I’ve always felt a connection with the big blue. In college I transferred to the University of Hawaii for a semester just so I could hang out at the beach. And in my 20s, I traveled to a surf camp in Indonesia — but I had yet to start surfing back in my home state of Oregon. Strangely enough, I thought being a surfer required you to live under constantly sunny skies and near warm water. Oh, to be a young kook again.
Every surfer worth their salt knows some of the left coast’s tastiest waves are found right here in Oregon. No joke, the water is cold (it usually hovers around 55 degrees Fahrenheit) and the surf can be fickle. But only in Oregon can you experience the divine pleasure of riding a sweet little peeler all to yourself, unlike Hawaii or Southern California, where the waves get more jammed up than Highway 101 on a summer day.
“Oregon has something for all kinds of surfers: longboarders, shortboarders, beginners and old-timers,” explains Kayla Salas, an art director who makes the 90-minute dash from Portland to Seaside whenever the swell is good. “Once you get up on your first wave, it’s like an addiction. Surfing becomes all you think about.”
As a beginner in Oregon, the best way to launch your surf adventure is to decide which surf town to hit first and then book group lessons or sessions with a private instructor. Seaside and Pacific City are the closest to Portland; Newport and Coos Bay make for an ideal weekend trip if you’re coming from Southern and Central Oregon. Surfing conditions should also factor into where you go, and the Magic Seaweed app is every surfer’s go-to. Try taking lessons in early fall as well as late spring and summer; leave winter’s gnarly swells to the locals. As a newbie, you’re looking for waves 4 feet or less, and intervals of six to 10 seconds between waves.
Next, find a hotel for the night (early-morning surfing, aka dawn patrol, is usually when the magic happens), and then find a local surf shop, most of which offer lessons for first-timers and intermediate surfers. Having someone there to guide you will increase your chances of standing up, not to mention that it’s safer. All of the shops in the four Oregon surfing hot spots below offer packages that include gear (a soft-top board, wetsuit, gloves and booties) and group or private lessons.
Riddled with rocky headlands and coves, Coos Bay is the epicenter of surfing on Oregon’s South Coast. Head straight to Waxer’s Surf Shop for the local conditions, lessons and to rent gear. Waxer’s will likely direct you to nearby Bastendorff Beach, the area’s most popular beginner surf spot. This wide, sandy beach is flanked by Yoakam Head and protected from pesky south winds.
After your arms turn to jelly from paddling, brag about your swell conquests over beer and halibut tacos at Shark Bites Café. Coos Bay lodging options are plentiful, but “glamping” at the new Bay Point Landing is how the cool kids are doing it. Rent a modern-industrial cabin with wall-to-wall windows or a deluxe Airstream (the artisanal soap and shampoo are sublime after a sand-filled day).
About 100 miles north of Coos Bay, your first stop in laid-back Newport ought to be Ossies Surf Shop on Agate Beach. The area is brimming with good beginner spots, so leave it to the Ossies folks to download you on current conditions and to gear you up. Opt for a surfing lesson and you can literally walk across the street in your wetsuit and be in the water in minutes.
While Agate Beach offers super-fun breaks, Otter Rock, just north of Newport, is known as the Waikiki of the Central Oregon Coast. Make sure to get out on dawn patrol here. Otter’s parking lot fills up fast.
Newport is such a surfer’s paradise, it’s worth staying a night or two to get in as many sessions as possible. Starfish Point and Agate Beach Motel have ocean views and are walkable from Ossies.
Venture an hour north of Newport along Highway 101 and you’ll stumble upon Pacific City — the beach of blissful convenience. No hiking in with your longboard here, just drive through the Pelican Brewing Company parking lot in front of Cape Kiwanda and onto the sand. Moment Surf Company is on the beach to set you up with gear, lessons and stoke.
After a day of riding peelers, walk across the sand to Headlands Coastal Lodge and Spa for the night. Tip: Try a deep-tissue massage at Headlands after you surf. Headlands’ Meridian restaurant serves up stellar seafood, or order to go and eat on the beach as the sky turns Creamsicle orange behind the Cape. Another walk-to-surf lodging option: Hart’s Camp has Airstreams with kitschy design themes, a laid-back vibe and Linus bikes.
Seaside is less than 80 miles from Portland. When the surf’s good, weekend warriors and locals hit the waves together. Check in at Seaside Surf Shop for gear, lessons and to get a selfie with the giant shark teeth. The pros at the shop can point you in the direction of the best beach for the day’s conditions. Aside from popular city beaches, they might suggest you drive 15 miles south to Oswald West State Park, aka Shorty’s, and hike an easy half-mile through old-growth forest to the surfing hot spot at the end.
You can also sign up online for a coed lesson or surf camp with Northwest Women’s Surf Camps, and the instructor will school you on exactly how — and where — to surf.
Sore arms are the perfect excuse to stay the night at trendy Ashore Hotel, right off the iconic Promenade. Soak in the warm saltwater pool, then roast s’mores on the beach and watch the sunset. In the morning, hit up Dough Dough Bakery for an egg-biscuit sandwich to fuel up for the next swell.
Surfing Etiquette 101
Before you paddle out, make note of these basic rules to stay safe and keep the vibes good.
- Paddle out through a channel where the waves aren’t breaking and people aren’t surfing.
- When a wave starts to break, the surfer closest to the peak always has right of way.
- Don’t drop in: If a surfer with right of way is already on a wave, let it go.
- Always hang on to your board. Most injuries are the result of a flying surfboard.
- If you accidentally mess up, apologize. A little goes a long way.
- Practice Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in — and grab a few pieces of stray trash while you’re at it!
- Help protect the waves you ride by pitching in with a local Surfrider Foundation chapter.