Simple Perfection: Camping and Surfing on the PNW Coast

Emerald Green, Clear, and Alive

By: Isaac Desautels

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The sky remained dark and gloomy throughout the day, but such is the adventure of surfing in the Pacific Northwest this time of year. Winter storms form off of the Aleutian Islands and send storm systems to the Pacific Northwest coastline, which results in some of the coldest and wettest conditions for being in the ocean. My buddy Sam and I set out to escape the city grind in his trusty SUV with plans of backpacking down the coast in search of waves.

The absolute best part about adventuring into a storm in search of surfable waves is the uncertainty that you will find anything really worth a damn, and then actually finding something. After a ferry ride and a four hour drive through pissing rain, we changed into our wetsuits and hiked down to a spot we surf from time to time. When we reached the end of the hike, the trail spilled out onto a long sandy beach with a headland jutting out to the open water. As we had our first peek at the wave, breaking just under the cliff, we knew we had scored. The wave wedges off the cliff and forms a steep left in front of evergreen trees looming over a cliffside immersed with fog. The wave has a small takeoff zone and is a very fast left. Sam and I ran down the beach and paddled out immediately. We traded a few quality head high waves, but quickly the rain set in, the wind picked up, and conditions deteriorated. We packed up and hiked out in search of a place to camp, which we found at a beach a few miles away. The only cure for cold, rainy weather is a hot meal and a fire. We made this a priority, but it was impossible to create a large fire, so a small fire and some tea had to do before we pitched our tents and retired for the night.

The next morning, the storm had calmed significantly, so we set out with our backpacks and surf gear down the coast. The trail was muddy and the going was slow, but the sun had begun to emerge out of the clouds and the wind was changing to offshore. The trail traveled through an old growth forest, and after an hour or so peeked over the Pacific Ocean, the waves big and unruly. Ropes tied to trees at the top of the steep, muddy hill showed us the way to access the beach. A tricky descent down opened up onto an expansive beach, the horizon clear of clouds. We continued on, admiring our good fortune of improving weather and surf.

We found a campsite tucked back into the forest just off the beach, around five miles in, and we set up camp. Driftwood littered the area next to the site, so we used it to build a makeshift table and bench around the fire pit. From here, we set out to walk around the headlands in search of a decent surf spot for the morning’s swell. A short clamber up an accessible sea stack, because of the low tide, gave us a great vantage point of the area and we scoped out a few good spots for the morning. Red sky and a light, offshore breeze helped assure us that this weather would last a few days; the swell was dropping and we were certain that we could score some good waves.

Sunrise came and we were up early, ready to surf, and in need of some hot coffee. The waves were pumping and for most of the weekend we were able to surf head-high and offshore waves until our arms were rendered useless. Sam found a nice peeling right, breaking on a sandbar just a short paddle out, aided by a solid rip current. The wave was long and had a steep, yet mellow drop. It reeled down the beach for a hundred yards or more. Outside, the crisp winter air put temperatures in the low 30’s and again, it was difficult to start a fire. The amount of time it took to change out of our wetsuits and into warm clothes was absolutely crucial to our ability to feel our extremities. Sam offered an alternative: just keep surfing. As the sun hung lower and lower in the sky, Sam and I decided to scramble to the top of the headland. You could see straight across to the cloudless horizon. Waves crashing on the sea stacks created explosions of water with rainbows refracting in the mist. Golden sky, barking sea lions basking in the remaining sun, and a beautiful desolate beach beaming below us. It was simple perfection.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.