Ahead of the storm

Posted by Ken Campbell December 13, 2008 0 Comment 443 views

Mike got to my house just as the sky was getting light. In a matter of minutes, we were on the road, dodging raindrops on the way to Port Angeles. For a week, we had been planning to go surfing, and the threat of a predicted winter storm wasn’t going to stop us from going and having a look.

I have kayaked at the mouth of the Elwha many times. It’s not just that it has good surf; it’s also the closest point along the Washington side of the Straits to Vancouver Island. It’s about 11 miles from Port Angeles Point to the beaches near Race Rocks. Strong currents and a busy shipping lane add to the difficulty of the crossing, but the roughly 3-hour paddle can be done in all seasons.

The weather changes quick up here though.

Instead of snow, by the time we got to the beach, there were patches of blue in the sky and the rain had stopped. The waves were about 4 feet high, some a bit larger. The sets were easy to see and there were several chutes to the outside where wave size was smaller and it was easier to get on the other side of the surf zone.

Because of the water that flows from the Elwha and the way that flow acts on the incoming waves, the bottom is carved up into a variety of reefs and benches. What this does is it causes the waves to form quickly and peak, making them hard to catch on a surfboard. When you do catch on, however, it’s an intense ride. There were bobbing hazards here as well, floating tree trunks and sweeping branches that spun in the surf near the river mouth.

We both caught waves, but nothing consistent. The learning curve here is very steep, and I worry a little that I live too far away from the waves these days to really get to know them. Growing up in California, literally minutes from the beach, I had the chance to be in the surf more often. But you play the hand you’re dealt, right?

After high tide, when the waves got smaller and more chopped up, we turned away from the surf and headed up the river. About a quarter-mile up, we came to the first set of rapids where a half-dozen fishermen worked the fast-moving water. Our passage back downstream went quickly and soon we were back in the waves again.

Another twenty minutes and we were done. When the end comes, it comes quickly. Some days, surfing can take it out of you.

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