Nichol’s Basin is a rare and special piece of water. It is off the main channel of the Columbia which means it is protected from both the strong winds and current of the river. The Basin is water for the rest of us–for the great majority of our county’s population who aren’t high wind, high adrenaline junkies. The safe, protected location makes it the perfect playground for people of all ages and athletic abilities. Even without infrastructure improvements to enhance recreation, hundreds of people use the Basin every week.

Stand Up Paddleboarding

SUP has exploded in Hood River. Visit the Basin on the Gorge Kayak School/Slingshot’s SUP Demo Night (every Thursday in August from 6-8 pm)  to see why SUP is the fastest growing watersport ever–it is fun for all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities. Middle aged moms and their kids, older folks and young college kids all floating around the Basin and having a whale of a time. Unlike windsurfing and kiteboarding which are heavily dominated by men, 55% of SUPers are women.

See this great Oregonian article on discovering the joys of SUP at the Basin by Suzanne Baumhackl, Hood River entrepreneur and mom.


The basin offers a uniquely protected flat water location for easy recreational kayaking. Beginners, kids and experienced paddlers enjoy this flat water bay when the Columbia River’s main channel is windy and choppy.  This is one of the only wind blocked areas on our waterfront that can be paddled when the high winds make the main river channel more dangerous and suitable only for advanced paddlers. The calm and flat waters are a great place to practice beginner skills before moving on to the more challenging river channel. The Columbia Gorge Kayak School taught 1200 students at the Basin in 2011. Wildlife is abundant in the basin and a typical evening paddle could produce sightings of ducks, herons, ospray, swallow, beaver, and bass. In the spring baby geese and salmon smolt are common.  On hot windless days you will see many paddlers cruising the basin trying to beat the heat.

Tri Athletes

From May through September up to 25 triathletes use the basin every Tuesday for “tri-night” swim. From athletes with multiple Ironman experiences to a continuous stream of triathlon newbies, everyone values the basin for its easy public access and sheltered nature. For spectators, Tri-night is amazing viewing as dozens of athletes swim fast and splashy circuits of the entire basin.

Tri-athlete Patrick Hiller says:

“The off-channel location is perfect for our training in open-water swimming. In a safe environment many have had their first exposures to swimming outside of a pool. Several people from the Gorge have had their first triathlon experiences in the basin and have since then competed very successfully in events all over the Northwest and beyond. We want to continue sharing the basin with other swimmers, paddlers, kayakers and the occasional dog swimming past us to fetch a ball.”


Everyone has to start somewhere. Although the Columbia River is world famous as a windsurfing venue, the high wind and big waves that make it ideal for experts make it a difficult place to learn the sport. The Basin provides a great location for first experiences with windsurfing. Local windsurfing schools use the basin as a safe place to teach beginners.

Goofing Around

Enjoying our public water shouldn’t be limited to those doing sports with expensive equipment. The Basin is a place where anyone in the community regardless of their income or athletic ability can have fun in the water–fishing, floating in an intertube,  throwing sticks to a dog or just skipping stones. In the dog days of August a surprising number of people use the basin for a cooling swim. As Steve Gates, owner of Big Winds says: “The past several years, the use of the Basin has exploded, from the occasional fisherman, boarders, walkers and dogs to a buzz of activity. Hundreds use the Basin on a busy summer day. Despite zero amenities, Slackwater Beach has become a happening, bustling place.”