Hood River is the perfect playground for downwinding. Big Winds is the ideal outfitter for that playground. Photo courtesy of Gorge-Us Photography

Shop Talk: Hood River’s Big Winds Outfitters

Words by Rebecca Parsons

Hood River, Oregon is a water sports mecca of the Pacific Northwest. Lush scenery, towering waterfalls, cascading canyons and a community centered around an outdoor lifestyle make the small town a paddler's dream. Nestled in the center of it all sits a unique SUP shop: Big Winds.

Big Winds first opened its doors in 1987. The sport of windsurfing was exploding and the strong, consistent winds that howl over Hood River began attracting water sports enthusiasts from around the world. With each passing decade, the shop expanded. First they added kiteboarding to their program, then in 2007 they added standup paddling.

Their expansion was right on time as standup paddling's popularity was just beginning to boom. The SUP offerings at Big Winds were an instant success.

"Paddling emerged as an awesome form of cross-training," marketing manager, Big Winds' marketing manager Eddy Patricelli recalls. "It was a great wind sport complement, an escape that unlike windsurfing and kiteboarding, welcomed all ages and abilities and wasn't too finicky about Mother Nature delivering the ideal conditions. If there was water, you could go paddling."

Now, standup paddling makes up a third of the shop's business. They offer a comprehensive lesson program, youth SUP teams, have a large array of boards and gear for sale, and offer famous downwind shuttles.

A group of eager paddler’s gets a tutorial in the most popular course offered by Big Winds: An Introduction to Downwind SUP. Photo: Julie Wilcox

"Standup paddling is a galvanizing force for our team, comprised of sixty staff members during the summer months." Patricelli says. "Not all of us windsurf. Not all of us kiteboard. But all of us paddle. It is a unifying component of who we are and what we do."

Big Winds prides itself on well-trained and experienced staff. They offer lesson for beginners, private lessons, clinics, and their most popular class: introduction to downwind SUP.

In the downwinding class, students and their equipment are shuttled a mile upwind. Once on the water, they are instructed on how to read the river, catch swells, and safely navigate the currents and conditions of the Gorge. In addition to the intro class, Big Winds offers a downwind shuttle that runs three times a day. After a thorough safety check, participants are shuttled eight miles upwind to Viento State Park where they then have the opportunity to ride the swells back to the event site. Hood River is famous for its windy conditions, making it the ideal location for downwind paddlers.

Big Winds has experienced a lot of success after their thirty years in business, producing some incredible athletes along the way. 2016 women's SUP racing World Series champion Fiona Wylde and elite paddler Hannah Hills are both products of the shop's youth SUP team.

"Of course there's pride in seeing Hannah and Fiona excel," Patricelli says. "They are family. They've emerged from our youth paddling programs onto the world stage."

Hood River’s hometown hero Fiona Wylde graduated from the youth program at Big Winds and went on to become a world champion SUP racer. Photo: Gorge-Us Photography

Wylde and Hill are proud ambassadors of their hometown and will both be competing at the shop's biggest event this summer, the Gorge Paddle Challenge. Owner, Steve Gates, started the event and through his efforts and the support of sponsors it has been a huge success, drawing top paddlers from around the world.

Looking forward, Big Winds plans to continue inspiring athletes and getting people on the water. They've also opened a sister shop, Oregon E-Bikes through which they offer electric bikes.

"In my opinion, the real draw for standup paddling here is the culture," Patricelli says. "Life in motion. Outside. Lived in the present tense. That's Hood River and in many ways, that's paddling."

More Shop Talk

Check out Belize’s premier SUP outfitter, Contour Ocean Adventures.