Author: Rudy Owens

I have a professional background in journalism (MA from UNC-CH), public affairs, and more recently public health (MPH, University of Washington). I publish several online properties, including my web site www.rudyowens.com. My photographs have appeared in a diverse number of media and print publications. I also have traveled on six continents and in more than 30 countries. Most recently, I have just finished writing my first book.

Seaside, Oregon surfing on a windy summer day

Seaside, Oregon is my favorite surfing beach in the state. It is less than 90 miles from my home in Portland. It has a consistent break, usually better than most other beaches that are driving distance from Portland. Mostly the vibe at Seaside is relaxed, and the community of surfers who share the beach are welcoming to most levels. There is space for advanced surfers and novices, so long as the novices stay out of the lineup. Some locals may not want beginners here. You have been warned.

I mastered the craft of Oregon surfing at this beach, logging many winter hours in the pounding surf. Only recently have I felt I belong in the lineup.

Most of the surfing websites that describe Seaside Cove accurately note the hazards are rips, rocks, locals, and sharks. And the order of danger is probably in that order. In the winter, the waves can hit well over 10 to 15 feet. In the summer, because of the northwest exposure, sets can easily top five to seven feet.

These scenes capture a choppy, mushy day that I mostly associate with winter and shoulder seasons, but it was mid-August. There is often little break time between the sets, and if you do not ride the rip out to the lineup, you will be pounded pretty hard.

The footage, admittedly shaky, captures how rough the surf can be, with nonstop sets and overheads, even on a summer day. If you are a surfer and want to visit Oregon, put this beach on your list. Support the local economy while you are there. Share the aloha and the Oregon surfer stoke. You will find many good rides.

Just be sure to bring a 5/4/3 suit. The water has very little temperature variation between summer and winter.

South Oregon coast in black and white

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

During the first week of August 2017 I took a road trip to a part of the state I had not seen since 1987. My original plan was to visit multiple surfing beaches south of Coos Bay and try them out with my nine-foot Stewart surfboard. Well, that was the plan. My plans changed, and everything worked out well. I decided to tell my story in black and white images that capture the feel of the place.

Port Orford and Humbug Mountain

I first stopped at Coos Bay, a city still gripped by economic woes. It has a nice surfing location on the south jetty and some beautiful beaches and state parks on the west and southwest corner of the community. But the surf was rough when I arrived, and I decided to push further south to Port Orford. The small community of little more than 1,000 is about 60 miles south of Coos Bay and has a beautiful cove and southwest facing ocean view. Sadly, I found no real waves the day I arrived. I picked another surfing spot one mile south of Port Orford, called Hubbard Creek. There, the breaks hit close to shore and I was skunked. With temperatures in inland Oregon hitting 105F, it was still a great day to be in the water on the coast, and I found the water temperatures about five degrees warmer than in northern Oregon.

I then spent two glorious nights at Humbug Mountain State Park, about six miles south of Port Orford. It has a beautiful and large campground, well-maintained by volunteers and the camp host. There must have been well over 400 people there both nights.

The park’s only downside was the truck and road traffic next to the campground. On the upside, there is walkable beach access and a clean creek next to the campground. I climbed the 1,700+ foot mountain, played photographer, and watched one of the nicest sunsets of my life here. I tried to surf my first morning, but the waves also pounded close to shore. So I was skunked again for the second day.

The highlight of my trip was being befriended by families from California camping on both sides of me. Who says Californians aren’t nice? The experience reminded me how fun travel can be and how nice people can be when you are ready to welcome positive energy. Two young girls of one family I spent a day with from San Jose dubbed me “Shmoosh Broccoli” because of my green tent. The name will stick.

South to Brookings

The following day I headed south. The area has phenomenal beaches. I stopped briefly in port city of Gold Beach and caught the spectacle of a salmon derby and the steelhead and Chinook run at the mouth of the Rogue River. Scores of boats were circling the river mouth, casting for fish. Everything was shrouded in mist. It was a beautiful moment.

Loaded with warm coffee, I then drive about five miles south of Gold Beach to Cape Sebastian State Scenic Corridor, which has a lovely protected surf spot called Hunter’s Cove, as well as some of the most amazing beach scenery in the state, with basalt seastacks jutting out of the beach and ocean. It is easy to put in here at the Highway 101 turnoff and viewpoint.

Finally, I finally caught many lovely rides. It was the first time I surfed without booties or gloves in Oregon, and I loved the feeling of the board on my toes. I also spotted a juvenile sea otter. The little critter did not see me at first and practically flipped when it realized a guy in a wetsuit was next to him in the water. The species is now making a comeback in the state.

After my surf, I drove another 20 miles to Brookings, a coastal community with a large fishing port and lots of nice camping spots upriver on the Chetco River. My dream of surfing here was dashed. The forecast predicted one- to two-foot waves. I decided not to spend the night and head home early. In the winter, the south jetty of the city is famous for its protected breaks. Maybe I will come back again.

Finding hidden treasures in St. Louis

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I love exploring St. Louis and its neighborhoods. Many are hurting, and my blog posts about the city’s struggles never hide that fact.

