Finding a Love for the Waves

You can’t live in the Pacific Northwest having never surfed. Okay, so it’s not really like that. But most days, you’ll find the beaches here packed with surfers either on their pre-work wave riding routine, taking a quick “lunch break,” or catching the evening swell before the sun sets. If there’s any truth to the statement above, I guess I can leave here with the pride of an Oregonian.

Waves breaking at sunset. Photo: Justin Dalaba.

Since a young age, I’ve always loved watching waves and felt drawn to them, but until now I never really had a means of riding one. Having a surfboard might have helped, but there’s a difference between learning to surf and putting yourself at the mercy of a big breaker with no clue how to either escape or ride the wave. Fortunately, living within walking distance of popular surf spots this summer made my goal of learning to surf much more attainable.

Jess Vaccare (left), our instructor (middle) and myself (right) heading out to surf. Photo: Skyler Elmstrom.

There are two things you learn right away about surfing the central coast of Oregon. First, the water is cold. And that pretty much never changes. It helps coming from a background of coldwater diving, but you’re still never really prepared for when that first wave breaks over your head, sending brisk seawater down your wetsuit. Second, expect the conditions to change pretty quickly at any point in the day. It rains basically half the year here and the accompanying wind and fog can be just as enduring. I learned how brutal paddling into the wind and waves can be during my second surf session when a sunny day was quickly consumed by wind and fog. So if numb hands and salty eyes don’t bother you, this is the place to surf.

Post-surf stoke. Photo: Skyler Elmstrom.

The hardest part about surfing (from a beginner’s perspective) is getting yourself in the water and learning to read the ocean. You can really wear yourself out quickly by paddling into waves and trying to get up on every one that looks worthy of riding, but if you’re patient and wait for the right one, there’s nothing that compares to the feeling of being on your feet with gravity in your favor. For me, that lucky wave came on my second attempt. Something just felt right as I rotated around, took a few long strokes and felt the surge of water tip my board down. Once I got into my stance, it was almost effortless as I let the wave do most of the work.

Evening swell on the Oregon coast.

I was stoked. All of my irrational fears about failing and tumbling down the wave had vanished. From now on, I’ll probably always associate surfing with my first experience here on the Oregon coast. I couldn’t think of a better setting with better people to surf with. But I think half the fun of surfing is finding new places and new buddies who can share their experiences with you. I don’t think this was just another bucket list item for me; rather this will be another outlet for me to explore what’s out there before it’s gone. Our ocean is such a great resource in many ways and in order to conserve it, we first have to appreciate it and find a love for it.

Week 8: May the Forest Be With You

With week eight coming to a close I’m baffled at how little time is left and how quickly it’s gone by! Charleston has definitely become my home away from home. Scott has been laying off on some of the field work in order to let me finish up my end-of-internship responsibilities. However, neither of us can stand being at the desk for too long and so I was able to get in some outdoor time this week!

Wednesday we attempted to return the cockles from our free-range methods experiment back to their original site at Valino Island so that Scott and Jim can continue to monitor them after I have gone. However, the tide beat us to it so we ended up having to return them a different day.

Scott also left me in full charge of the boat, which put my skills to the test! I was to pick up the boat from the storage unit, hook it up to the hitch, and then after picking Scott up, back the boat down the ramp. It took me about 15 minutes to back the trailer down the ramp—much shorter than in my previous attempts—so I was pretty proud of myself! Scott even let me drive the boat around the bay for part of the time! Afterwards, I was in charge of cleaning the boat and flushing the engine and getting it back to storage. Boating skills: success!

On Wednesday evening, OIMB held their annual Invertebrate Ball in which all students, interns, and even professors dress up like invertebrates and participate in various invertebrate themed activities. At the end of the evening, all of the participants walked down a runway for a fashion show of everyone’s amazing costumes, but there was a catch: you had to locomote down the runway like the invertebrate you were dressed as! Prizes were given for several different categories such as: most anatomically correct, least effort, best locomotion, etc. It was the kind of fun evening only biologists could have thought up!

Invertebrate Ball 2013, I came dressed as a mesopelagic jellyfish!

Thursday, I traveled to Newport with the COSEE interns to tour Hatfield. We were given a tour of the grounds and even got to go into some of the NOAA and EPA labs, which were very cool. The Hatfield interns also showed us the projects they had been working on this summer. One of the interns was working on aging shrimp using their gastric mills which I became totally enthralled in!

The crowning jewel of this week, however, was my fabulous weekend that I spent with some of the other Sea Grant Scholars and Hatfield interns in the Redwoods National Park! On Friday evening, after work, we all drove down into California to the Jedediah Smith State Park. We took the 101, finally completing my dream of driving up and down the entire Oregon coast! Another check off my summer’s bucket list!

Redwoods National Park, talk about some impressive old growth forests!!

Saturday was filled with adventures! We started off the day with hiking and searching for the Grove of the Titans. While we found no Titans, we did have a lot of fun bushwhacking our way through the forest and seeing some impressive old growth forest. The redwoods are such an impressive sight, and if you’ve never seen them I would recommend making the trip; you would not regret it!

Relaxing up in the Redwoods with a few of the Sea Grant Summer Scholars!

We also decided to rent surf boards for a couple of days and headed out to Crescent City, CA to catch some waves. I had never surfed a day in my life but I was stoked to give it a go. Lucky for me, one of the Sea Grant Scholars, Pat Cousineau, had spent a large portion of his summers teaching others how to surf and was kind enough to give me lessons! After just a few tries I stood up and rode into shore without falling; who would have thought a Midwesterner could be a natural! (Though I can’t take all the credit, I had great instructor!) We spent hours out on the water and I loved every single second of it.

Surfing was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There is something so relaxing and calming about it, not to mention the thrill of riding the waves! It was definitely a de-stressor that I was in much need of. I’m heartbroken that surfing is not a hobby I can continue in Indiana but if I ever move out to the coast, you can bet I’ll be buying a board!

Catching some gnarly waves for the first time!

Just two weeks left here in Oregon and I’m sure the time will fly! I wish it’d stand still, though, because I do not want to leave! Until next week, cheers!