On Edge With Ryan Lovelace

By Michael Kew

Camel, pre-session 710 tweakage in Western Australia. Photo: Glen Casey.

"THE DREAM IS TO have a buoyant surfboard flexing like a Greenough spoon. For Greenoughphiles, that’s the Holy Grail. That’s what we want.”

It’s a late Sunday summer night and I’ve got Ryan Lovelace, 700 miles south, on a crackly Skype line, trying to grok his words about the 710 quad, a freak he birthed at the suggestion of George Greenough.

“It came from a fucking spaceship, man,” Lovelace said, referring to Greenough’s Edge concept. “So out there. So many curves morphing and twisting into each other.”

Huh?

Let’s rewind.

In 2014 Dave Rastovich surfed Cloudbreak on two strange Greenough Edge boards. Lensman Nick Liotta was there. His photos formed a September 2015 story in The Surfer’s Journal. That month, one of those boards—a 6’3”—was auctioned in Los Angeles for $7,500. The board’s buyer was Lovelace’s pal. 

“George wanted whoever bought it to surf it and call him with feedback,” Lovelace said. “My buddy told him it would pair well with a flex fin I made for him, and George proposed I copy the auctioned board and tinker with the design.”

Amid El Niño glow, Lovelace shaped a 6’3” and an 8’0”.  In April, he brought both to Greenough for a brief pow-wow at his Lennox Head home. Also there were Rastovich, Simon Murdoch, Glen Casey, and big-wave ace Geoff “Camel” Goulden.

“Camel and Glen rode my 8’0” and George’s Edge guns right after I left Australia,” Lovelace said. “They said George’s were faster but mine was more surfable. Pretty much what I’d expected.”

The Brisbane-LAX long-haul set a seed. “More like a spark,” Lovelace said. “I needed to take that experience with George and build something from it. About three-quarters of the way through my first board [9’5” x 20” x 3.5”], I stopped. It was too stiff, and there was no working backwards.”

In May, a week before winning the Boardroom shape-off in Del Mar, Lovelace rebooted. “The 7’10” involved an insane amount of fine-tuning. I became numb and hyperfocused, and I had a clearer vision of how to get what I was after. I added and removed carbon patches and layers and simply felt for the finish—when it flexed the way I wanted it to.”

From Boardroom, the board was flown to Brisbane and shown by Casey to Greenough, then driven cross-country to test-pilot Camel.

 “Glen (Casey) said George was stoked on my experiment,” Lovelace said. “In April he told me he’d shared the Edge design to ‘throw sand into the transmission of big-wave surfboard design.’ And as we were leaving his house, he reminded us: ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’”

So what’d you venture, Ryan?

 “Stringerless EPS foam, epoxy, and lots of carbon. I kept the deck dead-flat and the template 98 percent the same as George’s originals. Widened the tail a bit, relaxed the rocker, and kept the rails fat, with a deep, full Edge bottom. Glassed the deck and rails, then molded the bottom shape, pulled it apart, and took a grinder to the bottom of the board, where I hollowed the foam up to the deck, leaving about an inch of foam. Then I glassed the molded bottom back on.”

What’s that supposed to do?

“The harder you push on it, the deeper the concave gets. You have a variable bottom shape and rocker like George’s original spoon design, but with flotation. As with a spoon, you get the flex torsionally rail-to-rail. Like I said, it’s not 100-percent like a spoon, but you wouldn’t really want a surfboard to flex that much.”

How did you want the 710 to work…?

“Since its bottom is so much deeper and lifts up (instead of the deck doming down), and since the apex of the rails is on the deck—as high as you can get—when you get that board on rail, you’re gaining more hold and engaging more of the board instead of less, like with a normal surfboard’s design. The more you lean it on rail, the more of the board you’re engaging—and holding—because the rail’s apex is so much higher on the board. It’s more like a boat than a surfboard.”

and does it work?

Back in Australia, despite cracking his shin (not the 710’s fault) after three waves, Camel said this: “Even from my first wave, the board felt Space Age. In the tube, it went real fast in-line. I could feel the water flowing through the rail concaves and the lessened drag. I am quite certain the design is going to go faster than anything and make it through sections considered unmakeable. (This board is) an incredible craft.”

Progress?

Stay tuned.

Drink Your Defeat

By Michael Kew

Trevor Frazier (left) and Levi Allen. Photo: Kew.

REEDSPORT WAS NOT JED SMITH'S CUP OF TEA. Or pint of beer, had the frontiersman visited today.

In 1946, 118 years after his nearby fiasco, a 3,600-square-foot mercantile was raised on Route 38, aka Fir Avenue, today Old Town Reedsport. Newly etched into its heart is Defeat River Brewery, where, one bright Sunday morn in this burg of 4,000, I meet two age-thirtysomething co-owners/co-brewers/brothers-in-law: Levi Allen, previously a realtor/house cleaner, and Trevor Frazier, previously a medic. (Defeat is also co-owned by Herb Hedges, not here today.)

Frazier, arms crossed, leaning against the rustic copper bar: “I thought, sure, I can be a full-time paramedic and Levi can be a full-time dad and business owner, and we’ll just brew when we feel like it and we’ll make it work. No, you can’t do that! (laughs) If you’re going to do something, do it 100 percent. Don’t half-ass two things. Full-ass one thing.”

The room radiates grit. Iron, sawdust, fresh cement. Most of its industrial/Wild West aesthetic, including large quantities of repurposed metal and old wood, came from the sweat and toil of the three owners, plus close friends and family, to make a beautifully meticulous, personalized, 10-barrel brewhouse.

“This space is 70 years old,” Allen says, “but everything in it is brand-new. It’s everything we’ve wanted to see in a brewery.”

But, Levi—where’s the Defeat River?

He grins.

In July 1828, Jedediah Smith and his merry band of fur trappers slogged upcoast from California. They camped at the end of what’s now called the Smith River, a 90-mile tributary of the Umpqua.

“There was a dispute over something ridiculous, like a stolen ax,” Allen says. “Smith’s men ended up whipping one of the natives, which created some tension.”

The Indians ambushed, killing 15 of Smith’s 19 men. He and the remaining few fled. Three months later, he revisited the site to retrieve beaver pelts. His friends were there, rotting on the sand. Smith named the river Defeat, and it was posthumously renamed for him, draining as it does into the great Umpqua estuary, a half-mile from this pub.

“The most interesting part of the story is those skeletons are still buried over there,” Allen says. (That’s 188 years of tide and sand and river movement.)

In 2012, the brothers-in-law had traded their valley lives for coast. And, as in-laws are wont to do, and like Smith vs. the Indians, there came disputes—but no massacres—along the brewers’ slow, rutted road to publicly pouring their beer.

“It’s not been easy to make this happen,” Frazier tells me, looking around the room, up at the ceilings, at the custom light fixtures, down at the concrete floor. “We’ve worked hard and had a lot of stubborn arguments to ensure this place is as cool as it is.”

How did you guys get here?

Allen: “I was a realtor, homebrewing in Albany. I met Trevor and got him into it. My free time started shrinking as he was getting deep into brewing and the science of it, and soon it became a case of the student teaching the teacher. (laughs) So the majority of our recipes are his.”

Both brewers are wed to Reedsport-born-and-bred sisters who work at Highland Elementary, the same school the women attended in the 1990s.

“We wanted to move because our in-laws and aunts and uncles and cousins are here,” Frazier says.

 “They (the Allens) moved first because his wife got a job as a teacher here, in her hometown,” Frazier says. “My wife moved to get a job at the same school. I was trying to get a job as a paramedic. Ended up getting one in Coos Bay, so I moved from Bend, and that’s when the brewery plan really took off—when Levi and I resumed homebrewing together.

“Growing up in Bend and being able to drink fresh beer in a craft brewery was something I missed when I moved here. It was hard because I was used to heading down to the pub for a few local pints. Wasn’t happening here. Something had to be done.”

At a 2013 homebrewing contest in Bend, Allen’s hybrid pale ale won a blue ribbon.

