Taking in the scene at Portland’s annual spooky SUP witch paddle.

After a week of unrelenting rain, I woke up to a sunny Saturday before Halloween that felt too good to be true: clear blue skies, scarlet and gold leaves dancing in a fresh breeze. At this season, the sun usually pokes out only when I’m stuck at my desk. But now the weather gods were smiling. Or could it be magic?

That’s when I remembered that the Saturday before Halloween is the SUP Witch Paddle, an annual event that brings Portland’s practitioners of magic out onto the river, dressed in their finest spooky regalia. Surely the participants had put a hex on the rain, arranging for the unseasonably warm and sunny weather I was now enjoying — and if so, it was definitely time to pay my respects. I headed down to Willamette Park’s boat ramp, a few miles south of downtown, where the parking lot was completely full of cars and witches — many, many witches.

Milling about the lot were scary witches with green face paint, young witches, funny witches in striped stockings, and even a few game warlocks. Some wore traditional gowns with their witches hats, while others wore their conical chapeaux above sleek black Lycra outfits. I even spotted a family or two, along for the ride. There were so many witches that mortals attempting to launch a boat with a trailer were simply squeezed out. Every witch was smiling and carrying paddles and boards.

Although they had conjured up a clear day, the coven had failed to put a spell on the breeze. From early in the morning, a wicked northeast wind swept upstream, repelling the first paddlers to leave the park. Some were forced back to the dock, others were blown downstream. Trees bent over and hats went flying. One witch paddled out from the ramp, only to be belted by the breeze just as she reached open water. The grin on her green face faded into a frown. “This just isn’t safe!” she announced. Except for Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, witches don’t actually melt in water — but this one was clearly taking no chances.

But most witches were not so easily deterred. Scads paddled forth, many with talismans attached to their boards: a cauldron, a skull, even a skeleton. From a nearby bluff, the departing witches looked like smoke funneling out of a chimney. The wind wreaked a little havoc at first, but the witches just laughed as they played a game of aquatic bumper cars.

Eventually, many of the participants landed on tiny Toe Island, content to gather as a coven; others found their way to the calm water in the lee of Ross Island and proceeded towards their haunting grounds downtown. All day the sun shone in a brilliant, clear blue sky. Was a little magic really involved? It’s not for me to say. But despite that ill wind, not a single witch fell in the water.