It was my first day of learning to downwind SUP, and right before sunset, the bumps were firing. Cole Kawana and I decided to send a run from the hatchery to the event site, with Tom Carroll taking the jet ski alongside us. We started the run right as the sun was setting, and about a mile into the run I got stuck in some weeds. While I was clearing them off my foil, Cole passed me. As I got back on foil again, he and Tom were slowly disappearing from my view. After riding another three or four miles, I looked over to the Washington side to see how close I was getting to the event site. The second I turned my head, I ran into a huge log and fell. By this time, it was completely dark. Cole had fallen, so Tom drove him back to the event site. When they got back, they weren’t sure if there was enough fuel to go and look for me. After falling, I swam to grab my board. Once I grabbed my board, I realized that the bumps were almost completely dead. At this point, Chris (Sayer) took the ski from Tom to go and search for me. I knew that if I got up on foil, I had enough energy to pump back to the event site in the flat water (probably would’ve been about 15 minutes). I had never attempted to get up when there are no bumps before, but I knew my only option was to figure it out. It was pitch black and I could barely see. After about a minute of trying, I got back up on foil. I could see the endpoint getting closer and closer as I kept pumping. Chris had been driving around on the ski looking for me for almost 15 minutes (I was not aware of that at the time). Thankfully, without knowing it, after five minutes of pumping, I had pumped right past him. And in the corner of my eye, I could see him on the ski, so I stopped. A downwind run that should’ve only taken 30 minutes, ended up taking about 80!
The Gorge/Hood River is the business. It is the best place to try new equipment or a new way of riding on foil whether it be winging, SUP downwinding or prone. Prone is for the big boys though, ha! For me personally, after going there a few years now, it was all about figuring out the hardest thing ever… SUP downwinding. I was giving it a go in Hawaii before going to The Hood this year and was struggling real hard to the point of almost throwing in the towel. I had a feeling that The Hood would provide, and it did! Man, that place provides so many opportunities to try things out, work on techniques and without any sharks (I have had a few close calls!).
So stoked about the place and I feel it was there that I finally felt comfortable getting up on foil and going for miles and miles. The Hood provides once again. It's also an insane place to meet and fly with other frothers. Love it and can't wait to get back there!
Hood River had alluded me for the past few years. Plans fell through several times. I’ve enviously watched hours of footage and have grilled many friends for details about their experiences in The Hood. An obsession was built. So, this past July, to finally spend 10 days in The Gorge, and better yet with my teammates on Freedom Foil Boards, it was a dream come to fruition.
The Colombia River Gorge is a phenomenon and a wind sport enthusiast’s mecca. The prevailing winds oppose the river’s current, which in turn greatly amplifies the waves… think opposing forces. The stronger the wind and current, the greater the effect. Although it doesn’t feel like it, you are riding up the river against the current, and moving fast! It’s hard to picture but the swells can get a little overhead and there are moments when you feel like you’re riding below the surface level. It’s wild!
The current is dictated by snowmelt runoff, and dam release flows, I believe. In July, this current was moving around 10mph I’m guessing. It felt really fast. You could downwind a two-mile section and just lay on your board and get sucked back up to your starting point, at a shocking speed. This is a beautiful feature of the river when all is going well. If the wind dies or you’re having equipment issues, or some other problem, then the current can be a pain. You’re likely doing a walk of shame along the highway. Another thing about the river that surprised me is that all the different spots rely on their specific wind direction, just like the ocean. There are so many twists and turns along the river, a few degrees of wind angle can shut the swell off, and fire it up elsewhere. Local knowledge and forecasts were as important as on any ocean surf trip.
After spending 10 sunrises to sunset days on the river, sharing beers and laughs on the riverbank, I can say my initial obsession has only grown…
When I think of Hood River, I think of 25 knot days on the Columbia River with waist-high river swells, lit up on small foils and small wings. Even with conditions as good as they get, there are still those days in the summer when the heat rolls into the corridor and the westerlies shut down. Fortunately enough for the Freedom team, we only had one of those days when the wind decided it had other plans than to show up in The Gorge.
To beat the heat and find a place to cool off, the team decided to load up the van and U-Haul and send it up to Lost Lake. Lost Lake is nestled in the Mt. Hood National Forest and at 3,200 feet above sea level it makes the perfect place to beat the Gorge heatwave. Before arriving at Lost Lake my expectations were low. I figured we may find a spot to do some rock starts or just a cool place to relax after a few days of non-stop action on the river. To our surprise, some of the easterly winds that come along with the heat can sneak their way into the lake, making it the ultimate novelty wing spot. Coming from the boring flat terrain of Florida, it was surreal to be able to get a session on a lake right under the shadow of Mount Hood.
Super stoked on the light-wind performance of the Halcyon 1030 and it paired perfectly with the Freedom 6m wing. The low stall speed from the 1030 combined with the grunt of the Freedom wing allowed me to get up on foil when a gust would come through and stay on foil through the lightest of lulls. This session was a special one to share with the team in the water and those providing the good vibes and cold beers from the rowboat.
Blood is trickling from the top of Tom Carroll’s feet – it’s not pretty, but it’ll heal up, eventually. Tom is completely unphased. He’s grinning ear-to-ear with a childlike wonder. He’s just had an epic session and a major breakthrough on his quest learning to wing.
Viento State Park sets the stage and the steady 20+ mph winds provide all the necessary energy – the perfect spot to develop early skills and build confidence. It was here that I had my first winging experience nine months prior, and the struggle was still very much at the front of my cortex. I’ll proudly share my foot scars as if they were some kind of participation trophies. Tom checks his feet and acknowledges that it’ll likely leave a mark. But all this doesn’t matter. He is elated. It’s the first session he has been able to fully control the wing and navigate himself back to the starting point. For me, it was a major milestone. It meant the walk of shame would be (mostly) behind me. It’s an accomplishment worthy of a quiet celebration.
20 minutes later, with wounds tended to and the van packed to the brim, we made our way back towards town. Assuming the day was done, I started to exit towards our vacation rental. Tom looks over my shoulder, eyes fixated on the white caps and increasing winds. “Shall we go have a look?” Tom asks. Another 20 minutes later, we’re back out there – spirits high, seeking that next milestone.
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Massive thanks to our amazing team riders who came from all over the globe to inspire and as always lead the way. Team Captain and No.1 influencer, Mr. Brian Finch, the master off all things style, Jason Miller, the ultimate hero and Jedi Master, Tom Carroll, the future of foiling itself, Brady Hurley, the maestro of fun, Kyle Maligro, the Diagnostic Detailer, Cole Kawana, and last but by no means least, the Secret Weapon himself, Robert Carney.