Kayak Surfing in the Columbia Gorge – Plus Salmon Spawning

10 10 2011

I have been working at Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe during 2011, and the irony is that I’ve been teaching beginners so I have not had much time to play in rougher conditions! Even on the days I tried we got skunked – calm weather prevailed.

But this past Friday I was able to get out with Neil Schulman on the Columbia River Gorge for what we locals call a “wind run.” The Columbia Gorge often gets winds in excess of 18 mph, sometimes even upwards of 40 mph. On these days, wind waves form, turning the river into a continuous set of wind-driven waves.

These waves are different from those at the ocean beaches because they have no rising depths beneath them – they don’t have big breaking faces. These waves generally are continuous rollers. On Friday, the biggest reached three feet, so it was a great day to learn. I’d never done this before!

Once out in the midst of the river you turn your kayak downwind and start paddling. We went from Stevenson, WA to the Wind River – it’s only about 5 miles. It’s incredibly forgiving. If you don’t catch a wave, it just passes beneath. If you get tired and want to paddle lazily, you just let these rollers roll along underneath you. If you want to surf, you have to keep up a good pace and then when a wave comes you sprint to catch it! It is a lot like interval training. Sometimes, you can surf from one roller onto the next and catch it, then another and then another! Fun, but exhausting!

We caught our breath by paddling up the Wind River to see if we could see salmon spawning. Sure enough! We got up to some riffles and dozens of Chinook and Coho were spawning! Always a breathtaking sight!

Here is a short video of the Chinook action on the Wind River…

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