Otter Rock surfing on a winter’s day in Oregon

I finally made it out to Otter Rock, one of Oregon’s premier surfing beaches. The spot is located next to a state park, where you can also find Devil’s Punch Bowl. It’s a great place to appreciate the beauty and ruggedness of the Oregon coast.

Well, surfing here in the Northwest is never perfect, and Otter Rock like all beaches must contend with the swells and winds of winter. When I headed out on Feb. 17, 2017, the forecast called for not-so-windy weather and swells spaced apart at least 15 seconds. It proved far windier and rougher than I had bargained for.

Was that going to stop me? Heck no. I put on the suit and got out. I did get my requisite rides, plus many shorter rides closer to shore. Not a perfect day, but when you spend four hours in the waves, do you have anything to complain about? Absolutely not. A day later I still feel the vibe.

I really don’t care if my Seaside surf pictures are mediocre

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

I have not had time lately to go out and take new images. So I simply shoot a few memory shots whenever I head to Seaside, to  work on my surfing skills. Today was tough. The waves came in about every 9 to 12 seconds, and they were at least 5 to 6 feet high. I should have waited til midday, when the sets would space out to every 20 seconds and the wind had calmed down. So that is my lesson learned. I have learned something every time I surf, which is why I like this sport. Also, don’t go out in the chop.

Unlike most of the region, I was able to see the moon over the ocean, which was lovely. I also played hide and seek with a juvenile harbor seal. It watched me as it bobbed in and out of the waves and as I struggled to find a spot to find a wave. I envied its flippers.

In the end, I caught my requisite waves, including a divine pulse of energy that brought me from a far break to the shore. Love that. I met some nice surfers, as always. One guy grew up in Santa Cruz, had lived in Maui, and now calls Portland home. For him, this has to be rough going from perfection to imperfection. For me, it’s what I know, and what I love.

As for taking fine art pictures and telling compelling photojournalistic stories? I will eventually get back into that, as soon as I get my forthcoming book published. There is only so much time in the week, and I do have a thing called a job that takes up time.

Oregon surfing seen through a point and shoot lens

I started surfing in Oregon in August 2016. I am now thoroughly hooked. I watch surf reports regularly for my favorite spots like Seaside Cove and check out the cove’s enticing but tiny surfcam. It’s a great antidote to stress and life’s worries.

suited-up-an-ready-2

Heading out on a cold winter day at Seaside–loving every minute of it!

So, just the thought of going surfing makes me calm. Surfing itself is transcendent. On the Oregon coast, it is usually rough, with lots of choppy sets. You seldom get those clean lines like you see in Southern California. Here we have the fickle north Pacific to deal with. But I do not let these downsides overcome the upsides.

When I head to the coast I never take a good camera with me. Mainly, when I go to the beach, I go to surf. In my to-go bag, I usually toss in my old Canon point and shoot, set it on zoom, and hope I get something nice. For now, my surf photography is more about telling the story of a place. The pictures do not have to be great to convey the feeling of being in a 5/4/3 wetsuit, bobbing in the cold water, plowing through a gnarly break, and hoping you get a great ride. When you do, nothing else really matters. It is a feeling of bliss. I hope you feel that in these pictures. I do.

Lastly, I have met mainly great people out on the coast. Most everyone is in a good mood. I especially love seeing the older masters on their longboards, kicking my sorry butt and looking so fine. Surf on, Oregonians.

72nd Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Donald Trump

Today, January 27, 2017, is the 72nd anniversary of the Red Army’s liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp/Birkenau Death Camp. (There was a third camp too, the slave factory called Monowitz.) The facilities are a short train ride from the historic and beautiful Medieval city of Krakow, in southwest Poland.

I visited the camp three days in a row during my tour of Europe in 2000, when I toured five countries and documented the legacy of the Nazis crimes against humanity that claimed at least 11 million lives in the camps. The majority of the victims, here at Auschwitz/Birkenau, were Jews, but the camps also practiced genocide on Gypsies and Soviet POWs, throughout the Germans vast camp and prison system. The majority of the nearly 1.1 million murdered at Birkenau, the main killing center, were Jews from Europe.

Today, the United States also marks its first week under the United States’ first openly totalitarian strongman who embraces the tactics, ideology, and the support of fascists. A certified Nazi, in the words of Howard Dean, Steve Bannon, is a senior policy advisor with direct access to the Oval Office and President Donald Trump.

