It seems like months ago when the call came in. All Kai had to say was ‘Gorge’ and I was in for whatever adventure followed. In need of delivering the family van, along with a couple of Ares and a Gemini, we left Southern California for the Pacific Northwest. With no concrete plans for our journey--except for the sooner we get there the sooner the fun begins--we decided to spend our first night with Dave and Meg Chun in Bend, Oregon. This was where the trip began to take a striking resemblance to the classic Bruce Brown movie Endless Summer, however, in our own paddling world sort of way.
Dave and Meg are the creators of Kialoa paddles and have been a staple in the paddling community for as long as I can ever remember. However recently, Dave’s taken more to the ‘let’s learn every new skill possible and stay young forever’ type of lifestyle. Which he seems to be doing quite well at. Without having been in Bend for an hour we had already toured its best surf spot and drank our first beer at Deschutes Brewery.
The next morning we were taken on another of Dave’s latest recreational exploits, indoor rock climbing. I’ve crossed some sizable oceans with Kai, however, this particular ocean had us feeling a little nervous. After a few practice runs and help from some more experienced individuals, we survived and had a ton of fun doing it.
Then it was off to get the grand tour of the home of Kialoa. The production of the paddles has since been moved further north to the Werner factory, however, the iconic designs and creativity are alive and well. It was amazing to see first hand the trophies from the Moloka’i Hoe races from years past that I recognized from my parents racing days as well as the original templates of paddles that once helped lift Lanikai to their channel victories.
Dave then walked us over to his neighbor and good friend’s shop. Gerry Lopez’s shop was where we saw even more history and continued creative creations. It wasn’t long before I could see the gears turning in Kai’s head; I’m assuming he was planning on what his next project was going to be.
Eventually, we made it to Carson, Washington to set up camp at JD Davies’ compound. We found ourselves in yet another shop full of brand new outrigger canoes and most excitingly, the new Kai Wa’a surfski Vega. Before I’d get a chance at my Vega maiden voyage we had some #mykaiwaalife adventures to do. We woke up Thursday morning at 4:15 am to head to Lost Lake, Oregon for some trout fishing. 4 hours of fishing later, frost-bitten hands and about 40 trout caught and released, we were ready for some downwind runs.
I’ve had some experience paddling kayaks and surfskis when I was much younger but I had never done a proper downwind run in a ski. I was a little nervous before we left Home Valley for our run, but once I sat down and took a few strokes to feel the balance, all my nerves were gone. Home Valley to White Salmon looked like an entirely new run. I was surfing and connecting waves like I’d never done on the one-man or two-man before, and by the time it was over I was thinking about how I was going to afford a new surfski immediately.
The following day we did an impromptu Drano to White Salmon run, and the whole group seemed to agree, it was close to being about as good as we’ve ever had it. There were quite a few ‘pucker’ moments, some ‘please don’t spin out’ times, however, the Vega powered through easily and surpassed all my expectations. This trip was about scouting out the river and trying some different courses, however, I didn’t anticipate coming home and debating changing my race entry to surfski…
Saturday was race day--a Viento to Hood River run--and again, the wind was blasting. It was great getting to see the local community of paddlers up in the Pacific Northwest again, seeing some amazing up and coming talent, and getting to share IPA’s with old friends. There was a great spread of Surfski, Outrigger Canoe, and Stand Up paddlers sharing the course and enjoying a great run. Thank you so much to the people who helped us along the way, and I can’t wait to get back up there in July for more Gorge action!
- Will Reichenstein