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Downwind

Chasing downwind dreams and green dragons in the Gorge.

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Chasing downwind dreams and green dragons in the Gorge.

'Tis the season to load up surfskis, sunscreen and ambition and make road trips to downwind paradise in the Hood River area. The Gorge offers a relatively safe place to paddle in excellent downwind and make multiple runs in one day in a huge variety of conditions from beginner friendly to extreme.

I started my paddling journey just five years ago, and in that time I've gone from an absolute hack beginner to an absolute hack advanced paddler. I've also seen a huge increase in surfski paddlers in the Gorge, and it's just a lot of fun to meet new people who come from all walks of life and are at various stages of their own journey chasing waves.

One of the many things that charms me about downwind surfski paddling is the demand for progression. It's an incredibly nuanced, and yet physical pursuit that requires the athlete to commit, focus and put in the work to develop a library of skills to surf well in almost any condition one can expect to meet on sea... or river. It's one thing to catch a wave and surf it. It's quite another to catch every wave and squeeze every last drop of energy out of a downwind run.

But my favorite part of downwind paddling? At the end of every run as the endorphins set in I close my eyes and savor the rising feeling of the powerful waves. In this relaxed state my mind retraces my steps and missteps, and I try learn something new that has the potential to make me just a little bit faster, smarter or stronger the next time I drop in. And that motivates me to come back for more. 

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Finally, SPRING IN BELLINGHAM!

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Finally, SPRING IN BELLINGHAM!

Barrels in a surfski? Kinda. 

Barrels in a surfski? Kinda. 

Today was the first downwind of spring, and it was LEGIT. Sunshine. Warmish Air. Wind. Ripping rides. Face shot after face shot. Barrels. Just another day in paddlers paradise. Baby I'm down... 

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Punched in the Face!

Sometimes paddling in the PNW in the winter is like trying to dance with a silverback and getting punched in the face. But we like it that way. 

But sometimes, it all comes together.  

 

 

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Having the bucket time of my life.

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Having the bucket time of my life.

"Hey man, wake up! It's windy in the bay!" 

"Bruh... I'm tired. We've been out every day for the last ten days... Gonna sit this one out."

"C'mon, you got one more lap in you! We'll just do technique surfing... not go hard at all man." 

"Fine. What time?"

"Well it'll be windy all day... but wow, look at the forecast for 6am."

"Great. Pumping right?"

"Two fists!"

"Better text the guys, see who else will come. Or we don't go."

"Already did. Clement and Olney are both down. Bet Nelson will come too."

I've had this conversation with myself and my fellow downwind junkies every day, for the last twenty plus days. We've had an unusually windy stretch, even by Bellingham standards. And that has meant day after day after day of ideal conditions. Wind to 20. Then 30. Then 25 and back again. Warm air and clear skies contrast the flat daze of the local paddlers who are just stoked out. We keep coming back like the Pavlovian dogs we are. Only the bowl is never empty. Lap lap lap. More laps!

The result is ruinous. I'm becoming decidedly snobbish in my outlook on conditions, but always after I get off the water. "That was pretty good man. Pretty good. But not as good as yesterday. Yesterday was all time." Before I get on the water, I only see whitecaps and potential for ace rides all the way from Bellingham to Valhalla. Glory awaits. "Grab the spears Chief!"

Surfing downwind is nothing short of art for adrenaline junkies who like to run with sharp objects. You know the type. Growing up, we were the ones who sniffed glue and ate our crayons after coloring on the walls and bellowing "SPARTAAAA!!!!" at the teacher. For a relatively new surfski paddler like myself the learning curve has been a cliff that I fail upwards. Just keeping up with some of the local legends is a life goal. Even if they are merely three decades your senior. I'm not sure how they do it. But I've noticed there is a difference between those who settle for bucket lists and those make bucket time.  

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2016 Bellingham Bay Rough Water Race, Take 1

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2016 Bellingham Bay Rough Water Race, Take 1

Post Point often delivers the biggest waves and best surfing. Today was remarkable. 

This weekend was supposed to be the Bellingham Bay Rough Water Race, but with gail winds blowing into the 70's, the race was postponed until the 19th. So a few of the local Bellingham surfski, OC and SUP paddlers decided instead to do a Wildcat downwind run to blow off a little pent up energy. Conditions did not disappoint, and at the very tail end of this run my GPS registered a maximum speed of 18.5mph. 

As good as good gets in Bellingham Bay: Big, fast waves with smooth faces and wide periods for ripping downwind surfing. 

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Just another exceptional day on Bellingham Bay.

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Just another exceptional day on Bellingham Bay.

Classic day on the bay; A nice blow that steamed into town well over forecast with wind close to 20mph gusting into the low 30's. So I took my new race horse out for a few steeplechase laps in Bellingham Bay, and the new Epic V14 GT did not disappoint. Superb handling, responsive but not twitchy and it lets me get away with bloody murder when sprinting through and over waves. Incredibly fast; max speed was 14.8 mph on an otherwise average downwind day. It really is a game changer for me.   

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