So you’re planning a kitesurfing trip to Oregon and want to hit up the Gorge! You’ve heard of the Event Site at Hood River, easily the most regarded kiteboarding spot in Oregon. But when you get there, you see a thousand kites flying over the water, people launching with no regard to other beachgoers, and kites tomahawking on unsuspecting victims. In other words: pure chaos…
What if I told you about another spot–one that’s maybe not as convenient but makes up for it in plenty of other ways? I introduce to you: the Lyle Sandbar. Featuring stunning cliffside scenery, consistently strong winds, and typically less of a crowd, Lyle is a dream kitesurfing destination.
There are some things you should know in order to have the best success in your session and keep it fun for everyone, which is why I wrote this guide. Keep in mind, kitesurfing lessons are a huge and necessary step on your path toward safe and successful riding, and they can also be a great way to familiarize yourself with spot.
Disclaimer: access requires crossing a train track. Exercise extreme caution. Access by boat is recommended via the public boat launch on 7th Ave.
1) Layout of the Lyle Sandbar
Lyle is a unique spot for many reasons. Located just twenty minutes east of Hood River on the Washington side of the Gorge, Lyle is right at the edge of the desert. It is also where the Klickitat River joins the Columbia, creating a large sandbar and shallow area that is perfect for learning how to kite. It’s also great for beginners to practice their skills once they’ve had enough lessons to try it safely on their own.
Towards the middle of the river, the sandbar drops off and the channel begins. Here you can hunt large swell and pretend you’re in the ocean. The current goes west so the wind usually feels stronger here. Stay alert for barges going in either direction and glance over your shoulder from time to time.
Wind is cleanest when it’s directly west, as the cliffs tend to interfere when it’s blowing south making it really gusty. There are far fewer obstacles to make wind shadows here than in Hood River, which is awesome! Just don’t get too close to the cliffs on the Oregon side or you’ll find one. Here you’ll find the current conditions, and here is a useful forecast provided by a Hood River local.
2) Where to Set Up Your Kite
Place your kite on the west side of sandbar and run lines your lines downwind for the easiest setup here. This way you can walk directly upwind in shallow water until you’re deep enough to kite. If you’re a motivated individual, walk as close to the middle of the river as you can before getting in the water. This will help you get upwind quicker and out of the beginner corner, where you’ll get trapped and may be a victim of kook slams.
On days with south wind, the mouth of the Klickitat typically has cleanest wind, so set up close to there. This water is coming straight of Mt Adams and it’s very refreshing on a hot day.
3) Etiquette at Lyle
If you’ve taken kitesurfing lessons you will know proper etiquette—the rules that keep everyone safe and having fun. I would just like to mention a few I see forgotten all the time while teaching at this sandbar:
First is the golden rule: upwind—kite high, downwind—kite low. This rule is equally important at Lyle whether you are actively riding or not. Pro-tip: keep your kite low while walking upwind. It’s easier for you and better for everyone riding! Don’t walk backwards with your kite at noon—you’ll instantly give yourself away as a kook!
Second: the kiter going right has the right of way. If there is any confusion, default to the golden rule, but technically the starboard rider can stand their ground.
Third: avoid the beginner corner. This is the pocket of shallow water closest to the exposed sandbar. Beginners usually drift downwind and get stuck here. They try to walk back out but it’s hard to walk deep enough to get long runs and escape. Best to walk as far down the sandbar as you can before heading into the water and starting a run—you’ll have much more success!
4) Be Mindful of Kite Lessons
Lyle draws a wide range of skill levels and we love it that way—it’s great for beginners, it’s great for advanced riders, and it’s especially great for kitesurfing lessons! Beginners are still getting used to the kite and don’t have great control over it, so they crash it. A lot. This is fine, it just means lessons need a lot of space in order to keep everyone safe.
You can typically recognize kitesurfing lessons by the instructors wearing bright clothing and students wearing helmets. Stay far away from these groups! Ride upwind if you can. Turn around and ride the other way if it looks like a close call. Hanging out downwind of a lesson is a good way to get tomahawked.
Do yourself a favor and give lessons plenty of space. You will be happier and safer, and everyone will have a great time.
5) Be Kind
This leads me to my final tip for Lyle—be kind! Give a shaka when you’re feeling stoked. Smile and say what’s up to fellow kiters. One of my favorite parts of Lyle is how friendly the crowd is. Everyone is so nice it’s easy to make friends, and kiting with friends is the best!
Kindness can mean helping a fellow kiter launch or land. It can mean sharing brews on the beach. It can mean picking up trash and keeping our beloved spot clean. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it, or stepping in to prevent an accident if you know how to stop it. This sport is pretty wild and makes for a pretty cool and unique community. We need to embrace that and help everyone have the best time possible!
If you need a refresher on some skills or know someone who would love kitesurfing, sign up for lessons today. I’ll show you the keys to success to unlock a world of fun!