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Washington Kayaking Travel Article
Surf Kayaking at Crescent Bay

by Brian High

What a fantastic surf day! Instead of going to the La Push Frolic/Pummel, I spent a few hours at Crescent Bay. After meeting Rob G and Gabrielle in Gig Harbor at 8:30, we drove straight to Salt Creek/Crescent Bay.

Due to the black ice on the highway, we saw 13 cars in the ditch, some upside-down. Near the put-in, there was a downed-tree and a power-line in the road, with lots of burn marks (black and white sooty singe marks) on the road where sparks had shot out from the cable. There had been a wind storm (50 kt gusts) the night before, with rain, and then an icy frost. Today was a window of fairly nice weather before the next storm front was due in the evening. We arrived at Salt Creek around 10:30am.

Deb, Linda, and Cathy were in the parking lot formulating their plan for the day. It was very nice to see them, and we would have loved to spend the day with them, but they were choosing to move on to other waters (Neah Bay and/or La Push) We also saw Brian Hollander, who is a friend of Rob and Gabrielle. He surfed his NDK Poseidon (Romany Explorer HV). Rob and Gabrielle surfed Megas, and I surfed Marcia's Necky iRip. We also saw John Palmer, who we met last summer. He had just been out for a few minutes and was going out for more, so we joined him on the water. He was surfing what looked to be a Johnson or PS Composites kayak. It had a Tsunami sticker and was yellow.

The Neah Bay buoy was measuring 8-9 kt W winds, 17' W swell (about 270 degrees). The air temperature was about 45 degrees F and the water was about the same. The tide was about six feet and would be seven feet at 2:30 or so.

We got geared up and launched in the creek. The water level was high and was the color of very dark tea. I did a roll and it even tasted like tea!

The waves were 2-4' for small sets and 6-8 foot for large sets. There was almost no wind at first, then there was a slight offshore (or cross-offshore) breeze later on. The waves were a little chaotic near the creek, but were surfable. By the island they were peeling fairly nicely, though. Elsewhere they were peeling okay too, with a decent shoulder that would be green (well, brown anyway) for several seconds if you had the skills to diagonal and a boat that would not slide off the face. The waves would reform once or twice on the way in, so even straight-in-surfers could get a pretty good long ride back to the creek.

Most of the sets were of the larger waves, and those waves were getting a little bigger and steeper as the time went on.

I finally made it "outside" and caught a really nice, big wave. While this was a sweet reward for all the hard work of getting out past the break, I would soon face another challenge. I was being propelled at high speed directly toward another surf kayaker, Ken, who was still paddling out. I started to rudder on the right, but held back, waiting to see which side he would go as he avoided me, but he seemed to hesitate. Then I started to wonder if he was going to roll under to avoid the impending collision. It seems we were both frozen "like deer in the headlights", though I was zooming straight for him. Fortunately he rolled under just in time. I edged right and bumped his rail as I passed by. By the time I was able to turn around to take a look, he had already rolled up and was continuing on his way.

Ken and I met up on the beach a little later and exchanged mutual apologies. I should have checked more carefully before catching that wave and should have taken evasive maneuvers much sooner. While the standard "surfer's rules" state that it is the responsibility of those paddling out to avoid incoming surfers, the practical truth is that the one on the wave is going a lot faster and has a lot more options, especially on an unbroken face. If the wave was still "green" I could have made a bottom turn to my right and continued the ride, probably getting an even better, longer run. Or I could have just peeled off the wave, ending the ride right away. Fortunately, no one was hurt and Ken was very gracious about the whole affair.

There was a man from "the paper" there who took photos and asked who was who. I pointed out the people I knew and that were nearby.

I got slammed a few times by the bigger, steeper waves, and on one occasion, I swam after getting a little disoriented and blowing my roll. A nice young man on a Ocean Kayak "Yak Board" gave me a tow out of the rip caused by the creek and then back to shore. My military surplus dry-suit performed well, but the neck seal let in a little water. This is because it had been trimmed too much for my neck size (by a previous owner?). Anyway, after the 10 minute swim, I was still quite warm, though a little damp. My rubberized ("Mystery") hood, 3mm neoprene surf hood, and Gath helmet kept my head warm enough, though my balance was slightly off for the rest of the day.

By about 2pm or so, just about everyone had left the water, including almost all of the board surfers. The wind picked up a bit. The beautiful spindrift of an hour or so before gave way to a little chop. The waves were getting more unruly -- and we were getting tired. My decreased balance was annoying me, and my roll was getting a little weak. So, we headed back to the car about 2:30.

All in all, it was a very nice day at Crescent. The waves were good enough, and offered some long rides (and some pummeling) and the relatively small wind made it extra nice. It was great to see some of our P.A. friends and was also wonderful to make some new friends. Rob and Gabrielle were great adventure companions. I look forward to future trips with them.

Now ... to clean the gear and prepare for rolling practice at the pool tomorrow. :-)

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