As another summer season comes to an end, I’m thinking about what made it memorable? First on the list has to be the wind…simply put this was a very windy summer. The few expected hot spells that lasted only a couple of days, provided sailors a little rest from the classic Gorge winds that were consistent from the end of June until Labor Day. Portland had a cooler than normal summer which is the reason behind the great wind in the Gorge. The formula is pretty simple: cool to the west, hot to the east= the best high wind sailing in North America.
And the crowds were memorable. Sailors from across the US, Canada and several other countries found their way to the Gorge this summer. They came for a week or a month or more; calling an RV home, or renting a local home for the summer. Everyone seems to have their own way of spending as much time as possible living the windsurfing life on the river. The two weeks before the Labor Day weekend I hit the beach with demos at Swell City, Doug’s Beach, and Roosevelt Park.
Chris and Will (brothers) from Rhode Island were spending the final weeks of summer sailing the high winds at Swell City before heading back to college this fall. They’ve been sailing for most of their lives since their parents were serious racers, but given the choice, the Gorge is their favorite place to sail. They both put the Panthers to the test, Chris shared his impression while taking a break, “they really feel light and are easy to control in the air…phenomenal”. I had a great time with Stan and his son Cody at Doug’s Beach. They’re from Colorado and spend August in the Gorge each summer. The past two summers they’ve tried the Panthers, and I just got an email from Stan letting me know they loved them so much that they now have some Panthers living in the back of their van.
I always try to get out to Roosevelt Park at the east end of the Gorge at least a couple of times during the summer. It’s always fun to connect with sailors from Tri-Cities, Spokane, eastern Washington and Oregon. I hit a perfect day the last week of August. When I arrived at noon sailors were on 3.7 – 4.2. John from Windance was there with his posse, and a couple volunteers took out some sails to give me a reading on the building conditions. Did I say building? By later in the afternoon the wind was averaging 38 with gusts to 50 and most sailors were looking for the smallest sail available (“does Ezzy make a 2.5?”) . Jim from Hood River finished the day on a 2.9, his only comment, “that is the best small sail I’ve ever been on…I was totally powered“. He’s 185 lbs and is an excellent sailor; he was making the “blowing smoke” conditions look like fun. For most of us, the fun part of these conditions is watching sailors like Jim.
A final memorable part of my summer was stopping by Cascade Sailboards in Mosier, Oregon (5 miles east of Hood River). Gary Swanson is the owner, shaper and builder of custom Gorge sailboards. There are only a few custom board builders left, and Gary has been building boards in the same shop since 1985. I still have a board he built for me in 1993, but as the design of sails and boards have progressed over time, it now adorns our orchard fence. The draft forward design of modern sails, along with much shorter boom lengths can make it very difficult to sail a 20 year old board.
Nancy and I were working in the orchard one morning in June and I was telling her I should see if Gary could make some changes to my old favorite bolted to the fence. I should have expected her response, “why would you do that, just go have him make you a new board, you deserve it”. What a lucky man! I unbolted the board, put it the van and drove to Mosier.
Gary Swanson, Cascade Sailboards
Gary greeted me as I walked through the door. He was wearing a mask and covered with foam dust from head to toe. After a detailed discussion of rocker lines, rails, width, thickness and sail size range, graphics, and color choice my new board was sketched along with detailed notes on an order sheet. My new board was done in a few weeks and is a work of art, and joy to sail. There are few people these days that have dedicated themselves to creating their interpretation of perfection, whether it is a sailboard or an Ezzy sail. For me this is what makes windsurfing more that just a sport…it’s part of the spirit of living our lives to the fullest. The joy and freedom of feeling the wind in your sail and blur of the waves under your feet helps us define what’s good about our lives. See ya on the beach, Gary & Nancy