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Surfing an empty lineup in the Pacific Northwest

Story by Ben Horton

Surfing any halfway decent break that doesn’t consistently have a pack on it is rare and unusual.  A consistently empty wave is  generally thought of by the local crew as a secret, locals spot.   Most of the time though, if you wander into their territory and respect the vibe you won’t get turned away.  Someone always makes a point to say “Don’t post about this spot” especially when you have a camera in hand.

In my head, I always think back to how I found it. Most of the time it was just a matter of searching “secret surf spots” and the general location, so I get why they are frustrated when their spot ends up online.  The fact remains though, just about every surf-able wave can be found online, and rarely is it difficult.   In response to sites like Surfline sharing every wave they can locate, surfers have tried to adapt to the steady reduction of secrecy in a few ways, from all out submission, to full blown gang-like territorialism.

The secret spot is dying.

Surfing alone is still possible, and it doesn’t have to be at a secret spot

If you’re willing to go further from home, be self contained, and generally put on more rubber, the world is full of amazing breaks with little to no crowd.

On my last surf trip, most of the surfers there told me in some fashion or another not to share the knowledge of this place.  I always responded with  “Everybody already knows this place exists, but few people want to make the minimum 4 hour drive from Seattle, or in my case the 22 hour drive from LA for such cold waves.”  Waves that only get offshore winds on average once a month and are generally too stormy to surf, where a hood and booties is summer attire, and bad weather with few accommodations mean you’ll camp in the rain for the extent of your stay.

If you’re looking to go on your own Pacific North West Adventure, here are a few items that I used that really came in handy.

 Hurley Phantom 4/3 Wetsuit.  

I thought I was going to be freezing on this trip, and was going to buy a 5/4, but in the end I had to shed my hood and booties just to stay cool enough while surfing.  On the windier days a hood was nice though.

ISLE SUP boards.

I brought 4 SUP’s with me on this trip, two were inflatables because I imagined making a lot of long hikes into remote spots, and two were hard boards, built to withstand the 22 hour drive on my roof and hiking them down rough trails.  My favorite are always the touring boards because when the waves are good I turn back into a short boarder.

PrAna Gear

Since I was traveling with PrAna ambassador Kelly Potts, they were kind enough to load me up with some new threads.  Everything they gave me stood up to the bad PNW weather, and I pretty much lived in this wool sweater.  It even kept me warm and happy in the light rain, and made me feel like I had some style to boot.

Blackrapid Camera Straps

Most of the time I’m shooting, I have a pack on my back.  Blackrapid makes this really cool and functional strap that clips to my camera bag, eliminating the need to have another strap draped over my neck.


I have four of these down puffy blankets, from a queen size to a throw.  They make the best beach towels to keep you off the sand, and are a great way to warm up while changing in the cold weather.  On top of it, I throw one over my sleeping bag on cold nights and pretty much never get cold.

4WD Truck – My choice is a Toyota Tacoma

Some of the spots I found were only accessible by driving a few miles along the beach.  In the tropics I’d never do this because of turtle eggs in the sand, and even here you need to stay above the high tide line to protect the creatures that live in the wet sand.

A Weather Sealed Camera

If you’re planning on shooting photos out here you’d better have a camera that can handle the rain.  The last thing you want is a camera that isn’t wether sealed!  I’m a Canon user myself.



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October 10, 2016
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  • David

    Compliments about the great pictures. I really like their emotion and character.

    BTW, you didn’t say you also ran into Daniel Craig (about the 8th picture) 🙂

    Keep up the good work.

    October 25, 2016