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Surfing the Oregon Coast with Tom McNamara: Tow-In Surfing Competition
Oregon Coast Notes - Surf Report

Statesman Journal PhotoLast month at Nelscott Reef, about one-half mile offshore of Lincoln City, an elite group of Big-wave surfers from several parts of the world competed in a tow-in surfing contest in world-class 20 to 35 foot waves.There are only a handful of these events each year, and they are not your typical surfing competition.

Tow-in surfing is a relatively recent development in the evolution of the sport.  The technique was developed by some Hawaiian big-wave surfers who were trying to ride waves around some off-shore reefs that were too big or too fast to paddle into.  Usually, paddling into really big waves required the use of a very long surfboard with a very narrow tail, allowing the surfer to paddle very fast and catch the wave, then maintain control at high speed.  They only needed the extra length to get into the wave, but once riding, a smaller board would allow much better performance.  So the solution was to tow a surfer into the wave on a smaller board using a motorized craft, and the early attempts involved a Zodiac raft with an outboard.  It was successful, and has since advanced to the use of PWC’s, jet-ski type machines that are big and powerful enough to tow a wakeboarder, and get through big and chaotic waves near shore to reach the surf breaks.  Consider also that the PWC driver must then jet inside to retrieve the surfer after his ride, sometimes in the very worst part of the “impact zone”, and return to the outside without getting crushed by the next waves.

Yeah, sounds pretty exciting, not to mention expensive.  It’s not likely to replace normal, paddle-in surfing, but has opened up spots formerly considered unrideable or inaccessible.    The recent event in Lincoln City also included a paddle-in segment for the second time, which was really fun to watch.  In my opinion, the guys paddling in were the real heroes, pursuing the wave with only their own power and skill and judgment.  They did, however, need a ride on the jet skis to get to the reef, as paddling out from the beach would have been impossible.

Statesman Journal PhotoWell, those 35-foot waves of a few weeks ago are about as far-removed as you can get from the 3-foot peelers I was riding yesterday on a 9-6 tanker. Things change quickly this time of year:  The last few days have felt more like summer than November.  As I write this, we’re about to get impacted by one of those winter storms from the Gulf of Alaska.  So, if you’re heading this way for a surf, bring lots of patience, as we’re now into our least dependable season for good conditions.  The good news is that the snow levels are dropping, and we look forward to that!

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.