What I like the most about my journeys of discovery in St. Louis is taking side streets.

Without fail, I find new art work (check out the gargoyle on the factory corner), businesses, factories, and sadly buildings and homes in decay and various stages of abandonment. The old Columbia Iron Works facility, which I photographed, is a symbol of the changing economy from manufacturing to information and health care, which do not produce any goods or good blue-collar jobs. A health care foundation was reportedly moving into the abandoned factory site.

Outside of distressed areas, one can find breathtaking works of architecture and homes that would fetch a fortune in “hot” real-estate market cities like Washington, DC, or San Francisco.

On an upbeat note, St. Louis remains a beautiful, historic place. Here are some of the homes, local businesses, artwork, and surprises I found driving through Forest Park East, Botanical Heights, Shaw, Tower Grove East, and Dutchtown neighborhoods.

St. Louis is a city worth discovering, even if you have lived there for decades.

St. Louis statues: a great tradition of public art

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St. Louis has many great works of public art on display, throughout Forest Park, Tower Grove Park, and other locations in the city. They put to shame the public art of many other cities that are now more prosperous and populated.

During my recent visit, I accidentally stumbled on the statues of great white men, as I call them, in Tower Grove Park in the south central area of the city. Businessman and philanthropist Henry Shaw of St. Louis believed that public art played an important role in the welfare of a city, and left a legacy, including the statues.

The statues I photographed depict William Shakespeare, Alexander von Humboldt, and Christopher Colombus—a man whose controversial legacy is questioned today. The statues, regardless of their merits, evoke a period of wealth and pride, when the city chose to promote art when it was at the apex of its economic and political power. Much of that art celebrates European civilization and few other traditions and races. St. Louis has always been a city that did not recognize the contributions of non-European groups until the late 19th century.

I also discovered a wonderful bronze sculpture in the Dutchtown neighborhood, in South St. Louis, just off Grand Boulevard. Atop a neighborhood gate entrance sat two jolly foxes, swigging from pints and likely smoking pipes. These are located next to the popular Ted Drewes frozen custard stand, where I gulped down a delicious dessert. Now this was a real discovery.

There are no jolly foxes where I live in Portland. I think we need some. We take ourselves far too preciously, and we forget other cities have understood the power of public art better than the new cool capitals of the United States.

‘Keith,’ by artist Chuck Close, at the St. Louis Art Museum

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This hyper-realist acrylic painting by celebrated artist Chuck Close is one of the best contemporary pieces in the great St. Louis Art Museum. I have been coming back year after year to the museum, and I still find new things to see in his representation of a photo of his friend, Keith. I love how he shows the pores of Keith’s face.

Here is how the museum describes this work. It is one of seven in a series, completed in 1970: “Rendered in varying shades of gray, ‘Keith’ is one of seven large-scale paintings that Chuck Close created of his family and friends between 1968 and 1970. The artist worked from a photograph, using a grid, an airbrush, and a small amount of black paint to transfer the details of the photo onto a sizable canvas. Through the massive scale of the work, Close transforms the familiar face of his friend into a monumental presence. The artist stays true to varying areas of focus and blur in the photograph, while carefully depicting minute facial features, such as pores, wrinkles, and hairs.”

Just another roadside attraction in Oregon

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I have seen my share of roadside attractions and airports in my life. But every time I drive Oregon State Highway 18 to the coast, to surf, I marvel at the audacity of the  Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, created by Evergreen Aviation Airlines, an air cargo operation out of McMinnville Oregon. It has two 747s, including one mounted on the top of an air hangar (see it in the distance to the left of the photo).

The company was ubiquitous in Alaska during the six years I lived there, 2004 to 2010, so I feel a connection to Evergreen in my own personal way. Anchorage is one of the busiest air cargo hubs in the world, and I would see Evergreen air cargo planes parked with all of the other air cargo aircraft at Ted Stevens International Airport.

The museum is literally next to the highway, just before you turn off for McMinnville. I have never had time to visit, and I do not plan to stop. I usually come by here in off hours. Also, I have seen my share of aviation museums, including one of the best, the Museum of Flight in Seattle, next to Boeing’s south Seattle facilities.

Fourth of July, Anchorage Style (2007)

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It is the 241st birthday of the United States of America. For the 231st party, in 2007, I was in Anchorage, living the Alaska dream. On a typically cloudy Anchorage July day, I walked from my nearby home to downtown and caught the annual Fourth of July parade.

These parades are magnificent in Alaska. Alaskans know how to make them inclusive and celebratory for everyone who calls the Great Land home. They show participants what community means, because in a harsh place, you have to rely on others. You really cannot do it alone.

The parade in Anchorage also brought back fond memories of seeing July 4 parades in Sitka, where I once lived briefly in 1992, and then visited for a Fourth of July in 2004.

The 2007 parade in Anchorage featured a diverse stream of floats and bands, from the U.S. military, the city’s diverse ethnic communities, musicians of all kinds and the LGBTQ community. If you cannot make it to Alaska for a Fourth of July parade, you can enjoy this one from a decade back. Have a great holiday.

