Big fish, long hikes, fickle spots and wild weather
Even if you’ve never heard of the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably seen photos. It’s dangerously beautiful, yet wildly untamed. I often hear the term ‘PNW’, so let’s tell it like it is: big fish, long hikes, fickle spots, and wild weather. So why here? What’s this unexplainable element that keeps bringing us back? Why do we high five and do it all over again? Life’s wild ma’an and our idea of fun is a long shot so let’s dig deep into adventure time.
As a rugrat, I used to hear wild stories about California. Beach blanket bee bop and mega babes. Warm weather and tranquilo vibes. Kewl waves and rad people. My big brother assured me these mystical stories were correct. Mainly through simple high fives and surf mags. If he said it, I believed it.
In the summer of 2001, at age 15, I took a trip from Oregon down to San Diego to visit my big bro. At the time, I was a punk park rat rocking bleached orange hair, skateboard in hand. It was time to party.
One morning, between eating burritos and skateboard spots, we changed directions and set sail to Del Mar Beach. It was my day to learn a new trade. The guys handed me a monster BZ soft surfboard three times my size. They said, “that’ll do”, while giving me the Baywatch rundown with terms like ‘barney’ and ‘turtle dive.’ Moments later, we’re paddling out to a new depth and reality of the shared world: the ocean. As it happened, more or less at the same time, each wave appeared to eat me alive while I kept my cool. My eyes wide open, but covered by my bleached hair for no one to see. Once we got outside, the guys started to slingshot me into waves without any notice. Second sling in, I stood up on my knees like a yoga cow pose barely lifting my arms. As I remember, I rode the shred stick from what felt like a lifetime into the beach. My life changed at this moment. This was the beginning of my future rad.
All told, it took a bit for me to rally up my friends in Portland to hit the cold ocean. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Northern Coast, but water temperatures regularly dip below 50 degrees for many months of the year. Also, gale-force winds, gnarl currents, massive swells, and big ol’ white sharks. This offered us ice-cream headaches, buff arms, and numb ass toes on the reg. At the time these wild conditions worked to keep everyone out of the water, while we learned the ropes.
In the summer, my friends and I took a surf trip down the coast to spots I can’t say. One zone in particular offered this wild, majestic jetty where the mountains hit the ocean. Inside the rocks, trolley boats would come and go while the jetty itself was populated by hundreds of seals and sea lions honking their horns. Outside of this jetty, peeled rights galore with offshore winds.
“Worth it?” we asked.
In the meantime, building this courage to paddle out was pretty hilarious. One friend gets hyped and the others kind of just follow. You know each person doesn’t want to, but collectively, you do it as a whole.
If you don’t know, a jetty works like a washing machine. It sucks you in, then spits you out to sea. The rip then pushes you away from the rocks towards the open ocean. You then wait for a wave to catch in towards the jetty to repeat the vicious cycle. Jetty’s are a bonus rad because they help to avoid massive waves drop kicking you on the head while paddling out.
Together, we paddled out. Laughing while terrified. Seals literally everywhere. Curious George might as well have been there with all the questions they’re asking us. As the rip pulled us out, my friend duck dove into a seal. “WTF!”, he said. “What are we doing!?”.
At this point, we’re hanging out with our new family doing party waves. Ear to ear smiles and loving life. It felt like one of those scary movies where everything is going great, until shit hits the fan. All four of us were on the way outside when we see this ginormous great white shark pop up next to the jetty and donkey punch a seal. Fins flapping, blood everywhere. Suddenly, we had a choice: motor the fuck out or be enveloped.
We bolted like a bat out of hell screaming. Our arms turned into those cartoon jets, spinning water like a sternwheeler. The jetty on the other hand had a different agenda. He kept reeling us in like a fish, peer pressuring us to party. Each wave in, pushed us toward the rock, which then pulled us even closer to the beast mowing down on lunch. Not cool. Half hour later, exhausted, we all got to shore. Pale. Scared. Safe.
Funny thing about the PNW is how fast things change. In the mountains it could snow one second, then break blue bird the next. Nothing is stable and that’s typical. That goes the same for the ocean. If frustration leans on your shoulder, this place isn’t for you. In our case, we laugh per usual and head South in hopes of hidden gems.
Last fall, my friend Christian and I were scouting spots on the Google for a photo shoot. Our whole plan was dialed in on paper. “Yewwwww!!!” we said over the phone. “Hike here, surf there, camp here, photo there. This is gonna be soooo fun!”.
Down the road, a spot opened up out of nowhere. It was beautiful. “Can we go pleaz?” one said. We all jumped out and ran like school girls. That evening, we camped in the rain. We ate in the rain. In fact, our only spot to drink beer was under a stinky ass fish cleaning station. We laughed, told jokes and drank ourselves to sleep just to cooperate with nature. It ruled.
I woke up the next day wondering, why are we doing this?
How is this fun? The average Joe heads South to tropical lands sipping piña coladas and bathing in the sun.
Our version was slamming freezing Tecate next to salmon guts. What were we thinking? I suppose it’s because of the adventures we had. The people. The beauty, rumble, and silence of the Northern coast. Reliving the simplicity and burning memories into our brains.
To some, that wouldn’t make sense. Still, it felt right. Narrow it down and that’s just the PNW.
Still want to hang?
March 9, 2020
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