On September 23rd through 25th the Surf Sirens had their first official post-Covid event, and it was a great success. With head instructors Deb Volturno, Melinda Moree, and Jameson Riser and assistants Sally Anderson, Esther Ladwig, and Beth Owen we had a full complement of talent, and there were 12 gung ho students ready to rock and roll. The weather was kind, with light rain for the Friday paddle to Cape Flattery and brilliant sunshine on Saturday and Sunday for surfing. The temps were in the mid-60’s all weekend.
Since forecasts can be unreliable, options were planned on Thursday for Friday’s paddle, but fortunately conditions allowed us to take our Rock Garden Play Day to Cape Flattery. Friday morning it was overcast with winds in the SSE at 5 – 15 kts, swell west at 3′, and conditions looked like this:
Capt. Deb gave the safety talk on the beach before we launched. We talked about gear and spent some time gauging the surf, making sure everyone felt reasonably confident paddling out. We discussed the route, the importance of staying together and keeping line of sight, safety, signals, and communication generally.
After the talk, 11 Sirens paddled north from Hobuck Beach. Once around the point, we moved through the kelp, and started weaving behind rocks and through slots and channels. Keeping to the principal of challenge by choice, some paddlers chose to go deeper into the rock gardens and some stayed outside. Conditions were so mild it was safe for those who chose to challenge and for the others to observe and learn.
Soon we got to the Keyhole and the Gate, where we entered the Wormhole and everything changed. Suddenly we were looking at elongated seastacks that resembled moai on Easter Island. Many had faces and the landscape reminded me of Dr. Seuss illustrations.
The stacks and cliffs, topped by green nurseries of Sitka spruce, Western red cedar, and alder and other deciduous trees, stretched up to the sky, enclosing us in a magical world of rock gardens, kelp, caves, and hidden pocket beaches. We took a short break at a small beach and then continued around to where we could see Tatoosh Island and its lighthouse.
Having paddled about 5 miles total we stopped at another beach for lunch. After a good rest we headed back home into the wind. At first wind and current were against us, and there was considerable chop, but keeping inside we were sheltered from the worst and as we continued things calmed down a bit and we were able to make good time.
Wildlife sightings of note were 2 sea otters, a pelican, numerous other sea birds, and whales. We weren’t sure what kind of whales because they didn’t get close enough, but when we were almost back to Hobuck some of us caught the distinctive bouquet of whale breath on the downwind. Total mileage for the day was about 10 nautical miles and we were all pretty beat when we got back. We’d paddled for roughly 5 1/2 hours, and through some pretty challenging conditions toward the end. After landing, everyone got cleaned up and had an early night. Saturday was Surfing Day!
Conditions on Saturday were sunny with winds in the NE at 5 – 7 kts and swell west at 4 – 6′. At 9:30 we were on the beach and ready to go. We discussed goals and Deb gave us an idea of what the day would be like. Jameson took the short boaters: Sarah Hess, Amy, Lauren, and me. Melinda took the beginners: Liz, Sarah Rosenbloom, and Chi. Deb took the intermediate group: Morag, Kathy, Pam, Janette, and Sandra. And we were off!
My primary goal for the day was to get good photos of everyone. Every time I do this event it seems like I never get enough good shots, so I went up and down the beach, wading into the surf and snapping pics. The general plan for all the groups was similar: spend some time in the water and then regroup for a discussion. Rinse, repeat. As I went from group to group I got to hear all the instructors talk about surfing: reading waves, timing waves, catching waves, breaking through waves, commitment on waves, posture, edging, bracing, and a slew of other useful information.
The students paddled out for awhile and then returned for a debrief. This was helpful because at each debrief the students could name the thing they wanted help with or something they wanted clarified. Questions answered, they paddled out again armed with more intel. At first it seemed like the students were spending a lot of time on the beach, but I realized that several things were happening.
One, the students were resting as they listened to the instructor. Two, the instructor was observing the students and then choosing one or two things to discuss as a group. Though every topic might not apply to each individual, one student might hear something for the first time. Another student might have heard it but forgotten. Yet another might have heard it but misunderstood or needed clarification, so the way the instructors worked the program was win-win all around.
In fact, it’s always good to reinforce what you know. Many things discussed were things I’d heard before, but hearing them again kept them clear and present in my mind along with new information, so when I finally pulled on my spray skirt and paddled out I felt confident and ready to go.
The clinic lasted about 6 hours with a break for lunch. It was a thorough mix of theory and practice. After finishing for the day, everyone went back to camp and got ready for the Extraordinary Potluck, a premier feature of the Surf Sirens event. As usual there was a ton of food for everyone. Salads, stews, soups, curry, desserts… it was a feast!
Once again, we went early to bed because there was another day of surfing to be had. Sunday was Free Play Day, and conditions were the same as Saturday. The instructors were on hand to offer tips and mentoring on request. I taught the Knives on the Beach class at 9:00, a 20-minute warm-up with training knives to inspire commitment and enthusiasm on the waves. We relate combat training to paddling skills, because when the big wave comes, if you attack that wave with your spirit and your paddle, you WILL prevail!
There was some uncertainty as to what Surf Sirens would be like post-Covid. Everyone was a little rusty. This was the first official gathering since 2019 and a lot has changed in the 3 years since. But the stoke was real. Kudos to all the instructors and students who came together to make this a fantabulous gathering. Personally, I think this was the best Surf Sirens yet, and they’ve all been great. I’m already looking forward to next year!
For more information about the Surf Sirens, please contact Deb Volturno at email@example.com. Thanks, and happy paddling!