Surf’s Up on the Washington Coast : Westport and Ocean Shores

Take a poll of those around you right now. Go ahead, ask them: Do you think there’s good surfing within easy driving distance of Olympia?

 

The majority will likely laugh, assuming no one surfs here in Washington State – but they’d be wrong. In fact, this popular year-round sport takes place as close as Westport and Ocean Shores, just 70 miles down the road.

 

A Local Surfer’s Favorite Spot

 

Luke Burke is one of the folks who have been regularly surfing Washington waters for the past decade.

 

Burke, 34, lives in Olympia and works in construction. After watching a couple of his longtime friends become regular surfers, he caught the bug himself.

 

“They were always going,” Burke says, “and I thought well, shoot, that looks kind of fun.”

 

Burke has been on a board of one form or another since he was 10 years old, when he took up skateboarding. He also became an avid snowboarder. But once he started working physically demanding construction jobs he left skateboarding behind. Eventually the luster wore off the mountain for him, as well. “It just got a little too rat-racy,” he says. “You pay a fortune to stand in line.”

 

And although Burke is far from old, he says his body felt it more and more after being on the snowboard.

 

“With surfing, you have a lot more say in how you’re going to feel the next day. You can definitely get hurt, but it’s not like going down a hill and slipping, hitting ice and – great, now my butt’s broken,” he says with a laugh.

 

Burke never envisioned himself still snowboarding when he reached 65. “And certainly not skateboarding, that’s bonkers,” he says. “But surfing? Sure. You look around and there are tons of older people still in the water.”

 

Describing himself as a pretty serious weekend warrior for many years, Burke is now a father, so he doesn’t get out quite as often. “I go about twice a month,” he says.

 

He and his friends used to drive south to surf, but now Westport is his surf spot of choice.

 

“We had a run-in with some people in Seaside four years ago that wasn’t real pleasant,” Burke remembers. He says everyone in the surfing community is aware of the negativity surrounding territorial locals in that area of Oregon. “We got vandalized. You hear urban legends of guys paddling out with diving knives at the Point. It’s pretty dorky.”

 

“It’s nice down there, but after that nonsense we figured, why make the drive that direction when we can just go to Westport and have a blast? Our waves are just fine,” he says.

 

Burke describes Westport as surefire for anybody in Olympia interested in surfing. “It’s the closest and probably the most consistent place, because it has three different surf spots facing three different directions,” he says. “It’s really hard to get skunked there. Something is going to work.”

 

Of course, surfing the Washington coast always means cold water, so a wetsuit is a must.

 

“The water fluctuates from about 45 to 55 degrees,” explains Burke. “It sometimes gets a little warmer than that, but after the 55 degree mark it starts to feel too hot in the suit.”

 

Burke marvels at how far wetsuit technology has come, jokingly likening his first wetsuit a decade ago to the little brother in the classic movie A Christmas Story who, bundled up in his oversized winter coat, can’t lower his arms to his sides. “Now there’s a lot of range of motion,” Burke says.

 

“I’ve got a 5mm suit with a hood on it, with 7mm booties and 3- to 5mm gloves,” Burke says, describing his gear. “I’m completely covered when I’m out there.” He’s loaned his wetsuit to folks before, and says they’re always surprised how warm they remain while out in the water.

 

Burke has never surfed in just a pair of shorts, even wearing his 3mm wetsuit when surfing the Baja Peninsula awhile back. “I got heckled by some guy down there, but I told him, ‘Shoot man, I’m used to my body armor,’” Burke says with a laugh.

 

Surfing the Washington coast has become an increasingly popular pastime for people looking for another outdoor adventure in an area already teeming with possibilities.

 

“Over the last five years, the surfing has grown exponentially,” says Burke. “On a decent sunny weekend day out at the Jetty, there will be 100 people in the water.”

 

Territorial problems, albeit on a much lesser scale than those at Seaside, are an occasional problem at Westport, says Burke, but nothing serious. “There are always a few bad seeds,” he says, “but not on a regular basis.”

 

And, for the most part, the territorial people aren’t an issue on the weekends. “It’s kind of a free-for-all then, but mid-week they might get a little funny,” says Burke, who has been run out of the water at the Jetty before by “some old guys out there who just like to throw around a bad attitude.”

 

Burke takes these occasional territorial dust-ups with humor. “ “Some of the older guys, they’ve been surfing here forever and have paved the way. But these breaks are still sub-par, compared to Southern California, and although there are some really solid people who live in Washington who are amazing surfers, if you take most of them to San Diego, they’re going to get their ass handed to them by a 12-year-old,” he says with a laugh.

 

Surf Shops in Westport and Ocean Shores

 

Ready to try it yourself? Surf shops in Westport and Ocean Shores offer everything you need to get started – an absence Burke laments in Olympia.

 

“Living in Olympia, it’s mind-blowing to me that there isn’t a proper surf shop in town. We need one,” he says. “Olympia is the gateway heading out to the Washington coast; it’s a good last place to stop.”

 

Matt Loughran owns the Steepwater Surf Shop, one of two surf shops in Westport, where you can buy or rent your gear. He also offers weekend surf clinics and private lessons.

 

The Steepwater Surf Shop website also gives a helpful, detailed description of Westport’s surfing options.

 

“The way the harbor is set up, it handles multiple wind directions, which is very important in surfing,” Loughran says.

 

And with those three sweet surf spots that handle different conditions within a five-minute drive of each other, Loughran says folks can come out and almost always have something decent to ride.

 

“Whereas in some spots, when you go along the coast,” he says, “if the wind and tide and swell aren’t right, the surfing’s going to be really poor.”

 

Loughran says Ocean Shores has a bit of a reverse surfing situation. “They’re almost limited to just open ocean beach – though they do have Damon Point,” he says. “I know there are people who enjoy surfing over there quite a bit, I just don’t think it’s as reliable or consistent as Westport.”

 

Jennifer Stroot, who owns the North Coast Surf Shop in Ocean Shores with her husband Karry Marquardt, hears from the surf skeptics all the time.

 

“People walk in all the time and ask: ‘Can you really surf in Ocean Shores?’” she says. “And I say, ‘Yes, you can.’”

 

“When the conditions are right, it’s really, really good,” Stroot says. “You just have to search for the best places and the right conditions.”

 

“Ocean Shores is best on a southwest swell,” Stroot advises. She recommends visiting SwellWatch to monitor the swell direction and wind – giving you all the information you need to know before heading to Ocean Shores with your board.

 

Burke also offers up his favorite websites for checking surf conditions: Weather Underground, Magic Seaweed, and the Westport-Grayland Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center website.

 

Steepwater Surf Shop

1200 N. Montesano St.

Westport, WA 98595

360.268.5527

 

Westport Surf Shop

207 N. Montesano

Westport, WA 98595

360.268.0992

 

North Coast Surf Shop

773 Point Brown Ave. NW, #A

Ocean Shores, WA 98569

360.289.0651

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