Westport Washington was an unlikely place to find a bunch of surfers. Every time I looked at someone’s feet and saw flip flops I just had to chuckle (it‘s winter!). We are always dreaming of the endless summer. No matter how boldly we may deny it, our lives are ruled by the waves.
We had been planning this trip for what seemed like an eternity. So far I had managed to rally 6 girls and we were stoked! Our planning included endless phone calls about how much it was going to cost, how many girls could jam into one hotel room, and what the waves were going to be like during the contest. Nothing prepared me for this experience, and I’d even been there before!
I don’t think anyone was prepared for a war to break out just days before the contest. It changed our plans slightly because some girls had deeply moral reasons for not wanting to support a USA that was going to war. The Canadian girls caravan suddenly dropped down to one truck full of girls, and just three of us got on the ferry Friday morning.
Melanie, Leah, and I drove the winding road past Lake Crescent, and down through the miles and miles of clear-cut that surrounds the good ol’ logging town of Forks. We imagined what it would be like to drive through the huge tall dark forest, if it were still standing. The rain had started and the wind was driving it sideways from all directions. We came out to the coast at Ruby Beach, only to see giant storm surf pounding the coast. Aberdeen was as American as apple pie! Miles of strip malls and old industrial buildings whizzed by. Our eyes totally bugged out of our heads when we passed a drive thru pharmacy. A what? I suddenly felt like I was in a foreign country.
Westport in the winter is almost like a ghost town. There are long wide sidewalks lined with gift shops and hamburger stands. You can almost hear the bustle of summer if you are quiet enough. I could imagine the endless line-ups and full parking lots, with beachgoers rushing from here to there.
But all was quiet, except for the roar of the wind, the pounding rain, and the stormy surf that crashed onto the jetty.
The Islander Motel and the contest site were practically in the middle of the harbour. We were surrounded by fishing boats and empty hotels. It only took one glance around a parking lot full of VW vans, Toyota trucks, and Pathfinders to know we were in the right place. Every vehicle had roof racks of some sort! Surfers were running around unloading boards and boxes of prizes. Banners were going up on balconies, and sponsor stickers were finding their way onto the doors of our rooms. Home at last!
The 7:30 am competitors meeting found us all jammed into the contest “engine” room. This was where the action was! While everyone was eyeing up their competition, we were given the lowdown on the scoring system, and how to avoid being disqualified if there was an interference call. Everyone got a prize pack with a very nice long sleeve T-shirt, a Surfrider calendar, a few CD’s, stickers, and free energy drinks. Let the contest begin!
So much for putting on a bikini and lounging at the beach! The girls and I bundled up in almost every piece of warm and waterproof clothing we had. Then we piled into the truck and drove 1/2km down the road to “The Cove” where the contest was being held. As we pulled up on the sandy knoll, a dismal sight awaited us. Howling side shore winds and low tide dumping waves greeted the contestants of the first heat with a very devilish grin. I was glad to be inside my truck.
Good spirits were flying all around us, because even though the conditions were minimal, all I could see were smiles. The guys made the waves actually look surfable, but I still had my doubts. Even the top competitors were paddling for waves and pulling out at the last minute. The giant sandy closeouts weren’t quite what they were looking for. We watched few guys pull into some impressive closeout barrels. High scores for them! Raph Bruhwiler got the best wave of the contest, pulling into a thick barrel for so long that no one thought he was coming out, until he actually did. He earned a trophy for “best wave” for that one.
The Islander Motel rocked out that night, with a live band playing in the main dining room. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t living some strange 1970’s dream all over. The disco balls, orange patterned carpet, and funky angled windows throughout the place kept my head reeling. With the girls heat first up the next morning and a room thick with legal smoke, I snuck off to bed.
Sunday dawned stormy once again, this time the wind coming more from the west. We were doomed to compete in the low tide onshore slop. It didn’t seem all that bad considering that most contests seem to have the same bad luck with conditions. I think we were all feeling a bit nervous, so we high-tailed it to the Jetty Java for a hot latte before our heat. We changed into out wetsuits in the luxury of our motel room, already thinking ahead to who would get the first hot shower afterwards.
What I remember about the girls shortboard heat was trying to hold onto my board so it wouldn’t blow away in the wind. It took two hands! Walking down to the water, I kept thinking “ why am I doing this?” As I stood in ankle deep water trying to jump over the head-high shore break, I thought again, “why am I doing this?” Melanie and Leah had surfed the day before and assured me it wasn’t all that bad. Maybe I am really just a chicken! Our 5 minute paddle-out lasted about 30 seconds because all it took was one stroke and we were in the line-up. Somehow I managed to catch three waves, stand up, and not break my neck in the process. I was stoked!
The current was really strong and the other girls were quite a ways down the beach, so I couldn’t tell who go the best waves. I just crossed my fingers.
The trophies were handed out back in the 1970’s ballroom at the Islander Motel. The place was packed with tired out surfers and groupies waiting to get their hands on the raffle prizes. After a few numbers were called, we were dodging the free wax that was being chucked around the room. The trip to Mexico was raffled off and the brand new surfboard was claimed. Melanie won the super cool carve board! The winners were announced and no one seemed surprised when the Canadian girls took the top 3 places in the women’s short board division. By the time we left the room, our hands were loaded with free stuff. We made out like bandits!
The next morning we woke up to sunshine and a clean offshore wind. The swell lines were coming in like corduroy, and because everyone had gone home the night before, there was no one but us left to see it. Contests often seem to be plagued by bad conditions, and I can only wonder if all contests are cursed. Perhaps a spell, cast by a surf god who is a true soul surfer, one who detests the commercialism and exposure a contest brings. And so it stands, the elusive waves of Westport were left unridden.
|Jenny Stewart runs Surf Sister Surf School in Tofino British Columbia. She is recently married to a surfer named Mike, and together they plan to travel the globe, surfing as much as possible before the thought of starting a family takes over. They live on Vancouver Island with their dog Sitka. firstname.lastname@example.org