Hood River, Ore., has become a multisport paradise, hosting the Gorge Games.
HOOD RIVER, Ore. — Three decades ago, when timber and fruit-processing operations shut down, Hood River was full of boarded-up buildings and vacancy signs. Who knew the same annoying wind that blew hamburger wrappers and Coke cans into front yards would be its savior?
By the late 1980s, thousands of surfers realized that the 35-mph winds that blew through the gorge created arguably the best windsurfing playground in America outside of Maui. Hood River found its second act.
These days, the town’s population of 6,673 doubles from June to October.
Next week, up to 20,000 spectators will watch the Gorge Games 2008 (July 17-20), in which extreme and weekend jocks take on the Hood River terrain in various sports from kayaking to mountain biking. The first Winter Gorge Games will take place in February. Fox Sports will televise both events.
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An hour’s drive east of Portland, Hood River has long been known for fishing, hiking, kayaking and climbing. But windsurfing helped introduce the rest of America to one of the country’s most diverse playgrounds.
On any day, it’s common to see SUVs and station wagons loaded with mountain bikes, surfboards, kayaks and climbing equipment, often all in the same vehicle. National Geographic Adventure magazine calls Hood River the “coolest town ever.”
“Maybe Jackson Hole and Aspen have better mountains, but we have more recreation opportunities,” said John Hart, owner of Kayak Shed, a popular downtown shop for professional kayakers.
“There are other places you can do wind events, land events or water events, but this is one of the few places on Earth where you can do all that in one location,” said Joshua Ryan, CEO of the Gorge Games, which will be televised Aug. 18-24.
About 1,200 athletes from as far away as Japan and England will compete for $100,000 in cash and prizes in 10 extreme sports, including a 24-hour “Adventure Race” and riverboarding, where athletes on a boogie-like board take on Class 4 and 5 rapids and waterfalls, with 15- to 20-foot drops.
“The river levels are very high, which make it very challenging this year. It makes it tougher. It’s bad, but in a good way,” Ryan said, mischievously.
The highlights of this recreation area, many of which will be featured in the Gorge Games, include:
• Seventeen white-water runs within an hour’s drive of town, including Class 5 rapids with 20-foot drops on the White Salmon River, where the kayaking and riverboarding competitions take place.
• Three dozen launch sites for windsurfing, including the Port of Hood River, where windsurfing and kiteboarding competitions will take place.
• A wide range of bike trails, from the leisurely Fruit Loop agri-tour and the Historic Columbia River Highway Trail, to the treacherous eight-mile Post Canyon, where the mountain-bike competition takes place. With 3,600 feet of vertical descent on a narrow trail with large rocks and logs, “it’s one of the top three courses in the country,” Ryan said.
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