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Kiteboarding in Hood River

'Kiters' bring another dimension to river recreation

By Matthew White
For Oregon.com

On any typical summer day, you can snowboard all morning long on Mt. Hood and be back in Hood River by 3 p.m. to kiteboard just as the strong westerly winds begin to really blow up the Columbia River. The warm rising air of the plateau beckons the strong westerly breeze from the Pacific Ocean. When squeezed by the mountainous topography, the wind narrows into a funneling jet stream and blasts right through the Hood River Gorge.

The Columbia River Gorge's famous winds make Hood River a world-reknown kiteboarding destination.

While many people are aware the Gorge is home to windsurfers, few may know that it is one of the world's most popular kiteboarding destinations. Watch the world-class kiteboarders lasso the gusts and take off across the vast expanse. Start your own session just down the hill from town at one of the many hot spots for all levels from "never evers" to "seasoned veterans."

Difficulty: Winds average 20 mph during the warmer summer months and gusts can reach up to 25-30 mph. Because the wind blows upstream, "kiters" can ride across the river while maintaining position. Crossing the Columbia posess considerable danger from passing barges, hidden flotsam and currents, and should only be tried by expert riders. There are ample spots for beginners to choose from.

Season: The winds at Hood River are consistently excellent from June to September. The air temperature is usually a dry, sunny 70-80 degrees with a cool water temperature of 55-60 degrees.

Fees: Most launch sites offer free day-use parking with amenities including toilets and running water. Some sites charge a minimal daily parking fee. Kiteboards, kites and harnesses are typically included in the cost of instruction, which averages $80 per hour.

About Kiting: Kiteboarding uses a variation of a wakeboard and a stunt kite to propel the rider across rivers, bays and open oceans. "Kiters," as they are commonly called, direct the kite from a neutral position overhead down to either the right or left to a lower angle with the river into a "power zone," or the area which the kite's wing captures the maximum amount of wind. The wind pulls the kite and picks the rider out of the water like a speedboat and a wakeboarder.

The greatest challenge is learning how to steer the kite safely and without crashing the kite. This learning curve takes several hours of on-land practice just flying the kite. If you are new to the sport, a lesson will get the basics in kite/wind management, safety and relaunch techniques.

For beginners, try the Marina, a perfectly wide shallow shore to get introduced to the river. This is an ideal spot for shallow water starts and current free river riding. Experienced kiteboarders can choose from over 20 launching spots up and down the Columbia Gorge. Advanced riders will head to Swell City or The Hatchery on the Washington side of the river for great ramps and large swells.

Getting There: From the city of Hood River, simply head down the hill to the banks of the Columbia. Take a left or right when you reach the Event Site and drive along the road until the pavement ends.