Get Together: Kiteboarding, boating, and barbecuing in the Gorge

Oregonian’s MIX Magazine, August 2013

I didn’t think anything could top the perfection of a summer barbecue — until I went to a barbecue on a boat.

Two of my dear friends spend their summer weekends on a 30-foot Tollycraft Sport Cruiser in Hood River, and they often invite friends along to enjoy a day on the Columbia.

The boat owner, John Gilman, is an avid kiteboarder, which is the main reason he and his wife, Kara, moor their boat in the town often heralded as the windsurfing and kiteboarding capital of the world. “It’s one of the windiest spots on the planet,” Gilman says gleefully. In fact, the Columbia Gorge kiting community is a lot like a southern Californian surf cadre — their days are dictated by the wind and waves.

And that’s why when I arrive at the dock for a barbecue one recent sunny day, I can see Gilman and his boat buddies only from a distance. From the shore, their kites shimmer in the sun, silvery glints that dart and dance across white-tipped waves. Kara is out there too, though she prefers the slower pace of stand-up paddle boarding (or SUP). She cruises by with their labradoodle, Astro, aboard.

The barbecue is still a few hours away. So while the Gilman duo conquers water sports, my partner and I decide to taste the fruits of the gorge. The first stop is Syncline Wine Cellars, just across the Columbia River in Lyle. After tasting through the wines, we pick up a few bottles of rose for later. The grenache, mourvedre and cinsault blend smacks of fresh strawberry and watermelon. The crisp wine will pop with the simple fare on the menu tonight.

Then we head to downtown Hood River in search of local farmstead cheeses to serve for appetizers. We find two at Boda’s Kitchen, a charming husband-and-wife-owned gourmet market. The aroma of fresh-baked bread leads us to Knead Bakery around the corner, where baker-owner Feliza Greenwald sells us the last of her zigzag epi baguettes. We’ll use them as makeshift buns to hug the brats we’ll grill that evening.

Nora’s Table, a favorite Hood River brunch spot, sits conveniently near the bakery, so we pop in to make a brunch reservation for the next morning. It’s our way of thanking the boat hosts. One item remains before returning to the dock: berries. We coast along the Hood River Fruit Loop until we find a farm stand, then pack pints of just-picked raspberries and blueberries into an overflowing cooler.

The sun is still high in the sky as we walk along the dock back to the boat. We pass by countless dogs sunbathing, kids fishing and a few bikini-clad boaters raising a glass to cocktail hour. Kara sets a table with the cheeses we found — Wind River Mountain Creamery chevre and Cascadia Creamery aged raw cheese. Then she adds a gorgeous slab of smoked salmon, which was caught and smoked by John. He catches and smokes sturgeon, too, when it’s in season. In fact, the avid angler once caught a 5-foot-long sturgeon with his bare hands — and he has the cellphone video to prove it.

The first guests arrive with a trio of Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales, a traditional farmhouse brewery in Hood River County that specializes in Belgian-style beers. Once the beer is poured, the storytelling begins. Fresh out of the water, the sun-kissed crew swaps stories about kiteboarding everywhere from Peru to Maui, while dogs linger near the cheese board and a neighbor floats by and waves from his SUP. Bruce Cannon and his wife, Juliette, arrive with a vat of his famous coleslaw, a dish he made despite the fact he spent the day climbing Mount Adams. “The chute we skied back down is visible from many spots in Hood River,” says Bruce. “I like being able to look back up there.”

As the sun ripples across the water, Kara finds a wind-safe spot for the grill and takes charge of the brats — a selection from Chop Butchery in Portland. “Slaw and pork is all you need,” says a passer-by as he admires the spread of food. A rice salad tossed with fresh herbs and vegetables adds a splash of color to each plate. The dinner is savored under a pink sky, mountain peaks and the sound of boats clinking like two cocktail glasses raised for a toast.

Just before dessert, a sudden gale of wind and oyster gray skies sweep across the marina. Lightning flicks from cloud to cloud, followed by the unexpected clap of thunder. A few dogs leap onto the boat, and as soon as the rain bursts, each flip-flop-clad person dives after them. I rescue the cheesecake and a friend grabs the Syncline. As music blasts from John’s speakers, we slice the pie by the light of a cellphone. It’s summer, and the party must go on.