Surfing an Empty Lineup in the Pacific Northwest


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 if you have a camera in your hand. 

It always seems a little bit silly to me though.  I always think back to how I found the spot, and most of the time it was just a matter of searching “surf spot near X”...  X being the general location.  So I get why they are frustrated when their spot ends up online.  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.

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 are summer attire and bad weather with few accommodations mean you’ll camp in the rain for the extent of your stay.  Those are the waves people are calling secret these days.  They aren't a secret, they just aren't very good very often.  They are low on the "reward" scale, and you get skunked more often than not.  

So what do we do about it?  I'm not going to be the only photographer who doesn't post the photo.  The locals certainly do, as it was usually them in the photos that I find online.   Well, if a spot really is a secret, you can bet your ass I won't be sharing it!  If people are just grumpy, then that's another story. 

I get grumpy too, so I understand.  But you know what, there are plenty of places where you can get waves to yourself.  They just aren't very good.  I tend to end up in those places.  I'll surf close out beachbreak barrels alone long before I surf perfet Malibu with 300 other people.   And every once in a while, my little beachbreak turns on and I have an epic session.