It seems strange to say, considering we're about an hour and a half from the ocean, but surfing is big in Portland right now. Between the opening of bars like Up North Surf Club and the rise of grassroots communities like Babes on Waves (of which I'm a member), cold water surf culture seems to be picking up steam in the great Pacific Northwest.
Growing up in the Midwest, I remember watching classic surf movies like Point Break and getting stoked about riding waves before I'd even seen the ocean. If you're anything like me, your first inclination is to go rent all the gear and jump right into the water. Don't do that. Take it from someone who dove in without a clue: Surf lessons are key. There are so many dynamics to consider your first time on the waves that it can be overwhelming, and having someone there to guide your first experience takes a ton of pressure off. And, not to mention, is much safer. Seaside's Oregon Surf Adventures comes highly recommend from all the local surf pros.
But even before seeking out lessons, there are a few things to consider. In Oregon, surfing isn't quite as sexy as it's portrayed in other, warmer areas. The water off the coast usually hovers around a brisk 55 degrees, which, without a wetsuit, translates to an instant brain freeze. You'll want to "seal up" before jumping in—I'm talking full seal suit, which means you're going to be rocking a suit, hood, gloves and booties.
As a beginner, the best way to rent gear is to decide which beach you're headed to and then find the nearest rental spot to maximize your time on the waves. A few spots known for exceptional service and a wide selection of options include Cleanline Surf in Cannon Beach, Moment Surf Company in Pacific City, and Ossies Surf Shop in Newport. Soft-tops seem to be the way to go for learning, but be sure to ask your chosen rental spot what it recommends for a beginner board. Soft-tops are durable, you can't really hurt yourself or anyone else, and they make waves easy to catch.
A key practice that you should immediately get into the habit of is checking the surf report before you head out. Surfline (surfline.com) and Magic Seaweed (magicseaweed.com) are my favorite sites, and they can tell you what the waves at your chosen beach will look like by the time you arrive. As a beginner, you're looking for any waves 4 feet or less, and intervals of six to 10 seconds between waves. Anything larger will be dangerous, and anything under you won't be able to surf.
Lastly, as with any other sport built around limited resources, surfing can be territorial. One way to avoid any tension with local or experienced surfers is to study up on surf etiquette (see next page). I'd also recommend making the effort to meet other surfers, especially on your chosen beach. As long as you come to the waves with an open mind, a high stoke level and the understanding that learning is a process, you're going to level up in no time.
Here are a few more helpful tips to know before diving in.
If you're looking for a casual, Fern Gully-esque experience on your way to surf, look no further than Short Sands at Oswald West State Park south of Cannon Beach. The half-mile walk from the parking lot to the beach takes you through breathtaking old-growth forest. The waves at Shorty are relatively small and consistent—which makes them a perfect starting point.
Pacific City is the beach of convenience. You can drive through the Pelican Brewing parking lot and right out onto the sand. (Four-by-four recommended—don't be that kook who gets their Prius stuck in the sand.) Make sure to check the surf report before going out—the swells are usually great but can get pretty big on a windy day.
Nestled up against Oregon's iconic Devils Punch Bowl just north of Newport, this beach is an exceptional spot on the central coast for beginners. Make sure to get out on dawn patrol. The parking lot fills up fast.
SURFBOARD ANATOMY 101
Deck: The area where you stand on the board. Wax is applied on the deck for traction.
Stringer: The wood piece that runs down the center of your board. The stringer increases the board's strength and reduces its flexibility.
Nose: The nose affects the way a surfboard drops in and maneuvers on a wave.
Tail: The tail affects the way a surfboard turns while riding a wave.
Fin: The fin stabilizes your board and allows you to better navigate a wave.
Leash: This keeps you attached to your surfboard.
THE RULES OF COLD WATER SURF
Honor right of way. The surfer closest to the peak of the wave has right of way.
Don't drop in. It's not cool to take off on a wave a surfer with right of way is on or about to catch. Don't be that person.
Paddle wisely. When paddling out, do so through a channel where the waves aren't breaking and people aren't surfing. And never paddle in front of someone riding a wave.
Hang on to your board. Most injuries are the result of contact with a surfboard, whether your own or someone else's—so always maintain control and contact with your board.
Don't be a snake. "Snaking" is when a surfer paddles around another surfer to position himself to get right of way for a wave.
Don't be a wave hog. Just because you can catch all the waves doesn't mean you should.
Apologize if you mess up. If you accidentally drop in or mess up someone's wave, a quick apology goes a long way to reducing tension in a crowded lineup.
Respect the beach. Don't litter, simple as that. Pack out what you pack in, and grab a few extra pieces of trash while you're at it.
(Kelsea De Filippis)
"Meet power with power. When a wave is coming at you, meet that force by shoving the board as hard as you can into the wave. It'll make getting past the break easier."
Women's Expression Sessions
"Make sure the first thing you do when you fall is cover your head with your hands. Most injuries come from hitting your board."
Up North Surf Club
"Make sure you know surf etiquette before going out."
"Remember that surfing is fun. Approach it as a form of self-expression, like dancing. It's a great way to connect with nature and relieves stress. If you're stressed in the water, you're doing it wrong."
Babes on Waves
"I'm not a pro at surfing, but I'm definitely a pro at packing —and the big, blue IKEA bags are definitely the best way to store your wet gear in the car."
Break: When the top of a wave starts to spill forward, the wave starts to break. This is usually when the wave can be surfed.
Dawn Patrol: You're effectively on dawn patrol when you surf at first light.
Duck Dive: A technique used to paddle out past a breaking wave. The nose of the board is pushed underwater, effectively diving under the oncoming wave.
Drop In: When a surfer ignores surf etiquette and catches a wave out of turn.
Firing: When the surf is really good, the beach is firing.
Kook: A surfer who has an exaggerated perception of his surf skills or knowledge. Often a beginner.
Lineup: The area where the waves begin breaking. Surfers sit on their boards in the lineup and wait in turn for the waves to break.
Local: A surfer from the immediate area or who has been surfing there for years. Respect the locals.
Riptide: A strong, sometimes dangerous current heading out to sea. Beginners should avoid the riptide.
Whitewash: A paddle zone between the beach and the lineup.