Surfing

November morning light at Cannon Beach

 

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My relationship with the Oregon Coast has changed since I became a surfer two years ago. I now see the rough Pacific Ocean waves as fickle tricksters, always appearing beautiful but seldom inviting to insignificant surfers who dare paddle a few hundred feet from shore.

I also appreciate the magic moment when the first cold light of a fall day climbs out from behind the coastal range and illuminates the beach from the east. I have come out many times at this golden hour of the day, just after sunrise.

I drove out this month with a friend, hoping to catch some approachable waves. Unfortunately, the five-foot breaks resembled overheads, and grew taller as the waves barreled close to shore. We still had the beauty of the beach before us.

We first headed to Seaside. Both of us disliked the ferocity of the breaks. Next we headed to Cannon Beach. Our first spot already had two expert surfers in position.

When we saw the intensity of the waves we decided to bag that location too. It is also a secret hideaway that locals want kept that way. We knew we made the right call after seeing one the two surfers get stuck in the current. He spent 15 minutes in the current, stuck, unable to get back out to the lineup. As we were leaving, another surfer arrived, obviously upset by our presence. On such a beautiful morning, my friend and I let his cool glaze roll off our backs.

We suited up instead for some mediocre foam rides at a spot called the Needles, just south of Cannon Beach’s landmark Haystack Rock. Despite the junky foam waves rides, we caught our quota and soaked up the beautiful morning on the crisp, cold, clear fall day. Nothing could be better. You can never go wrong after a morning surf.

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Escaping Portland’s heat for the cool waves at Seaside

 

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Portland, Oregon has recently had a terrible spell of hot weather. So I escaped to the beach last weekend. It was not my greatest day in the water, but it sure beat languishing in temperatures near 100 F. The temperatures can be at least 25 degrees cooler on the coast in the middle of the summer. I had no complaints, even on a mediocre surf day.

A sublime day at Seaside

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There are some days that make up for weeks, if not months, of sub par surfing conditions. That day came on March 4, 2018. The conditions called for gusty winds, but instead Seaside was not hit by north blowing winds. Instead, surfers and other beach visitors were granted to beautiful sets of two- to four-foot waves for hours.

Given my skill level, this was ideal. Usually, the Oregon Coast is feisty. Waves are large and roaring. They crash with a thunderous roar, without a nice gentle peel you see in countless videos of “perfect beaches” and “perfect waves.”

I caught almost 25 waves that chilly day (it was almost freezing when I arrived). Two of those for me felt sublime. I positioned my board correctly and both times headed right. Both times, I caught a lovely wave face and could stroke it with my gloved hand. I didn’t think about doing that. The action felt more like reflex. Those moments washed away days when I was pummeled here by large, crashing surf. I can still picture those moments in my head, and I dream of more to com.

Surfing when the thermometer says it is freezing

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Last weekend I surfed for the first time since late December 2017. My shoulder mostly had healed and the conditions beckoned me to the Oregon Coast.

I left Portland around 6:45 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10, and arrived at Seaside as the sun was rising on a mostly calm Pacific Ocean. My car thermometer read 27 F. The freezing temperatures created a beautiful scene, with mist rising from calm breaks and a magical play of light on the surf. An icy frost still covered the smooth sea rocks that line the shore at Seaside Cove, a popular surfing destination on the coast.

Despite these freezing temperatures, my wetsuit, booties, and gloves kept me warm as toast. My ongoing bronchitis left me performing well below average. In between my coughs, I still caught about 18 waves.  Only two were truly sublime.

I was expecting to see more surfers, but perhaps the freezing temperatures kept them away. I cannot blame them. Not everyone can find bliss in the surf when frost is still visible.

One of my personal favorites

 

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Last year, I shared a series of photos I took at Pacific City, one of the best surfing beaches in Oregon. I captured this one on a sunny, calm morning of May 19, 2017. It is a beautiful place when the conditions are right. The sea stack provides a iconic backdrop for surfers navigating the waves.

I just turned this shot into a cloth print and have it hanging on my living room wall. It makes me smile and brings me back to that perfect morning when the waves, wind and tide were just right.

Winter surfing in Oregon

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Oregon’s winter surfing season has arrived. That means one often puts on a wetsuit when it is below freezing outside and enters the cold Pacific Ocean when most people are bundled up in mittens and hats.

That never stops Oregon surfers, at least at Seaside.

Despite a persistent shoulder injury, I made three trips this month.  I need to hold off on future outings for a while until this stubborn problem is healed.

I took these shots on Dec. 23 and 31, 2017. Both were exceptionally mild days at this popular surfing spot. I counted more than 40 surfers in the waves both times.

I love that this crew of men and women are not fazed by the cold. All one needs is the right attitude, the right wetsuit (at least a 5/4/3 or 5/4), booties, and gloves. The rest is up to the pure, divine energy pumping in from the ocean’s depth to the sands of Oregon.

I hope everyone finds the right wave in 2018 and shares the stoke, no matter where they are.

