07 Feb Mission to Surf Nelscott Reef – Big Waves in Oregon
“Surfing big waves becomes a mission. It takes money, time, effort, travel, and all at the last minute.”
A few years ago my family and I drove along the Oregon coast on our way to Seattle. I brought surfboards hoping to surf some giant waves.
But, all I saw from the road was an unruly ocean, rugged cliffs and super giant waves smashing on rocks with not a surfer to be found anywhere.
The waves in Oregon are so big and dangerous it would be suicide to surf alone. I just imagined my wife and son watching me disappear into the sea, never to be seen again. Big waves, strong currents, isolated as it gets, and oh yeah, big sharks!
But the lure of the giant surf along this rugged coastline was strong. I had heard of a spot called Nelscott Reef, but I could not find it, and I had no one to ask. So I promised myself that someday I would have to come back and surf this beautiful place.
Last week on Wednesday night I got the call; “Nelscott’s on” from my friend and big wave surfer Ian Wallace. He was on it, he had all the details, and all I needed to do was get there.
Nelscott Reef is a killer surf spot about a half a mile out. It’s in Lincoln City, Oregon. The Big Wave World Tour (BWWT), headed by Gary Linden, holds a contest at Nelscott when the swell and weather get just right.
Contest promoter Jon Forse thought it was a good idea to add a Standup Paddle Surf Challenge to the contest. This was an ideal way for us to surf any big wave spot; with good friends, a support of bad-ass waterman on safety skis, and a lot of extra eyes watching out for you.
If I could be there by Saturday morning, I could stand up paddle surf in the contest.
I was excited. This was my chance to surf the Oregon coast, in big giant waves. The drive from San Clemente to Lincoln City Oregon is 18 hours straight. I needed equipment, time and money.
My wife laid out the facts. “We need money for expenses, a tune up to the Dream Machine, a new board and a safety vest. There’s no way I want you out in those waves without it.”
Surfing big waves becomes a mission. It takes money, time, effort, travel, and all at the last minute. But I had been asking to surf these waves. Now was the opportunity to do it with friends, skis, and good waves. If not now, then when? We went to bed Wednesday night unsure.
Thursday morning, Maria and I decided that if the Universe wants us to go, then it will come together.
We put the word out to our business partners and friends to ask for help.
I should have already been on the road making the 18 hour drive, but I had to be in Los Angeles for my client, Escape Camper Vans. I paint vans for them, and I do an entire van in one day. I told Rob Mewton at Escape about the contest. As a fellow surfer, he was stoked. They decided to help me with a major tune-up for the van and got it road-ready for the journey. That was one thing off the list!
Then Maria texted me saying that Mike Muir from Riviera Paddle Surf was on board, they would cover the entry fee and bring me some gear and a new 10’6” Ron House gun. Later, we got word that another sponsor, Keen Footwear out of Portland Oregon, offered to cover our gas expenses and we promised to stop in at their new headquarters. And of course my super organized friend Ian had an extra safety vest and custom-made big wave SUP leashes for me.
It almost all came together too easy! The universe obviously wanted me to go.
My list of goals for January was to explore and get some big waves up North. I surfed Mavericks and Ocean Beach two weeks ago. Now Nelscott!
With the support of my wife, sponsors, and friends, our adventure began.
Friday we headed up the freeway at 4:00 a.m. Being a seasoned traveler, Dylan went right into travel mode. We drove 18 hours straight to Lincoln City, Oregon. We arrived just in time to meet fellow paddlers, Ian and Haley, at Mo’s for dinner.
Saturday morning was the first time I ever saw ice on my boards! But, surf conditions were perfect. No wind, sunny skies and a long period swell filling in.
The paddle boarders were to be the first ones out in the lineup; the guinea pigs, so to speak. With the three of us out there, the judges hoped to see the scale and quality of the waves.
Nelscott is a crazy place; the reef lies about a half of a mile out. You can barely see surfers dropping in from the beach.
To get out to the break, you have to battle through a treacherous shore break and a series of sand bars that are breaking like Puerto Escondido in cold water.
There were jet skis to pull us out to the reef. I was ready with my 10’6” Ron House Riviera Gun, Kialoa paddle, hooded Patagonia wetsuit, boots, gloves, a Dakine safety vest and Ian’s custom-made double waist leash which worked great.
If you think getting pulled out by a jet ski is easy, think again. The worst beating I got all day was on that ride out through the surf.
I cannot imagine trying to paddle out. Haley was impatient and paddled out alone, he is a madman. It took him a long time and I worried for him. Our friend Wade missed his ride and tried to paddle out also, he was almost out when a set detonated on him breaking his board. Good reason to take the ski.
Once out there on the reef, it was beautiful and clear. We sat so far out that you could see the great Oregon coastline with green forested mountains climbing in the distance. There was giant bull kelp everywhere, making you wonder what creatures was swimming down there!
The first sets were small, 15’ – 20’ faces with not a drop out of place. The right was long, allowing you two sections to enjoy with an easy exit to the channel. The left was shorter but great.
We started to have a few bigger sets roll through, one catching me in the pit. I had to dive and swim through it. I don’t know how big it was, but a lot bigger than the others that I surfed.
All of my equipment worked well. My vest popped me right to the surface and my double-waist leash pulled me up instead of ripping my leg off.
I was amazed at how lucky I was to be surfing with friends for 2 hours in perfect conditions at a gnarly spot like Nelscott.
We rode wave after wave showing the judges and competitors that the swell had arrived and it was really good.
The lineup was soon filled with the best big wave surfers in the world; Guys like Greg and Rusty Long, Jaimie Sterling and Peter Mel.
Some of them said that we were crazy to be out there navigating the lineup on standup paddleboards.
One difference between surfing big waves on a paddleboard is that you can see the sets coming and you can jockey into the right spot by hunting the wave down.
Standup paddling does have you more at risk, though, once committed to catching the wave you can be too far in front of it with no escape.
Ian, Haley and I definitely earned some respect from our fellow surfers. Even though standup paddling has advantages to regular surfing, in big waves it is ultimately a lot more difficult and scary.
We watched from the channel as our friends competed with hoots and whistles after every ride.
We surfed the South Reef for a while also; it was bigger and harder to catch. After a few hours out there, we were all exhausted. We realized that trying to catch giant waves with no energy was a bad idea. I will return with a bigger board one day and charge that left I promise!
It took 45 minutes to paddle back in after the contest was over, once on the sandbar. I decided to charge a huge closeout and barely made the drop; it had multiple double ups and it was everything I could do to avoid the lip, which was double overhead. It sped up and mowed me down beating me 150 yards all the way to the beach.
Everyone got the same beating going in and everyone was stoked to get to shore after an entire day on the water.
Maria and Dylan were happy to see me safe, on land. Their smiling faces ran down to greet me on the sand.
The beach was buzzing with jet skis, spectators and camera crews. Surfers were standing around telling stories of their epic rides. We passed out beers and enjoyed the moment.
That night, we all went to the Nelscott Reef Awards ceremony. My friend Jamie Sterling won the contest, I had watched his rides from the channel and knew he had he had done well. Everyone had a great time at the event.
In my mind we all won, we all made the effort to be there, and we all got to surf Nelscott.
The right place at the right time with the right people. It had been a great day, one I will never forget.
Life is Good – Drew
Thank You to all that made this Possible for me, I am just a guy who loves to surf
HERE’S A VIDEO of one of my NELSCOTT REEF WAVES: (Thanks to Bruce Topp of NorCalSurfPhotos.com!)