SIC Maui: Downwind Paddling in The Columbia River Gorge

It is no secret that the Columbia River Gorge is the epicenter of  downwind paddling. The fact that this is home to downwind legend Fiona Wylde is no coincidence. As a member of the Big Winds J.E.T (junior elite team) she was in the perfect place to hone her downwind skills and become the champion she is today. The Gorge is also home to Stoke on the Water/Downwind Hood River, who offer downwind guided tours and clinics with SIC Maui ambassadors Joel Yang and Russ Peart. These guys spend their time paddling The Gorge and make it look easy out there in conditions that can challenge even the most seasoned paddlers. It is also the location of one of the biggest downwind race course of the year, The SIC Columbia Gorge Paddle Challenge (CGPC) hosted by Big Winds. The race has grown in statue and was recently named SUP Racer’s #1 most competitive race of 2018! TotalSUP talks to Russ about the Gorge, coaching, and why SIC boards are the go to board for downwinding in the Gorge.

Hi Russ, can you introduce yourself?

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

Hi, my name is Russ Peart. I am an ACA certified SUP instructor and SIC ambassador coaching for Stoke on the Water/downwind hood river and Big Winds, both based in Hood River, Oregon. While I do still race myself, and was lucky enough to podium in my age group in the CGPC open downwind race last year, my real passion is helping others. Whether it’s stroke technique, footwork, maneuvers, starts, drafting, or downwind skills, it is extremely gratifying to see students gain in confidence and skill. I feel so lucky to get the privilege to coach all the J.E.T. kids along side the inspirational founder of the program, Steve Gates. I am also privileged to coach 12yr old SIC gun Bodie Von Allmen from Portland, though I have to admit, I can no longer keep up with him.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

Can you introduce the Hood River Gorge?

The mighty Columbia river flows westward through the gorge at flow rates as high as 20 000 M3/second. There are multiple put in and take out locations that provide many different runs with widely varied scenery. The most popular of which would be the 8 mile run, on westerly wind, from Viento state park to Hood River, Oregon. The winds typically blow out of the west during the summer and in opposition to the flow of the river. This unique situation causes the wind swell to stand up to well overhead at times, creating full on breaking waves. The uniqueness of the environment doesn’t end there, with water flow rates constantly changing, multiple sandbars shifting with those changes, and how those changes effect the already mysterious underwater structures, it can be a complex puzzle to navigate.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

Can you describe the famous Viento Run?

The Viento run for instance can be broken down to several different sections, each with their own set of conditions. The put in at Viento state park creates a bit of a wind shadow. You can choose to punch out towards the center of the river and get into better wind, but this also exposes you to more of the opposing current, and yes we really paddle into the opposing current. The other option is to hug the shore and use the eddy to avoid the current, but way less wind that way. You can also do an easy peel out which is a combination of the two. Once underway it is a matter of using the smaller secondary swell to build your board speed, and reading the water to put yourself in the right place at the right time for that big set of rollers that periodically come through. when you do catch a big one, it’s all about board control and using the power and speed of the swell to catapult you on to another bump, sometimes having to steer around bumps to avoid crashing into them.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

Don’t worry though, it soon cleans up and become the Wells express section of the run as you pass over a giant sandbar leading up to Wells island. Waikiki style waves and shallow with very little current, very easy section as long as you don’t drift left into the channel. If you chose to stay further out in the channel you have the option to drift back right towards split rock and jump on the wells express or you can punch hard to the left towards Washington state.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

The section between swell city and the Spring creek fish hatchery on the WA side is over 50 meters deep and has some of the biggest swell i have ever seen in the gorge. This race line is high risk but high reward, if you can hold your nerve on the super technical and huge heaving and pyramidal bumps that lurk there. Get it wrong and you will be swimming, get it right and you will fly. The difference in amount of current and technical difficulty compared to wells express is astronomical. Choose the wrong line here and even the most elite paddlers can be overtaken. Once past the island it is just a short grind to the finish and cheering crowd in Hood River.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

What is special about SIC Maui?

SIC Maui is one of the longest standing names in downwind SUP. The new line of boards are some of the most highly tested and race proven boards ever made. SIC has been doing good things for a while and even their race boards work extremely well in downwind conditions. Founder and shaper for SIC, Mark Raaphorst, lives and breathes downwinding on Maui. It has gifted us with some genius shapes. What impresses me the most about the new shapes is that they can transition seamlessly between extremely varied conditions.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

Global brand manager Anthony Scaturro is a hands on kind of guy and gets down and dirty with product development as well. SIC has recently invested in the future of SUP by releasing new sizes of kids race boards that are as legit as the adult board but with lower volume and width.

The Bullet, RS or Bayonet, which is perfect for DW?

The RS (Rocket Ship)12’6 x 20” and 12’6 x 22” are a perfect fit for the J.E.T. team kids. 12 yr old SIC rider Bodie Von Allmen has been crushing flat and DW on his 20” wide RS. The RS is my personal favorite shape and is an all water race board. The versatility of this shape is just amazing. From flat water racing, to epic DW runs, or surfing at the coast, the RS can do it all with style and precision. The high volume nose punches over or through chop and resists purling.

The bite on the forward rails allows for excellent foot steering form the mid point of the board to allow you to attack a swell without giving up steering or having to step back to quickly. Once back on the tail the control is highly engaged yet buttery smooth. The RS is also available in different widths and sizes to fit any size or skill level and makes a great touring board with the built in handles and cargo net area.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

So people are always asking “which SIC board is right for you for downwind?” I would say the Bullet V2 is probably the most widely used and considered the quintessential DW board by many. It is 14′ x27 1/4″ with a DW rocker profile. The sweet spot is fairly small and you do have to mind purling the nose but other than that is a very forgiving yet fast DW board.

The new Bayonet series comes in 14’x24″, 14’x26″, and 17′.4 x 25″This is primarily a performance DW shape but has good touring capability as well. With its narrower widths, it is less stable side to side than the v2 but with added nose volume it reduces the risk of pearling and opens up the sweet spot a bit. The different sizes also cover a wider range of riders.

Photo Credit: Joel Yang / Stoke on the Water

I will be on my RS 14′ x 21″ for all water conditions this year with occasional jaunts on the Bayonet 14′ x 24″. Hope to share some glides with you all soon!

About the Author

Helen

SUP, OC1, V6, Surfski ... and field hockey coaching, Helen is a busy British mother of two who lives in Bretagne, Frace with a passion for all things Ocean. Helen runs Barrachou SUP, a SUP tour company specialized in excursions around Bretagne and Scotland.