Washington’s unexpected surf mecca

written by Viki Eirdam

Rays of sunshine glisten off the water, giving its gray undertones a bluish hue. Sea spray dances above the waves as an explosion of power mimics the sound of thunder from crest to break. In the lull, people in wetsuits straddle boards, rocking in time to the hypnotic sensation of the ocean.

In the summer waters off the Washington Coast, novice surfers find forgiving beach break in Westport and Long Beach. Seasoned “board heads” are drawn to the Pacific Northwest stretch for its year-round consistency and special challenges found in places like La Push and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Although the Washington Coast does not have a surfing mecca reputation, it is known in the community for its ability to deliver surfable conditions 315 days out of the year. Compare that to the famed North Shore of Hawaii, which is “flat like a lake 70 percent of the time” in summer, according to Matt Loughran, owner of Steepwater Surf Shop.

Although the Washington Coast does not have a surfing mecca reputation, it is known in the community for its ability to deliver surfable conditions 315 days out of the year.

For nearly forty years, Loughran has been chasing waves. The reliability of the Washington Coast drew him to open Steepwater Surf Shop in Westport back in 2001. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Loughran’s early training ground was Ocean Beach and Santa Cruz.

Frequent visits to his uncle’s house in Southern California rounded out the beach culture. As a county record holder in swimming, Loughran was comfortable in bigger surf before he had the board skills to match his confidence. With a foundation of skateboarding to draw from, he spent his senior year of high school surfing along Long Beach, California, and, from there, set off to explore the storied beaches of the world, from Waikiki to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, to Fiji, New Zealand, Indonesia, Nicaragua and more.

Through a family friend in Port Orchard, Loughran found there were waves in Westport. Considering its proximity to Seattle, this laidback town seemed a logical fit for a surf shop.

Multiple wind directions create good wave conditions in Westport, and the Westport Jetty and the handful of rivers flowing into Grays Harbor provide favorable contours for adventurers looking for surf. When there are calm winds or winds from the east, miles of surfable coastline open up, if swells are not too large.

From the mouth of the Columbia River to the Olympic Peninsula, the coastline is predominantly sand bottom and open to swells. Winter can see more advanced wave action due to storms bringing in 40 mph and stronger offshore winds, and August through October can deliver an occasional surprise when hurricanes spinning up from Baja, Mexico, bring unseasonable surf. For the beginner to intermediate surfer, summer months are ideal.

Longer days translate to ample opportunity for surf exposure. Dawn patrol to sunset, a body will give out before light fades and an enthusiast could catch a morning session, take a nap, go back out for a lunch session and repeat. During peak season, surf shops along the Washington Coast are open, with instructors at the ready to give lessons to the novice and to go deeper for those looking to build skills.

Loughran agrees with other diehard Northwest surfers that, for quality of surf and length of ride, some of the most memorable sessions are found inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But the waves are fickle and tight, with millions of gallons of water flowing in and out. From 30-foot swells with only knee high waves to 15-foot swells with double overhead waves, these are challenging conditions for even expert-level surfers.

Westport, on the other hand, is a welcoming vibe for newcomers and summer season offers warmer swim conditions. The gradual slope of the beach can accommodate a 100-yard ride if the waves start breaking farther out. This continual break toward shore provides ample opportunity to practice paddling, pop-ups and general technique and water safety—an important factor that Steepwater Surf Shop emphasizes with every lesson.

Up and down the Washington coastline, surfers can find a spectrum of conditions and challenges at all skill levels. Just remember—don’t be a “Barney” by bailing on ankle busters or a “Quimby” who turns into a wave hog. Learn surfing etiquette, apply it and every session will be sick.

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