'Tis the season to load up surfskis, sunscreen and ambition and make road trips to downwind paradise in the Hood River area. The Gorge offers a relatively safe place to paddle in excellent downwind and make multiple runs in one day in a huge variety of conditions from beginner friendly to extreme.
I started my paddling journey just five years ago, and in that time I've gone from an absolute hack beginner to an absolute hack advanced paddler. I've also seen a huge increase in surfski paddlers in the Gorge, and it's just a lot of fun to meet new people who come from all walks of life and are at various stages of their own journey chasing waves.
One of the many things that charms me about downwind surfski paddling is the demand for progression. It's an incredibly nuanced, and yet physical pursuit that requires the athlete to commit, focus and put in the work to develop a library of skills to surf well in almost any condition one can expect to meet on sea... or river. It's one thing to catch a wave and surf it. It's quite another to catch every wave and squeeze every last drop of energy out of a downwind run.
But my favorite part of downwind paddling? At the end of every run as the endorphins set in I close my eyes and savor the rising feeling of the powerful waves. In this relaxed state my mind retraces my steps and missteps, and I try learn something new that has the potential to make me just a little bit faster, smarter or stronger the next time I drop in. And that motivates me to come back for more.