 “It’s every homebrewer’s dream to go pro and do a legit brewery,” he says. “Generally, if you talk to a homebrewer and they say their goal is not to brew professionally, they’d be lying. (laughs) Before we moved, we considered the steps to build a brewery. We knew there had never been one in Reedsport. And Old Town was attractive because rent was relatively cheap and—”

“—there was nothing here,” Frazier adds.

“Yeah,” Allen says. “We thought a brewery could be a foundation or an anchor for something really cool—part of a movement, maybe.”

A year ago, the surrounding storefronts were vacant. Now they include an arcade, a dog-groomer, an antique shop, an art gallery, a beauty salon.

Frazier: “Reedsport was given a Main Street-improvement grant, which helped a few people improve the facades of their businesses. And folks knew our brewery was coming, so that got them thinking about a new era. This was a busy district before fishing and logging died. Lots of people left. But if you visited, say, Bend in 1985, there was nothing there. Now look at it. I don’t think (Reedsport) can have quite the same sort of boom; we’d like people to see the potential of this area as a destination. Not just our place—everywhere on this street. And beyond.”

Initial 2016 summer rollout of Defeat’s core styles include Thor Cascadian dark ale, The Bravest Pale Ale, The Beachhead Session Ale, and 1.21 Jigahops IPA. Born in steam-fired Stout Tanks & Kettles from Portland, the beers are pure Oregon—Crosby hops from Woodburn, Wyeast from Odell, and floor-malted Mecca Grade barley, estate-grown in Madras, a stone’s toss from the Deschutes River. Defeat is the first draught-producing brewery to use Full Pint, Mecca’s proprietary malt.

“Some people had brewed with it, but it’s mostly been used for whiskey,” Frazier says. “Last year I contacted Seth (of Mecca) because I wanted to get a bag of malt to homebrew with. When he learned we were starting a brewery, he got excited.”

The two aim to get all their malt from Mecca, including planned specialties via estate expansion. Defeat’s goal is to have 12 rotating taps—core, seasonal, and specialty—supplying the bar, plus regional wines and guest beers. Food trucks are likely.

Allen believes a town can reinvent itself. Even tiny Reedsport—20 minutes from Florence, 20 minutes from Coos Bay, 90 minutes from Eugene. “Business-wise,” he says, “much of what we’ve done is plan for the worst and hope for the best. It’s a seasonal economy here. Places close in October and they don’t reopen until April or May. We wanted to make our pub attractive for people to come and drink beer year-round.”

“It’s not just about finally being able to pour our beer for people,” Frazier says, “which we’re very proud of. Or that it’s taken considerable effort getting this place going. It’s not just about the beer. It’s about the atmosphere we’ve created for you.”

 

Defeat River Brewery

473 Fir Ave., Reedsport, Oregon

541-808-8862

defeatriverbrewery.com

 

Hangs Upon...Something (A Backstory)

BY JEREMY RUMAS

I was trying to document Chuck Corbett's wanderings in Kiribati and also shoot some surf footage. I had already done four-and-a-half months as crew on his boat, the S/V Tuaraoi, most of that time spent in Hawaii fixing it up, then sailing it down to Christmas Island, a nine-day passage. I had some establishing footage, but almost no surf footage. I wondered if I'd be able to make a surf film materialize at that point. I almost threw in the towel.

I decided I had to get back home to Indiana for a while. There was no surf when we had arrived down on Christmas Island midsummer. I flew home, regrouped, worked, and then headed back down many months later to continue trying to make a surf film.

There was no room for me on Chuck's boat the first week I was back on Christmas Island, as writer Michael Kew and his crew had flown down on the same flight and were staying onboard. So I stayed on land, and decided to stay out of their way for the week.

Not having much to do, I figured, well, I'll bike into town with my Bolex. The visiting crew were out surfing and shooting in London, the main village of the island. I was impressed by their surfing—it was beautiful to watch. The waves were not amazing that day, but the colors were, and I'd never in person seen anyone surf at this level. There was a safari hat-clad photographer (Chris Burkard) shooting handheld with a long lens from shore, moving around everywhere, far back from the beach, shooting rapid-fire. It reminded me of a camera machine gun.

I pulled out my Bolex and shot a bit of footage, too, all handheld. I had to. It was all so beautiful. There were village kids gathered on the beach to watch the show. Later, one of the surfers was on the beach, shooting with a video camera. I went up and introduced myself. It was Mikala Jones.

"Is that a Milliken?" he asked.

"No, it's a Bolex. It's 16mm, though."

I briefly met all the guys on the beach that day. Kew had arranged the trip, recruiting surfers Josh Mulcoy, Nate Tyler, Mikala, and Daniel Jones, along with Burkard. I went back to where I was staying and decided to edit a trailer for my film, to try to get on Chuck's boat before they all left, show them the trailer, and see if any of them would want to be a part of my film project.

I worked hard the next few days, editing something together from time-lapse footage plus some surfing footage I had shot in different places, mostly on video.

I managed to get onto the boat the last night they were aboard. They were watching a surf movie at the time, and they all seemed pretty tired. I asked if I could show them a trailer for my film.

I showed them the trailer and everyone liked it a lot. The surfers said sure, come shoot with us anytime. Mikala and Daniel gave me an invite to meet up with them in Indo next time I was there, and to shoot with them. Everyone was really cool to me. I'd expected to possibly be met with egos, but the opposite happened. They were all welcoming and down-to-earth. Nate Tyler gave me one of his sponsor’s hats. They were all really encouraging, and it gave me a boost to see that these guys appreciated what I was attempting to make.

This chance encounter with Kew and crew ended up shaping the rest of the film project. I met up with Mikala and Daniel in Indonesia a few months later, and, slowly but surely, “Hangs Upon Nothing” became reality.

It seems to be a polarizing film—either people like it a lot, or they don't like it at all. I'm still trying to figure out if there is an audience for it. Some people tell me it had a profound effect on them, and then some dismiss it. It's the sort of film you have to be ready to sit back and just take in for 90 minutes. It's not a party film or action sports flick.

 

"Hangs Upon Nothing" site

"Hangs Upon Nothing" Instagram

"Crossings" — 2nd Edition

New cover.

Long dissatisfied with the format of my first "Crossings" edition (stout white paperback, now out-of-print), I have revamped and reissued this four-year-old collection of travel stories: Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Asia, Europe, Oceania, Africa, Indian Ocean, etc. 

Published via Spruce Coast Press, this new softcover edition is larger/thinner (6x9x1 inches), cheaper to buy, and easier to read (bigger/better fonts, better paper, cleaner organization).

It can be purchased here. For signed copies, click here.

I have also made it available as an ebook via Kindle and a hardcover via Pierpont Press. I plan to offer it as an audiobook, too.

The softcover version is available in select brick-and-mortar shops, including:

— Encinitas, CA: Surfy Surfy, 974 N. Coast Highway 101, 760-452-7687

— Venice Beach, CA: Mollusk, 1600 Pacific Ave., 310-396-1969

— Silver Lake, CA: Mollusk, 3511 W. Sunset Blvd., 323-928-2735.

— Santa Barbara, CA: Trim Shop, 20 Helena Ave., 805-845-8885

— Santa Cruz, CA: Sawyer Land & Sea Supply, 402 Ingalls St., 831-458-3466

— San Francisco, CA: Mollusk, 4500 Irving St., 415-564-6300

— Garberville, CA: King Range Books, 901 Redwood Dr., 707-499-5471

— Arcata, CA: The Shop, 939 - 8th St., 707-822-2248

— Brookings, OR: Semi Aquatic, 654 Chetco Ave., 503-451-3775

— Coos Bay, OR: 7 Devils Brewing Co., 247 South 2nd St., 541-808-3738

— Cannon Beach, OR: Cannon Beach Book Co., 130 N. Hemlock St. #2, 503-436-1301

— Seaside, OR: Beach Books, 616 Broadway St., 503-738-3500

— Asbury Park, NJ: Glide Surf Co., 520 Bangs Ave., 732-250-6398

Read a "Crossings" review here.

Coast Range to Cape

By Michael Kew

Looking toward Blacklock Point from Cape Blanco. Photo: Kew.

IF YOU LIKE BIKES, hit Port Orford this summer.

Or anytime, really.

