I feel cold water creep into an air pocket in the back of my wetsuit and let out a “Whoo!” But during an hour in the water, I never feel cold or shake loose a shiver.
The bigger challenge of Oregon surfing is tackling the waves when I’m not on the board. Most of my energy is spent fighting the waves to get to the right place, staying out of the way of other surfers, and keeping the current from pulling me south.
I’ve taken a surfing lesson once before, as a younger, sprier person on a trip to San Diego. There, the beach was sunny, the water was tamer, and we never left the foamy part of the beach.
Here, the ocean is more aggressive and so are we.
We turn to avoid waves in our faces, talk loudly over the breaks, and eat the Pacific Ocean for breakfast.
In my second attempt, I make the move to stand up. I move from my belly to my knees, then my knees to my feet, when whoosh—my wave pushes me over and my board smacks me in the head. Rebecca was right when she told us the padded boards don’t really hurt.
Undeterred, I turn around and head back out. It’s a bit of a fight with the incoming waves, and after a couple of trips in and out to sea, I feel like I should have eaten a better breakfast or had a third cup of coffee.
Sailing in on my knees is not too hard; I glide in like a gravity-challenged surfer. It’s easier to balance with my body closer to the board. By my fourth or fifth trip in, I’m accustomed to the ebb of the ocean and feel invigorated by the push and pull of the sea.
With all the swimming and board hauling, I’m definitely not cold, and the crash of the waves is less of a concern than trying to get on top of one.
This is normal for Oregon surfers, including Rebecca, who first started surfing 12 years ago on Vancouver Island. The first time she went out, it was hailing and the water was 40-something degrees. She got beaten up and ended up on the beach coughing up salt water, and she loved it. “It’s addictive,” she says.
Rebecca moved to Hawaii for four years to get warmer waves but now lives in Seaside with her husband, running Oregon Surf Adventures out of a Cannon Beach storefront. Now in their second year, business is strong. “Surfing in warm water is definitely more enjoyable, but it’s more crowded. Oregon is incredibly beautiful. We have forest right up to the ocean,” she says. “A lot of people are pretty stoked to be surfing in Oregon.”
Like my group—a group of high school and college friends from Redmond, Washington, who rented a house in Cannon Beach for a long weekend. They surf well for beginners; with every crash, I see someone standing up, even if for a couple seconds.
In the end, two of the five of us get on our feet. The rest—we’ve gotten a salty taste of surfing and we like the flavor. I agree with Rebecca; this could be addictive. No one else with a surfboard seems to mind that this is the rugged Oregon Coast, not a tame, sunny San Diego. We’re still wearing bikinis; they’re just under our wetsuits.
Oregon Coast July/August 2007