South Surfing

About South

Near the mouth of the Columbia River, Highway 101 connects the historic town of Astoria with the broad, sandy beaches of northern Oregon. Nondescript and windblown, the only place you're likely to find another surfer up here is during the summertime in the southern lee of rivermouth's south jetty. However, 15 miles (24km) down south is the bustling tourist burg of Seaside, tucked into the northern hook of Tillamook Head. The lefts that wrap around the north side of that promontory on a W or SW swell can be some of the best on the West Coast. From here to the California border, Highway 101 stays close to the coast, alternately maintaining a polite distance to avoid the shifting sands of the broad dunes then swinging close in to the undulating curves of projecting headlands (or sometimes sweeping discretely behind them). The scale of the place is immense, and the number of surfable peaks (the lion's share of it beachbreak) uncountable. But, as is the reality on this planet, the truly good spots are few and far between.
The northern coast of the state is punctuated with large headlands, beginning with Tillamook and then Capes Falcon, Meares, Kiwanda and Lookout, then Neskowin and Cascade Head. Things smooth out a little after that, through the surf hub of Lincoln City, with its surrounding reefs and beachbreaks down through some lovely coastal geography past Boiler Bay, Otter Rock and the big beach at Agate at Yaquina Head (both great learning spots), then slim-pickin's through the central coast from Waldport to the great dunes from Florence to Reedsport and on down to Coos Bay (the North Pole of the southern Oregon surf scene) and the big headland at Cape Arago. South of there – from Bandon out to Cape Blanco and Port Orford on down to Gold Beach is a little more varied and esoteric. From Gold Beach past Cape Sebastian to Brookings (the South Pole) and the border is hit or miss, but you can get lucky.
Conditions vary widely along this long and winding road, but for every rare, crowded spot you come upon, there are miles and miles and more miles of deserted surf – usually funky, but not always. Many swells that will hit California from the NW come straight out of the W to ramp up off Oregon's beaches, which means excellent swell exposure even at spots that are shielded from N or S winds. Like Washington State, a fair number of Oregon's most reliable waves are the result of man-made structures, mostly the series of rivermouth jetties that begins at the Columbia and ends with the Chetco in Brookings. With most of these situations you can expect wind protection during favored storm cycles. For instance, on winter NW swells accompanied (usually) by S winds, the north side of a jetty will be optimum; on summer S or SW swells accompanied by prevailing NW winds, the south side of a jetty will be the spot. The numerous headlands along this coast comport themselves in a similar fashion.
The nutrient-rich waters off the Oregon coast play host to the full food chain, and any Oregon surf shop worth its salt displays a local board that has been allegedly chomped by a Great White shark. In fact, only 16 unprovoked shark attacks have been recorded in Oregon since 1620, so it's not all that big a deal. However, compared to Florida and California, there are few surfers here, so when there is an attack, it seems a bit closer to home. At least two surfers have been the subject of shark attacks in the last 25 years, but nobody's been seriously tormented. In August of 1976, a white attacked a guy who was surfing the South Jetty at Winchester Bay (Umpqua River mouth), then in September of 1994, another surfer was attacked at Short Sand Beach in Oswald West State Park, near Seaside. Both attacks occurred in small, clean swell conditions and involved big fish – 12-15ft. – but neither was a proper attack on a surfer, since both bites were inflicted on their boards. Perhaps word will get around among these predators that foam and fiberglass make a nasty nibble.

Surf Spots