This quaint Curry County burg of 1,100 now anchors the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway, a paved, 61-mile network of glorious, natural beauty. While it’s not carless, hence flawed, it’s a great new way to tour the zone, particularly the upper Elk River and green, Grassy Knob Wilderness.

“Port Orford is the perfect place to start or end your ride,” Alexandra Phillips, Bicycle Recreation Specialist at the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, said. “It has the friendly people and slow pace one would expect from a small town, with a very electric, artsy, almost eccentric feel to it.”

The Oregon Coast’s first—and the Lower 48’s westernmost—townsite is home to Battle Rock, where the Qua-to-mah tribe fought Captain William Tichenor’s men in June 1851. Today, 165 years later, it’s a pleasant wayside park, the logical spot to trade four wheels for two and head north for some seabreezed, sun-kissed delight, starting on Jackson Street, connecting with Port Orford Loop, then Highway 101, then veering east, past the fish hatchery along the curvy Elk River, navigating the narrow, sometimes-rubbly road past its deep gorges and green, old-growth forests. In the opposite direction, the route unfurls toward the ocean, tracing the serene Sixes River to Cape Blanco, Oregon’s westernmost point, a windswept trove of natural and historical wonder, including a 19th century lighthouse and an early Irish settler’s home.

“The Bikeway exemplifies our land/sea connection,” Port Orford’s Tyson Rasor, project coordinator for the Redfish Rocks Community Team, said. “Not only does the route connect you with absolute natural beauty, it connects you with the culture and history of our region as you ride past its cranberry bogs, ranchland, art galleries, the Elk River Fish Hatchery, the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, the historic Hughes House, Port Orford Heads, the Port Orford Lifeboat Station/Museum….”

And, no, you don’t have to pedal it all in one day—you can freely heed the old adage, there’s no hurry in Curry (County, that is), because there is something for all riders, of all riding abilities, of all fitness levels. With several out-and-back options, it can be a slow cruise with family and friends, or, for more experienced tour riders, a challenging time trial. You can also overnight at three pretty parks along the way: Butler Bar, Sunshine Bar, and Cape Blanco Campground.

Alexandra Phillips does share the more common choice: one segment at a time, allowing yourself to, between rides, soak up and route’s diversity and uniqueness and historical significance.

“I love it,” she said, “because it’s easy to pick what I want to do. A good climb ending with a spectacular ocean view? I head out to Cape Blanco. A wilderness-like experience with views of an opal blue river? I head up the Elk River. Feeling like some amazing views without working quite so hard? Paradise Point State Recreation Site, then back to town for lunch.”

What northern Curry Coasters have long enjoyed has only recently come to Oregon’s cycling fore. The Bikeway’s process began in 2012 via Travel Oregon’s Rural Tourism Studio, a training program designed to assist rural communities in sustainable tourism development.

“We looked at the map of where Scenic Bikeways were located,” Rasor said. “There was one obvious blank spot: the coast. And there were no Bikeways in the state’s southern half. So we determined this was a great opportunity and a unique way to share the Wild Rivers Coast with our family, friends, visitors, and cycling enthusiasts.”

The group from south Coos and north Curry counties sought the best route in the region. Thanks to the area’s natural endowments, it didn’t take long, though the Bikeway wasn’t officially approved and opened until October 2015.

Oregon is America’s first state to have designated Scenic Bikeways; 14 have been established since the program was launched eight years ago.

“The Oregon Scenic Bikeways provide the best-of-the-best road cycling routes in Oregon, which means these are some of the best rides in the entire nation,” Scott Bricker, Travel Oregon’s destination development manager, said. “The Wild River Coast Scenic Bikeway offers low-traffic routes that includes flowing rivers, coastal forests, and sweeping views of Oregon’s Pacific Coast.”

Need more?

I didn’t think so.

Get that chain lube ready.

Elk River. Photo: Kew.

Anything You Want

Photos: Michael Kew

Cascades.

“The older I get and the more I hang out back home in places like this, the more I realize the potential it has for photography. In the past, I’d never think about shooting photos. We’d just be hanging out, shooting guns, whatever. Everything was just what I was used to. Now I appreciate it 100 percent more. In the Bend area, if it doesn’t require an ocean, you can do anything you want.” —Mark Mcinnis

Powell Butte.

Deschutes River.

Mount Washington.

Mcinnis.

Big Saws

By Michael Kew

Photo: Kew.

LIKE EVERYWHERE, THE WOODS were once virgin. From southern Alaska to northern California lay vast tracks of temperate rain forest, huge conifers untouched since sprouting at the end of the last Ice Age. Later, humans arrived via the Bering land bridge and became the indigenous people of the northwest, settling and evolving into several cultures and societies, treading lightly and harmoniously in their rainy eden, living off and with the land and sea, the natural resources rich and widespread. And although the people warred amongst themselves, their pre-Columbian tribes and their forests flourished for 15,000 years.

Then came the 19th century and white men with big saws. Flat, open land surpassed trees in value, and the trees were simply large brown weeds that needed to be cleared. It wasn’t long before settlers realized the terrain was unsuitable for anything but trees, however, so instead of building homes and seeding farms on the clearcuts, they made more. Large-scale industrial logging eventually leveled nearly 100 percent of the forests that covered the evergreen coast.

The natives had no involvement. They just lived there.

“My ancestors could do nothing,” Sam said. I found him one morning squatting near the rivermouth on his tribe’s beach, a beautiful place, cleaning a salmon he had just hooked. He tossed the guts into the river’s clear running water. Like many around him, Sam was a die-hard fisherman, his gaunt face acne-scarred, his brown eyes weary. He loved adventure books and television shows like Deadliest Catch. His hair was black and long and worn in a ponytail.

“I catch a lot of fish right here,” he said. He pointed at some sea stacks. “We’ve got some good ling holes out there, too.”

Nearly 30, Sam was thin and unemployed and grew up on his tribe’s small reservation, a blustery and bleak patch of ramshackle homes, rusted cars on blocks, junked boats, bullet-holed street signs, roadside clearcuts, and lazy stray dogs howling into the wind. Trash was rampant. Alcoholism and precipitation were common. Tourists were not. There was no casino, no rustic riverside campground, no five-star resort—how could there be when the place sulked in squalor? Poverty beat the people down.

 “This is what we have, you know? The reservation. The rez. What is happening around us, the logging outside the rez, we cannot control, but they really cannot control what is happening inside here.”

They was the government. Indian reservations were exempt from normal bureaucratic protocol, sovereign entities that, like military bases, had the unique right to close beaches to the public. The tribe managed its own land. Sam’s beach, covered with the largest pieces of driftwood I’d ever seen, had a wide gravel rivermouth sandbar that looked like it could form a good right-hander when the swell was small and clean. Today, preceding a storm on the horizon, the surf was huge and evil-looking.

“Have you seen surfers here?”

He lit a cigarette and took two tokes before answering. He looked pensive. His hands were spotted with fish blood.

“Surfers? No. This is not a place where you can do surfing.”

Most of the northwest coast was like that. It was never a good surfing zone and never would be. Typically, miles of banal beachbreak alternated with inaccessible bays and fatally flawed reefs, nothing worth traveling for. Cradling the weather kitchen called Gulf of Alaska, the coast was typically overloaded with swell, the winds strong and foul, and with few roads leading to few beaches, a surfer was forced to hike or to avoid the place altogether.

“Want to come eat some of this salmon?” Sam asked.

“Sure.”

I followed his old black Ford pickup for a mile inland to a small house that he shared with his mother and his two salmon-fishing brothers. At sunrise they had taken the family skiff upriver.

“They won’t be back for awhile.”

From outside, the home looked abandoned, with broken windows, a crumbling garage door, rotting walls, a mildewed roof smothered by thorny bramble bushes growing from the hillside that the house backed up against. Three wrecked pickup trucks, all flat-tired, were parked in tall weeds near a frail shed where fishing gear was stored. Stained laundry hung from pins on a fishing line strung between two skinny fir trees. Birds sang. A toppled basketball hoop lay on itself, pressing rust into the soil.

