I'd like to thank Don Beale for all of his help getting me out into some nice surf last Saturday. Don was kind enough to offer me a boat (I eventually opted for a rental), pick me up at my brother's house, take me to the coast (2 hrs), then to Alder Creek to return the rental and finally back to my brother's house. Don, if you ever get anywhere near the East Coast, you've got a place to stay, boats to use and free transportation.
Renting a boat on the west coast was more challenging than I expected. The folks at Alder Creek did a great job of making sure I wasn't just headed out to kill myself. It was challenging describing my skills accurately enough to convince the folks at the shop that I knew what I was doing. Apparently east coast paddlers have a pretty weak reputation on the west coast. But after a few minutes of talking the talk, a deal was struck. I rented a Necky Elaho (approx. 15' x 22"). It looked like just the ticket for some rough water work.
Don picked me up at 6:30 AM and we headed out to the coast (and a quick breakfast) some 2 hrs away. It seemed like a long way to drive at the time, but the conditions would change that perception. We met Gary at the put-in about 9:00, suited up and headed out to the surf.
Out of respect for the locals, I won't name the location but I thought I had died and gone to rough water paddler's heaven. This place had it all! Surf starting at 2' close to shore and growing up to 5' further out. Tide rips, reflected waves and clapotis rounded out the offerings. We started out with the small stuff just to warm up, then headed out into the more serious stuff. At one point we were surfing the reflected waves out through the small surf, wild! Since the goal was to practice, we didn't go out through the surf but rather sat in the worst of it, getting hit time and time again. I'm a bit heavy for the Elaho's published capacity, so the boat sat low in the water and handled beautifully.
We took a short break and played around some more. I even got a chance to witness Don's first Static Brace, on both sides! I had recently purchased a Lendal 4 piece paddle that worked like a charm in the surf and packed small enough to be carry-on luggage. More play and more hootin' and hollerin' came with every set of breakers. These were dumpers, not spilling waves, so the 5' waves were large enough to catch my attention.
Later in the day I asked about going out through the surf zone to see the coast beyond. Don and Gary were content to play in the surf but I couldn't bear the thought of being on the pacific and not seeing what it looked like beyond the breakers. So we agreed that I would go out, take a quick look around and come back in. Yes, I know this is not safe paddling practices but I was quite confortable with the conditions and was well dressed for immersion.
I pushed out beyond the breakers easily since we had been playing in the worst of them all morning. On the other side was an eerie calm, swells steepened but didn't break. I didn't dare turn to look around lest some rogue wave sneak up on me and end my day. I paddled out to the "Three Rocks", more like small islands with steep cliff-like sides. The ocean swells were hammering these rocks. As I worked my way around to the west side of the rocks I could see why. 10-12' swells were all over the place and moving pretty quickly. I was too close to the rocks and was hit by reflected waves and confused seas riding on top of the biggest swells I had even seen. At first I planned to circumnav the rocks, but then I decided that I'd be better off (safer) going back in the way I came out. I'm still not sure if I was chicken or if it was just a good judgement call, but I turned and started to head back in. I must admit I took my time here, I just didn't want it to end.
Once behind the rocks, protected from the big swells, I looked for Don and Gary. I couldn't see them anywhere, the surf was just too big to see over. I tried to pick my way through the breakers, and did pretty well until this 5' jumped up and nearly ate me. I've never been maytagged (and hope to never be), but I nearly missed my chance to laydown into the wave. I dived deep into the face, deeper than I thought was prudent at this time. Once underwater I thought to loosen my grip on the paddle lest the moster rip my arms from my shoulders before ripping the paddle from my arms. Just as I was running out of air I felt the strange sensation of aerated water on my face, I was on top of this thing! Still with paddle in hand, still in my boat, still alive and laughing like a damned fool!
I quick hip-snap and I was upright again, still laughing, but unable to see Don or Gary. Another couple of side surfs brought me nearer to shore and I found Don surfing a great wave right at the mouth of the river. After the obligatory exchange of lies we got right back to the business of playing in the surf. A quick trip up river allowed us to cool off and talk about the day. I was so stoked I must have talked Don's ears off on the way home. (Sorry Don) I know I was still stoked when we dropped off the boat at Alder Creek (Thanks Jeff, great boat!). And thus ended my first paddling experience on the West Coast. I am duly humbled, but still wide-eyed and still stoked every time I think about it.
Thanks again to Don Beale for his boundless hospitality. I only hope I have the chance to return the favor one day.
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- Surf Zone Trip Report (long)