Carl Tomlinson’s Pacific Northwest Trip
It started with an idea from Jane who complained we hadn’t been anywhere new for ages and she was getting bored with the usual trips to Cape Town, Canaries and Mauritius in the summer. “Where would you like to go I asked?” “Canada” was the reply, “Where do you windsurf in Canada?” Was my response, “Dunno, let’s find out”. So after a bit of research I discovered a part of North America (USA + Canada) called the Pacific Northwest which includes Northern California, Oregon, Washington in the US and British Columbia in Canada. These regions are blessed with wind during the summer months and are warm and sunny…..the potential for a windsurfing holiday was growing. Then I remembered the clips from the Windsurfing movie 2 which included Cape Mondocino, Pistol River and The Gorge. All of a sudden a trip to Canada looked like it had huge potential. Then I discovered that on Vancouver Island in Canada, there are loads of places to sail there and just like the Gorge it’s windy every day. Needless to say tickets were booked, flying out from San Francisco and returning from Vancouver….a road trip was born!
We arrived in San Francisco tired and weary after a long flight, made all the more pleasant by our good friends at Virgin Atlantic who didn’t charge a penny for all my gear! San Francisco is an amazing city full of all sorts of eclectic people from all over the pace. We had a couple of days doing the touristy stuff before heading up the coast on the legendary Highways 1 and 101. A couple of hundred miles North out of San Francisco and you are in a totally different world to modern day America. Everything becomes remote and you soon become aware of how big this country is. The coast is rocky and often difficult access to the beaches which are below steep and inaccessible cliffs. Then you get to Gold Beach in Oregon, gold is not the colour of its sand, its grey!, the name comes from the gold boom days. Just a few miles South of Gold Beach lies a group of houses and small holdings that make up Pistol River. This is where the American Windsurf Tour (AWT) holds one of their annual round of events usually at the end of June. As I discovered the wind blows every day and strengthens during the morning up to a good Bf7 in the afternoon before dropping down to a Bf3-4 in the evening before sunset. There are always waves of course but the size and quality are swell dependent. There two main spots, Myers creek where the waves are almost side shore and smaller and then there is Pistol River where the waves were bigger but much more onshore and so messy. There were only 10 people most out when I sailed at Myers Creek a few locals, several Canadians and the rest from California, everyone was really friendly and make no mistake these people are passionate about their windsurfing.
Next stop was the Columbia River Gorge, or just The Gorge, which is about a 5-6 hour drive from Gold Beach. The Gorge doesn’t need an introduction; the wind blows every day in the summer and is the North American (US + Canada) capital of windsurfing. Despite there being hundreds of wind and kite surfers of all abilities, there is still plenty of space to park and sail. The centre of this little universe of wind is the small and prosperous city of Hood River which is a great place to stay. Many people sail right from the “Event Site” a grassy park with all the facilities you could want including lessons. There is hardly any water movement and the wind is steady and consistent. I preferred the Hatchery which is on the North side of the river about 4 miles West of Hood River. This is where the US pros and top locals sail, the wind was consistently 5 knots more here and there were standing swells in the river channel for jumps and then flat water near the river bank for freestyle tricks, it’s a fantastic place to sail because of those two things combined. However the launch is off rocks and you need to a pretty competent sailor to get in the water here. Don’t let that put you off though as a little further downwind and upwind there are several more launch spots with pebble beaches which are easier. There are loads of other spots to sail including Swell City, Dougs and Rowena, the last two are a 30min drive from Hood River and didn’t seem to get as much wind or as crowded. At the Hatchery the jumps and tricks happen right in front of the beach and there are really good spectator viewing spot. Everyone is really friendly and unlike some, predominantly European, sailing spots which can get aggressive the Gorge isn’t like that; it is competitive definitely but in a courteous and polite way. Needless to say I loved the Gorge and would definitely go back; my sloppy flakas definitely progressed to be more polished and confident.
And so onto Canada and the unknown. Google definitely came in handy to find places such as Squamish and Nitinat. Squamish, 1 hour drive from Vancouver, is a tame version of the Gorge and is an unbelievably beautiful setting. To get there is a 5 mile drive out of town on a dirt track and then down a narrow man made spit of land built into a river estuary surrounded by beautiful granite mountains reminiscent of the half dome in Yosemite National Park. You park up as close to the end of the spit as possible and then sail upwind to get out to the main sailing area. The water is a cloudy aquamarine blue from melting glaciers but is brackish as it mixes with the Ocean.
Next up is Nitinat, which is a small “first nations” community on the shore of Lake Nitinat. It’s a small village of 280 souls. A thermal wind blows every day mid-morning through to sunset. To get here isn’t an easy trip, you get the ferry from Vancouver over to Vancouver Island and then it’s about a 4 hour drive, the last 35kms along unpaved logging roads. The lake joins the Ocean at its mouth. We stayed 3 days in the Nitinat Motel, but most people who visit camp in the campground adjacent which is also conveniently the launch for wind and kite surfers.
So would I go again? Most definitely, yes. For purely windsurfing I’d spend more time around the Gorge and Pistol River and this would also reduce the cost as you can fly Virgin to Seattle and not incur the one way hire car charges. Would I have done things differently? No not really, the scenery is breath taking, the people we met were friendly and helpful and it was interesting to go places I’ve not been too before. We stayed in bed and breakfasts often in US these have self-catering facilities as well and this helped us manage the cost.
What gear did I take?
- RRD Wave Cult 83, which I used at Pistol River and The Gorge. A Wave Cult 75 would have probably have been a better choice for my 75kgs the 83 is such a versatile board it allowed me more options.
- RRD Twintip 100, which I used at the Gorge and at Lake Nitinat
- Ezzy Wave Panthers 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5, I used every sail during the trip. Locals also pack 3.5 too.
Nice to see lots of RRD and Ezzys on the water at the Gorge, Ezzys in particular are a popular choice for US sailors. Thanks to Jane for patiently taking pictures! Sincerely, Carl