Sam’s mother had gone for groceries. I caught a glimpse of the house innards, far cleaner and more organized than the yard. An untended fire burned in the kitchen woodstove; its smoke rose lazily from the rooftop chimney cowl.

Aside the front porch, a propane barbecue was ignited and Sam lay two small salmon steaks onto tin foil he’d set on the grill. The meat cooked quickly. Sam’s black cat, Shadow, smelled the fish and crouched by my feet.

“Some in my tribe want to build a casino here, but I don’t think it would do much good because we don’t get tourists. The rez has nothing for them, no hotel, not even a restaurant. Maybe some river fishing. The beach is cold and windy. Nobody is going to drive all the way out here just to gamble. Alcohol is banned. Other reservations already have casinos and hotels, and they’re a lot closer to the highways and cities. Tourists go there.”

“Do you want tourists here?”

He chuckled. “I think they would ruin it for us. It is peaceful now. My mother thinks tourism would bring crime and traffic. Only a few people want a casino. My brothers do. But the rest of us know better.”

With a metal spatula he lifted the steaks from the foil and soon we were pulling the tender pink meat apart with white plastic forks. It was delicious.

“Probably born in the fish hatchery,” Sam said.

“It’s kind of sad,” I said. “Having to breed fish in a hatchery and later putting them into a lake or a river?”

“Better than nothing. Without hatcheries, there would be no fish. All the landslides and soil run-off from the logging areas have really trashed our creeks and rivers. Fish can’t live in mud water.”

The sky darkened fast and within minutes rain appeared, the drops hissing as they hit the hot barbecue grill. Shadow ran into the house.

“You think it will rain all day?” I asked Sam.

“Probably.” 

Photo: Kew.

Luck of the Bonefish

By Michael Kew

Yvon Chouinard, bonefish-bound...perhaps. Photo: Kew.

ROUSED BY WARM SUN on my face, awakening unfolds to a dream outside my porthole. Oily-glass lagoon resonates, ablaze with dawn. Sole sounds are muffled wave action and the gentle lapping of water against hull. I exit the bunk and head for the bow.

The air is heavy, windless, hot. Sweat ensues. This, an odyssey through time, represents volumes from my pre-travel life, knowing that this exists somewhere, but lacking memories and passport stamps. Storybook longing over seductive tropical imagery and lucid tales of the South Pacific precede anyone’s baptism in Polynesian seas.

Yvon, a veteran traveler, appears from belowdecks.

“Ah, this is paradise for me,” he nods. “When I was a kid, I read every book I could find on the South Pacific, and this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to disappear out here someday. (laughs) My wife doesn’t like the tropics, though. Otherwise, I’d be here all the time. Go with my fly rod and my surfboard and find some island that had good surf on it, good bonefishing….”

Après-surf and brunch, Yvon and I board the ship’s tender and buzz into close range; Francois kills the motor. Adrift within the lagoon’s calm, far from the roily pass, a broad, sandy flat is declared quintessential bonefish habitat. Nearby, a few decayed fishing shacks face dense coconut palms—Polynesia’s most important tree—hinting a wistful regard to overfishing and a once-seemingly endless bounty.

“Well, there’s no fish here compared to…I mean, you can go all day trolling out there and you won’t catch a fish,” Yvon says, absorbing the scene. “If you were at a place like Christmas Island or some of the less-inhabited places—or some places that haven’t been fished out—you can’t go a quarter-mile without hooking up with something. There’s still some pelagic fish here and stuff, but it’s pretty well fished-out, especially the closer you get to Tahiti.”

Exiting the skiff, we infiltrate with low expectancy. Yvon wades and searches, casting over the sand and coral knobs.

“Bonefishing is like a combination of hunting and fishing,” he says. “You’re just searching all day. Your perception gets real acute looking for these fish. When you finally get one, they’re so strong—they’re just amazing.”

Casting several times on different days in different lagoons, not a single bonefish is landed during our Tuamotu junket. Yvon shrugs. “Hell, I don’t know. Maybe it’s like Hawaii. Maybe bonefishing here is a seasonal thing, too.”

Luckily for us, surfing is not.

Chouinard, bonefishless in the Tuamotus. Photo: Kew.

Cold + Green

By Michael Kew

Photo: Mike Sipos.

IT WAS CALIFORNIA'S coastal autumn, with its earthy browns and yellows, its wind and its chill, on the cusp of solitude, that had sent me away. A shirtless late-afternoon bike ride across the farm, down the leafy corridor of Rincon Creek and out to the beach afforded goose bumps from a wan sun, with glassy, head-high waves wrapping around the famed point of Rincoñada del Mar.

The air was clear, the sky big and blue. In the distance were the shadowy hills and gullies of the islands Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz; even Anacapa looked warmly near and familiar. In time, rain would fall there and here, and the beach sand would darken—the tourists were gone—but today, under the auspices of gulls and hawks, autumn had arrived. This was Rincon in late October, a polyglot pointbreak returned to itself, to the locals and the afternoon low tides, the clean swells and sunburned eyes, squinting into the glare of a setting sun.

There was rain in sight mid-week, and for this I felt lucky, because there was an envelope in my mailbox holding a ticket to paradise. To Earth, rain is life, and the ticket was to an island that annually receives 30 feet of it.

Santa Barbara was difficult to leave, especially at the start of winter, and when I had recently returned from Oceania. But Santa Barbara was also a paradise, and going home was sometimes like flying away—my life between two utopias. One static and familial, where my rent was paid, the others distant and humid, these bluey-green postcard places you saw in Islands and National Geographic. Indeed, all homecomings were jet-lagged fogs—my bank account drained, my health often poisoned by a cold or flu from long flights on germy airplanes.

I was afflicted from the last trip but again restless, uninspired, with writer's block, unable to rhapsodize about the journey I had just taken. Epiphanies of travel are rampant when one travels alone—this was a good reason for doing it, not because the epiphanies were random, but because they also were holistically metaphoric. Living on a small farm a half-mile from a famous surf spot, it was easy to become insular, filling summers with work and women and boozy barbecues, neglecting the flat sea, your mind smug knowing the best has yet to come.

And there it was, a crisp afternoon with clean swell from the northwest, coining the onset of Rincon's celebrated winter surf spell. At that moment it seemed wrong for me to leave again. Rincon Point, so sunny and serene, with its bubble of smiling folks and holiday homes and shady trees and smooth rocks, its fathers and mothers and aunts and uncles shell-hunting with Frisbees and skittish leashed dogs, all within the drowsy calm of a fading autumn day—this was a reflection of Southern California comfort. I felt happy there, and happiness had been a strain to achieve, years in the making.

But few things made me happier than travel, no matter how tiresome and inconvenient. Rincon's sea was cold and green—warm and blue was where my mind had been.

Rains of Memory

By Michael Kew

Photo: Kew.

Rain quiets ambiance of change, of introspection, of memory. Rain is singular yet falls in many forms, angles, intensity, voracity, sound, speed, swooping in from gray blurs over the ocean, a hard fog of moisture, cyclical, a wall of wet from afar, drawing near, its origin thousands of miles out, in turbulent oceanic patterns, true wilderness where nothing above water but birds can thrive.

I have never understood people who say rain equals “bad weather.” There is no such thing as bad weather—only different kinds of weather. Drought? Water is everywhere. Twist your faucet. Take a shower. Flush your toilet. Wash your dishes. Your clothes. Your hands. Your car.

The water is there.

Where is the rain?

The rain is here.

Green Town = Green Beer

By Michael Kew

Adam Benson. Photo: Kew.

They won't make that St. Patrick's Day "green" beer.

They will make a much different green beer—several, actually—inside their state-of-the-art, 30-barrel brewhouse in southeast Ashland, 15 miles north of California. Now producing 12,000 barrels per year, Caldera Brewing Co. has been "dedicated to being green before being green was cool," owner Jim Mills once wrote.

Green beer tends to come from green towns—in 2009, the National Geographic Society voted Ashland into its Top 10 of places to visit based on its eco/geotourism vibe. Caldera (Spanish for "boiling pot") had been making beer there for 12 years.

"Breweries these days are at the forefront of green practices," Caldera's head brewer Adam Benson told me one cool, cloudy February day. Snow brightened the mountain peaks above the valley. We stood just outside the brewery's back door, admiring the three white silos used to transfer and recycle Caldera’s spent grains.

