12-29-2007, 03:41 PM #1
Surfing: Oregon Style
A new kind of surfing puts wave riders on top of the ocean's biggest crests
PJ Collson cruises through a barrell on the Oregon Coast.Photo by Jeremy Starkey, DoubleVizion Photography
By Sarah Lemon
December 17, 2007
On a borrowed board, his bare skin chilled in the water off Bastendorff Beach, Ollie Richardson caught the first wave that ever came his way.
The 9-year-old had to share the surfboard and later a wetsuit with his older brother. But that moment of speed and adrenaline was entirely his.
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Surfing: Oregon Style
Surfing in Oregon can be boiled down to one word: wetsuit.
Because ocean temperatures off the Oregon Coast hover in the 50s and exposure can lead to hypothermia within 30 minutes, a wetsuit is essential. Booties, gloves and a hood add warmth.
"If you're learning, you want to go out as warm as you can," says Otter Rock surfing instructor Paul Hansen.
A new, 4- to 5-millimeter-thick wetsuit costs between $400 and $500, Hansen says. But most surf shops rent them and include all the gear with the cost of a lesson, which usually runs about $100 for two hours.
Hansen, 56, teaches surfing year-round at Newport's Ossies Surf Shop, Lincoln City's Oregon Surf Shop, and in Otter Rock, which he calls one of the sport's best beginner spots. Otter Rock has been called the Waikiki of Oregon.
A "user-friendly" beach, Otter Rock offers shallow water, a sandy bottom and plenty of onlookers in case of an emergency. At any strand with a headland or jetty at one end like Otter Rock surfers must be on guard against a rip current that could take them far from shore in just a few minutes, Hansen says.
"That whole go-for-it attitude doesn't always play out too well," he says.
Late summer, fall and spring often bring favorable weather conditions for surfing, he says. Winds may be lighter in the morning, particularly in summer. And even if it's cloudy, sunscreen and lip protection are key, Hansen says.
Hansen recommends beginning surfers stay in chest-deep water, where waves have already broken and are being reformed. Boards between 9 and 10 feet long are easiest to paddle and allow novice surfers some time to stand up, Hansen says. Boards cost as much as $1,000 new, as little as $250 used.
Renting a board is preferable before buying, Hansen says. "It's much easier to rent and borrow and experiment with other boards."
Once surfers are feeling comfortable in the water, sticking with one beach will help them hone their skills, rather than hop-scotching between beaches where conditions can vary wildly, Hansen says. Designating landmarks on the beach as boundaries keeps surfers from drifting too much, he adds.
"It's worth the drive to go to a beach that's easy to learn."
"I felt like I was going 100 miles an hour," Richardson says. "And since then I've wanted more and more and more."
Twenty years ago, Richardson, his brother and their dad had beaches around Coos Bay all to themselves. They built a bonfire to keep warm and clamoring out of the water every 20 minutes passed around a surfboard unearthed from a cousin's garage.
Today, Bastendorff is likely to host a score of surfers when the waves are up and the wind is down. Many more are packing their boards to "secret" spots known only to surfing initiates and local residents willing to hike the headlands through mazes of salal and moss-hung firs. Rain isn't a reason not to surf here.
"It's cold ... it's fickle," Richardson says. "When it gets good, it's as good as anywhere ... It just doesn't get as good as often."
In this environment of jagged coastline battered by wind-whipped whitecaps, die-hards like Richardson are thriving on a new twist in their sport. Called "Tow-in Surfing," this new type of surfing puts boards behind Jet Skis and surfers atop some of the planet's gnarliest waves.
"It's indescribable what it's like," says Dan Hasselschwert. "You don't even trust that this is what you should be doing."
Tow-in surfing originated at some point in the last decade, when somebody in Hawaii the birthplace of surfing got the idea of using a motorized watercraft to tow a surfer out to the waves. Surfing magazines, Internet sites and videos brought the concept of tow-in surfing to a larger audience.
"They were trying to find a way to surf waves that were bigger than anybody had ever surfed," Hasselschwert says.
Half an ocean away in Lincoln City, John Forse had the same feat in mind. In 1995, he piloted a Zodiac into surf breaking over an off-shore reef known to locals as "Tackle Buster."
