In a week’s time, the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge will take place in Hood River, Oregon. Fiona Wylde, who is currently ranked second in the world and is herself a native, will be competing. She knows the river like the back of her hand and the race will be taking place on home turf. Who better to give us some insight then?
Can you tell us about Hood River? What are conditions there like?
Hood River is so much fun! There are so many things to do here, it’s almost impossible to get bored! If you’re into mountain biking, there’s that! There’s skiing, whitewater, amazing hikes -anything that you want to do outdoors, you can pretty much do that here.
And we haven’t even gotten to the Stand Up Paddling and windsurfing yet! The Gorge is unique because it’s the only sea level cut through the Cascade Mountain Range, so naturally it acts like a huge wind tunnel.
The wind and the river flow in opposite directions creating really fun bumps, and the windier it gets, the bigger the bumps get! It’s a perfect set up for down winding!
Why is the Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge an event that many riders want to take part in?
I think this is a very special event because it really is a ton of fun! People come here from all over because they know they are going to enjoy the area, but even more so, know they are going to have some pretty fun downwind conditions!
I feel that this event acts more of a festival than anything else. It’s when everybody comes together to have fun, and do that we enjoy most, stand up paddle boarding! It doesn’t matter if you’re the best of the best or doing a downwinder for the first time, the river is a perfect place to learn, enjoy, and share water time with your friends.
There are so many incredible athletes coming to Hood River from all around the world just for the race! I think this is one of the most competitive events in the world, so there are many athletes coming from Europe, Australia, South Pacific, and of course from around here in the U.S. too. It’s so cool to see so many boards driving around town, and so many happy sunburnt faces!
Can you tell us about the riders coming from Oregon?
Here in Hood River, we have an incredible junior team that Steve Gates, the owner of Big Winds created. This is where I learned to stand up paddle board six years ago. The Big Winds Junior Elite Team has flourished and now contains about 60 members! Hannah Hill has also learned to paddle in the JET Team and she is now ranked 13th in the World. She’s really quick in down winding too, and I know she’s looking forward to a fun race at the Gorge Paddle Challenge!
What are the other main SUP spots in Oregon and what kind of reputation do they have in relation to the sport?
The beauty about Oregon is that there is every kind of stand up paddling! There’s whitewater, there’s flat water, there’s lakes, there’s downwind, and yes, there is surf!
Although you will need a pretty thick wetsuit for the Oregon Coast. You can really see how vibrant stand up paddling is becoming! As you drive across the state, you see more and more people with boards on their roofs, or SUP rentals at lakes and even in cities! It’s really quite exciting!