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Surfing the Oregon Coast with Tom McNamara: Beach Safety
Oregon Coast Notes - Surf Report

Introduction
Surf happens. The Oregon coast is constantly exposed to ocean waves. Some days it will barely reach your knees; other days it’s big enough to do damage and change the shape of the beach. With this column, I’ll bring you information about surfing in Oregon. If you’re a surfer considering a visit here, you’ll find useful information on what to expect and how to equip your trip. For non-surfers and beginners, I’ll give you the basics of waves, surfboards, surfing etiquette, things to avoid, and so on. For those of you who have no intention of getting in the water, pay attention and I’ll help you stay dry.

OCTOBER: BEACH SAFETY

Although summer is over, our beach is still a beautiful place to visit, and perhaps even more so now. Oregon is unique in that the public is guaranteed access to its beaches. To understand how this historic law came about, see local teacher Matt Love’s book Grasping Wastrels.

Beach sights can be distracting, though, and you really need to pay attention to that ocean. Children and pets should be closely watched, as waves and tidal surges move quickly across the sand when we are in path of large ocean waves. I have witnessed beachcombers, eyes fixed on the ground, knocked down and rolled by a surge of knee-deep water. They didn’t even know they were in danger. Children and pets can disappear in a heartbeat. Please don’t become a sad headline. Stay off beached logs. They can be moved by just a few inches of water with tragic results. Get a tide chart and use it, especially if you’re checking out tide pools or rocky headlands. Our local tides can be found here: hmsc.oregonstate.edu. Many local merchants provide pocket size tide books. Find the weather forecast and use it to plan your activities. Here is ours: http://forecast.weather.gov. High surf warnings are sometimes issued. These events can make great sightseeing, but are best observed from a high, safe viewpoint.

Waves to Ride

Waves to Ride

What makes our coast sometimes dangerous, especially from now through spring? Winter in the North Pacific is a season of storms, sometimes reaching hurricane intensity. Most come ashore in B.C. or Alaska, and we usually get several good hits right here. Waves from distant storms will reach our shores days later, without any of the stormy weather that created them. So you might be walking the beach here on a beautiful day, while just a short distance away, giant waves are breaking Some ocean waves will travel thousands of miles from their source before ending their lives as surf. And those are the ones that can make the best waves for surfing.

So don’t put away your wetsuit. We ride waves here all year long, but opportunities for WavesToEnjoygood conditions become fewer as the seasons change. For beginners, waiting for summer is prudent, unless you can go on short notice. For the rest of you, bring a 4 or 5 mm. wetsuit, probably hooded, and booties. Board choice is pretty personal, but generally you’ll want a bit more volume in your shortboard for paddling efficiency (remember that heavy wettie). Guns are rarely called for, but a reliable round pin might get a lot of use. Longboards are popular and ridden all year, but usually aren’t the best choice for the good days. Expect water temperatures of 48 to 55F, which is pretty much normal all year. Prevailing winds from now through spring will be SW onshore, which is not good here. We’ll get a lot of rain, but we rarely see snow. So we watch for breaks in the usual pattern of cold fronts, or seek the few spots around here that offer some wind relief. Swell size will be all over the map, from nearly flat to way, way overhead. Use the marine forecasts for guidance NOAA. Be skeptical of websites claiming to rate local conditions. The WavesToRespectmost inaccurate one originates in the U.K (as if they would know!). Observe the locals, and if they’re not paddling out, maybe you shouldn’t either. Currents can be very strong, and there are some large fish sharing the lineup with you, particularly when salmon are gathering at the rivermouths. Get a map and look for obvious potential. There aren’t any secret spots; just places that are hard to check or hard to get to. Ask around, but remember that some surf shops will be stingy or misleading with information. We try to give accurate tips without giving away the local treasure too easily. Visiting surfers are always welcome in our shop, and we expect you’ll reciprocate when we visit you. Around here, the locals are generally friendly and welcome guests who arrive with a good attitude. You’ll rarely see a crowd, and heavy conditions will keep the kooks on the beach.

Thanks for listening. Have a safe visit.

Tom McNamara

Tom McNamara has been surfing since 1965. Tom is a well respected Oregon surfer and surfboard maker. Tom, with his partner Greg Niles, co-owns Ocean Pulse Surf and Skate in Newport Oregon. To get in touch with Tom, Greg or any of their knowledgeable staff call them at 541-265-7745 or visit them at www.oceanpulsesurf.com. For the real deal stop by their store located at 428 SW Coast Hwy Newport, Oregon.

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