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Staffers take on Columbia -- and lose

Whether you’re a long-time resident or a new fish, life in the Hood just wouldn’t be the same without the sport of windsurfing.

For those who have adopted it, sailing every day feels as natural as granola. But for water-weary land-lubbers like us, merely stepping onto a board requires plenty of courage, lots of neoprene and an overabundance of humility.

However, despite hours of mental preparation, neither of us could turn down a free lesson. Thanks to our friends at Octagon Marketing — the annual promoters of the Gorge Games, which arrive in Hood River July 13 — we were given a golden opportunity to make fools of ourselves in front of pro windsurfer Sean Aiken and the passers-by on Interstate 84.

After a brief on-shore demonstration, we were turned loose to the currents with only a board, a sail and a skin-tight wetsuit to keep us out of harm’s way.

Though both of us walked away with only minor injuries — bruised egos, mostly — we each had different experiences. And, while both of us feel we made progress, we can certifiably say that the Mighty Columbia got the better of us that day — and laughed in our face!

***

All I know is that if it weren’t for the beginner’s bay at the Hood River Inn, I may still be trying to turn around somewhere near The Dalles.

Once I finally figured out how to stand on the board, pull the sail out of the water, and let the wind do the work, I then had to remember everything Sean told me about how to turn myself around.

“Uh huh. Yup. I understand.”

Just like in high school, in one ear and out the other. Of course in high school, my health wasn’t at stake if I forgot a math formula. If I were out in the middle of the river and couldn’t remember Sean’s instructions, I may have had to hitchhike on an oil barge.

But common sense got the better of me and I was somehow able to drag my board and sail back to shore before being swept away by the swirling Gorge winds.

All in all, not a bad experience. If nothing else, a growing experince. I exited the water with the confidence that I could improve my next time out.

When that next time will be is uncertain, but I was able to take away one important lesson from my day on the river: Don’t underestimated the Columbia’s currents, and don’t underestimate yourself — even if you are a dry foot.

— Dave Leder

***

I’d like to make some witty observations about Dave’s attempts at learning to windsurf, thereby making my efforts seem positively masterful by comparison.

I’d like to do that, but since I spent most of the two-hour lesson with my head underwater, I didn’t see anything Dave was doing.

I suppose the first warning flag should have been raised when I put my wetsuit on backwards (perhaps I should note that Dave did this, too). Sean was very nice about containing his laughter, and said that this sort of thing happens all the time.

Backwards or forward, though, I can’t help but feel a little glad that our camera ran out of batteries during the land portion of the lesson, making it impossible to capture what I looked like encased in flesh-hugging neoprene.

I had tried windsurfing almost 10 years ago (right around the time I gave skiing a shot for the first and only time), but the wind had been curiously absent. Not so on this day. I was able to keep my balance fairly well, but my poor analysis of spatial relationships made it impossible to figure out how I should turn the sail in order to go in the direction I intended.

After a successful sail out to the buoy line and back, I had gained enough confidence to make one more trip.

But instead of sailing straight out, I drifted. And drifted. And drifted a little more, past the buoys. I climbed off my board and tried to swim against the current, but it seemed the river had other plans, and towards Mosier I went. I eventually gave up and muscled my way to shore to walk my board back.

Maybe next time I should try skiing again, instead.

— Erik Steighner

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