Big, nasty rock spires a half-mile offshore and three fathoms below the surface. Howling winds, pelting rain and massive swells for weeks on end. Frigid water temps, torrential currents and total isolation at the heart of Oregon’s shark zone. If you’re still interested in Nelscott Reef, you’re welcome to try it. I watched in awe for 10 years, attempting to paddle or tow into it a couple of times. But mostly, I’ve dodged its big, A-frame peaks in an underpowered Zodiac. I knew it could be ridden, but it just wasn’t working out. No one around this central Oregon tourist town wanted to join me. Well, a buddy did join me. Once. The buoy reading was 18 feet at 20 seconds, and we had to face 12- to 15-foot relentless sets just to get past the inside. After several attempts and my co-pilot crying to abort the mission, I finally found a seam and hit it with all the juice my little Zodiac had. Outside the shorebreak, we headed north two miles to the reef, feeling very insignificant in our little rubber boat. We skirted the reef and anchored, then paddled over to where we thought it broke. We were clueless. With little time to figure anything out, a big peak headed our way. I swung around and paddled as hard as I could, spray stinging my face as I tried to get over the ledge of this monster. Visions of Jay Moriarity at Maverick’s flashed in my head, so I backed out, only to have the wave’s big brother bearing down on me out the back. Paddling with all I had for the shoulder, the wave luckily shifted just enough to allow me to claw over. It was clear from that day on that the only way you could surf the big, shifty peaks of Nelscott was with a power-assist. That’s when I knew it’d be perfect for my longtime friends, Peter Mel and Adam Replogle. Over the last 10 years of frequent trips to Santa Cruz, I watched Peter and Adam rise to being top paddle- and tow-surfers at Maverick’s. I’d been telling them about this reef in my hometown that gets as big as Mav’s, but I think they just humored me for a while. Like, “Yeah, sure. Whatever. Maybe…” Pete lost some of his skepticism when I showed him some video from my earlier attempt. Adam started believing, too, when I revealed some snaps from last winter. In mid-December, I ran into Adam and Pete at the boat ramp in Santa Cruz. They had been chasing big, ugly blown-out Steamer Lane and were looking for alternatives. A week later, I got a call from Adam — he said they were thinking about coming up. The forecast was for 20-foot buoy readings with light southeast winds, so I told him the timing couldn’t be better. A cliff-side recon trip on their first morning in Oregon restored my credibility, as both the main and south reefs were breaking both ways with the occasional spitting barrel. It was mostly, long, pointbreak-type rights on the main reef with light offshores. An oddity here, but when it happens, it’s unforgettable. The shorebreak was minor with all that PWC power behind us; we jetted right through the 10- to 12-foot sledgehammers. And when we reached the zone, Pete and Adam charged straight to the North reef, conducting a clinic on the future of big-wave surfing. The next day, they found the Inside Shorebreak can be just like perfect Hossegor.
As for me, I’ll forever be grateful to Adam for whipping me into my first wave at Nelscott Reef. Unfortunately, Pete said it was only 18 feet, so I guess I’ll have to invite them back next year for my 20-footer. – John Forse
For video clips, go to www.nelscottreef.com.