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News

Surfing with Salmon

Stay Wild

A typical Portland surf trip out to sea and back again

Story by Justin “Scrappers” Morrison // @scrappers

Photos by Sera Lindsey // @portablesera


 

The Reverend Benny Bob thinks like a wild salmon. He imagines their life at sea feasting on fatty colorful seafood until they return to the freshwater rivers they hatched from to have weird fish sex and die to start the life cycle all over again. The reverend imagines they probably crave one more fatty piece of seafood before their sexy heroic deaths that ensure the survival of their species. He digs up live ghost shrimp from the bay to bait his hook and the ripened salmon eat it up. Then he eats them up. It’s the circle of life. Survive another day. Hakuna Matata!

I try to visit the reverend and eat his smoked salmon when I go surfing on the Oregon coast. He’s a truly inspiring outsider: thinking like wild salmon, making art out of scrap wood, pig farming with scrap food, and surviving outside the social norm-coolness of Portland’s urban growth boundary.

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Portland is the hometown of many salmon. Sockeye, chinook, and steelhead are well respected neighbors of hipsters, hippies, and heroin addicts. The fish hatch in our watershed from tiny river pools and hard-working hatcheries. Then they swim out to the Pacific Ocean for 5 - 10 years of living it up. We welcome them home when they return from sea to spawn and die. It’s like a happy funeral with lots of food made out of the deceased. It’s kind of messed up.

Portland is not a beach city, but we are connected to the sea. We have a surf community. We’ve got a Portland chapter of the Surfrider foundation, local surfboard shapers, and a handful of surf shops. 

COSUBE is one of Portland’s favorite surf shops. In addition to selling really cool surfy goods, they serve wild caught salmon on bagels with coffee. They also rent boards and fancy new wetsuits. My wetsuit smells like fish piss and is ripped so cold water flows right into my arm pits. Mine is not the kind of suit I’d offer a new friend like Darrell Mathes

Darrell is a legendary urban snowboarder. He’s an actual professional. He’s one of the epic Vans global snow team riders! He’s not a professional surfer though. He’s kind of a kook (in the best way possible). He’s totally down to splash around in the frothy sea. Darrell, his wife Margaret, and their happy-dog-like-friend Spencer Schubert all met up at COSUBE for coffee, surf gear, and beer growler filling. Coffee + Surf + Beer = COSUBE. Get it? We got it. Let’s go!

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The waves are on the other side of the huge and lush Tillamook forest. It takes more than two hours to get to the water sometimes. That’s too long to be trapped in the car, so swinging by the Drift Creek trail on the way there is a good way to get the blood back in your buns. This trail feels like a spa day for the senses: bathing eyes with vivid rainbows of green, messaging ears with the soothing sounds of a flowing creek, and washing the brain free from all that city shit. The suspension bridge swinging over the waterfall is cool too, but the hike there and back is the full treatment.

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If hiking is too booshy for your painted princess toes then hit up the Lincoln City Skate Park. It’s a fucking monument to gnar-gnarlyness. It was built in 1999 by Dreamland Skateparks and has been blowing minds ever since. Both Darrell and Spencer are known for their urban snowboarding. Unlike other snowfolks, they look at cement and see opportunity. So they didn’t miss the opportunity to drop in and face the park’s deep bowls, long steep snake run, rails, or the little scrap concrete and brick pool off in the woods.

 

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The sound of skateboards goes silent south of Lincoln City where the sidewalk ends. The forest grows right up to the cliffs eroding into the Pacific Ocean and trees cling on with their roots trying desperately not to fall in. But they do fall in as the ground beneath them is sculpted by wind, water, and time. Otter Rock is one of Oregon’s most beautiful sculptures. It really does look like a giant otter floating on it’s back while surfers roll like kelp in the waves around it.

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Otter Rock is one of the most consistent, safe, and lazy breaks in the PNW. It’s totally kook-friendly. You can tell by the beginner’s class stretching and air padding on the shore. Out in the water Darrell, Margaret, and Spencer paddle to catch 5 - 8 foot mellow peeling longboard waves. Spencer caught a super nice ride on a wave that peeled in slo-mo. He found it so appealing that he went bananas. It was all very punny.

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The beach has a hardy pile of logs to chill on or build forts with. The log pile stretches down about a mile to Beverly Beach Campground. They have hot showers and yurts to call home after a long day of flopping around in the white water before heading back to the city.

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Home is where you lay your head, and when the salmon come back to Portland, they lay their heads down and die. It’s not tragic. It’s heroic. They’ve been on the adventure of their lives, yet they remember where their home is. A typical Portland surf trip, out to sea and back again, is a way to survive like a salmon.