Surf

A year of exploration and surfing on the Oregon coast

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

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.

 

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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.

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.