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High school team sets sail

Gorge Sailing Team quickly recruits full group for first season

The gorge sailing team practices three times a week in the Hood River Marina, as seen here last week on an windy Thursday afternoon. The inaugural team will compete in a series of Northwest Interscholastic Sailing Association races this spring against several other high school teams from Oregon and Washington.

Photo by Adam Lapierre.
The gorge sailing team practices three times a week in the Hood River Marina, as seen here last week on an windy Thursday afternoon. The inaugural team will compete in a series of Northwest Interscholastic Sailing Association races this spring against several other high school teams from Oregon and Washington.

Starting this year, sailing has been added to the long list of sports high school students in the Gorge can compete in during the spring season, and although it means a draw of potential athletes away from other school sports, a sailing team seems like a natural fit for a town famous for its reliable wind and the mighty Columbia River out the front door.

As part of the Northwest Interscholastic Sailing Association, the Gorge Sailing Team will compete in four regattas in the short spring season, which started earlier this month and ends in early May with the NWISA championships. Between races, the team, open to high schoolers from throughout the Gorge, practices three days a week in the Hood River Marina.

“We decided to get a program started this year, and just like that we had 16 kids signed up,” team assistant Kassen Bergstrom said. “I think the timing is just right for a high school sailing team in Hood River; the turnout we had is proof of that.”

The team has been made possible in large part through the help of the long running GORGE Junior Sailing Program, which has introduced sailing to hundreds of local kids over the years — including several who are now on the team — and has a fleet of two-person 420 class (4.2 meter length) dinghies that the team is using for the season.

“We had amazing support in getting the team together,” Bergstrom said. “From the Port (of Hood River) to Community Education to the GORGE sailing program, the pieces were all there, we just had to put them together.”

Hood River resident Scott Walsh brings about 10 years of youth sailing experience to the team as its inaugural coach.

“There’s already a lot of momentum behind this program,” Walsh said. “I’m all about trying to help out our local kids and the sailing community, but when we first started I was nervous about getting enough kids to fill even one boat. As soon as word got out, we had 16 kids in the program and were raising money to buy more boats.”

The team raised enough to buy three 420 boats of its own, and is leasing four others from the GORGE program, which uses the fleet for its series of popular summer classes. Hood River County Community Education is running the program under its registration and insurance umbrella, and the Port of Hood River is providing the use of dock space and the marina to practice in during the week. Bergstrom said the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association also chipped in to help the team by loaning sets of wetsuits, PFDs and gloves and booties to the kids.

Of the 16 kids on the team, Walsh said they have varying degrees of experience on the water. “They’re all adventurous kids who participate in other outdoor sports as well,” he said. “But the varying levels of sailing experience has certainly been a coaching challenge. We have some kids wanting to work on advanced techniques while others are still learning how to tie basic knots.”

Along with assistant coach Lars Bergstrom, Walsh and the team will benefit from an array of guest coaches from the community, who will share their experience and expertise with the kids.

“We have so many world-class sailors who live in town,” he said. “We’re going to try to get as many of them involved as we can as guest coaches.”

The team practices three times a week in the relative shelter of the Hood River Marina, which has plenty of wind exposure but is sheltered from currents, swell and other challenges of the open river that would make the program much less manageable.

“For these little 14-foot boats, the marina is a perfect area,” Walsh said. “It has some wind shadows and swirly wind, but I think it presents certain challenges that will help make the kids even better sailors because of them.”

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