written by Jeremy Storton photos by Heidi Swift


After three swanky days of hot tubbing in Manzanita during a storm, I woke at dawn to a sordid gift from the ice fairies.

An angel and a devil on my shoulders whispered, “Go” and “Don’t go.” Since the hail-ish rain had lifted, I took the high road and strapped my icy board to the car while the windshield defrosted. I had hoped to surf this trip, but preferably in a less angry ocean. I left my wife in the cabin to stay cozy. This was personal.

oswald west state park, surfing

My wetsuit had a reputation to uphold. It had kept me warm while free diving the frigid and clear waters of Blue Lake near Sisters. I felt confident that I’d stay warm enough. The ocean, however, presented a new low. After a ten-year hiatus from surfing in Southern California, why on earth would the steel-gray toothed waters of Oregon tug at me?

My aquatic nature lay dormant when I moved to Central Oregon in 2002. It had given way to the region’s ability to turn one into a climber and a hiker. That morning, however, I headed to Short Sands a few miles north of Manzanita in Oswald West State Park. A trailhead hid beneath a parking lot on the east side of Highway 101 that looked like a rest stop. After suiting up, I followed the paved path near the restroom that traveled under the highway. The pavement turned to gravel as Short Sand Creek flowed through large, moss-covered timber so tall that dawn and high noon must look nearly the same. I crossed a footbridge as the trees opened up to reveal the beach.

oswald west state park, surfing

Rock cliffs rose several hundred feet on either side protected the small cove. The path led down steps and to a solid berm of former flotsam that lined the rocky beach.  Nearby the ocean had stockpiled large logs for campfire concerts at low tide. oswald west state park, surfing

The water offered no clean lines to this middle-aged surfer, yet it was the calmest I had seen since our arrival. Later I discovered the water temp peaked at 45 degrees, but my suit kept me warm. A face full of spray and the nasty hole in my left glove were the only reminders of autumn. The forest mist glowed in the amber morning light. The northern part of the cove shone in the sun. Four other surfers and I remained in the southern shadows like rubber ninjas where the waves were breaking.

A rip current ran along the headwall giving me a free ride out to the lineup. The multiple swell directions and occasional large sets made the sweet spot to catch waves a moving target. I found myself getting frustrated. Then I remembered the point of all this—the joy of being in the water, among waves, surrounded by cliffs and Sitka spruce trees, at daybreak, in autumn.

I just needed to remember to patch the damn hole in my glove.