Benson has been with Caldera since 2010, following a stint at Standing Stone, another eco-friendly brewery three miles across town.

"As brewers,” he said while we walked back inside, “we're constantly sharing information, from a recipe to how we do things, so if there's way to make something greener, generally it's shared in the industry."

In 2005, starting with its pale ale, Caldera became the West Coast's first microbrewery to can its own beer. Each minute, the new line fills 500 cans made of aluminum, Earth’s most abundant metallic element.

"Canning itself is a green process," Benson said to me later, watching freshly capped yellow cylinders of IPA whiz past us.

"From shipment of the original empty cans to us, to shipping them out full, it's all much lighter (than glass) and therefore uses less energy," he said. "The aluminum is 100 percent recyclable and is used to make more cans, whereas glass is often not. Essentially, recycled glass is just put into pavement and stuff like that—it's not used to make more glass. With a can, even its pop tab is recycled."

You don't even have to drink the beer in Caldera's cans (Lawnmower Lager, Pale Ale, Ashland Amber, IPA, Hopportunity Knocks IPA, Pilot Rock Porter, and—soon—Mosaic IPA) to grok its greater good.

"I'm happy to say that all of our byproducts are used for cattle feed and organic farming," Benson said. His spent grains, hops, yeasts, and filter sheets are composted to concoct fresh, nutrient-rich soil, which is then packaged in and dispersed from the used specialty-grain bags.

“Business-wise,” Benson continued, “it makes sense to be as green as possible, especially when you're brewing in an out-of-the-way place like this. You have to utilize every resource to its fullest extent.”

To quell water waste, Benson uses a recirculating wort-chilling system. "The energy used to cool one wort is reused to heat the next wort. Otherwise, all that water would be going down the drain."

In summer, Caldera's sophisticated HVAC setup ingests cool nighttime air, then expels it throughout the brewery during warm workdays, eliminating a need for expensive, energy-sapping air-con.

Instead of natural gas-fueled direct fire, Caldera uses steam to power all three of its kettles (a 30-barrel system, plus a 10-barrel soda system and a 10-barrel pilot system, which was the original system in the original brewhouse just up the road).

Instead of chemicals, the new racking machine also uses steam to clean and sanitize. And Caldera just hired a full-time maintenance man from Darigold, the massive dairy agricultural co-op based in Seattle. “He's extremely informative,” Benson said, “so he's able to further reduce energy use throughout all of our systems. He knows everything about everything.”

The brewery and its restaurant are surrounded with xeriscape flora (shadowed by the Siskiyou Mountains, Ashland receives just 20 inches of yearly rain). Of the Ashland sunshine, Caldera takes full advantage with its many brewhouse windows, slimming the need for electric light.

Solar panels are slated for the brewery roof. Indoor infrastructure for the panels is already installed; the panels will go up top once proper funds are secured, likely within two years, Benson said.

If you're seated at one of Caldera's two Ashland bars, the beer you're drinking was poured when your barkeep pulled a tap handle made of hardwood scrap. The wood (ash, of course) came from Sawyer Paddles & Oars, located up the road in Gold Hill, along the banks of the fabled Rogue River, a wellspring for southern Oregon fun.

The Ashland Watershed itself is a burgeoning outdoor playground—a sibling of Bend, if you will.

Benson: "As you can see around the top of our cans, it reads Go Boarding, Go Rafting, Go Biking, Go Fishing, Go Skiing—this ties in with being able to take a six-pack with you when you go someplace where glass isn't allowed.”

Caldera is donating funds to help fight the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline project, a proposal that would allow Canada's Veresen Inc. to lay 232 miles of 36-inch pipe to move up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day from Malin, Ore., to a LNG terminal in Coos Bay, where the natural gas would be liquefied and shipped to Asia. While the pipe wouldn't actually pass through Ashland, it would come close enough, and most of the town’s 21,000 oppose the project.

"Ashland is a green, liberal place, so we fit in well,” Benson said, smiling. "We support its community as much as we can. It's a good marriage—we're right for each other."

 

Caldera Brewing Company

590 Clover Lane (brewery/restaurant); 31 Water Street (tap house), Ashland, Oregon

541-482-HOPS

calderabrewing.com

Dawn to Dusk — Summer Synergy in South Iceland

By Michael Kew

Photo: Chris Burkard/Massif.

THE PREMISE: Nordic daylight.

July 2015: winter is miles behind. Gravity steers the flowy drift of our American caravan, which includes two rock climbers (Chris Sharma, Paul Robinson) and two surfers (Chadd Konig, Anna Ehrgott).

Iceland is flawed, especially midsummer. The North Atlantic is never sure. Clouds balloon and spit, winds scour the surf, rains grease the roads. But, photogenically, Iceland is a catwalk: rainbowed waterfalls, steaming lava fields, bergs melting into black-sand beaches.

So, into the matrix we creep. Long shades of delirium. Neoprened hands, dipped, flexing chalked fingertips.

Typically with more snow than shine, Chris Burkard has deplaned in Iceland 20 times, usually pointing his Sony lens and rented Land Rover north from Keflavík International, in winter, in volcanic freeze, in doomsday whiteout.

"There’s no such thing as bad weather," he once told me. "Just soft people and poor clothing."

Today, post-restorative post-flight surf near the airstrip, Burkard's cerebral compass swings south-by-southeast. Ring Road to Porlakshofn, a valued port town, home of Iceland's premier south-coast pointbreak, where we tickle waves, wee and baby-soft, at 3 a.m.

Ehrgott's longboard? Boon.

She: "Mornings came too early but those small-wave days were illuminated by the golden sun, hovering on the horizon. Everything seemed more epic backed by the volcanic peaks, which refuged the retreated snow in the 'warm' months."

Iceland broods at 65°N latitude, between Greenland and Norway, north of Shetland, south of Jan Mayen. An active quadrant.

Sunny? Sometimes.

She: "Didn't feel like daylight ever came or went. The depths of our minds expanded and took the place of external experience."

Gravity sucked us in.

And driving. Lots of that.

Past Porlakshofn was the enchanted village of Vík í Mýrdal (“Bay of the Marshy Valley,” population 300), Iceland’s southernmost and rainiest outpost, home to hard-hitting beachbreaks and the island's most active swell window. Not a bad place to hang for a while. Nearby, a river fed ice to a gravel rivermouth sandbar, offspring of eons of volcanic spew onto the youngest land on Earth (Iceland is constantly evolving). Only thing missing was a wavetrain of surfable size—unless you were one of Iceland’s elves, gnomes, or fairies.

Sharma: "It felt like the edge of the earth."

Vik actually is the edge of the earth until, if you head straight south, narrowly missing West Africa and the South Sandwich Islands, you reach Antarctica's Queen Maud Land. We didn't do that.

Weekday 11 p.m. light revealed another punchy beachbreak near a 9th-century relic of sheep paddocks and cement cube homes on a desolate fringe. From afar it looked good—the cold north wind massaging southern windswell into something pretty.

Konig felt homely in Iceland, twisting his thin vegan frame into thick Matuse wetsuits to carve and jive on his alaia or canary-yellow 6'8" single-fin in low dawn hues of citrus. In the 10°C sea, he also bodysurfed.

Nobody bodysurfs in Iceland.

He: "Summer there is incredible because you can just keep going and going and going. It never gets dark, which makes the potential for seeing the country so infinite. You enter this state of 'twilight zone'—delirium and excitement. It doesn't feel like Earth. You're on another planet.

"The landscape is deafening. Often, my mind was so utterly clear—no thoughts whatsoever, because the landscapes were so consuming. They just take you. It's rare that a place grips you so strongly that you can't even make thoughts in your mind."

Midnight sun. Photo: Burkard/Massif.

THE REALITY: Rock climbing and surfing.

Different?

Pursuits of raw canvas.

Moods of nature.

