Surf well.

Its been a little crazy up here. All the same, I apologize for the gap in writing. Many of you have told me that you subscribe and wait anxiously for pictures of the new boards to arrive. We definitely appreciate that and do our best to keep the pictures coming.

Other than the crazy swell and storm after storm, there is all sorts of other action going on up here. For one, we are moving! We are buying the tools that our blank maker has been using to build our blanks and moving into a giant old brick icehouse in down-town Hood River. We’ll keep you posted as we slowly get moved in. There will be a bit of a gap while we move but by spring we should be throwing wood chips consistently again.

The other action that happens here at this time of year is skiing. The snow is falling and we are all up on the mountain two or three days a week. Or four or five, depending on the week.

The Pacific Northwest is fantastic!

Surfing here though, is not for the meek. On Thanksgiving Day I was surfing a well known rock point. This is not some out-of-the-way secret spot. This is one of the main spots up here. If you surf there, you know exactly where I am talking about. If you don’t surf there, the exact location doesn’t really matter that much.

The swell was supposed to be bigger but ended up at 14-16 at right around 16 seconds. This put the surf that morning at several times overhead - more than 2X but less than 4X overhead.

The sky was clear and the temperature was a few degrees below freezing. There were pools of ice on the ground where guys had taken their wetsuits off the afternoon before. I say afternoon and not evening because it gets dark around four this time of year. The water in the gutter was frozen and all of the rocks down to the waterline were covered with a thick frost.

The rockfrost combined with a huge surge caused by the highest tide of the year was making getting into the water a real trick. While slithering into my wetsuit I watched two people get flatly denied. Getting denied here does not just mean getting caught inside. It means getting thrown up on the rocks, dragged back out, thrown up again, etc… It’s never pretty and it happens rarely because you are so focused.

The wind was howling offshore. The 20-30 knots of thick cold winter air seemed to be throwing half the water in the lip out the back. The other half of the lip was being held up impossibly long before pitching out twice as far as the wave was high. As beautiful as it was from the beach, the reality of what that meant from the water would soon become apparent.

I slipped out with no adventures. Watching the handful of other surfers ride was a trip. It struck me that we are so small out there. Between the raging currents, the howling wind, the ever-present wildlife, the cold water, and the forest hanging off the rocks, you just get the feeling that you are so insignificant.

I caught a couple fast waves and was having a good time. It is always wild to drop in on a big wave when it is blowing that hard. Even on a wood board you just get blown off the top of the wave. Now admittedly, I should have been on a bigger board. But the biggest that I had in the rack was a 6’8” single fin. So a 6’8” single it was.

On a board that short, in waves that big, when it is blowing that hard, your only choice is to take off under the lip. The tricky part on Thanksgiving Day was that the wind was holding the lip up so long and there were so few guys out that you couldn’t quite tell where “just under the lip” was going to be. In conditions like that, sometimes you are early and you just get a face full of cold buckshot spray. Sometimes you are right on and you find yourself feathering a long bottom turn under a few tons of chilly green Pacific juice. And then sometimes you mess up and get caught inside begging for the lip to stay vertical for just two more seconds.

On one of those waves I sprint-paddled towards the heaving lip with equal parts hope and dread. Even as the lip pitched, split between the tons of water coming down and the tons of spray going up and out the back, I hoped that I could sneak under. Even as the lip split the ocean’s surface 15 feet in front of me, I still hoped I could dive down the rabbit's hole that the glass hammer had just punched. But none of that was to be. Instead, the crushing lip laughed at my feeble three foot duck-dive and just ripped me to pieces. I didn’t let go of my board and instead rode it free-falling down the holes of foam and shooting up the geysers of green water until I finally came back up into the sun. At that point I couldn’t really move my upper body and for a second I wondered if I had broken my neck. My subconscious is always a little melodramatic.

It took me a couple seconds to realize that the wave had blown my hooded vest off my head and down my shoulders. My whole upper body was sticking out of the face of my hood! Crazy. I wriggled back into my hood and took a couple more on the head before making it back into the rip.

Now I was cold.

My suit is two years old and it is amazing how cold it is. I have been meaning to order a new one from Hotline but I just haven’t done it yet. I really need to do that.

As it was, I was freezing, thoroughly pounded, and stroking madly down the rip when I spotted my buddy.

Contrary to the popular image, here in the Pacific Northwest you never surf alone. There may or may not be other humans with you but you always have a couple seals or sea lions to keep you company. My buddy today was a big beefy sea lion, at least as tall as my friend Didi, a big Kiwi, but much bigger around.

The rip was dredging out right through the impact zone. Right along the long rocky point. I was paddling out on the right side of the rip, left of the eddy but right of the rock shelf. This shelf was pronounced because of one of the highest tides of the year. The smaller waves weren’t really affecting it much but the larger waves were emptying that shelf like water pouring off a waterfall. I wondered about that as I watched the sea lion power down the point on the left side of the rip, between me and the shelf.

Obviously my buddy had thousands more water hours than me but I still wondered about his line. He ducked under the first wave of the next set with no trouble and I did the same. As I came up out of the back of the wave, the second wave of the set was already feathering and the shelf was pouring off into its path.

My buddy was ahead of me by almost a whole wave period at this point so I was able to watch the whole thing in slow motion. As the shelf emptied off, he slid across in the four to five foot deep slab of water that was pouring off the side. And then, along with all of that water, he became part of the lip and crashed back down in the thick airborne slab onto the freshly emptied rocks.

We've all been there. We've all gone over the falls. Admittedly, not in such a dangerous spot. But this guy was experienced and I wondered how he was going to make it out of such a bad spot.

By the time I duck dived under the wave, my buddy was back in the rip and headed out to sea. With his head and tail down, he was curled into a "U" shape. He must have either hit his head or broken his back. In either case, he was clearly dead. He floated all the way out the end of the rip just behind me and never moved.

I felt really sad. Sad, shook up, and, to be completely honest, more than a little scared. I mean, here was a true waterman, a guy who had spent his whole life in the water, and he was killed by the wave less than 100 feet from me. He was much more skilled than I. Much stronger than I. Much faster than I. Much more experienced than I.

My session was wrecked. For the rest of the morning, I flailed. I blew every critical take off, wussed every critical turn, and didn't pull into the barrel for the rest of the session. Every time I kicked out and spun around into the rip, I was freaking. And whenever I wasn't thinking about my short-lived acquaintance with the sea lion, I was wondering how I was going to get in without suffering the same fate.

I finally caught a particularly long wave at the end of a set and made a mad scramble to the beach. To safety. And to another nice day of working with wood.

Surf well.

Lars and the 42 Crew
42 surfboards

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