Pistol whipped – two summer’s in South Oregon with Ben Page

Words: Ben Page

Pics: Chris Curran, Ryan Allderman, Trudy Lary

While rightly famous for surfing, the west coast of the United States boasts some incredible windsurfing for those willing to make the trip. Better known for the ballistic winds that howl down the Columbia River Gorge the state of Oregon has some very special coastal spots for the dedicated wave sailor.

During the summer months Oregon’s 350 mile coastline is battered by relentless north westerly winds. There are many spots to choose from along the rugged shore but the most consistent area is centred on the small town of Gold Beach at the far south of the state. Made famous as the host of the annual AWT Pistol River Wave Bash the town sits at the mouth of the Rogue River with a stunning backdrop of mountains coated with forest so dense it spills right off the cliffs into the heaving sea below.

My time in America started in 2015 with a cunningly arranged summer placement as a medical student in Portland. Against all sense and logic I bought an old minivan, which became my home for the next two summer seasons.  I spent each week soaking up medical knowledge from my mentor Dr Jeff Albright. Then each weekend I would drive to the coast. It was then that Pistol River crawled under my skin. The summer ended with a 3000 mile drive to my grandad’s house in southern Arkansas.

Another year of university later and I was back, this time with the van converted into a camper. Over the next four months I spent two in south Oregon, camping in the van and windsurfing. This area is a fantastic place to spend a season – wind stats in the 70% range with waves every day it’s windy. I would often make base so close to the water that I could feel the surf break.

I spent the majority of my time riding at ‘The Rock’.  Famous for jumping displays put on each year as part of the AWT, this is possibly the most consistent place for wave sailing on the entire US west coast. It can easily be breaking head high plus while elsewhere is perplexingly flat. A mecca for aerial manoeuvres The Rock also offers some incredible wave riding. Despite being an onshore spot the waves get silky smooth at size and can really pack a punch.

A mile upwind of The Rock is Cape Sebastian. When a south swell hits it turns from calm inlet to pumping cross off perfection. Should you be lucky enough to catch the Cape on one of these special days you will find steep, smooth walls and beautifully pitching lips to flirt with.

A typical windy period would see me sailing on 3.7m or 4.2m for around ten days in a row, before the wind backed off. The cycle would then repeat. On these off days there is some quality surfing to be found in the vicinity. My favourite place was the South Jetty in Gold Beach itself. It is rarely busy and the most aggression you are likely to encounter is from one omnipresent sea lions. This spot can also be windsurfed. Generally smaller and less windy than The Rock and Cape it is a great place to check out for anyone tired of having their arms torn out by a 3.7m at the Pistol River spots. It is also the best place for wildlife watching. California grey whales migrate along the Oregon coast to Alaska each year and are often visible around the river mouth as they stop to feed on the journey. Other marine mammals play in the surf and Ospreys pluck fish from between the lines of whitewater.

After two months I was joined by my girlfriend and we headed inland to put some serious miles on the van, visiting fifteen of America’s national parks. At the end of two summers I arrived back at my grandad’s having driven 24,000 miles. My faithful van, by then named Lizzie, had driven on the highest and lowest roads in America, from 47 degrees in Death Valley to snow in Glacier National Park. She never once let me down.

South Oregon facts

Flights:

Fly to Portland for £600-800 return. American Airlines have the friendliest baggage policies.

Vehicle:

You’ll need to drive the six hours from Portland to Gold Beach. Even though my van worked well, I would definitely not recommend buying a car. You could either rent and stay in a hotel or live the American Dream and rent an RV (motorhome).

Equipment:

For an 80kg sailor you will likely need 3.7m, 4.2m, 4.7m and a board between 80 and 85 litres. If you can bring two bags then add a 5.3m, have big and small boards and bring a surfboard. The nearest windsurf shop is seven hours away in the Gorge. This is not the place to break a harness line! Make sure everything is in good working order before you go, be sure to take spares. Equipment rental is available from Big Winds in Hood River; they stock good quality (current) kit but require a two hour detour via the Gorge on your way to the coast. The water here is cold, 6-7oC is common even during the summer. You MUST have a good winter suit to be comfortable. Boots are also essential and a hood really helps stave off the brain freeze on a long swim.

Accommodation:

There are a number of small hotels in Gold Beach to choose from. The Inn of the Beachcomber hosts the AWT and is particularly windsurf friendly. If you choose to hire a camper then there are various RV parks in the vicinity. Indian Creek is the top of the range with Wifi, powered hook-ups and one of the best breakfasts in town.

I would like to thank everyone who made my two American summer’s possible, particularly my grandad and Dr Jeff Albright. Endless gratitude is also due to all the fantastic photographers for taking the time to capture the images in this article.

Thanks also to my sponsors JP Australia, Neilpryde and NP surf.

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