north american sup destination, hood river, oregon, ore., columbia gorge, PNW, jennifer gulizia

Photo: Jennifer Gulizia

North American SUP Destination: Hood River, Oregon

Located at the base of Mount Hood and the confluence of the Hood and Columbia Rivers lies Hood River, Oregon, a locale prone to more gravity-fueled adventure sports than any other place I've been. From year-round, world-class paddling of all types to snowboarding and mountain biking, Hood River is an extremely tough place to work. Every day features epic conditions for some kind of play and most of the people who choose to live in the "Gorge" understand that gear storage space easily trumps living space.

The paddling scene is part of the reason I moved to Hood River back in 2000. Between the kiteboard sessions and epic whitewater kayaking I knew I'd found home. It wasn't until 2007 that I discovered standup paddling and found myself paddling everyday on the ideal conditions that the Columbia River offered. Since the wind is usually blowing in the Gorge, I started downwinding. We'd do laps on the Hatch and Viento runs—two separate put-ins on the Columbia—which had us screaming down the face of head-high river swells, dodging windsurfers, kiteboarders and barges.

Standup paddling local whitewater was the next step for me. I figured if people were learning to kayak on the Upper Klikitat River in Washington (just across the Columbia), I could try on a standup. It was a lot of falling, swimming and learning, but I loved it. I was like a kid learning to ride a bike. Paddling through roadside rapids makes the Klikitat perfect for any SUP whitewater newbie. And when it's high, it has some awesome surf waves. Once you feel comfortable on the Klikitat thereare all kinds of rivers to step up to from the Lower and Middle White Salmon Rivers to Hood River, featuring Class III and IV whitewater that drops you right into town. And capping a perfect day with a beer is easy at breweries like Double Mountain, Full Sail, Everybodys or Volcanic.

Want more awesomeness? The coast is two-and-a-half hours away, making a weekend getaway to Cape Kiwanda or Newport a no-brainer when you see long period northwest swell lining up. Plus, Portland is on the way if you long for city entertainment or just want to get your "weird" on. Yeah, this place rules. –Dan Gavere was an instrumental fixture in the development of whitewater standup.

This article originally ran in our Summer 2014 Issue as part of the "Paddle Town Battle" feature.

The Paddle Town Battle was simple in concept: pick the best standup towns in North America and let you, dear readers, vote to decide the ultimate SUP city on our Facebook page.

But what makes a good place to live and paddle? Is it access to the water? Is it a nice place to live? Is it the people? We debated. There were so many questions to answer that we formed categories: proximity to types of paddling (ocean surfing, whitewater, flatwater, downwind, river surfing), community (races, shops, people), off-the-water amenities (breweries, eateries, yoga studios) and influence (what role this place has played in the sport). Then you spoke loudly and proudly. You told us why your town or city was the best place to be a standup paddler. In the end, the people of Puerto Rico rallied around beautiful and diverse Rincón to put it at the top of the bracket. We let the locals tell you why their town made our Top 10.

More North American SUP destinations here.
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