The Northwest coast of the United States of America is a brutal place. Just check the place names: Devils Churn, Devil's Elbow, Devils Punchbowl. Down in California, you've got Pleasure Point. Up here, we've got Cape Disappointment. Our coastline is dramatic, the waves are big and cold, and if you want to get out there and surf or sea kayak, you better be an expert.
But what if you like nice weather and small or even nonexistent waves, but still want to get on a board and get wet? Standup paddle boarding, obviously.
Standup paddle boarding—SUPing, the kids say—is sorta like surfing and sorta like kayaking, and is as simple as standing up on a very buoyant longboard and as difficult as standing up on a very buoyant longboard.
The first time you try it, make sure you're on flat water. And the second and probably the third time, too. You're gonna fall.
The great thing about SUPing is that you can do it on any type of water, so if you have one day to experience the coast but your surf check makes it clear that the waves at the beach are not conducive to not killing yourself, you can try somewhere else.
The Oregon Coast is full of freshwater lakes, rivers and calm bays, all of which can be SUPed on the right day. Sure, it might not be as extreme as catching a wave, getting shacked and then inevitably getting the wind knocked out of your body by the cold water, even through a wetsuit, but this is 2016. Everything doesn't have to be so extreme anymore. Why not paddle around a lake, looking at birds? Bring a picnic!
A chilly day on the coast can be many degrees warmer slightly inland. So if the waves are too big or the air is too cold in Newport, rent a standup paddle board at Ossie's Surf Shop (4860 Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, Newport, 541-574-4634, ossiessurfshop.com), strap it to your car and drive 20 minutes to Olalla Reservoir (take U.S. Highway 20 east from Newport and turn left onto Olalla Road), a secluded, thickly forested lake popular with fisherpeople. On the day we went in early spring, we shared the lake with maybe two boats and an onshore group of Girl Scouts on some kind of scavenger hunt. When we were there, the water was still bracing, but as summer progresses, the water gets warmer and warmer and falling off your board starts getting fun. Overhead, hawks swoop and you can literally watch the fish jump around you. There are little inlets to paddle to, or you can just drift on your board and chat, so long as you keep an eye out for flying fish hooks. When the wind comes up, you don't have far to travel back to the boat launch.
Of course, SUPing isn't totally 100 percent safe, because (spoiler alert) nothing is. If you can't swim, your board isn't enough and you need to wear a life jacket. The same goes if you are on a river. And if you're planning on actually surfing on the ocean on your board, get a lesson.
Still, if you're looking to recreate on the Oregon Coast but don't need to prove how tough you are to anybody, try standup paddle boarding. Turns out you don't need to kill yourself to have a good time.
Want to learn more about standup paddleboarding? Try Clatsop Paddle Company (clatsoppaddle.com) or Kayak Tillamook (kayaktillamook.com) for lessons and tours, and Northwest Women's Surf Camps (nwwomenssurfcamps.com) for serious instruction. Then join the Stand Up Portland Facebook group for advice, ideas and probably friendship.