Portland Winter Escapes

Surfin' Safari
  |  Gorp.com
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The Oregon Coast runs jagged and austere from Astoria to Brookings for 265 miles as the gull flies. It's a summer vacationer's dream destination, with broad sandy beaches, crustacean riddled tide pools, gently breaking waves, and winding Highway 101, one of AAA Auto Club's ten most scenic American roads. Beautiful as it is, the Coast can be a cramped and conspicuous affair for the summer months. Traffic is bumper-to-bumper, beaches are crowded, and accommodations are hard to come by. But come September, all the RVs roll back towards warmer climes, and by November, winter storms are rolling in with menacing regularity, whipping up waves and pelting the shores with frequent rains. Amidst this turmoil, Oregon surfers emerge.

Shortsands Beach, in Oswald West State Park, is a secluded, quarter-mile-long cove just a short steep hike through old-growth timber from Highway 101. When the days grow long these fine sands are packed with sun-worshippers and the adjoining campsites are a lost cause, but from October 'til May surf kahunas big and small reign supreme.

Find an outgoing rip tide (currents that will suck you past crashing waves) near the north or south end of the beach, and ride it several hundred feet out to where the waves break. You'll know a good swell from far off—they can reach eight feet and more. Anticipate the approach and paddle like hell—actually catching the wave is the hard part for beginners. Ten seconds is a short lifetime atop a board, and if you can stand or actually turn—that's gravy.

According to 20-year-old David Hayes, a relative newcomer to Oswald, "the waves break twice, once out further and once in near the beach. It's really easy to learn because there's a much mellower break inside." It's also somewhat removed from the wave politics of more popular breaks, like Seaside, where laid-back surfer dudes become monsters if their turf is challenged.

Serious surfers live by their weather radios, which give constant updates on wind and swell direction, wave size, and outlooks for coastal conditions. The best swell is a few days after a big winter storm, when the cross chop comes down but the waves are still stacked. There are many sites just 90 minutes from Portland: Punchbowl, Otter Rock, Astoria, Fort Stevens, Cape Lookout, and Seaside (where locals are notoriously uncool to outsiders and beginners). Where to go depends largely on what the surf's doing and the time of year. To Reach Oswald West, take Highway 26 west to the coast and 101 south about 13 miles. Cleanline Surf Shop in Seaside (503-738-2061; www.cleanlinesurf.com), rents board/wetsuit packages by the day and offers lessons in the summer, but, as one longtime surfer put it, "Surfing's a hard thing to teach—you just have to get out there and do it."


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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