Surf so fine at Seaside

 

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Today was one of those perfect days for surfing on the Oregon coast that only seem to come every other month. The forecast at Seaside, Oregon for Saturday (Nov. 11, 2017) called for a high tide at 6:56 a.m., waves two to four feet high, and calm conditions, with sets spaced about every 10 seconds. For surfers in Oregon, this is damn close to paradise.

Seaside is a beautiful spot to surf at high tide under such conditions, when the wind is not coming from the northwest. The natural cove creates some beautiful breaks. Thankfully, the ocean provided lovely set after lovely set.

When I arrived around 7:15 a.m. there were already a dozen surfers in the water. By the time I was in for an hour, I counted 40 surfers. It is a rare sight to see that many surfers in any surfing beach in Oregon.

I discarded what my body told me to do, which was to stay out and let my injured shoulder heal.

I may have set myself back another month with my existing surfing injury. Who knows. Given we may not have surf this good until April, I do not think I had a choice. In the end, I caught more than 20 waves, all with little effort. My shoulder, however, it did not like what it was feeling when I finished. Oy vey, tomorrow I will have regrets.

As for the shark warning earlier in the week, in Pacific City, about an hour south, no one seemed too worried. Great whites are usually out there, whether we see them or not.

Fall surf season has arrived with the Alaskan storms

It has been little more than a year now since I began surfing in Oregon, mostly at Seaside. It is about 85 miles from Portland, which means I can only get there once a weekend, if I am lucky, given my commitments.

My regular weekend trips that have been taking place since May are now drawing to a close with the arrival of storms that howl out off the North Pacific, from Alaska all the way down to northern California. Waves can kick up to larger than 10-12 feet when they hit the Oregon Coast. It can be a nasty brew of churlish waves, dangerous rips, and strong winds that stop even the hardiest surfer. I have been thoroughly pounded in these conditions.

I went out last weekend, and I paid dearly. The waves ranged from five to seven feet, and many pummeled me. Two weeks earlier, it was almost the same.

From here on out through the spring, surfing will be sporadic. I will monitor the weather forecasts and see if those red blobs on the radar translate to large winter swells offshore. We occasionally get breaks in the weather, and everyone comes rushing to the coast.

It is amazing to see how tough and talented many of the local surf crew are. The best and also the more protective “locals” were ripping it at Seaside Point, which is infamous for its localism and attitude. I spotted overheads at least 10 feet high that the very best short board surfers were carving gracefully with their lines. The point is just to the far left of the moonrise shot, where the rocks touch the water by the trees.

A year of exploration and surfing on the Oregon coast

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Rudy Owens on the southern Oregon Coast, August 2017

A year ago this weekend, I became an Oregon surfer. I now feel confident enough to be in the lineup with every other surfer who shares my passion.

In September 2016, I bought a beginner board, the right wet suit, and other gear, and I began the long journey of mastering the art and sport of surfing by travelling from Portland to nearly all surfing spots on the Oregon Coast and even California and Washington.

The journey far exceeded all of my expectations.

I learned how to understand surf forecasting and paid close attention to the storm systems in the Pacific Ocean that control the weather from Alaska all the way down to the tip of Tierra del Fuego. I met people who shared my passion for the ocean and this highly alluring sport. Many of them have lived and surfed all over the world and country, and we all speak the language of surfing. Some are visitors, and others are residents who now call Oregon home. We all come together in the water, waiting for the wave, patiently sitting on our boards and scanning out for the next set rolling in.

I have learned how to read waves and practice the craft of positioning myself at the right place at the right time. In Oregon’s tough, stormy waters, this involves punching through feisty breaks that pound you as you try to reach to lineup in the water, where the waves give you that window of opportunity to tap their energy and capture moments of transcendence.

I have surfed during snowfalls and blinding rainstorms.

I have seen sea otters, harbor seals, humpback whales, and signs warning me of great white sharks that are common in these waters.

I have made new friends who love to wake up at crazy morning hours and meet at the ocean, just to capture the magic of the ocean in the morning, as the smell of saltwater fills your nostrils and the sound of the wares creates a feeling of calm in morning’s first light.

I have also learned how to ride waves during this time. When I started, I could barely get any. Now, when I go out, I can catch sometimes 20 or 30 rides, if the conditions are perfect or near perfect. Even on bad days, I am mastering the art of riding our very common cheeky waves. These can be fun.

Yesterday, on Sept. 16, 2017, I rode perhaps one of the best waves of my life. I started in the lineup at Seaside, near the rocky shore, and grabbed an overhead that took me almost 100 yards to the beach, riding its face and seeing the translucent water carry me on a pulse of energy. My grin grew wider with every second I was steering my 9-foot Stewart longboard.

Now, a year into this journey, I capture each outing with a surf diary, describing the ocean color and smells, currents, sets, wave patterns, colorful characters, my memorable experiences with wildlife and aquatic life, and my memories of the day. As a lifelong writer and journal writer, I can say this is perhaps the funnest journal I have ever kept.

 

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.