Facing down fears and peers, Matt Luchsinger (AKA Suds), world renown kiteboarder, has taken on the challenge of,
wait for it,
Big Winds’ teacher extraordinaire, Ondine, took a deep breath and the task of doing the unthinkable.
Suds: “You want me to do what?”
Ondine: “You want me to do what?”
“This is nuts.”
“Aircraft Carrier. Can’t be that hard.”
So easy, I can do it with my eyes closed.
Oh, ya. In your face. What’s next?
Big Winds: Aiding cross-overs since 1987.
We had a smokin’ big day in the Gorge on Wednesday, May 8th. Steve loaded the new Big Winds van with a few SUPers and headed to Viento. Here’s a review that was posted on Standup Zone by PonoBill:
“Boy, today sure was fun. The wind was howling, I bet we had some 45 MPH gusts–ripping spray off the water. Steve Gates from Big Wind did a test of his shuttle idea. Big success. He’s talking about starting Memorial day, but I bet folks are going to bug him to start sooner, like tomorrow. Very handy not to have to pick up shuttle cars.
“I took advantage of not having to race back to Nichols for shuttle duty to take my 12’2″ X 26″ Starboard Surfboard. It was slow, but I had a blast. I think that’s going to be my standard ride. I’ll probably take the F16 sometimes, but the 12’2″ is such a hoot, it will be hard to leave it home. Constant surfing.
“It’s hard to get back up when you fall, and I fell three times (not counting the ten times I fell off trying to get back up), but it’s worth it, and once you’re up it’s challenging, but sufficiently stable to play. I cut across the river just after the split rock to pick up the waves at the Hatchery and Swell City. Even just cutting across the river was great. I was dropping down to the bottom of swells angling North, doing one of my patented weak-ass backside bottom turns and then just staying low and slicing across the river. I think it was no more than ten waves to slice all the way across. Crazy fun.
“Swell and the hatchery were big, but not monster overhead like they sometimes get. I think the wind angle wasn’t quite right. But chest to shoulder high, and I got some big drops and lots of hoots from the windsurfers. Fun enough to drop down and let the current take me back for one more run. World’s biggest escalator. I got a couple of good bottom turns the second run, and a noseride–well, a logo ride. Then I sat down, went halfway back, then cut across to Wells and rode the express all the way to Nichols. In a major league glide the whole way.
“Everyone was dressed and dry by the time I got to Nichols, but I couldn’t stop grinning and laughing. What a crazy great little board that is. It looks like a windsurfer next to all the big iron, but it’s fun.”
SUP Downwinding Safety Guidelines
(with help from my friends)
Here in the Gorge, and elsewhere, SUP downwinding is on fire. Everyone wants to go. On a warm, sunny day in a 15-20 mph breeze, it’s a walk in the park for most skilled paddlers. On a 25-35 mph cranker with a ton of current, huge swells and cold water, it’s a whole different ball game. We’ve had both types of experiences and everything in between in the Gorge, on Maui, and the Oregon coast and have had a pile of truly memorable runs. However, we have also had some pretty scary things happen, hence this list of guidelines to help us all get home safely.
Assess the conditions. If it’s not safe don’t go. It may be safe for some and not for others, or you. Remember that the conditions change fast, and vary as you travel along–particularly on the river. Your friends might look out for you, but it’s a big place. You have to know that you’ll be able to handle everything you encounter, by yourself.
Comply with Oregon law. You must have a PFD, a whistle and an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) permit. You may not agree with this, but the Marine Sheriff won’t care. The fines are stiff. Attach your whistle on the strap of your hydration pack so you can access it quickly and easily in case of an emergency.
Wear appropriate rubber. Assume you will break down, or someone else will and you’ll be in the water for some time. You can become hypothermic, even in relatively mild temperatures.
Wear a BRIGHT rash guard or jersey! It’s hard to see you out there!
Hydration! The Viento Run can take an experienced, strong paddler almost two hours when the current is ripping. You most assuredly become dehydrated in that time without water. Wear a hydration pack. You won’t regret it. For any outing over an hour, I suggest hydration.
Leashes! When the current is strong and the wind is pushing your board upriver your board zooms away from you. You almost certainly can’t catch it by swimming after it. Make sure you have a STRONG leash! Make sure your leash tether is super strong and knotted so it will NOT come undone. Consider adding a second tether tied loosely, so if the first fails the second keeps you attached. If you fall in and your leash gets tangled, Do NOT take your leash off! Bad things will happen. This is the voice of experience talking.
Booties. Everyone hates booties till something weird happens and you are halfway between Viento and Hood River and you have to climb up the rip rap, through the blackberries, hauling your fourteen footer onto I-84. Booties look pretty good then.
Helmets. Everyone hates helmets, too. However, when it’s blowing 25+ knots, a fourteen foot SUP becomes a lethal weapon in the air. I just barely missed being getting clobbered by one while in the middle of Malaaea Bay on a 30-40+ day. Getting knocked out by a flying board will most certainly ruin your day. On really windy days, a brain bucket is recommended.
Look out for each other! This trumps all else. If you blast off and are a few hundred yards away, you may not see your paddling partner in distress, or be able to get there quickly to render aid.
Establish a plan in advance on who’s looking out for whom, determine who’s paddling sweep.
Be aware of changing conditions. Is the wind increasing or dying? Is the current ripping or mellow? Ask someone in the know if you don’t. Allow plenty of time to complete the run before darkness sets in.