In one week the world has seen Trump take radical actions that mark the clear tilt to fascism, which in Nazi Germany found its gruesome manifestation in death camps like Auschwitz. Trump did the following:

  • Confirm a wall with Mexico will be built,
  • Defend torture–yes torture–to a global audience,
  • Promote Orwellian ideology now called “alternative facts,”
  • Muzzle government agencies,
  • Sign orders to try to begin removing basic and health insurance access for nearly 30 million Americans,
  • Attack the scientific process by demanding all U.S. EPA scientific research receive political approval,
  • Sign orders that promote policies with pipelines and immigration that enrich his personal wealth,
  • Threaten to defund American cities where he faces political opposition on immigration matters,
  • Lash out at all critics who reported his inauguration was vastly less attended than President Barack Obama’s, and
  • Continue to promote proven lies of alleged voter fraud, when in fact he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

fierce-urgency-of-nowDuring my trip in 2000, I asked myself a question, repeatedly: what would I do if confronted by a man like Hitler, a regime like Nazi Germany. I always assumed I would see it coming and be able to respond in time. I think that time has arrived. I think the response for now is to fight this, here on this blog, and with my feet and mouth at events, and tactically empower our somewhat feeble minority party in Congress to try and slow down the GOP’s and Trump’s plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and our modern welfare state. The “fierce urgency of now,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called it, is truly NOW! I admit, I am scared, and it can be a positive emotion because it forces urgent action.

Living and loving the life aquatic

(Rudy Owens, in one of his favorite environments, doing one his favorite things–lap swimming)

I am a swimmer. I have swum my whole life, but it was not until I had some bad running injuries, when I became a serious endurance athlete, that I found my rhythm and place in the pool.

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for people of all ages. It has virtually no harmful impact on any part of the body, except perhaps the shoulders. Otherwise it is low-impact. It boosts lung capacity and one’s capacities in every sport. It is also one of the finest ways to meditate and clean one’s mind.

As I become a more proficient swimmer, I love that my lap swimming can now be seen as surf training, helping me become a stronger surfer. Surfing requires conditioning that only swimming can provide. It is a perfect match for this stage in my life.

I love seeing people in their 80s swim. It gives me hope I have decades left to enjoy staying healthy and active.

Snowstorm in the Sellwood neighborhood

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Portland, Oregon just experienced yet another winter snowstorm. This one was the most severe of the season. Anywhere from eight to 12 inches fell in the metro area on Jan. 10 and 11, 2017. I knew it would be severe when I went for a walk the night the heavy, wet snowflakes began to fall. Wind swirled in all directions. My eyes were stinging from being hit by the wet white stuff. In Alaska, I skate skied in this stuff all the time, but here it is something different. It was definitely going to be a heavy, wet snowfall that would bring the region to a crawl.

I woke up at 4 a.m. on Jan. 11 to try and get to work about nine miles away. All around me I saw fallen branches, broken by the weight of snow accumulation. There was going to be a lot of damage from this storm, and roads would soon turn to ice. I spent four hours trying to get to work that day, all before 8:30 a.m., but I failed. A train and bus connection never arrived. My consolation prize was a few photos I took on my first outing and my second, when I finally got my buses. All told, I spent six hours commuting that day from Portland’s southeast Sellwood neighborhood, to Tigard, and back again. It did make for great scenery.

What you see are the shots of businesses along 13th Avenue Southeast and one looking to the city’s west hills, above the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. It is pretty, but if you live in a place that can’t handle snow, it can be a pain. Me, I had plenty of food in the fridge, some pea soup already made, cold beer, lots of tea, a cozy apartment, and no time to worry given my commutes. You just roll with it. I’m exhausted. I need some sleep. This was my consolation prize this week.

Seaside Cove on a winter’s day

Seaside is a small coastal community about 85 miles northwest of Portland. It is best known as one of the premier surf spots in the Northwest, thanks to the break that hugs the point that juts out into the Pacific just south of the city. The surf website Surfline boasts it offers the “best left-hand pointbreak in North America.” This of course inspires visitors and also localism that has become of the stuff of local legend. A TV news reporter once endured abuse from local bad boys, countered by an effort to counter the incident by locals. There are also stories of slashed tires of those who park near Seaside Point.

I have avoided the beach for months because of the fierce localism reputation the community has earned, but could not resist coming on a day with small waves and clean sets I could see on the local beachcam. I put in at Seaside Cove, which lies just north of Seaside Point. When I arrived at around 10 a.m. on Jan. 6, 2017, clean sets with waves from 1.5 feet to 3 feet were rolling in nicely. Longboarders were popping left and right. The sun was out, and the winds were calm. It was, however, cold. My car thermometer showed 25 F when I stopped. The frigid air did not stop the 30 or more surfers I saw putting in during the next four hours.

