A nerve wracking early morning drive to the beach.
The drive is half the adventure.
The trail to Short Sands is magical.
It was a chilly day.
Bad surf day, let’s be honest.
Dear World: this is how rough Oregon surf is.
The tip of Oswald West looks north to Cannon Beach. It was a stormy day!
Oswald West State Park/Short Sands beach is a beautiful coastal spot about 90 miles from Portland. The snug little cove is surrounded by giant, original old growth and coastal mountains. Three streams find their way to the ocean here. The place is exceptionally popular in the summer with day trippers and with surfers year-round.
I have made more than half a dozen trips here, lately to go surfing. Despite its reputation as a beginner surfer beach, I have rarely seen a clean wave here. I know they exist, because I have seen YouTube videos on those rare, bluebird sky summer surf days. I have only known it on rainy days, mostly, when the surf churns like a bad brew. That happened to me on Feb. 24.
A winter’s surfing trip to the coast is an adventure before you even get there. I drove through a winter storm, over the coastal range. White knuckles were de rigueur. I saw multiple trucks stuck on the higher passes. Before I reached the beach, I had two choices once I hit Highway 101: head to Seaside Cove, which has some beautiful swells and clean lines or try Short Sands, with the hope I might surf in an area covered by snow. The thought of that sent me south to Short Sands.
Well, the waves were mostly disappointing. I got my first head ding from the board and torqued my bad knee. Still, I found some lovely waves in the strong rip and currents that churn here when there is high tide. A resident bald eagle circled above and came to feast on some dead sea critter that had washed ashore. I can’t complain about seeing a bald eagle eating sea carrion. Just as I was leaving, the waves started to calm and a new set of surfers arrived. I wished them well and walked amid the druids of giant Sitka spruces, listening to the clear stream head to the ocean.
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.
(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.
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.
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.