In 1987 a man by the name of Fred Noble was arrested in Rowena for trespassing onto land that was owned by state parks. Noble, who passed away from the disease known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) last year, was trying to get to a site where he could launch to windsurf, but by the time he was done cutting through barbwire he was met by police.
This is a moment in history that would forever change the Gorge.
Instead of leaving this site alone after his arrest Noble decided to do something with it. Upon permission from state officials, Noble gathered some money and people together to create this area into an accessible location for windsurfers. This would become one of the first projects done by the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association (CGWA).
The CGWA started out as a group of sailors who wanted to become advocates for both windsurfing access and issues revolving around decisions that were affecting the people coming here to sail. As this association worked closely with state parks and counties, the number of beach sites began to grow, and there are now 24 different sites along the Gorge for those interested in water sports and the public use.
Bart Vervloet, who was selected by the CGWA board committee last year to become the new executive director, explained that the focus of this association hasn’t changed really over the past 30 years. “When the CGWA started the focus was, ‘Hey, let’s make this a sailing site.’”
“All these people are coming here and they need a way to get into the river, and that’s kind of what we do still.”
This summer marks both the 30th anniversary of this association’s work, but also the arrest of Noble, because without him taking the chance he did the Gorge may have never been the place it is today, “the Disneyland for water sports.”
“In 1987, it was all windsurfing and nothing else,” said Vervloet. “But now it’s not the only sport out there.”
Other water sports such as kiteboarding and downwind paddle boarding are also sharing the same water as the windsurfers now, and Vervloet recognizes that.
“Wherever we can affect decision making that might make it easier for us to use the river, and not just for windsurfing but for everybody, is what we do.”
The CGWA recently had a clean-up day down at the Hatchery that had 35 people show up to brush clean the area. Taking out 20 dead trees, removing brush, and with the help of the state bringing chippers, chainsaws, and all the other stuff they needed, 35 people basically did two months of labor work for a State Park employee in three hours. This is one of the many examples of what the CGWA does to help keep sites accessible for everyone.
“We will help the county, the state, the port, we will help anybody,” said Vervloet. “If there’s ever decision making that effects access to the water I’ll speak for anybody that.”
As the summer season is coming to an end the CGWA plans to change their focus a little bit from expanding sites across the gorge to ensuring better water safety.
Vervloet wants to help law enforcement by having some rubber inflated rescue boats stationed at either Doug’s beach or the waterfront in case there’s trouble out in the water.
“We have a 30 mile per hour swimming pool out there with hundreds of people in the water, so why not?” said Vervloet. “We should have one, because the sheriffs can’t always do it and we don’t need bullet proof vests and guns to go help someone who’s having trouble in the water.”
But before summer ends the CGWA still has a few more event coming up, including their Swap Meet on Aug.12 from 7:30 a.m. until noon at the Luhr Jensen parking lot. This event is organized for people to buy, sell, and donate all windsurfing, watersport and miscellaneous sporting goods. If selling any items, there’s a $10 fee.
“After 30 years windsurfing has hit its spot,” said Vervloet. “The whole water sport Disneyland that’s out there started with windsurfing, and it’s not stopping, it’s never going to stop.”