"Surfing, like climbing, is hard to fit it into the box of a conventional sport," Sharma will tell you. "For me, it’s a lifestyle, and it was nice to connect with people from different walks of life who share that feeling. Chadd and Anna knew very little about climbing, but what struck me was how easy they were to relate to. One of the cool things about getting to spend time with them was realizing how similar our lifestyles and outlooks on life and our respective sports are."

Bouldering is nose-riding. Paddling is gripping. Cold, gray waves are moving rocks. Rocks are naked reefs. In Iceland, new rocks and reefs are born constantly. The island is an infant.

Midnight-sun pointbreak rights parlay to 4 a.m. cliff ascents, namely on nameless roadside basalt and other vertical meters.

All said, Iceland will not be hosting an IFSC World Championship in 2016.

"For rock climbing, I wouldn't say the area was bad," Robinson said. "I think it was more the bad weather that plagued our trip and made it hard to stay motivated."

Iceland is not a chief rock-climbing destination as the rock tends to be crumbly and insecure. Earth's most basic kind of rock is igneous (often called “volcanic”), rock that is formed from cooled magma beneath the earth’s surface. As Iceland is young geologically and barely eroded, its volcanic rock dominates.

"Icelandic climbing is pretty unique," Robinson said. "It is very much undeveloped, and I am sure there is room for so much more potential. It was cool to see an area in such an early stage in its development."

"And to step off the beaten track of the usual climbing circuit and do something different," Sharma added.

One good spot was Skaftafell, in south Iceland's Vatnajokull National Park, where the average July temperature is 10–13°C. Warm days can reach 20–25°C. (For us, this did not occur.)

With both cliffs and boulders, there are more than 130 bolted runs in Skaftafell, ranging in difficulty from 5.10 through all levels of 5.13. Inject a high number of technical bouldering routes, and it's clear to the casual non-climber why nylon camping tents are pitched here for the whole of Iceland's short summers.

"We found some sweet boulders," Sharma said "I’d never climbed on rock quite like that before, so I savored the unique experience, even though I did freeze my ass off."

Towering over grassy meadows, Hnappavellir is Iceland's largest, most popular climbing area, a summertime mecca for climbers who are rewarded with high-quality rock and sublime views.

"Huge mountains ending on deserted black-sand beaches and beautiful granite boulders perched just above raging surf without a person in sight," Sharma said. "It was all very dreamy until we got out of the car and were knocked over by an 85-mph gust of wind."

The men also summited in Höfn, where the crew narrowly missed attending the town's yearly Humarhátíð (lobster festival).

Fresh seafood aside, Robinson said, "there are hidden treasures to be found around every corner. Huge waterfalls, secret pointbreaks, boulders to climb that have never been scaled before; Iceland offers some of the most incredible scenery and landscape with a plethora of things. The pristine nature of the island and its mystical setting was the perfect backdrop to some pretty awesome outdoor experiences. Basically a surreal, amazing land."

Surfing is climbing; climbing is surfing.

Nordic bliss? When daylight never sleeps.

Photo: Burkard/Massif.

7 Devils: The Carmen & Annie Show

By Michael Kew

Photo: Kew.

BEFORE THEY FIRST MET, both homebrewed alone.

Both longed for a Coos Bay brewery.

Both spent months crafting crude sculptures in a ceramics class at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

“Yeah, he doesn't remember me from that," Annie Pollard told me amid light January rain outside the 7 Devils brewpub. “I was never gutsy enough to talk to him. I was afraid I'd get rejected."

Apparently, the dude didn't date much.

Year was 2003. Running a Dutch Bros. Coffee shop, Carmen Matthews toiled the grind—literally. Self-defined as “very picky," he’d been single for a while.

"I didn't know Annie was in that class because she was hiding from me," he said with a smirk. "She was a wallflower, and I was schmoozing with all the older ladies.”

By 2007, Pollard was a grad student, grokking marine bio at the University of Oregon campus in Charleston, where Matthews lived, nine miles west of downtown Coos Bay.

Destiny?

"We'd cross paths, but he still didn't know who I was. I kept seeing him because he was in a band and he worked at Dutch Bros. and he volunteered everywhere. Finally, I told my friends that I had a crush."

A mutual friend threw a bash.

"We were all hanging out in a room," Matthews said. "Suddenly, everyone evacuated…except Annie and I."

Pollard: "Our friends shut the doors on purpose and leaned on them so we couldn't get out."

"They were all in on the plan to get us together!" Matthews said, laughing. "Just lock 'em in a room....But it worked! By the end of the party, we were on the couch, awkwardly making out like teenagers."

Within a year, they’d domesticated in Charleston. Next came the 7 Devils seed and many odd jobs, including seasonal gigs in Alaska and Antarctica, where Pollard researched penguins—and from where, in February 2012, she flew to meet Matthews for their Kauai beach wedding.

They hadn't seen each other for 90 days.

"I'd fallen on ice and broken a tooth," Pollard said, chuckling at the memory. "I had Carmen bring me the dress and the jewelry. He planned the whole wedding—I just showed up! It was awesome."

Matthew's dad performed the ceremony. Barbecue and a classic Hawaiian sunset.

"It was super romantic," Matthews said, winking.

But today, four years on…how's the love going, guys?

"We have two relationships," Pollard said. "We're business partners, and we're life partners. If you let it, the business side will dominate—you've got to make sure that doesn't happen. In the first couple of years, the business side (of 7 Devils) was so all-consuming for us, and it was hard, but now that things are in place, our personal life is flourishing again. It's nice." (smiles)

We three were chatting two days after the two brewers had returned from a well-deserved stint on the Big Island, where, mentally, 7 Devils did not exist.

"I barely knew that I owned a brewery," Matthews said. "We're good about 'turning it off' when we’re out of town.”

What about while in town?

“We'll be at home having dinner, or sitting next to the fire, and we end up talking about work,” he admitted. “That can be a little bit of a cloud over the evening. We don't want to talk about work all the time, so we have to be really conscientious about focusing on each other and our relationship and our hopes and dreams beyond the brewery."

They balance each other out, he assured.

“I'm a spender, Annie's a saver—you would think that would cause a lot of clashes, but we've met in the middle. And when Annie is stressed out, I know exactly why, and vice versa. It's easier to be sympathetic. There's more understanding because you know where your mate is coming from.”

“Not all business partners are good business partners," Pollard said, "but because we were excellent life partners, we had a good chance of being good business partners. If we can work with money together, travel together, and sleep in a van together, we can run a brewery together."

"But the brewery isn’t our only baby," Matthews said, grinning.

The couple is due to birth a girl in July—7 Devils' busiest month.

"I'm a little terrified about the timing," Pollard said. "And I won't get to take maternity leave."

"It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out," Matthews said. "We're really excited."

"Yeah," Pollard laughed. “We're gonna need a bassinet in the brewhouse."

Photo: Kew.

7 Devils Brewing Company

247 South 2nd St., Coos Bay, Ore.

541-808-3738

7devilsbrewery.com

Interview: Jim Banks

By Michael Kew

Jim Banks, happy he stayed home. Uluwatu, 2015.

Few folks can thrust you into your stash of Google Earthed screenshots. That A-frame peak near the fishing village. Those three lefts fronting dense jungle. These two reefs pinching that small port entrance.

Hey, Jim—is this one a sand point?

Banks knows. He’s scouted it. Likely surfed it. He can take you there.

Rather, he could have.

Since age 17, Banks has been gripped by Indonesia’s surf wealth. Now 56, he lives at Uluwatu, light years from his urban Sydney youth and its brief pro-surf stint which, in 1980, found him ranked 14th in the world. That year, he won the OM Bali Pro. Also the same year he left competition to focus on his self-shaped boards, testing them at cryptic reefs like Grajagan and Desert Point.

In 2009, full of lore, he launched the Indo Odyssey, a peripatetic, continuous, beyond-the-box surf charter. Bali-based, the Odyssey was six years of wander and wonder, shuffling punters atop ocean wilderness to question marks and proverbial stones-unturned, to proven swell-magnets and isolated old-faithfuls, most with no land access. The archipelago’s surf seemed limitless, its quality superb, crowds an impossibility.

Back in Denpasar, a superlative confetti of “Best ever!” and “Amazing!” blessed Banks and crew before they pressed Pause, posted diaries and dreamy lineups online, provisioned, collected new guests, and hit Repeat. From Aceh to Rote, the Odyssey roamed wild.