Someone in the group should have a waterproof cell phone in case of emergency.
Have a bailout plan. Make sure the less skilled paddlers are aware of what to do (get to your knees) or where to go (next to the Oregon shore) if they are struggling in the swells and current.
Know how to use your PFD, and if it’s inflatable, try it out. You don’t want to learn about problems in the middle of Swell City.
Speaking of Swell City and the Hatchery, on windy days these are first and foremost high performance, crowded windsurfing and kiteboarding spots. Taking your SUP through there on a Sunday afternoon with 300 people ripping along at 30 mph ninety degrees to your path is asking for trouble. They probably won’t even see you before they take you completely out. If you want to ride big swells at the Hatch on your SUP, get out during dawn patrol.
Have fun, and be careful. The Columbia is an amazing resource for downwinding. Let’s keep it safe and sane. It’s challenging enough without adding unnecessary risks.
- PFD’s (we recommend the slim profile, belt style inflatable PFD
- Board bags (protect that beautiful new board!)
- Wetsuits (Yes, we are fully stocked with ladies wetsuits perfect for paddling!)
Fiona Wylde sent us an update of her latest exploits:
“This past weekend I was at the Junior Pro Sup Fiesta in Huntington Beach, Ca. I competed in both the sup surf contest as well as the sprint surf race. Unfortunately I did not so as well as I would have liked in the sup surf contest, getting knocked out in the second round. But that is part of competing; sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.”
“However, there was some excitement when I participated in the sprint surf race. It was a super short course where we had to punch out of the surf twice as well as ride the waves back in. I managed to do really well, and stayed on my board the entire time. I am stoked to say that I won the race and won it by about twenty seconds.”
“I am so stoked that I was able to be part of an event that was only for kids. The other participants have inspired me to improve my paddling and surfing skills to get to the next level.”
“Now I am heading back to The Gorge, where I will be for two weeks, paddling and getting ready for a race in Lake Tahoe at the end of May!”
The Big Winds staff is filled with athletes who love to paddle. Some of us are recreational paddlers who go out for fun and the social aspect of the sport, and some of us (like myself) are WAY into it and paddle all the time for fitness and race training, and racing. Several of us are into SUP wave riding, whitewater and, of course, Downwinding! We are a staff made up of all ages (14-63) and about half guys and half girls. We have an extensive SUP lesson program and a huge SUP demo and rental fleet at our waterfront location in Hood River. And, this summer we are offering Guided SUP Tours, including the Gorge’s signature downwind run from Viento to Hood River. We are also offering a shuttle service to Viento, for paddlers, windsurfers and kiters.
Click for a giant (5MB) image of the Viento Downwinder course.
We’d love the opportunity to share our enthusiasm and experience and help you get set up with gear that will maximize your fun on the water, not matter what your level of involvement.
So give us a call. We’re your SUP experts!
Inflatable SUPs have gained popularity over the past couple of years for a few reasons:
1) They are durable
2) They are light
3) They pack down to fit in the trunk of your car.
For 2013, we are witnessing a stiffer construction due to 6″ wall thickness. At Big Winds, we offer a number of inflatable options, so we put a couple of our favorites to the stiffness test. In the first test, we pumped up the 2013 Starboard Inflatable Astro Whopper (10′ x 35″) to the manufacturer’s recommended 18 PSI. We placed the board on a couple of sawhorses and bounced on it to see how much the board deflects. The Deluxe construction offered by Starboard this year makes for a very stiff ride, with only 1″ deflection.
We next tested the 2013 Naish Mana Air (10′ x 33″). We pumped it up to the manufacturer’s recommended 14 PSI and found it stiffer then any of our 4″ wall thickness offerings. With only 1.5″ deflection, the 2013 Naish Mana Air proved to be another great contender in our 2013 inflatable line-up.
April 4, 2013
The Big Winds SUP Race Team is accepting applications for the 2013 summer season. Now in its third year, Team Big Winds is made up of a select group of kids, ages 12-19, who are interested in SUP Racing. Team Big Winds has established itself as the premier youth SUP race team in the U.S., with podium finishes at events all over the west coast and Mexico.
The Team is headed by Steve Gates, with coaching assistance from Jim Stevens and MacRae Wylde. All three have extensive coaching and SUP racing experience. Team Big Winds is split into two groups, the Devo Team (limited to 10 kids), where all the kids start, and the Junior Elite Team (JET). Membership on JET is an earned position.
The Team trains and races from mid-June through the end of August. Training takes place early mornings at the Event Site with races in Hood River and Portland. Training sessions are focused and kids must be willing to show up on time and be ready for a challenging workout. The emphasis is on proper stroke technique, paddling in a variety of conditions, racing tactics and strategies.
The Team trains and races in all conditions and, consequently, kids must be comfortable in rough water. To be considered for the Team, kids must meet the following minimum criteria:
1. Must be a strong swimmer.
2. Must be comfortable in the Columbia in rough, windy conditions.
3. Must be comfortable in a disciplined team training environment.
The fee for joining the Team is $125 for those kids who have their own boards and $295 for kids needing to use Big Winds’ boards. Kids must have their own PFDs (inflatable belt style is recommended) and are encouraged to have their own paddles. There will be approximately 15 training/racing opportunities for the Team through the summer.
Those interested in joining Team Big Winds should contact Steve (email@example.com) for more information.
Click to enlarge. Photo: Mike Godsey