"I turned around and started paddling for this wave, and I had no idea how big it was," Forse says. "It blotted out the horizon."
Forse couldn't match the wave's speed accelerated by off-shore winds and "blew out the back." Not to be defeated, Forse bought a WaveRunner and tried to convince other local surfers to take a ride with him.
"Nobody would touch it," Forse says. "I can't tow and surf at the same time ... It can't be done without a partner."
In 2003, Forse convinced some professional surfers to make the trip from California to Oregon and tow in. Despite being experts, they were sweating, Forse says. But after catching a 25-foot wave, Forse realized that towing in was the only way to surf.
Two years later, Forse, now 60, founded an elite surfing invitational at the Tackle Buster spot, which is also known as Nelscott Reef. Unlike other competitions, which are scheduled for a certain date and time, the Nelscott Reef Tow-in Classic is held when the perfect surfing conditions present themselves, which means high on-shore pressure, no wind, stable weather from sunrise to sunset and, of course, giant waves. When satellite data and weather reports confirm the arrival of perfect waves, 20 teams are given 48-hour notice to get their boards to Lincoln City. The perfect waves arrived in December each of the past two years.
The Nelscott Reef Tow-in Classic has churned up a controversy among the state's surfers, because just one Oregon team has been invited each year.
Hasselschwert, owner of Ossies Surf Shop in Newport, went so far as to hold a protest party during last year's invitational, calling it the "worst possible scenario" for Oregon surfing.
"He (Forse) tried so hard to exclude people that it became this big drama and this big story," Hasselschwert says.
Absent of assembling his own competition, Hasselschwert is dedicated to helping novice surfers learn to safely and responsibly learn the sport. His shop specializes in tow-surfing equipment and will offer excursions once Hasselschwert obtains the necessary charter-boat license.
"What we've got is really special," Hasselschwert says.
A former middle-school teacher, Hasselschwert, 32, purchased a WaveRunner in 2004 after spending one too many sunny days stranded on the beach because the surf was too big. Since then, he's launched the craft just as often in the rain, even in snow. Oregon's winter weather, which churns the ocean into white water for about a quarter-mile offshore, makes surfing practically impossible without the means to tow in, Hasselschwert adds.
He and Richardson, both Newport residents, teamed up when Richardson, 29, mentioned that his dad had purchased an old tow board, distinguished from standard surfboards by foot straps and extra weight. About twice as heavy as standard surfboards, tow boards are built for speed. Newer boards are 51/2; or 6-feet long and look to shrink to the size of wakeboards, Richardson says.
The surfer grabs onto a handle similar to those used in water-skiing and holds on tight. Once the Jet Ski crests a wave, the surfer lets go and rides the face. Just before the surfer gets tumbled by the churning white water, the Jet Ski driver, following behind, picks him up. On a good day, the team can repeat the routine as many as 50 times, Hasselschwert says.
"None of that can even happen unless you have a really experienced driver that knows what they're doing," Hasselschwert says.
"Imagine how in sync the surfer and the driver have to be ... to catch this moving wave when you can't stop and talk about it."
Just assembling the equipment to start tow-in surfing is no small task, Hasselschwert says. Plan on spending about $10,000 for a decent WaveRunner and then another $3,000 to $5,000 for all the accessories, which must include life jackets, flares, a fire extinguisher and other safety paraphernalia. State certification in boater safety also is required.
"A guy told me, 'It's a fun sport; bring your wallet,' " Hasselschwert says.
A rescue sled also is a good idea, Hasselschwert says, adding that maintaining the WaveRunner should be the highest priority.
"You're putting this machine in the utmost life-threatening situations."
Hasselschwert and Richardson tow-surf about a half-mile to a mile offshore, in waters where great white sharks are almost sure to make an appearance.
Forse was attacked by a great white in 1998 while surfing near Gleneden Beach.
"That's always in the back of our minds, too," Richardson says.
But instead of 12- to 15-foot waves, Hasselschwert and Richardson are riding 40-footers. Surfing faces like that, Hasselschwert says, is "almost like getting away with something. There's nobody out there to really regulate what you're doing."
For that reason, Hasselschwert, who teaches a surfing class through Oregon State University, doesn't recommend anyone even experienced surfers attempt tow-in surfing without taking a lesson.
