Oregon Surfing

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.

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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.

 

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.

 

 

Oregon surf style: single fins and VW Squareback

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I recently returned from a four-day surf trip to the central Oregon coast. The safari included visits to Florence South Jetty, Newport South Jetty, Agate Beach, and Otter Rock. I had the best rides at Florence South Jetty, but I think Newport South Jetty had the nicest reef bottom. I will come back.

Rudy Owens at Agate Beach

The real “scene” was at Agate Beach, a well-known break next to Yaquina Head on the north side of the port city of Newport. That is where I captured this iconic Squareback, loaded with two single fins. What a classic look.

A lot of surfers of all skill levels gathered for some nice waves on a Saturday morning, before the winds picked up and led to some rough pounding near-shore breaks that pummeled me for two hours.

I  enjoyed every minute and will return to Newport.

Shredding it at Seaside

There was a break in bad weather at Seaside, Oregon, this past weekend and the A-Team showed up on long and short boards. I saw a lot of beautiful rides after I got out of the water. The outing inspired me to get some old surf rock classics, like the Ventures. Enjoy their beats and see what’s splashing on the surfcam at Seaside.

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

Oswald West-Short Sands, a beautiful Oregon beach

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.

 

 

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

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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.

GoPro surfing fetishism, with loving affection

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I own a GoPro Hero3, and I love it. It was inevitable I had to buy the GoPro surfboard mount once I owned a surfboard. Last weekend I tried it out when I went to “shark attack” beach, otherwise know as Indian Beach, in Ecola State Park. I went with my surfing Sensei, Sean, who has slowly introduced me to this wonderful sport. Aside from likely cracking one or more ribs, it was a fabulous day (that injury really blew a hole in vacation I just cancelled).

The videos I took have that hilarious GoPro quality of chaos. The board is being tossed around as waves hit, I’m going under foam, the camera goes underwater and blacks out. Most of the time I filmed myself holding on the the board trying to avoid junk waves, because it was a lousy day. I did capture some fun short foam wave rides. I also laughed at how my face scrunched up as a I paddled to get the wave. So I have a lot of B-roll junk video that is very awful. I won’t share that. However, I was able to extract some fun images that only a GoPro can capture with a fisheye lens view, showing the beauty of the moment when waves and water engulf you. It is one reason why I love GoPros. They tell stories beautifully, and I love to tell stories with them.

I played with some settings in post-production and produced these photos. They have a painterly quality I like. This is so much better than another GoPro surf video.

I also was inspired by some hilarious mockumentary videos of GoPro surfing fetishism in southern California. I laughed a lot watching these, because I had captured all of these scenes, minus extreme surfing localism that permeates surf culture globally. This one shows localism gone awry to the Game of Thrones soundtrack (LOL) and this one how many surfers tell their stories to the world, when they really are not that great. Both are published by The Inertia. GoPros used right can also create lovely works of beauty, which also show just how wild dropping-in can be when surfing etiquette gets tossed, often leading to confrontations at the beach. It is all part of the sport, and you have to live with it and accept it.