On an unseasonably warm spring evening, nearly a hundred sun-kissed faces with salt-bleached hair pack into the long side patio next to North Mississippi’s Psychic Bar. They’re here for a screening of indie-experimental 1973 surf film Crystal Voyager, presented by (now shuttered) Portland surf shop Leeward. They watch the goofy, esoteric surf-autobiography with rapt attention, whooping, occasionally, at some gnarly shredding. After a long winter surf hibernation—and a few weeks of exceptional wave conditions on the Oregon Coast—the stoke, as they say, is high.
If you need more proof Portland’s surf scene is cresting, stop by one of the city’s two surf-themed sanctuaries. At Cosube (coffee-surf-beer), a concrete-modern café on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, you can sip a Sea Foam Americano Fizz before taking a group surfboard-shaping class. And at Up North Surf Club on N Killingsworth, neighborhood bro-dads drink Pfriem ale and lament their inflexible work schedules.
Two years ago, Sami “Bones” Christensen launched Babes on Waves, a group for surf-curious, female-identifying Portlanders. Her flock of 200 or so meets at Up North throughout the year and congregates, with surfers of all skill levels, on the coast in spring and summer. Says Christensen, a 30-year-old graphic designer: “I wanted to create a space where we could all be totally vulnerable and raise our hands to say, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.’”
Access, information, and camaraderie have never been better. But Lauren Ahlgren, the owner of Oregon Surf Adventures in Seaside, cautions that things are getting crowded on the coast. “Waves are a limited natural resource. I used to visit Short Sands (Oswald West State Park), as a kid, and I never saw surfers down there. Now, on a Saturday, it’s completely wall-to-wall with soft-top surfboards.”
Crowded is a relative term. Compared to Southern California, from which some of Oregon’s new citizen surfers hail—at least according to Ahlgren—we’re still an undiscovered paradise. And, even if you aren’t bitten by the surf bug on your first ride, the novelty of splashing around in the normally inhospitable Pacific snug in a toasty wetsuit, surrounded by Oregon’s misty state parks, is reason enough for anyone to take the plunge.