My experience proved memorable. It was the first day I caught waves the full distance from the break to the shore. I had overcome a few plateaus, but I still had to work on choosing my waves as far out as I could be. I was hampered by having a “fun board,” which is shorter than a longboard. Longboarders were able to catch the waves farther out, and I could not navigate around them to their spot. Still, it was a perfect day. The scene was mellow and friendly. Whatever reputation surfers have here did not mesh with the vibe I found. I think the perfect winter surfing day put everyone in a great mood. There were more than enough breaks and enough space for everyone, from experienced gray beards to rookies.

Cleaning off the bad stuff with a final 2016 surf

Today, I surfed at a location called the Needles, located at Cannon Beach. This upscale coastal community is about 85 miles northwest of Portland. Most of the miles-long beach is un-surfable, offering no coves. Rock formations at the Needles offer some slightly more stable sets, but not by much.

Let’s be clear. It’s rough, Northwest chop. You have to get hammered by constant waves to get to the point where they break. Today, the forecast predicted calmer waves before 10 a.m., then wind. Except for the first 30 minutes after I arrived around 8 a.m., it was all chop. That did not stop me. I donned my 5/4/3 wetsuit in 28 F temperatures and headed out with a grin.

I had a lovely time. I actually caught some nice rides, riding the foam crests. I had upped my skills to a new plateau–I finally felt I had mastered a few basic moves to give me a decent ride with all of the waves I caught. Best of all, I entertained onlookers with my mediocre abilities. I don’t think they realized how warm I was in my seal suit. I hope they were amused and considered trying surfing themselves later.

I had wanted to surf here for more than 33 years, since the first time I came as a college student. I finally did it. It was a great way to end the year. All that was bad was rinsed off my skin and cleaned from my spirit. I again felt renewed and ready for the challenges that await in 2017. There will be many–and today I will not think of them.

Have a happy New Year and a peaceful and prosperous 2017, everyone.

Scenes from the California Coast, Morro Bay to Monterrey Bay

In early December, I took a surf safari, hitting popular surfing beaches on the California Coast from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz. Along the way, I stopped at Morro Bay, a beautiful place near San Luis Obispo. It is known for its prominent Morro Rock, that juts out of the ocean like a mini Rock of Gibraltar. It is also known for great surf. I surfed Cayucos Pier, just north of Morro Bay. It is a great break.

I then drove up the California Coast, on Highway 1, through the Big Sur, until I arrived at Monterrey Bay. The highlight for that leg of the of the journey was seeing the elephant seal rookery, near San Simeon. The beach area, known as Piedras Blancas, is covered by beached elephant seals. The elephant seal is the second largest seal in the world. It is huge. I think I would be terrified if I saw one up close in the wild, in the water, given its strength.

During my brief visit I saw a number of males bellowing at each other, establishing dominance. Most of the colony simply snoozed on the beach. Some of the seals would occasionally scratch their fur with a fin or flip sand on themselves and burp. They took no notice of the dozens of human onlookers. Maybe they are used to the gawking visitors now. The prime time to see the rookery is November through February. I lucked out with great timing.

Six historic missions in six days

During my surfing-themed trip to some of southern and central California’s premier surf destinations, I also visited six historic California missions. In its colonial territories in North American, the Spanish colonial government and Catholic Church established 21 outposts throughout coastal and western California, starting first in San Diego and then all the way north to San Francisco.

I visited in order: San Juan Bautista, San Miguel Arcángel, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Carmel, and Santa Cruz missions. Collectively, the missions tell a story of the state’s transition from thousands of years of habitation by Native Americans, to conquest and ultimately cultural destruction at the hands of first Spain, then briefly Mexico, and finally the United States. Franciscan fathers converted thousands of Native Americans and their treatment overall was more humane than by the later American settlers and the U.S. government. Some historians, and even mainstream publications like Newsweek, have described California Natives’ collective historic experience, particularly during the era of U.S. control, as genocide because of the total collapse of Native culture and their demise, including to infectious diseases. Today there are 110 recognized tribes in the Golden State, and tribal rolls there count more than 700,000 people with Native ancestry.

Two of the missions I photographed, San Juan Bautista and San Miguel, both mentioned the graves of thousands of Indians who died in and around the missions during their long life span. Little evidence of their graves and these Native Americans’ role serving these missions is provided to tell their full story at colonial outposts that ultimately sought to assimilate and conquer the native people. Still, I love these places. They are a window on the past that is mostly forgotten. If you are in California, for holiday or if you live there, put them on your itinerary. You will be taken back in time.