Thursday, June 19, 2008

Westport Surf Story

When I first moved to the mainland in 1991 I would occasionally make the trek to Westport on the Washington coast to surf. It's not a great surf spot, a series of beach breaks coming off of an insanely long jetty. There would generally be waves, and there would always be surfers; it was the Canoes of Washington.

Now, surfing in Washington is not like surfing in Hawai`i. For one thing, it's cold. Really Cold. Advances in wetsuit technology have gone a long ways towards improving things, my 5mm titanium-lined body glove generally kept me safely away from hypothermia. But there's still the initial flush of 40 degree water as you duck under the first wave paddling out, usually followed by a sharp intake of breath and a brief black-out. Not quite a near-death experience, more like a near coma.

The biggest difference though, is the distance. Westport was about the closest spot for me and it was a three-hour drive, each way. When I worked at Hickam, Ron and I used to go surf at lunch! Admittedly we only had time to dash into town, paddle out, catch one wave, paddle in, shower, change, and get back to the office; but still. No lunch time sessions in Washington, not even a dawn patrol before work. Surfing means dedicating a day.

One dedicated Saturday many years ago, I packed up the car and made the drive. I pulled into a semi-crowded parking lot at Westport and found very excellent conditions: a light wind, shoulder-high sets, and a dropping tide. I put my wetsuit on (a tedious process involving a combination of yoga and one-legged hopping), waxed my board, and I was ready to lock up the car and go. But... I've got a hangup about having my keys in my hand when I lock the car, at this point they were already in a key-pocket tucked under multiple zipped layers of neoprene. Oh well, lock it up and paddle out.

The conditions were as good as they looked. Clean and fun. The crowd was spread out and there were more waves than surfers. An excellent surf day in the Pacific Northwest. After a couple of hours I was getting pretty beat. I took off late on an outside set wave and had it go completely concave. The board pearled when I tried to make a bottom turn, which did nothing to slow my forward momentum, and I found myself on my back with my head in the trough watching the lip come down on me. Okay, time to head in.

Even with the trip through the washing machine, I was still feeling on top of the world. I made my way up the beach and it was obvious everyone else was feeling that way too. Lots of smiles, "strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand". My plan was to nip into the turkey sandwiches I had packed, take a nap, and maybe consider a second session later in the day. I got back to the car, peeled the wetsuit off of my shoulders, reached into the key pocket and... wait for it... no key! Crap! Exactly the thing my hangup tried to prevent. I started going from car to car asking if anyone had a wire coat hanger, wondering if I'd even be able to get the door open with one if they did, which they didn't. The heat of the day was taking a toll and I decided to shed the 20 pounds of neoprene I was still wearing. I did the wetsuit dance, stripping down to my trunks

... and there in my waistband, where it had apparently lodged during my graceless last wave, was my car key.

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