constitutes epic conditions vs. big conditions. Morris put it well by saying he didn’t how big it was until looking back upstream and seeing what was coming. We Bellingham paddlers usually have a hard time agreeing on wave size and condition reports, but we all agreed at the take out that it was big enough, and that was before the beer and margaritas.
Two days down, three to go and more surfing to come. Stay tuned….