Rock ‘n roll, loop ‘n jibe: Relive early ‘80s Gorge surf scene via videos and music

NEON SAILS: Scenes from the 1984 Pro-Am, including the start from the beach at the Hood River marina.

Photo courtesy of John Hardham, Light Wave Communications
NEON SAILS: Scenes from the 1984 Pro-Am, including the start from the beach at the Hood River marina.

With apologies to vintners of the Gorge, around here there’s no vintage like Surf Vintage.

June 25 brings your chance to see the delights of old-school swell-pounding, to the beat of Ben Bonham and the guys in Bonneville Power Trio playing “retro punk and old wave” music.

“The Classic Windsurfing Show” will run 7-9 p.m. at Columbia Center for the Arts. Tickets for the all-ages show are $18 and available at CCA or online at


The view today ...


Scenes from the 1984 Pro-Am at the same location.

“We’ll be playing loud and live, mostly improvised instrumental music whilst the audience watches the action on the big screen. These were the days when a loop was a loop and a duck jibe was rad!” Bonham said.

“The idea for this show came from the very successful ‘Hapa Hillbillies Play Chaplin’ show we did a few years back,” said Bonham.

“We are really lucky to have footage from John Hardham (Light Wave Communications) from the early 1980s, including some of the 1984 Gorge Pro Am competition,” Bonham said.

The windsurfing boom was at its height in the mid-1980s — worldwide — and the Gorge was fast becoming an epicenter for the sport.

“I started windsurfing and playing music at the same time — at 14 years old, in 1979. The windsurfing was radical and ‘out there;’ very few people in the UK knew what it was then, and I was drawn to the music of the day (British punk and new wave) as much for its anti-establishment message as its musical merits.

“I now have a band, BPT, that plays the music I loved when I was young, and it turns out I like it even more now! So when the Columbia Center for the Arts asked if we’d do another Chaplin show, it occurred to me that we could play ‘retro punk’ and ‘old wave’ music to period windsurfing videos. Perfect!”

BPT features Ryan McAlexander on bass, Tim Ortlieb on drums and Bonham on 50-year-old mohawk, guitar and vocals.

During the intermission, the center will show interviews with sailors and board makers, including a youthful Bob Dill and wind school pioneer Rhonda Smith, who was visiting the Gorge for the first time.

Rod Parmenter’s classic film “Hard Wind’s A Blowin’” from 1987 will screen, along with 1980s footage from John Hardham of Light Wave Communications.

Of Parmenter’s film, Bonham recalled, “I was teaching windsurfing in Greece when this came out — it was incredible at the time, and it still is fantastic videography. I still can’t really believe I ended up getting to live here!

“We are really honored, very grateful that John and Rod so eagerly helped us realize this idea; we could not have done it without them.

“We are also very pleased to be doing this as part of The Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association’s annual Beach Bash and we’d like to thank them very much for their help with this event,” Bonham said.

“Watching these movies is incredibly nostalgic — the colors and the design of the old equipment evokes very powerful emotions. I can smell that brand new Mistral multi-colored sail!”

The videos will give us “familiar faces, forgotten names, baggy sails, ridiculously high booms, pink and yellow wetsuits and ‘football fins’ — and everyone is sailing from the Marina— what Sandbar?”


What were those early days like? Thirty to 35 years ago, windsurfing was like a benign foreign invasion on the quiet shores of the Gorge. Brian Sprout put it all down in a rollicking 1996 book, “Windsurfing Outlaws in the Garden of Hedon,” a spiral-bound color book that’s been on the Hood River News shelf all these years and finally gets some deserved attention.

“While the local villagers gawked in wonderment at the tourists, we, the invading aliens, waved to each other in happy brotherhood as we cruised the quiet streets of the quaint hamlet of Hood River.”

He describes first seeing board designer Bob Dill’s “smooth, flashy selection of garage-guilt fiberglass dinosaurs that everyone looked upon with awe that first summer. I would have given my eye teeth for one of his thick glass sticks. How colorful and fast they were!” (Dill now creates prized guitars, not boards.) One excerpt begins with Sprout’s first arrival in Hood River, crossing from Washington over the Hood River Interstate Bridge, c. 1980:

“I whirl the steering wheel onto the gratework of the green metal bridge. A liftspan trestle so narrow I almost have to scrape the paint from the side of my car just to squeeze by an oncoming logging truck.

“Tires buzz like excited honey bees. In the midst of the drone, we pass a sign, ‘Welcome to Oregon.’ We’ve just crossed over the state line into the Promised Land! Basking in the hazy afternoon sunlight above the chrome hood ornament looms the snowy peak of Mount Hood. The town of Hood River slopes up from the marina and spreads across the walls of a natural embankment several hundred feet above the Columbia River.

“Turning onto Cascade Street, we idle slowly past a plywood-windowed saloon … three stories up a faded sign — ‘The Wauna Room‘ — is barely visible on the peeling green brick.

“To the innocent eye, the scene on Oak Street was one of memorable peace, a naive calm before the storm of the board heads. The empty street lay perspiring in the hot sunshine. We felt this town, some day in the near future, might become a hive of swerving activity.”

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