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Imagine you’re a motorcyclist. You love the feeling of freedom, the wind in your hair, and the road beneath your wheels. Now imagine that you’re a four-hour drive and a ferry ride away from your bike. It’s parked, ready and waiting, only you can’t ride it all week because you’ve got one of those nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday type gigs. So, you have to wait until the weekend. And, when Saturday does come along, and after you’ve waited for the ferry, burned half a tank of gas, and arrived at your favorite riding spot, the bike won’t start, and you don’t know how to fix it. That’s the analogy I’ve used to describe my experience searching for surf in the Pacific Northwest, every weekend, come hell or flat water, for four years straight.
My obsession with the ocean began at a very early age. My father first pushed me into the sea shortly after I turned two. My first wetsuit, which still hangs in his garage, was custom made to fit a five-year old. And, while we visited the coast as often as we could, calling yourself a surfer in Seattle is sort of an oxymoron. It wasn’t until I could drive myself that things changed, albeit slowly. Justifying a four-hour drive for nothing but a maybe is awfully difficult. But, if you’re an addict, someone looking to score the stoke, you’ll sacrifice whatever is necessary to slide a few small waves in. Or, maybe you get lucky, the planets align, and you’re able to grab a few of the big ones. With the wind blowing from the east, throwing a mist of ocean off the top of each one, big Pacific Northwest waves really are a glorious thing.
Friday nights, we’d load the the boards into or onto the car, pack all our camping gear, fill a cooler full of food and beer, and hit the highway. We’d arrive shortly before midnight, pulling into a campground or church parking lot where we’d spend the night. The next morning, we’d roll the dice.
There are surf spots in the Pacific Northwest that are pretty well known. Places that, especially on Saturday or Sunday, can be relatively crowded. I like to avoid these places, searching instead for something a bit more private. Half the fun, or so I kept telling myself, was finding something secret. I can’t tell you where those are, but after four years spent finding them, I can tell you they were worth the effort. All of it. The too-windy-to-surf afternoon sessions, the three-hour wait for a return ferry, the rain, the cold, the 40-degree days that make you question your sanity. The entire days spent sitting in the rain, on land, when there weren’t any waves. It all added up to something special. An experience uniquely my own.
Five years later, and free of my desk job, I paddled out to a well-known break in California, pulled into a little peeler, rotated my pig around, and wandered out the nose. Perched there, I observed a few locals watch in admiration. When I made my way back out to the lineup, a tan man paddled over to me and said: “Nice one, where you from?” To which I proudly responded: “Seattle!”