August 14, 2018

I have heard paddling buddies talk about doing downwind runs in the Columbia River Gorge for years now. I remember when we moved to the northwest and people talked about the amazing kite and windsurfing, known worldwide, that happened nearby due to the unique wind and water conditions. I listened, even though I never really thought I would do a downwinder outside of an OC6. So, this past July, when I was finally doing one of my first, long downwind runs, on my OC1, in legit 30 mph Columbia River Gorge conditions, it turns out I talked to myself, a lot. As I had a couple of hours to think and chat with myself, I realized how exhilarating it was, and thought about what had held me back from trying in the first place. I actually started formulating this blog idea along the way, and between my self-talk and singing, knew I wanted others to see that doing their first downwinder did not have to be overwhelming or something they would never be able to do!

  1. Don’t be afraid.

Many of us have a fear of making mistakes in front of peers or idols, let that go. If you huli or a ride doesn’t go as planned, it isn’t failure, it’s a learning opportunity to see how and why it happened. People will be there with you along the way, should you need anything. That being said, keep a healthy amount of respect for the water you are in!

  1. You aren’t the only one.

As we were shuttling canoes back and forth, and paddling, I learned a lot about people’s experiences out there in the Columbia. Just listen, and you’ll hear everyone talking about an epic run they took, or a tough run they had. They have all experienced trial and error, and their stories start building your knowledge. I was readier than I thought, just having listened to friends do downwinders for the first time. The first time I went, there were a ton of folks who were out for the first time, too! You won’t likely be the only newbie out, but if you are, everyone else you are with will have been there before and know what you need.

  1. Ask for help, it’s everywhere.

There were a few reasons I hadn’t tried a downwinder until now, whether it was because I didn’t have a rack for my car or didn’t want to hold anyone back in having to teach me. I guess I finally ran out of excuses, because people were happy to take me out or help carry my canoe! If you don’t have a canoe, that’s what an OC2 and a friend are for! If you go with a group, folks will take turns checking on you and making sure they can still see you out there. They will throw little tips and gems of wisdom at you, as you go. They will answer your questions and give suggestions. There are so many levels of knowledge out there, and people are happy to share. Just put yourself out there and let your paddling buddies know that you would like to try. I gave a shout out after 10pm one evening, and was doing my first downwinder by the next morning!

  1. Be patient and flexible.

I knew before I ever went, that I would need patience. My experience is flat water, so I had to change my mindset, and be prepared to take a step back from paddling TOO much out there. I was going to need to let the wind, water and my canoe do more of the work and simply get out of the way. By the second and third time I went out, even with double the mileage, I was doing a lot less work to get the job done! I came prepared, I didn’t set a time limit and was able to just enjoy the ride.

  1. Do it again!

If you can set aside a couple of days to take some runs, do it! Each run added new skills, new “A-ha’s,” and new teachable moments. Things were fresh in my mind and I could connect each day to the previous time. Now that I know what taking a day out at the Gorge entails, I am more likely to jump back out there...and soon! I cannot wait to learn more, and when the time is right, help someone else out there.

By Aimee Edwards

Check out Aimee's Lucky hats  she picked out for each of her days on the Columbia River at this year's Outrigger Downwind Championships.





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