Last June, after another sublime run, Banks pressed Stop. Midway through his 40th Indo season, the Odyssey was over. —Michael Kew

 

 

Michael: Owning no vessel, how did you swing the charters?

Jim: I leased boats, which was always an issue of getting other peoples’ boats up to speed, or dealing with boats that hadn’t been looked after properly. I’d have to carry the responsibility of that. It was tedious. But I’ve still got a customer base—I still have the mailing list—and there are a few guys who say they’d really like to do some more trips. It’s quite possible that, in the future, if I come across a boat I can trust and is ready to go, I might do a few under-the-radar trips. Not advertised. I’d just contact my customer base directly and do a few sneaky trips here and there.

 

Michael: Was yours the only charter business dedicated to such remote exploration?

Jim: No one was doing the entire Indonesia coastline like we were. Probably 99 percent of the boats were running out of Padang and doing the Mentawais and the Telos. There are a few boats in the Banyaks, and there are a few out of Bali doing Sumbawa and Lombok. I think there’s one boat down in Rote, doing some trips. Everyone is pretty localized.

 

Michael: Conversely, you were combing distant swaths and finding dozens of new spots.

Jim: Yeah, that’s right. Some of the places we would visit, I was curious and I would go in and talk to the villagers and ask them if they’d seen surfing before. They’d say, “Yeah, there was a boat here last year,’” and I’d say, “Oh, that was us!” (laughs) We were the first to surf at a lot of spots. At some of the best waves we found, we would pull up to within 50 meters behind a couple of places in particular, and everyone on the boat would say, “Oh, bummer—no surf.” You couldn’t see the wave, even from 50 meters behind. I’m pretty sure no one else has surfed those spots.

 

Michael: What zone has the highest concentration of great waves?

Jim: You’d have to give it to the Mentawais. For the level of quality and conditions, that place is pretty hard to beat. West Sumbawa is also good, but it’s busy now.

 

Michael: What about the Odyssey has surprised you the most?

Jim: I’m amazed that a lot of the places we went to are still under the radar. That was always the dilemma for me—how do I promote these trips without giving away the locations of the surf spots? I had always hoped, when I started doing the charters, that I would have enough interest from my own customer base to fill the trips without having to really market or advertise them. Didn’t work out that way. At the end of the day, though, I have other things I’d rather do. I prefer to be hands-on—I like making stuff. I really like building guitars, so I want to get seriously into that. Right now I’m only geared up for electrics, but probably (this) year I’ll be geared up to make acoustics again. It’s another one of those professions where you get paid miserably for an amazing amount of skill and knowledge.

 

Michael: Like surfboard shaping.

Jim: Exactly! (laughs)

 

Michael: Why stop the Odyssey?

Jim: I’m not really a business guy. The whole thing started off as an adventure, but like so many great ideas, they just end up turning into businesses. It became very stressful trying to keep boats running, chasing customers, and filling seats. A massive amount of risk for pretty low financial return. We found a lot of amazing waves, and yet it was still difficult to fill seats! I came to realize that most surfers aren’t very adventurous. They want it all guaranteed and packaged—a TV dinner, you know? Unfortunately, it’s sad but true. I went through a stage thinking we weren’t finding good enough surf, but then I went to Sydney and I went to the beach and I looked at what people were surfing, and I thought, “Yeah, we’re finding amazing surf.” It used to completely baffle me—we’d have people inquiring about a trip, and they’d want to go to the Mentawais, which would’ve been a waste of time. I could take them to amazing surf with no one around. Such a rare opportunity, because in 10 or 20 years, maybe there will be people around. I used to surf Desert Point by myself. During this last swell, there were 200 people in the water. I used to surf Uluwatu by myself, G-Land by myself, Nihiwatu by myself—all these places. I could tell that some of the spots like Ulus and G-Land were going to get busy, but I actually believed that Desert Point wouldn’t. It’s hard to get to, it’s fickle, and the average surfer probably doesn’t really want a wave like that. I was completely wrong. (laughs)

Whims of Winter

By Michael Kew

Crab boat, southern Oregon, January 2016. Photo: Kew.

"THEY MIGHT AS WELL stick me into the gas chamber, because they’ve already taken my fuckin’ life away.”

Scowling, Donnie squirts the deck of his fiberglass skiff with a garden hose, washing away the mud, sand, seaweed scraps, and baby starfish—residues from another day at sea, combing the fathoms and sinking lines. Squatting in his homemade boat next to Donnie’s, Bill lifts Dungeness crabs, one-by-one, from his boat box and sets them into a five-gallon bucket of saltwater. The crabs are still alive and clawing, drawn from deep water a mile or two offshore.

The men are spent. Long hours exhausted for subsistence, a thankless task almost extinct along this isolated fetch of coast.

“A lawyer was down here yesterday,” Donnie says through his woolly, Irish-orange beard. “I showed him all the paperwork. He just looked at me and said, ‘Well, you’re screwed!’”

“There’s guys up on the hill that still have salmon boats,” Bill says. “Keepin’ their permits, just hopin’ they can go back to fishin’ someday, but—”

“Prayin’ that this insanity goes away,” Donnie bellows, shaking his head. “Those big dragnetters are the real problem. They control it, they make the legislation, they make the laws that control themselves, and they’re runnin’ us outta business doin’ it.”

Donnie and Bill’s humble hook-and-line method elicits the least environmental impact out of all levels of commercial fishing, a glaring irony considering the men endure the stiffest quota cutbacks. Previous monthly allotment for 6,000 pounds of yellowtail now limited to just 200. Salmon fishing restricted to September, when there are few salmon here. Crab limits decimated. Bottom fish quotas severed, then again. And again.

“If you added up all the species they say we could have,” Donnie continues, “there’d be thousands of pounds, but it’s not all stuff that we use. It’s not all stuff we have access to."

Like loggers and miners, commercial fishermen lie at the mercy of know-it-all bureaucrats and whims of nature.

“We’ve got just enough crab to keep us goin’ this year,” Bill says, “but every year, you go through the doldrums and the disappointment of not makin’ enough money, and you think about getting out of it and you try thinkin’ about doin’ somethin’ that would be better, you know?”

Shit, he says—times have changed.

“Lots of times, I don’t want to go out and fish. Once you start letting yourself talk yourself out of going, it just gets easier and easier to find reasons not to go.”

Donnie leaves, leaving Bill to tinker with his boat alone in the forlorn marina.

“All you can do is sit around and bitch about it, waitin’ until they take it all." He shrugs. “Just wearin’ us down, you know? I’m gonna quit here one of these days, but not until I have to. I don’t really know much else, but I’ll find something...."

 

(Originally written in 2000.)

River Runs — A Chetco Effect

By Michael Kew

Members of Chetco Running Club at last year's Oktoberfest 5K in Brookings.

I REALLY NEED EXERCISE.

An early-December Tuesday. Raining. It’s been raining—hard. I've been sedentary since Friday. I need to sweat—outside.

Afternoon comes. A rift in the clouds.

A window?

Ooh. I like windows.

And so, from Brookings, I drive up along the north bank of the River Chetco, flowing fast and fat, wide acres of murky brown embossed with wispy-white rapids and swirling eddies, poked with driftwood beneath a sky of polished lead.

I stop at Loeb State Park. Its air speaks of moss and camphor. Its evergreens contrast the deciduous hardwoods, wind-stripped of their summer grandeur, now pretty, pre-winter groundcover amid salal and salmonberry.

The Riverview and Redwood Nature trails are two gems that seem custom-built for jogging. They thread several streams tumbling loudly to the Chetco, 56 scenic miles of river born deep in the Kalmiopsis, a wilderness area in the Klamath Mountains of southwestern Oregon.

I run the moist myrtle-to-redwood-to-myrtle loop. Later, back at the trailhead, I’m thirsty. And naturally so. The swollen Chetco is front-and-center. Indeed, some of that cold rainwater will become delicious beer that I and many others will drink in the months to come.

