Hood River is known around the world for its legendary windsurfing conditions and burgeoning water sports scene. And, for nearly 20 years, the annual Windfest event showcased that culture with demonstrations and sales geared toward the most dedicated windsurfers.
But, given the growth in Hood River and the surrounding Columbia River Gorge communities in recent years, it became clear to community members that it was time to shake things up, said Greg Stiegel, executive director of the Columbia Gorge Windsurfing Association, which put on Windfest each year.
Stand-up paddleboarding, mountain biking, kiteboarding, and a burgeoning craft wine and beer industry have all gained popularity in the region largely because of windsurfing’s connection to the community, he said, and it was time to expand to reflect that. “We want to recognize that there’s more to the Gorge and Hood River than windsurfing, and we want to harness all that energy on the waterfront,” Stiegel said.
Beach Bash was born. The event formerly known as Windfest, taking place June 25-28 in Hood River, has expanded from two to four days in 2015 and has been rebranded to showcase a broader swath of Hood River’s vibrant culture. Veteran windsurfers will still find a lot to love, but less experienced athletes will nevertheless get an introduction to the community’s vibrant watersports scene and try the various sports for themselves.
Here are a handful of Beach Bash highlights.
There’s way more than what’s on the water.
The expanded event includes live music, local food, craft beer, games of Archery Tag (think dodgeball with bows and foam-tipped arrows), children’s activities, vendors, free yoga lessons, free acupuncture, and more. It’s all part of a broader effort to attract more than just hardcore windsurfers, Stiegel said. “We’re really trying to cover all our bases and offer something for everyone,” he said. About 25 total vendors will be on hand throughout the festival, and about 10-12 of those will be vendors with sales and demonstrations of the latest equipment.
It’s not just about windsurfing anymore.
Windsurfing may generate headlines, but water sports in general are a vital part of the Hood River athletic scene. That inspired Stiegel to introduce other water sports, including stand-up paddleboarding, to the newly-expanded event lineup. Vendors will be on hand with gear demonstrations, and clinics will give would-be paddlers a chance to try the sport. “That’s a good activity that anybody can jump into,” Stiegel said.
Some of the new attractions cater to relative newbies.
Professional windsurfers will be on hand throughout the weekend to offer free clinics for both new and veteran athletes alike. Newbies will even get a chance to race in the Never-Ever-Windsurfed-Before Race, which is exactly what it sounds like. New windsurfers will be given a quick lesson before competing in a fun race for a variety of prizes.
But veterans aren’t left high and dry.
A high wind demo in nearby Rowena will allow seasoned windsurfers to try new gear in some of the Gorge’s more challenging conditions. Vendors will be on hand with new boards and sails, and windsurfers comfortable with windier conditions will be able to take the equipment on the water and test it out. “We want to go to a place windier than Hood River and get some of that Gorge-specific gear on the water,” Stiegel said.
Beyond the demo, a number of professional windsurfers will be on hand to offer clinics to any and all surfers, including veterans. “We have guys who have competed at the highest level of the professional windsurfing tour offering clinics,” Stiegel said. “These are the best of the best in the world, and even the most experienced windsurfer will be able to learn something.”