Situated at the foot of Mount Hood and nestled at the confluence of the Hood and Columbia Rivers, Hood River is today one of the most important destinations on the North American SUP circuit. A water sports hub par excellence, Hood River has historically been a haven for kiteboard, windsurf, kayak and whitewater enthusiasts, and it has more recently become the training ground for Stand Up Paddle racers like Fiona Wylde and Dan Gavere, among others. Indeed, Gavere calls Hood River home and has long since used it as his Whitewater SUP paddling playground, contributing to the local paddle scene by engaging in whitewater activities on Columbia River in a breathtaking pine forest canyon setting so typical of the American Northwest. Wylde, a top international woman athlete is a Hood River native, practicing for all major competitions in the changeable and exciting downwind conditions of the Columbia River and the wooded Oregon waterways.
Famous for the recreational activities and healthy lifestyle of its inhabitants and visitors alike, Hood River attracts outdoor sports fanatics from all across the country. Though not a native Riverite herself, SUP professional and NRG Founder Nikki Gregg calls it home. She is famed for vaunting, among the many merits of living in the Oregon town, the sheer wealth of outdoor activities it is possible take part in in Hood River, from SUP to kayaking, not to mention sternwheel, which is something Hood River is particularly known for. Reflecting the growth of water-based sports in the locality in recent years, there has been a noteworthy proliferation of stand up paddle board purveyors and manufacturers in town, as well as SUP rental shops and vendors of all kinds of water sports equipment and apparel.
Local training programmes and regional players have been instrumental in promoting SUP, and perhaps none more so than Big Winds. Founded by Steve Gates 30 years ago, the Hood River-based windsurfing, kiteboarding and stand up paddle accessory store also runs junior programs for youngsters interested in improving their paddling skills. This has even produced some of today’s elite racers, including Fiona Wylde herself and Sophia DeWolf, to name but a few. The local SUP scene truly reaches its climax with each edition of the annual Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge. Every year, hundreds of national and international SUP racers descend on Hood River to take part in the various races and challenges involved in the competition, which includes downwind distance races and several elite courses in which participants compete for a cash purse. The whole community is brought together to admire the sporting talent on show, all against a stunning and bucolic backdrop that Hood River natives have become so accustomed to.