Pullouts and state parks around the Gorge have the same sign, a brown-and-white windsurfer that denotes “extreme sports here.” But windsurfers aren’t what turn the Columbia into a fluorescent rainbow of sails these days. In Hood River, kiteboarders can outnumber them three to one.
The sports aren’t that different: fast, hard, and expensive. Windsurfing is like captaining a sailboat shrunken to the size of a surfboard, while kiteboarding is akin to snowboarding with a parachute tethered to your midsection—all on water. The steady winds and sunny weather of the Gorge are an international draw, and it’s been called the windsurfing capital of the world for decades. The winds turned, so to speak, in the ’90s when the father-son team of Bill and Cory Roesler moved to Hood River with their handmade wings for daring wind jockeys; Corey’s now credited as one of the sport’s inventors.
“The learning curve is faster,” says Bart Vervloet; you can hit the water on your first day. “But it’s a bit more of a danger curve.” Vervloet did Bart’s Best Bet wind forecast on Hood River radio for 22 years and now staffs the town’s Gorge Surf Shop. Though he’s seen plenty of ankle and foot injuries from the sport, kiteboarding has made rapid gains in safety, and no one’s died here yet.
The sandbar in Hood River is crowded even in the middle of a workday. Kiteboarding newbies—lessons start around $200—try not to tangle the kites that snap to attention above them, while pros get air on the choppy water. Windsurfers weave between them, leaning from their sails in a graceful show of strength. Vervloet says there’s no bad beef between the two camps; there’s plenty of wind to go around.