Happy 150th Birthday, Canada

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To all of my Canadian neighbors to the north, I wish all of you a very warm happy birthday.

Canada is more than just a neighbor to me and my country. It is my former employer. I worked for more than eight years with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (now called Global Affairs Canada). I served “queen and country” (the head of state is the Queen of England, FYI) at the Consulate General of Canada Seattle and the Consulate of Canada Anchorage, which has now closed.

In my work as a political affairs and information officer, I helped to promote Canada’s foreign policy and trade activities in the United States. The two countries, during my employment, were the world’s largest trading partners. They share the longest un-militarized border in the world. Canadian men and women serve side by side with American men and women in joint military activities. In Anchorage, where I worked, Canadian Air Force personnel served on AWACs planes that were deployed in the arctic to monitor for Russian military incursions and other possible threats. The list of our common interests could run pages.

I also had the good fortune of traveling widely in Canada. I visit the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. I loved every province and territory and have wonderful memories, even during my winter trips.

I learned to appreciate the “Canadian way” of governing. They have managed to create a single-payer healthcare system, started in 1966 through the Medical Care Act, that makes America’s overpriced and inefficient system look like the failed system that all data show it is. They do not allow the mass sale and widespread distribution of firearms (Canada has a national gun registry), like their American neighbors. Canada has affordable and world-class universities that enable their lower- and middle-class youth to climb ladders to success, compared to their debt-burdened student counterparts south of the border. I could go on how they do it right.

So while not every Canadian may be happy today, including many First Nations residents who see independence as a reminder of lost rights and colonialism, I think most of us can share in the happiness that comes with 150 years of providing the world with a model how to co-exist and lead in an era of conflict. Bon anniversaire, amis!

Sunshine and surf on the Oregon Coast

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

With temperatures hitting nearly 100 fahrenheit in Portland on Saturday, June 24, 2017, you can bet everyone packed their bags and sunscreen and headed to the Oregon Coast. I joined them, but before most people were awake.

For the second day in a row I awoke well before daylight. This day, however, the surf conditions lived up to the forecast. That forecast said glass on the ocean, 1.5-foot waves, and mild wind. A day earlier, the waves were choppy and I did not drive out at 4:30 a.m. as I had planned.

Surfing is about many things. It is about understanding waves and weather. You must figure out prevailing winds, and how they impact waves at specific spots. Is the wind blocked by a point or jetty? Is a storm passing offshore, leading to bigger, rougher waves in greater frequency? What about the tide and the beach? Some beaches are bets at high tide, others at low tide.

My new board is a 9-foot Bill Stewart longboard, made for smaller waves.

Seaside, where I surf the most often, is a high tide beach. Low tide is usually in the morning, which meant I would arrive at low tide. Still, with baby waves, that meant ride-able conditions with my new 9-foot Bill Stewart longboard (an LSP).

My trip this past Saturday was its second outing. It had a trip the previous weekend at Otter Rock, where I was hammered by 6-foot waves that slammed me and the board hard into the sandbar, and I flew over the top of my board all too frequently. Today I could pop up and get longer runs, sometime catching the face of the waves for about 15 excellent rides over a nearly four-and-a-half-hour outing.

I’d say the waves were about two to three feet in height, and bigger in some sets. Despite sore ribs and a sore shoulder, I stayed in as the low tide was turning to high tide. My last three rides were really lovely. I outlasted most of the riders. Three shifts came and went during my trip. I still managed to get sunburned with a thick layer of zinc oxide.

On my last ride in I passed by a Japanese-American paddle boarder, wearing a blue wetsuit and with a blue SUP. She smiled, her hair still dry, and headed out. I would have like to asked her name.

After I got to shore and changed, I pulled out my camera and took some photos of her. She was the best rider out that day. The A-Team one can find at Seaside must have been at a different beach that day or didn’t want to bother themselves with rookie waves. After Seaside I dashed to nearby Cannon Beach to see what the Needles looked like. They looked better. I should have gone there.

I also decided before I rode my last wave of the day to name my new board “Sunshine.” Today, in the sun, it caught its first waves. We need sunshine a little more often on the Oregon Coast. My other board, a 7’6″ funboard is named “Trickster,” in honor of the coyote and raven I saw on its first day out. Both are good and appropriate names.

 

 

Sunbeam at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

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St. Peter’s Basilica is the heart of global Catholicism and the main house of worship for the Catholic Church in the Vatican City, the tiny but influential nation-state located in beautiful Rome.

I took this shot in 2006. I had a basic point and shoot camera. The lighting as magical inside the massive building, which was designed by Italian architect Donato Bramante, in the early 1500s.

I first remember seeing a painting of the interior of the cavernous and enormous basilica at the St. Louis Art Museum as a kid. That painting, Interior of St. Peter’s, Rome, by Paul Panini Romae from 1731, was on my mind as I wandered in the sanctuary, with thousands of other visitors on a hot October day.

One of the lessons I took away from visiting St. Peter’s and the Vatican City was a simple one. Never underestimate the power of the Catholic Church.