Life Lived Well in Garibaldi

August 19, 2016 (Updated September 12, 2016)

For decades, sun, surf and fun on the beach has drawn vacationers to Garibaldi. The coastal town is the perfect getaway to slow down, poke around and find a bit of wind-blown magic.

At four stories tall, the “Big G” on the hill is hard to miss. The white letter has towered over Garibaldi since 1929.

Visitors head to Garibaldi to the ride the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, stroll the nearby Barview Beach, catch a Dungeness crab from Tillamook Bay, or simply admire the picturesque waterfront where wind-powered art mesmerizes onlookers. Your intrigue may even pull you inside the Ocean Charters studio of local artist Joe Gierga. There, he cuts, trims, buffs and welds stainless steel into pieces that he proudly calls “Wind Spinners.”

“Everything is made by hand,” notes Gierga, a longtime Garibaldi resident. “You can’t can’t buy any of these parts and they will also last forever.”

With a wry smile, he quickly adds, “Outlast me, that’s for sure!”

“I start out my day by saying, ‘Hey — that looks good!’” Gierga says. “Or sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I think about new designs and creations that I might build — it doesn’t take much wind to blow them around either.”

Previously, Gierga was a trained mechanic in Germany who excelled at welding, lathing and repairing VW and Porsche cars, so much so that the Volkswagen Group sent him to the U.S. in the early 1960’s to teach other mechanics.

But after too many 14-hour days, Gierga’s health deteriorated. His doctor told him to change his lifestyle or he wouldn’t live much longer, adding, “Go do something you really want to do.”

Gierga thought, well I like to go fishing!

In 1967, he landed in Garibaldi, where he learned a new trade. For the next 25 years, Gierga worked as a fisherman, catching boatloads of salmon, tuna, bottom fish and Dungeness crabs. He even named his charter boat after his wife, Siggi.

“Life was so great for me,” says Gierga. “I feel like I owe society something — and that’s what we do with the spin biking.”

Gierga and his wife teach spinning — exercise classes on stationary bikes — in their cozy garage-turned-studio. Although Joe is 85 years old and Siggi just turned 80, they insist they’re “going on 60” and have plenty of time left for “payback.”

In his youth, Gierga was a champion cyclist in Germany. He even had a shot at Olympic fame when he competed in the 1956 Olympic Trials in Melbourne.

He says it’s never too late to get active, “You can start tomorrow and feel better the next day — guaranteed.”

The Giergas don’t charge anything for their popular spin classes. They say, “Society was good to us, and we try to give back.”

Next time you spot the “Big G” on the coastal hillside, slow down and look around. Find the waterfront site that glistens in the sun with Wind Spinners. Maybe you’ll get a lesson in art — and on a life well lived.

“People think it’s artistry!” says Gierga. “I don’t know! Maybe for some, but for me, it’s just fun — I do it because it’s fun! Life is so great!”


About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.