Five hours later, I'm warm and dry in Chetco Brewing Company's snug taproom, feeling fit with a pint of award-winning Block & Tackle Stout. The beer was made with river water in a repurposed home garage mere yards from the Chetco itself, three miles from where it empties into the Pacific, two miles from the intake station that draws fresh water for Brookings and Harbor.

With me are seven members of Chetco Running Club, launched in September 2015. (The brewery was founded in 2011.)

"Welcome to the clubhouse!" brewmaster Mike Frederick says merrily, clinking his glass against mine. A bearded, beatific human who also owns a massage practice, Frederick is thrilled to make tracks again.

"I used to do a lot of running in Minnesota and down in Los Angeles, but I sort of stopped when we moved to Oregon—we were so busy with other things, and I kept thinking I didn't have enough time."

But the popularity of his beer made a taproom imminent. When a clean, 768-square-foot space surfaced in early 2015, Frederick and his wife, Alex, wasted no time. Now, a year later, it's more than a quaint bar with a long beer menu.

"We had always wanted to be deeply involved in our community," Frederick says after a sip of IPA. "Providing jobs, hosting local musicians, supporting charities—stuff like that. I'd looked at several breweries that did different types of community involvement, and a couple of them, like Nevada’s Great Basin, had a running club. I thought that was a fantastic idea.

“When we finally got the taproom going, we were more in touch directly with the community, so I said, 'Let's start a running club, because then I'll have to run!'" (laughs)

Having weekly group runs in and around town, usually on Mondays evenings, the club has also participated in a couple of 10Ks, and there was the official Chetco Brewing 5K held during 2015's rainy Oktoberfest in the middle of Brookings. "It was so great to have our small town draw a high number of enthusiastic runners of all levels," runner/taproom beertender Loretta Alcala says.

"And some of them are brutally competitive," Frederick says with a wink.

Overall, he wants the club to evolve and be as welcoming as it possibly can. "Anybody—anybody—can join,” he says. “If you're 80 years old and can walk a block, you should be able to do this. People who want to run a marathon should be able to do this."

In the future, Chetco Running Club would like to flourish for trail excursions, half-marathons, marathons, triathlons, and to be a team in events like the Wild Rogue Relay and the Warrior Dash, a 5K obstacle course.

"We can make one of those," Frederick says.

"We could have an awesomely muddy event here," runner Diana VaVerka adds. "We get enough rain, right?"

VaVerka is the group’s newest recruit.

"Running is such a culture of its own, and it can take some sort of level of insanity to truly enjoy it," she continues. "It's really nice to meet people who can share that level of insanity, and it keeps you sane!"

"It gives us something to look forward to,” Alcala says. “It keeps us accountable. It's social. There are people around here who want to be active outside."

"Yup,” runner Jackie Knudsen says, “and if you find someone you can compete with, it helps you improve, because you're always better or worse than someone else.”

"What's the connection between beer and the whole group athletic effort?" I ask.

"It's our motivation to run!" runner April Smith jokes.

"Yeah—we run, and then we get to come here and drink," Alcala says, grinning with her pint of porter.

But isn’t that detrimental to our good health?

Table consensus: Nope.

Not at all.

"Beer is not an unhealthy thing," Frederick says with sincerity. "For example, silicon builds stronger bones, and the lupulin from hops helps to prevent cancer.

"But, bottom line, anything that can be used to bring people together for a positive cause? That's the best health benefit in all of this."

I look at the dark beer in my hand; I think of my earlier jog. Two pursuits of mind, of exercise, of satisfaction, of well-being. Two concepts of joy, two things widely loved. I am here because of them.

Frederick? He's right.

Welcome to the Club.

 

Chetco Brewing Co., 927 Chetco Ave., Brookings, Ore., 541-661-5347, chetcobrew.com

Coastal Terroir

By Michael Kew

Near Cape Sebastian State Park. Photo: Kew.

"THAT GUY? HE'LL SHOOT YOU," Rick says with a laugh. “He takes trespassing seriously. His brother’s even crazier.”

Grayly mustachioed and a bit bald, Rick (not his real name) is a general contractor. He’s tired—long day at the jobsite. We lean against our car hoods in the potholed parking lot. Light east wind cools our backs, and up the beach, near those rocks, the waves look fun—head-high lefts, glassy, shared by a crowd of three.

Filtered by shreds of purply-pink cirrus, the February sun sinks toward the sea. Lately there’ve been several scenic descents, high pressure ruling the American west. Oregon’s coast, often stormy, has received scant rain this winter. No snowpack in the mountains. A drought, officially.

 “Want some?” I ask Rick, yanking the cork from my clear glass 750ml bottle of St. George Terroir gin. Along with whisky, I’d had it shipped to his daughter at their beachfront home, just past the state line. The gin isn’t sold in Oregon, and my online booze merchant won’t mail spirits to Oregon, so this was a minor case of smuggling, you might say.

“No thanks, man. Half a beer gets me drunk.”

A male gull lands on the sand, squawking at us.

“Dinnertime—gotta go!”

Grinning, Rick slides into his gray pickup and drives off, leaving me with psychedelic dusk pastels and questions about a piece of coast we’d discussed. I’d fessed to one recent day exiting Highway 101 for a narrow dirt track, normally blocked by a chicken wire gate festooned with signs: Private Property, Private Road, No Trespassing, No Hunting, No Parking, No Beach Access, Keep Out.

That day, the gate was open. Slowly I drove onto the track, actually a muddy rut. Fifty yards in, paranoia and guilt sparked an eight-point U-turn amid tall Sitka spruce.

On a map, the track winds west to a few rocky points and coves backed by cliffs and dense forest, with a few homes amongst the trees. Walking to the beach from the north or south is impossible due to impassable headlands, even at minus tides. Except by long-distance paddling or boating in or getting permission from the ornery landowner, there is no way to sit and wax one’s board on that surfy stretch of beach, despite it being public property.

“Maybe you can just parachute down there?” Rick had joked. “Or wear a wingsuit?”

“I couldn’t leave after surfing.”

“A jetpack? Could get up and out with one of those.”

Got me thinking about this, “the people’s coast,” dubbed such in 1913 by Democrat Oregon Gov. Oswald West, a public-lands advocate. West decided the 363 miles of beach between California and the Columbia River formed a public “highway” up to the high-tide line, aka the “wet sand” zone.

“No local selfish interest,” he said, “should be permitted, through politics or otherwise, to destroy or even impair this great birthright of our people.”

But a flaw hung high in that cool Pacific breeze—West had defined public domain as only up to the high-water mark. So, in the heady 1960s, after more than 50 years of public beach use, commercial developers began to rebel, claiming the “dry sand” zone—that is, unaffected by the highest of tides—belonged to adjacent landowners, who were entitled to rule their property down to the water’s edge, including fence-building for beach privatization (which actually happened in front of Cannon Beach’s Surfsand Resort).

Farewell to kite-flying and shell-collecting and sand castle-building? Hello to House Bill 1601, a front-page-news bid to save all Oregon beaches for public recreational use. The bill was the big issue of 1967’s legislative session and, to this day, drew the greatest public response to any topic in Oregon’s 170-year legislative history.

On July 6, calling it “one of the most far-reaching measures of its kind enacted by any legislative body in the nation,” iconic Republican Oregon Gov. Tom McCall signed the Beach Bill amid much pomp. Passing 57-3, it granted public free-reign from the low-water mark to the vegetation line, which McCall, a fervid greenie, studied and deduced to be 16 feet above sea level.

“Today, such things are nearly impossible to accomplish since coastal land has become so valuable,” Surfrider Foundation attorney Mark Massara recently told me. “Property owners are better organized and have more money to fight. Think about how desolate and unpopulated Oregon’s coast was in 1967—the good ol’ days, for sure.”

Forty-eight years on, though, of the 23 U.S. states that touch an ocean, Oregon still owns the best legal policies for coastal access that doesn’t require a jetpack or parachute. And with no boat or paddleboard, here at twilight at this very public beach, I glance down at the bottle in my hand, wondering if I might never surf one particular fetch unless I make nice with its landowner. Because I’d rather not get shot.

Hearing the thumping and sighing of the surf, I can’t help but think: Maybe the guy likes gin?