Yes, Portland Has a Surf Scene—and It's on the Rise

These are swell times in our landlocked city.

By Rick Albano June 12, 2017 Published in the July 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Surf's up!

Image: Amy Martin

The drive is sketchy. The water, freezing. The surf, fickle. And let’s not even talk about the sharks and the hostile Seaside locals. If that’s not enough, this spring in Cannon Beach a gray whale breached under a rider, launched him into the air, then whacked him with its tail. True story.

There are a lot of reasons why Portlanders shouldn’t surf. And yet, we do.

Getting to the waves takes about the same amount of time as reaching the recreational mecca of Mount Hood. Unlike sports requiring a lift ticket, though, once you have a board and a wetsuit surfing is essentially free. In July, ocean temps along the coast peak at a cool 58 degrees. On any given sunny weekend, the parking lot at Oswald West’s “Short Sands” beach overflows and the number of people bobbing in the water can be high even by California standards.

The sport’s growth here is real, driven in part by transplants from California and Florida, who have brought the collective level of surfing—and surf knowledge—up. Surf videos, live streams of contests, and HD webcams proliferate, easing our absence of actual oceanfront. A scene is growing, too. In the past year, the number of surf-shop options for gear has doubled in Portland, with new additions not even remotely on the way to the beach: Cosube (Coffee Surf Beer) on NE MLK, Up North Surf Club and Beer Garden on N Killingsworth, and Leeward on NE Sandy. These stores sell wetsuits and boards, and also serve the many nodes of surfing culture, with books, apparel, art, and laid-back bars that allow the landlocked to hang out and have a libation.

“There are all kinds of surfers here: longboarders, shortboarders, weekend warriors, beginners, and old-timers,” explains Gabe Folick, 41, a Nike marketer who makes the trek from Portland to Seaside or Pacific City several times a week. “The real die-hards find ways to charge out to the beach after work or before. Once you get a taste of surfing, it becomes an indescribable addiction.” Lyndsey Lee Faulkner, owner of Leeward, sees room for everyone. “Each shop contributes to the surf community in its own way,” she says. “My store has vintage clothing, vinyl, books, and artwork, but you can also buy a tailored Japanese wetsuit in the back.”

Are we maxing out? I have been living in Portland and surfing for 13 years. Surf shops have opened and closed, surfboard brands emerged and disappeared, zines and surf blogs launched and gone dormant (mine included). And even as popular beaches like Short Sands and Pacific City fill up with a new breed of Portland surfer, those who venture off the beaten path can still find empty waves.

Where? You gotta go to know.

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