Oregon Wind Surfing

I would be remiss, if I didn’t at least write a short article on the Oregon windsurfing phenomena. The first location is on the Columbia Gorge.  Last summer I traveled from Portland to Hood River, which sits on the gorge, and then on to Bend, Oregon–where I took an awesome brewery tour.  They have 21 craft breweries!  But I digress. When I stopped  to eat at Hood River the river was full of windsurfers battling the frothing surf.  I started talking to my food server, who was a local, I learned that the waves are nuke when the water is so frothy it is white and the mist is so fine, it looks like smoke over the water.  He said the reason he was working as a waiter that summer was so he could hit the waves every day.

Windsurfing is a sport that combines surfing and sailing.  The windsurfer stands on a board that is similar to a short board.  Attached is a sail that can pivot 360 degrees on a dime.  It consists of a mast, 2-sided boom and the sail. Windsurfers not only ride the waves by combining the energy of the wave with the lift of the wind to mimic the wave riding of the traditional surfer, they also bump and jump, which means they use the short choppy waves to launch themselves several feet in the air.  Advanced riders do complicated tricks while they are catching airtime.  Extreme winds and water have to combine to create choppy high speed waves that carry the energy for surfing.  Regular surfing relies on  a large fetch to generate the perfect ground swells.  Windsurfing needs a smaller fetch to capture the energy so it builds momentum against itself.


Oregon has two of the best windsurfing locations in the world.  The first is at Pistol River, 8 miles south of Gold Beach.  The season runs from April through September, but the waves are consistent and reliable beginning in May.  The immediate area surrounding Pistol River is the windiest spot in Oregon.  It is not a spot for beginners.  They will want to go a mile north.  Windsurfers hit the waves from 9:00 A.M. to nightfall.  The conditions are so prefect, the America Windsurfing Tour added the Pistol River Bash.  This year it ran from June 11-14.  Windsurfers streamed into the Oregon to try their skills bumping and jumping on the nuclear waves.  The locals can just step out their door to windsurf before or after work.  The rest of us will have to drive up Highway 101 or fly into Del Norte County Regional Airport and take a shuttle or limo to Pistol River, 46 miles away, or you can fly into Portland Airport, which may have cheaper airfare, but it is 365 miles away.  The closest airport is Gold Beach Airport, if you fly your own plane.  

Pistol River is more of a hidden gem, known mainly to windsurfer aficionados.  The more famous windsurfing area is on the Hood River in the Columbia Gorge.  The winds blast down the gorge hemmed in by the sheer rock walls.  The power of the wind, up to 70 miles and hour, consistently froths the waves of the river.  On a nuke day, there water is a foamy white and the water droplets are so whipped they create a smoke over the water.  Windsurfers can ride the waves or bump and jump into orbit.  In 2012, the U.S. Windsurfing Nationals where held on the Hood River.

This is not a sport for the faint of heart.  At the end of the day, surfers are often cut and bruised.  A broken foot or hand is not uncommon. The worst injuries come from the sail’s mast which can whip 360 degrees in any direction and being struck by the board.  When a rider is coming down from a bump and jump they can lose control of themselves and their equipment.  When an advanced rider is finishing an aerial the wind can gust and send them flying in a direction they did not plan causing disorientation, which can lead to being struck by the board or mast.  However, if you love surfing, but prefer high drama and adrenaline producing action to hanging out in the ocean waiting for the next wave. You may want to check out windsurfing.