"If you'd bowled for two years, I'd call you an experienced bowler," Hasselschwert says. "But the thing with surfing is: you can't just re-rack the pins and do it again.
"Learn the rules before you go out there."
12-29-2007, 03:45 PM #2
Nelscott Tow In Classic Waiting period extended
Oregon Big Wave Surfing Contest Period Extended
Tim King Salem-News.com SPORTS
The call up window for the 2007 Nelscott Reef Tow in Classic in Lincoln City has been extended through March.
Waves from the 2005 event Photo by: Tim King
LINCOLN CITY, Ore. - It is hard to predict exactly when 30 foot plus waves will descend on the Oregon coast under ideal conditions each winter, but it does happen, and the one person who will be watching it like a hawk is Lincoln City surf contest promoter John Forse.
In its third year, Forse's 2007 Nelscott Classic will draw the world's top big wave surfers who will compete in surf that tops not just the thirty foot mark, but even the fifty foot mark on some days. This is a measurement of the face of the wave. The Nelscott Reef is located half a mile offshore and it is the only wave of that magnitude in the world that breaks in front of a residential neighborhood.
Professional surfers the world over are standing by for the announcement that will send them scrambling for this beach town called Lincoln City on the Oregon coastline, and some of the largest and most ferocious waves that exist on the planet.
Forse has been promoting the Nelscott Reef for many years as one of the best big wave spots in the world. The professionals were reluctant at first, and now they are all vying to compete in these epic waves that require a launch from a "Waverunner" personal watercraft to even ride them.
It all means a great deal to a beach city that lives for tourism. In 1986 Lincoln City had just one shop that catered to surfing, but even then the "Oregon Surf Shop" was called "Windsurfing Oregon". Though it had its roots in, the sport just hadn't caught on here in the late 80's.
Then a small explosion began to happen, and soon Safari Town Surf Shop opened and another shop, even a Northwest surfing museum, and people began to realize the appeal of a sport that Oregon's cold weather could no longer keep at bay.
John Forse's Nelscott Classic is a pioneering breakthrough for the sport in the Northwest and now each year the biggest names in the world visit Lincoln City, Oregon to compete and promote a place that surely may offer the biggest and coldest ridable waves in existence.
With the fame always comes the fallout and John Forse is no stranger to that. Criticized locally for not including Oregon surfers in the event, Forse says it is impossible to invite the world's best and expect that they all live in Oregon.
"Besides" Forse said. "why would anyone think they can demand that of me? I have worked hard, really hard for this along with a few other people, and we don't care if a few locals feel excluded. That's too bad and people are missing the point."
The truth is, Forse's problems with some of the locals comes from surfers who live in places like Newport, Oregon which is a number of miles from Lincoln City. In California there is no question that each city and place has its local break, but in Oregon surfers from as far away as California have complained about their lack of inclusion.
The window for the 2007 Nelscott Tow in Classic which had previously extended through December, has been extended through March. In the meanwhile, the contest is being discussed in major magazines and on the minds of many in surf locations where the competitors hail from like South Africa, California, France, Australia and Hawaii.
12-29-2007, 04:15 PM #3
This is great. Lincoln City is not that far a drive for me. Id like to watch this event. I dont know if I can get my 1000lb Ultra to do a 360 barrel roll but I can submarine pretty good. What does the extended waiting period mean? Is it just final date to be announced? Is there currently any effort afoot to ban PWCs from Oregon coast? If you hear a final date on this event please post. Thanks!
12-29-2007, 06:16 PM #4
Heya Blue-the original waiting period ends on December 30th but not a good enough swell came along during their opening months..basically they set a timeframe and hopefully within that timeframe a swell/storm pattern will arrive that is favorable for the conditions they need to hold such a contest.
Go here and register for the updates.
I'm hoping now that the waiting period has extended I'm not going to be doing something else as I left the original timeframe open for working this event...
Bring binoculars, I'm not sure if the officials of the City will allow private PWC's to launch due to the hazardous conditions. The reef is about a mile out but with binoculars you may be able to catch some action from the cliff, and you can come to the awards ceremony and watch the video clips they'll be showing..hopefully I can be there, now I'm not so sure, but we'll see!
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