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Sunday School on the Oregon Coast

Taking time to teach a friend can be the best part of an adventure.

By: Adam Edwards + Save to a List

One of the draws of living in Portland Oregon is its proximity to the mountains, valleys, and coast. The Oregon coast is a beautiful place. The fabled 101 highway winds down its length providing you with stunning views of waves breaking on steep cliffs against lush forest backdrops. The beaches when they come are long and sandy, though it is not uncommon to see people in sweaters year round. Like so many regions of the northwest its beauty and history are worth expiring and learning. As a child of the opposite ocean its draw for me was simple.Beaches sand and surfing.

Surfing on the Oregon coast is great but you have to work for it. The protected breaks we have are popular and the cold water and powerful surf can be unfriendly at times. Or at least that is my impression from how I learned here. The water is cold, there are sometimes sharks, definitely seals and sea lions, inconsistent breaks. The spot we have are sometimes crowded with other beach users as well as scores of surfers from around the region. Parking is hard to find and camping can be difficult.

But surfing the coast is great. There are those fires on the beach, working all morning to catch that one near barrel or watching your friend catch it. The often misty days and fir tree lined shores are beautiful. Seeing friends in the line up and cheering each other on. It's fun, it's a workout, it's challenging, but its deeply satisfying. The moment you pop up on your first wave and feel the board gliding along the face is something you'll never forget. It doesn't matter that you might be a little cold and a little winded. and you fall off whooping with joy.

That’s the part I want to share with my friends. I’ve been trying to introduce my friends and family to the outdoor world I play in for years. The level of effort, success, and interest waxes and wanes on both sides. In the beginning I often overcommit underprepared folks to experiences neither of us were particularly ready for. Years, and many fire side chats later, I’ve started taking a softer approach to introducing my friends and family to adventure sports.

My co workers and I surf and kayak a fair bit so I extended an invite to my friend Kenny after he expressed interest in trying it out. Kenny started surfing this summer and was enjoying learning the sport. I figured it wouldn't be too hard to help Kenny learn how to surf. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching folks how to do other activities and our friend group had many skilled surfers.

I was wrong. Surfing is a sport I took up because I enjoyed the solitude in the water. I was also taught by friends with similar mindsets. So while I have the necessary skills to surf and enjoy it, I don't really have the toolbox to teach someone how I am and doing what I am doing. Kenny and I found this out quickly.  My goal had initially been to introduce my friend to a new sport so we could be peers. Now I was struggling with feeling as though I had sold their expectations short and might now be diminishing their enjoyment of the activity.

Our first few times out I would try to give pointers where I saw them. But I was focused on my surfing more than helping Kenny figure out his.  We still had, and have, fun.  It is special to take a day to enjoy the company of friends at a time when gathering is difficult. But on our latest trip out,  we talked about it the learning difficulties at length and what could have been done to avoid them.

I realized I hadn't been setting my friend up for success in this adventure.  Each trip I knew the conditions where we were headed weren’t nearly as chaotic or random, why one spot was better than the other, and that we would plan to surf the inside if it was too big outside.  I'd subconsciously withheld planning information instead likely  just saying "Don't worry it'll be good."  I had forgotten the ideas I’d spent years learning and crafting as a guide and instructor. 

Set them up for success  

  • Go over the basics
    •  How to pop up
    •  When to paddle into a wave
    •  How to duck dive
  • Give or help them find the right gear
    • A warm wetsuit (Oregon water is cold 4:3 or 5:4:3)
    • A board that will help them learn and make it fun
  • Take them out on the best and most accessible days 
    • Not the days for barrels and ripping necessarily
    • A sunny day and small swell goes a long way for learning
  • Spend it with them

Don’t make it weird. 

  • Avoid boasting
    • Don't leave them in the line up all day while you catch every wave you can
  • Don’t scare them
    • Don't take them out on days that its hard for you to enjoy
  • Don't push them so hard they feel they’ll fail (negatively)

Make it easy. Make it fun.

  • Make it the best day ever. 
    • Positive encouragement
    • Snacks
  • Make them want to come back. 
    • Actually watch them surf and encourage them
  • Know when to call it
  • They don't (necessarily) need an all day session their first few times

Instead of trying to use those ideas I’d taken Kenny to the coast with haphazard plans and the promise of a  good time. Our small group friends have surfed for a long time. While there are discussions on surf and swell and style there is very little discussion on things like beginning or even fundamental techniques. Things that would useful to new surfers. Instead passing explanations on how to catch a wave, a push here, a hoot there. But no real help or instruction.

After a few trips to the coast with our group, Kenny was able to get out with other friends, one of whom actually was skilled at teaching people how to surf. During our drive north Sunday he brought up how he had finally been able to properly catch a wave after this experience. They had taken  the time to push him into waves, to show the timing and help him dial in his paddling. They took the time to provide insight and feedback. These are the things we look to our friends for when they introduce us to anything. 

Our day had been spent checking out breaks between Waldport and Lincoln City and passing by due to lack of protection orjust the crushing waves. We reached Pacific City in the late afternoon. At this point the surf there was big enough that the local shop wasn't renting boards for fear of loss or damage. We only had my longboard, which allowed us to surf turn by turn. For a while we sat and wondered what to do. The pull to call it a day watch a beautiful sunset was strong. Instead we ran into our friend Jeff who loaned me a board. Suddenly we were able to share the experience. 

The surf was much bigger than the glassy 4-6ft days I'd usually taken Kenny out on. A surge had brought in swells that easily tripled that earlier in the day. When we  got to the water a small group of surfers were taking the rip along the rocks at the far end of the beach to reach the break.  The inside was large enough to prevent any sort of easy paddle out.  We watched the shortboarders play, ducking into what would be the sessions barrels and then riding back to shore if they couldn't escape the collapse quickly enough.  Neither of  us were comfortable heading all the way out and decided to just ride the inside wash which was plenty large enough for laughs. 

The day made me reflect on whats important  and needed when sharing things with friends. If had checked in with my friend about what they needed to feel comfortable we probably would’ve gotten them up and surfing sooner. Their journey was not bad, but it could've been made easier. We were fortunate that many of the other boxes had been checked, make it easy, and make it the best day. It was fun to catch waves with my friend and thats all that really mattered.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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