Photograph by Mike Thomas
Kiteboarding is the closest most of us humans will ever get to flying, and the Columbia River Gorge, a chasm lined with luscious evergreen forests, waterfalls, and cliffs on the Washington-Oregon border, is one of the nation’s premier spots to try it.
Acting as a natural wind tunnel, the gorge literally sucks air up from the coast and whips it into gusts as strong as 30 knots. The capricious breezes pose a challenge that attracts enthusiasts from all over to test their mettle on the ten miles (16 kilometers) of open river. In recent years, the gorge has also become a hot spot for beginners as advances in equipment have made the sport safer and easier to learn. Several schools have opened shop on the banks of the river, where there are easy access points and sandy beaches to learn the ropes.
During a 90-minute beginner class with Hood River Waterplay, novices learn about wind patterns, equipment, and basic safety. Then comes the fun part: Learning to fly the kite. The first time it gently picks you up off the ground is a guaranteed eureka! moment: It feels as if you’ve just sprouted wings. Once you’ve mastered launching from the water, riding, and tacking into the wind, you just might graduate to the area of river around White Salmon, Washington, where veterans launch off hip-high swells and soar weightlessly into the cool, humid air, sometimes as high as 60 feet (18 meters). Flying, indeed.
Need to Know: Hood River Waterplay (www.hoodriverwaterplay.com) offers kiteboard clinics and lessons. A 90-minute basics class costs $99.