Editor’s note: A big shout out to photographer Inge Watson and Tsunami Ranger Deb Volturno for the fantastic photos!
Last September I had the privilege and pleasure of joining the Surf Sirens for their 2nd annual surf camp at Hobuck Beach. Hobuck is right up there on the Makah Res at the northwestern tip of Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula, and it has some of the best surf I’ve ever seen. Surf Sirens was launched by Linda Beltz, Jameson Riser, and TR Deb Volturno in 2016 to introduce more women to kayak surfing. This year there were 20 women and 6 instructors. It was so much fun!
My trip started when I got back from the Tsunami Retreat. Both Jim and Deb said I should go to Surf Sirens but it’s a hella long way from my house to Hobuck and I really wanted some down time. I was home for 2 days and the smoke had left the valley but on day 3 it returned and I said, “I’m outta here!” I threw the gear in the truck and drove up to Vancouver, WA, where I spent the night with my friend Diana, and then drove to Hobuck the next day. It was an interesting drive. Frankly, my deepest impression was how ravaged the PNW forests are. It is what it is, but damn! You just can’t help imagining how amazing the great rainforests must have been before whitey got to them. In 100’s of miles there were all of 2 places where you could drive a little way into the forest and see one ancient tree that miraculously escaped the saws. Tragic.
I made it pretty smoothly to Hobuck and after checking out the campground I decided to park near a camper hitched to a truck sporting a kayak on top. There were no real campsites, just a lot of lawn with some trees and shrubs scattered about. No one from Surf Sirens seemed to be around. I walked up to the camper and knocked on the door and was greeted by Paul, a native New Zealander who had been instrumental in getting the Rangers to that country back in the day. That was a pleasant surprise!
Paul’s wife Natasha was out on the water, but he invited me in and showed me photos of their epic travels across the United States. I was particularly impressed with their kayak expedition on the Missouri River. Paul and Natasha ended up becoming friends with me and even stopped by to stay a couple of nights in Ashland on their way to California in October.
That evening it was Girls Only at the pizza place in the little town of Neah Bay so we got a chance to meet each other and socialize. I had the chanterelle pizza with mushrooms just picked that day. Yum! I also sat with Jameson, one of the instructors, and Inge, who was to be our official photographer, so that was cool. After dinner we confirmed the plan for the next day and had an early night.
The next day the surf was perfect for our purposes: waves about 2 to 3 feet rolling in with machine like precision, and the occasional 4-footer. The students were divided into three groups, beginning, intermediate, and advanced, with two instructors each so it balanced out nicely. I was in the intermediate group and I think there were six of us students all together.
We shared the beach with the Makah girls’ surf camp, which was a bonus. There were a few other surfers and some random kayak surfers and SUPers but there was plenty of room for everyone. It’s a nice wide beach, and the break is pretty consistent along the whole length of it.
The day before, I had taken a walk along the beach. It felt great to get out and stretch my legs after the long drive from Vancouver. It really is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. The tip of the Olympic Peninsula, Cape Flattery, lies to the north and 50 miles of sea stacks, beaches, and rock gardens recede to the south. Wow!
The camp was great. I think we surfed for about 3 or 4 hours, took a rest for lunch, and then went back out for another 2 or 3 hours, so we got a good long time on the water. The break stayed pretty consistent throughout the day despite the tide and as far as I know, there were no near death experiences. I wiped out a bunch of times but also got a lot of beautiful, long, smooth rides. Must. Learn. To. Roll.
Deb was kind enough to ask me to do a salutation to begin the day. I wasn’t sure how people would take to it because it’s not really a thing most kayakers do in my experience, but I was game. I would do it myself anyway, so what’s 20 or more people? We gathered at the water’s edge. Fortunately, Joann Moore had mentioned something earlier about grace and humility regarding kayaking and so I led off by referring to that. After all, that’s why the Rangers salute the sea.
Saluting the sea is gracious and it exhibits humility, a good thing to have when you’re approaching the Ocean. I forgot to tell the ladies I was going to make them get wet, and Deb tried to remind me but I was on a roll and just went with it. We did the salutation and then I yelled, “Come on!” and ran for the surf. And by golly, every one of those women ran after me. We plunged into the surf, submerged, played around, and then one by one waded back to the beach. That’s what I’m talking about!
I don’t really know what the other groups worked on, but once we established where we were going to be and set some boundaries, my group’s format was pretty much paddle out, surf in, and repeat. Our 2 instructors hung out in the soup to observe. They critiqued our technique and offered suggestions on the fly as we paddled and surfed our circuit. They’d call out a compliment or yell, “Moon the beach!” or something like that and we’d correct and go again.
To break it up, we also ran a couple of drills that were a lot of fun. To demonstrate why it’s better to sit up straight with good posture instead of leaning back when paddling backwards Deb tied a throw rope to one student’s bow and had me drag her out through the surf. The student was instructed to back paddle to prevent me from dragging her out. You can really feel the difference good posture makes; it’s a lot stronger.
Another drill I was happy to participate in was the rescue. I’ve never actually had to paddle with someone lying on my stern, and I’ve never been rescued so I hadn’t had that experience either. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to take someone out and back through the surf that way, and I learned about various rudder issues (a rudder between your legs can be awkward, but not with the X-15). I also learned that as a “victim” I wasn’t able to do anything with my legs except help balance the boat but that having a “victim” on the back of my kayak was stabilizing and I didn’t notice the weight at all.
Well, the waves broke, the sun shone, and a great time was had by all. We reconvened after cleaning up and had a big pot luck dinner with a ton of fabulous food. The next day was an informal paddle, but I needed to get home so I went back to Vancouver, spent another night with Diana, and drove to Ashland the following day. It was a lot of driving but totally worth it. And at $105 (the $5 covered my temporary ACA membership) it was a bargain!
Before I left on Sunday, Deb, troublemaker that she is, somehow managed to convince a contingent of Sirens that they wanted to do some knife training with me. A few people had knives but live blade training can be a little weird and I didn’t really know these people so I picked up a bunch of small slim sticks that someone had conveniently left for kindling next to a fire pit. They worked great as training knives. We did an impromptu training on the beach and it went really well.
We did other drills and we all learned a lot but if you want to know more I’m just gonna say, if you’re a female sea kayaker, you need to do this! If you’re a guy, sorry, you’re out of luck. The 2018 Surf Sirens surf camp will be September 21st – 23rd. Friday the 21st will be for rock gardening play. Saturday the 22nd is for surf instruction, and Sunday the 23rd is for surf play. Check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/177597272647770/