Office of National Marine Sanctuaries

open quote marksSurfing the Olympic Coast isn't just about riding the waves, but it's the environment you are in."
end quote marks
 
letter Bone-chilling water. A thousand shades of gray. A northwesterly swell, just in from somewhere near Kamchatka. Two veteran surfers start down the steep cliff-face on the Makah Indian Reservation. Beneath them, confused waves bend and collide around rocks near the beach. But offshore, the sets
are lining up perfectly with jade-green barrels breaking to the right.

For Arnold Schouten, 62, and Darryl Wood, 64, who have surfed Washington's frigid waters for a combined nine decades, the waters of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary have no equal. For one thing, they are close to home. For another, as Schouten puts it, "there's the whole package - the color of the water, sea otters popping up, seabirds and the incredible coastline."

Schouten learned to surf on Long Island, N.Y., where, as a kid, he and friends pioneered many of the local surf spots. His first encounter with the Olympic Coast came after moving here in the '70s and meeting Darryl Wood, who had been surfing the Olympic Peninsula since 1963. Darryl had scouted many breaks, but settled on one particular wave near Cape Flattery. For years, Darryl and Arnold were the only two surfers on the water. "We would have been happy to see other surfers out there, mainly because we were tired of hearing each others' stories," Schouten joked.

schouten surfingWhat started out as their "secret spot" has attracted more, but still not a lot more, surfers. Both agree that it's their favorite wave in the world. Schouten points out, however, that "Surfing the Olympic Coast isn't just about riding the waves, but it's the environment you are in. On a sunny day, there's no place more beautiful anywhere in the world. In addition, I have an attraction to the wildlife that's out there - seabirds, marine mammals, the beach animals, so I like to take it all in when I go out there."

Both men are active with the local chapter of Surfrider Foundation, an emerging force in local conservation activities, including beach cleanups, trail maintenance, relationships with property owners and advocacy for the ocean, including what happens upstream. Asked about the younger generation of surfers and their conservation, Wood said: "I work with several other volunteer groups. It's the same in any volunteer group. You always have five to 10 percent who do all the work." Schouten picks up "I'm disappointed when I see people come here to surf and not be very interested in what's around them - the wildlife, or the whole ecosystem of the marine environment."

What is the force that both men feel in surfing? "Ocean Juice," they say in unison, laughing that the words come from both at the same time. Schouten elaborated, "I spent some time in my life not surfing, but I never forgot that feeling of catching a wave, standing up, dropping in and riding along the face of the wave, appreciating the energy of the ocean. That feeling that you conquered something in that wave and you kicked out on the back side of it. That never, ever, went away. I think that's the essence of it."

But clearly, for both men, it's not just about the waves or the ride. It's about the whole package - the complex interactions of physical force, ecological richness, drop-dead scenic beauty, and being in the tiny minority of surfers who have discovered a place of their own on this ocean planet. It's called Cape Flattery.

Ocean Juice. The Power of Place. The desire to preserve these qualities in the environment and to encourage younger surfers to discover and practice their own brand of stewardship. For these elder statesmen of Olympic Coast waves, twin passions of surfing and serving the environment are shining examples for young and old alike.

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