Known as the “Windsurfing Capital of the World,” Hood River is an oasis for all wind-related sports, including kiteboarding. On a hot summer day in the Gorge, you’ll see dozens of colorful kites dotting the sky above the Columbia River. Kiteboarders from all over the world come here to experience the unique and optimal conditions for riding. In fact, several professional kiteboarders and kiteboarding companies call Hood River home.
Whether you are a professional kiteboarder or have never tried the sport, Hood River is a great place to be. Use our guide to optimize your day on the water — and more importantly, avoid any confusion or danger!
Know Before You Go
You should never just show up and start kiteboarding, especially if you’ve never done it before. Also, intermediate and professional kiteboarders should always review the rules specific to the Columbia River, understand the river conditions, and be aware of any potential dangers.
If you’ve never been kiteboarding before, we recommend learning from a kiteboarding school before you attempt it on your own (more on that later!). The cold water and gusty winds may make learning a bit more of a challenge, but you’ll be able to navigate the waters with a professional by your side.
When to Go
Sam Beebe [CC BY 2.0]
Summer is definitely the best time to go kiteboarding in Hood River. If you’re a beginner or complete newbie, you’ll want to go any time between June and September. Professional kiteboarders may kiteboard year-round, but only with the correct gear.
What to Wear
Like many cities in the Pacific Northwest, the seasons in Hood River are very defined. That means winters are snowy and cold and summers are hot and sunny. However, the wind in Hood River can make summer days feel cold. You’ll definitely want to wear a wetsuit when kiteboarding, especially if you expect to spend a lot of time in the water as a beginner. Consider a 3/2 wetsuit for the majority of the summer or a 4/3 or warmer wetsuit if it’s a colder day.
Photo Courtesy of Cascade Kiteboarding
As mentioned, beginners should opt for lessons from a kiteboarding school before they attempt to ride on their own. Some of the best kiteboarding schools in Hood River include Cascade Kiteboarding, Gorge Kiteboard School, Kite The Gorge, and New Wind. And, if you’re more experienced but have never been to Hood River, you may consider getting the lay of the land from one of these schools, especially Cascade Kiteboarding, as they are located directly next to the Event Site, which is where you’ll likely be launching from.
All kiteboarding schools mentioned above include all the gear needed for a successful session on the water. Plus, the instructors will teach you all about the equipment and how to use it. If you just want to rent gear without instruction, Cascade Kiteboarding offers gear rental for those at an IKO independent riding Level 3. You can get a one-day or two-day package with all the necessary equipment, including a kite, bar, board, harness, wetsuit, PFD and helmet. Or, simply grab the pieces you need a la carte.
By far, the most popular (and most recommended) launch spot is the Hood River Event Site. Here, you’ll see plenty of kiteboarders preparing their gear on a hot summer day. Park in the Event Site parking lot and carry your gear to the sandbar, which is the only area at the Event Site you can launch during the summer. If you’re braving the cold winter weather, you can set up your gear in the grass, as the sandbar will likely be submerged.
Where to Ride
It’s important to remain cautious about where you ride, as the river is roughly divided based on experience level, and certain areas should be avoided due to hazards. Downwind of the sandbar, you’ll find two extremes — both beginner lessons and professional riders doing tricks at the slider park. Here, you’ll need to be especially courteous of your space, and make sure you’re not getting in anyone’s way. And upwind of the sandbar, you’ll see plenty of independent and intermediate kiters. Be wary of the portion of the sandbar where the Hood River joins the Columbia River; this is where pros tend to ride, and it can be a more dangerous area.
On any given day during the summer, you can expect wind speeds to range anywhere from 10 mph to 30 mph. The landscape of the surrounding mountains creates a unique windy current along the Columbia River, making the area ideal for kiteboarding. The river flows in the opposite direction of the wind, which means you won’t need as much wind in order to ride. This is ideal for those just starting out! However, the confluence of the Columbia River and Hood River creates a strong current, or a “black hole,” at the edge of the sandbar. Make sure you review the updated information on NWKite.com that details these zones and other warnings.
Beware of the portions of the river with more dangerous conditions, including the black hole at the end of the sandbar, and the second black hole almost directly across the river from the first, along the opposite shore. Also keep an eye out for boats and barges, which frequently pass through. In general, the river can get crowded with people and vessels, so make sure you keep an eye out and watch where you’re going at all times. Consult the updated information on NWKite.com about these warnings and other weather-related information.
Where to Go After
Photo Courtesy of Riverside
You’ll most likely be hungry after all this excitement and activity under the sun. Thankfully, Hood River has no shortage of places to go after your kiteboarding adventure. Some of our favorite restaurants in Hood River include Full Sail Brewing Company & Brewpub, Riverside, Big Horse Brew Pub & Restaurant, Celilo Restaurant & Bar, pFriem, and Solstice Wood Fire Café & Bar.
Have any insider tips about kiteboarding in Hood River? Share them in the comments below!