“Nobody surfs up there!” Is what you’ll hear most people say about the Oregon Coast. If you ask them why they will give you the old line, “it’s too big, cold, rocky and there are too many sharks.” They will also add that you will need a dry suit to even make the attempt. January, being the coldest month of the year with air temperatures averaging 30 degrees Fahrenheit and water temps hanging around 45 degrees, it seemed a good month to discover whether Oregon surfers are either hard core, just plain crazy or nonexistent. My trip started out in Southern California where, in January the average water temps are around 55 degrees, which makes SoCal surfable year round. However, the winter months along the north pacific coast i.e. Northern California, Oregon and Washington are known for producing some of the coldest biggest slabs in the world and breaks like Mavericks and Nelscott Reef make them famous. As I drove along the north coast passing break after break I realised how beautiful and monstrous these waves can be in the winter months on average ranging from a daily 20 – 30ft with near perfect swells pulling in one right after the other all peaked up by the offshore wind that howls through the canyons of this wild and rocky coast.
In fact, I have never seen more perfect surf anywhere, beautiful and terrifying to behold. As the trip wore on and rolling hills turned into forests and cliffs I realised that I was indeed in the Pacific Northwest. The terrain changes dramatically from California to Oregon giving way to the harshest and most dramatic coastline in the world. It’s difficult to explain the sheer beauty and awe inspiring majesty of it all. The Oregon coast is 400 miles of old growth forest, waterfalls, cliffs and pounding waves with long sandy beaches that stretch on for days. One could loose themselves and run the risk of not being found on a simple afternoon hike. But people in these parts of the world are passionate about their environment, the beauty of it all and most importantly…surfing! Truth be told…no dry suit required!
After getting settled in my comfy vacation rental, which can be pricy up here depending on the time of year and whether or not you mind living in a cabin that makes one think of childhood horror films, I decided to get down to researching what the surfing up here is really all about. My first visit was to the local surf shop where I proceeded to ask the owner numerous questions about the water temps, sharks and hazards. I received more information than I may have wanted about such dangers as floating logs, sneaker waves and rip currents that can pull a boat off the shore and out to sea. After all that I was not as discouraged as I thought I would be as it turns out there is a lively and growing surf culture in the Pacific Northwest if you know where to look and the secret spots to surf at…and there are plenty of them! As for gear all one needs is a well made 4/3 or 5/4 wetsuit, booties, gloves, a hood, a good sturdy board and you’re off and surfing. A good sturdy board is right!
Now…I didn’t write this article to give you the froufrou picturesque idea of the rugged Oregon Coast you see in magazine pictures pushing resorts with a family roasting marshmallows fireside and a Range Rover parked in the distance. I am here to tell you the truth about surfing in Oregon and give it to you straight!
A good sturdy board is a must up here as the harsh and rugged environment can turn your board into a tooth pick in no time. If you happen to be a long boarder it is even more difficult to pack, strap and hike your way to the sand. But once you reach the sand you will be in the most beautiful and awe inspiring territory on the American pacific coast. The majority of people up here in the Pacific Northwest are short boarders and let me tell you they can rip! Contrary to popular opinion the surfers up here do exist and they are not just wooly bearded loggers who try and surf sometimes. They are fit, strong and powerful big wave surfers who are totally dedicated and are some of the best and bravest surfers I have seen, women and men! They paddle out in the craziest, largest surf with the most hazards I have seen on a given beach sign and they do it well. As for the cold water, once you are in your wetsuit you are toasty warm and there is not a problem. Change out inside the car and eat a big meal before you paddle out and you should be just fine. I have also been told that Xcel makes the best wetsuit for cold water and if you are thinking of ditching the hood…don’t, it makes a huge difference and the gloves and booties are an absolute must… your hands and feet will freeze in 30 seconds. So all in all the Oregon coast is a great place to surf and play…truth be told…don’t listen to the hype! And FYI…there are amazing secret surf spots that are a must for longboard and short boarders that Surfline won’t tell you about and I have been sworn to secrecy so come up here and try for yourself…I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised!