Travel to Newport for year ‘round surfing
Oregon’s spectacular and beautiful surf is a magnet for camera buffs, artists and soul-searchers. For a growing number of people, however, the powerful elegance of an ocean wave is more than an art form that touches the psyche.
It’s a tube-monster, man, a surging mountain of fun that demands to be ridden in all its chilly bluster!
Some of the Pacific’s finest waves dissolve on the sandy, uncrowded beaches of Oregon, but it’s only been in the last 10 years that surfing has gained momentum as a year ‘round sport here.
Today, a 35-mile stretch of surf between Newport and Lincoln City is a relative hotbed of surfing action — relative, compared to Santa Cruz or Waimea Bay, where surfers bob elbow-to-elbow and fight each other to ride the waves.
Damon Fry moved to Oregon to take advantage of the excellent surfing waters around Lincoln City.
“I came here from California and the Oregon surf hasn’t let me down,” he said. “The people are friendly and the water’s not polluted. There are three epic seasons here, but you have to want to surf bad. Sometimes, you have to hike through the brush to get to the surf, and you wear thick wet suits to deal with the cold water. But the surfing is so great you almost want to be quiet about it.”
To many, Oregon’s nippy surf has always loomed like a jewel behind glass — close, powerful and beckoning, but impossible to touch for all but the hardiest who could endure its cold edge. Long a bastion of hard-core surfers who braved its Endless Winter waters, surfing was considered more spectator sport than participant activity.
But that’s all changed, according to Mike Olsen, one of the local old-school surfers who knows all the breaks from South Beach to Roads End. The advent of new wet suit technology has opened the door to surfing waters that are reliably cold 12 months a year, he observed.
“In the early 80’s it was rare to see a car with a board on top cruising down Hwy. 101,” Olsen said. “Today, you may see a dozen cars jammed along a turnout, with surfers bobbing in the water and riding the waves. The reason for the growth is the development of really good-quality wet suits, and of course the rise in popularity overall of surfing.”
The release of the movies such as “Blue Crush,” “Point Break” and “Endless Summer II” create novel twists to the sport, as well.
“A lot of California surfers settled in Portland to follow their careers,” Olsen said. “Their kids — who had grown up on Dad’s surfing tales of the 60s and 70s — saw those movies and told pop to teach them the sport. Now, we’ve got whole families driving over for a weekend of surfing. It’s really become a family sport in the last couple of years.”
Surfing in Oregon started in the 50s and saw the formation of surf clubs in the 60s, but it wasn’t until the 80s when things really started to grow. Now it’s a family event, with the parents and the kids discovering a sport they can all participate in and have fun.
The sport offers great exercise — like swimming, it uses most of the body’s muscles — and surfers agree it’s “major stress-reducer.”
The smooth moves of experienced surfers make the sport look easy, but even the best longboarders admit they never stop learning. Surfing, like any sport, takes practice and commitment to master.
“Actually, surfing is real easy once you get to know it, and get past the part where you’re just getting bashed around,” said Albany surfer Ronnie Walls. “There’s a lot more surfing going on around here than people think.”
Surfing lessons available from the local Newport shops are inexpensive and fun and are crucial in teaching novice surfers how to deal with hazardous surfing conditions, like rip tides. You can always go out and learn with someone who knows what they’re doing, but a two-hour lesson is the best way. Otherwise, you may just end up struggling.
Beginners usually start out with a nine-foot rental board. Many first-time surfers “Jones-out” on the sport and return to buy brand new boards the same afternoon, which start at about $450.
Even more critical than the board is the wet suit — look for one that’s at least 5 mils thick, and is full-bodied with a hood and booties.
Good surfing can be found almost anywhere along dozens of beaches between around Newport. Shifting sands that play havoc with “the break” and seasonal changes in the currents make a call to a favorite surf shop a mandatory routine. You can waste a gallon or two of gas just looking for waves, so give the local surf shops a call, first.