Surfing

December on the Oregon Coast

 

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

Last weekend I headed to the Oregon Coast, not quite sure if the 8- to 10-foot waves would allow for a surfing dip in the ocean. My trip took me to Nahalem Bay by Manzanita, Oswald West State Park and Cannon Beach.

Oswald West always astounds me. Surrounded by steep coastal bluffs and a coastal rain forest, the snug bay is among the most visited surfing beaches in Oregon. On this day, the ocean was a frothing brew of crashing waves. Even then, I spotted three to four fearless surfers on short boards navigating the mini water towers and dropping down without fear.

I decided I had to get in myself. Further up the road, I parked near the Needles, a sand bar near Cannon Beach’s famed Haystack Rock. To my surprise, I was able to catch some foamy rides that ended surprisingly well as they hit the shore.

The ocean’s beauty seems more raw on these days. Humans feel more powerless. I felt tiny on my small board, bobbing like a fishing lure. A juvenile harbor seal swam circles around me, curious about why I was in its habitat on such a tempestuous day.

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Surf so fine at Seaside

 

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

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.

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.

 

 

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

(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.

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.

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.

California “mission surf”–a success!

Click on each photo  to see a larger picture on a separate picture page. Note, I used a basic point and shoot Canon–these photos were not meant to be fine art or high resolution. They do, however, tell a story.

I just returned from a six-day surf and tour adventure in southern and central California. It exceeded my expectations. I needed to cleanse all of the mounting stress from work, other life issues impacting people around me, and current events from Syria to my increasingly polarized and right-leaning country. The Pacific Ocean, and its cleansing waves and water, are a good way for me to detoxify the mind and soul. Reality has not changed, but my ability to respond creatively to it has vastly improved.

I originally had planned this trip to hit the great surf beaches from Santa Barbara all the way to Arcata. However, an injury delayed my departure by more than a month. When I left, on Dec. 1, winter had arrived, making any visit to surf spots north of San Francisco untenable. My first night camping at El Refugio beach dipped into the 30s. That was the last night I decided to camp. So, I adapted and focussed on three renown surf spots: Santa Barbara, Morro Bay/Cayucos, Santa Cruz. My surf stops included:

  • El Refugio State Beach Park, where I camped and caught mostly small waves on a calm day.
  • Sand Beach, in Santa Barbara (also called Coal Oil Point), by the University of California at Santa Barbara, where I surfed for two days and had some amazing rides and great moments in a beautiful place. Great surfing by the Santa Barbara women here.
  • Cayucos, in Morro Bay, where I caught some waves that tossed me around like a feather; I prematurely timed my visit in the water two hours before things settled down.
  • Pleasure Point, in Santa Cruz, where I first tried to ride waves at 38th Street and then moved closer to where the really great surfers were long boarding at Pleasure Point.

My skill level did not improve that much, so maybe I am a slow learner. It was definitely worth the time to do this. The rides that I did catch brought on that huge Buddha-like grin. Even the bad news about the latest appointments to the new Trump administration did not send me into despair as it might have a week earlier.

The other highlight of my trip were my visits to six historic California missions, where the Spanish colonial government and Catholic Church established outposts throughout coastal and western California, starting first in San Diego and then all the way north to San Francisco. I visited in order: San Juan Bautista, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Carmel, and Santa Cruz missions. They tell a story of the state’s transition from thousands of years of habitation by Native Americans, to conquest and ultimately cultural destruction at the hands of first Spain, then briefly Mexico, and finally the United States. Two of the missions I photographed, San Juan Bautista and San Miguel, both mentioned the graves of thousands of Indians who died in and around the missions during their long life span. Little evidence of their graves and these Native Americans’ role serving these missions is provided to tell their full story at colonial outposts that sought to convert and conquer the native people. Still, I love these places. They are a window on the past that is mostly forgotten. I will do a photo story on them shortly.

In the end, my “mission surf” project brought many rewards. The photographs are just pleasant reminders what filtered into my skin.