The storms are back. A sure sign that winter is coming here in Alaska. If you are fortunate enough to be at the receiving end of one of those 26ft swell blobs moving across the gulf count yourself lucky. Here in Homer it’s blowing rain onshore with a knee high chop. A good day to put together a new post for SurfAlaska.net.
This summer Surf Alaska follower Steve Howze made a trip to Yakutat from his home in the greater Anchorage area in search of swell. He was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions for me and share what he learned about surfing Yakutat, Alaska on his trip.
Take it away Steve.
I learned to surf at Galveston. Started by riding air mats in the surf about 1965. It was the Beach Boy era. I idolized the guys riding the old pig boards with wood skegs at the jetties. Around 1967, I started riding surfboards. In 1968 I got my first board, which was a 9 ft 2 Dewey Weber Feather, a performance longboard produced at the end of the longboard era.
I have surfed a lot of breaks over the last 45 years. I surfed padre island in Texas, surfed and lived in Florida from Coco Beach to Sebastian Inlet. Surfed and lived in North Carolina, Wrightsville Beach, and the outer banks. Rhode Island, Cape Code, Maryland. I surfed in Mexico a lot – San Blas, Matachen Bay, Petacaulco, Ticla, Cabo San Lucas and Rio Nexpa. I surfed and lived in California – San Diego, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Blacks, Laguna Beach, Cottons Point, Huntington Beach, South Bay, Malibu, Pismo Beach, Big Sur and The Ranch. I traveled to Europe to surf at Hossegor, Biarritz, and Mundaca. And spent four winters and three summers in Hawaii, mostly on the north shore of Hawaii surfing Haleiwa, Lanis, Jockos, Sunset Beach, Off the Wall, small Pipeline, Mokulea, Pyramid Rock, South Shore. I spent one winter on Kauai, surfing Cannons and Tunnels.
From 1988-2006 I dropped out of surfing and skiied. I missed surfing too much so I started again in ‘06.
Last year was my first surfing in Alaska. I’ve surfed Kodiak, Kenai at Bear Glacier, and Yakutat. The best wave for me in Alaska yet was at Pasagshak Beach on Kodiak. My favorite Alaskan surf break is Bear Glacier on the Kenai. Of course, Yakutat has some great breaks too.
I surf a funboard, a thick and wide 7 ft 2 mini longboard and will surf almost anything except knee high wind chop. I’ve surfed big waves on the north shore many times, often bigger than double overhead. However, in my old age I prefer mushy big waves, since I don’t know how long I can hold my breath if I go over the falls.
I just returned from a month in Yakutat, mid july to mid august, which is not Yakutat’s prime surf season. However, I was tent camping and wanted the weather to be warm. In summer the swell is a bit small to break inside the cape. The summer surf is usually at the more exposed breaks on the oceanside of the cape, like Cannons Beach. I scored some good waves, and probably surfed 3 or 4 days a week. Yakutat can be challenging, because it gets a lot of swells, but some of the swell is short period, and the wind is onshore. Also, the tide varies a lot, as much as 20 ft from high to low, so if you snooze you lose. All the conditions are variable. It takes a car for surf checks and good local knowledge to score good waves in Yakutat. Although some spots are very predictable. Weather band radio is helpful.
Yakutat seems to have waves almost everyday, but they’re not always good waves. The best part was the 57 degree water in mid august.
[Editors Note: The following paragraph has been edited after publishing to preserve anonymity of some surfers but still share Steve’s experience]
Some of the better surf spots in Yakutat are getting crowded. A lot of seasonal workers have learned to surf and take off work whenever the surf is good. The better ones are rather territorial. They take a lot of waves, and shoulder hopped me. Even AK can get localized.
[Editors Note: Steve also shared that he was threatened with being kicked out of his campsite which he connected with local surfers being territorial. I’ve received comments from others informing me that it’s a National Forest rule that you can only stay in a campsite for a maximum of two weeks and the forest service receives complaints from Yakutat residents occasionally when this rule is not adhered to. I wanted to share that Steve’s experience with the locals was not all positive during his visit. Please remember that this is one surfer’s experience and is not meant to be a perfectly objective and unbiased description of surfing in Yakutat. I hope you can enjoy it for what it is and be open to your own experience if you ever get to surf Yakutat.]
I took the ferry over this summer. I had my car and my full camping outfit, six man tent, cot, mattress, heater and sun shower. I stayed at the forest service campground. The weather was really warm for Alaska and it was great camping with the usual rain storms that were warm. Yakutat has scores of Brown Bears and it’s necessary to keep a clean camp unless you want to deal with a hungry brown bear. I had one night time visit, but no problems. It might be tough to sleep in a tent if your really terrified of bears. I would not sleep in a little two man tent cause the bears pounce on those tents.
A ferry round trip can be done in about a one week period, and costs about $700. It’s the best value, because lodging, car rental, and airfare is expensive.
Yakutat has world class wildlife watching. I was always surfing with whales, sea lions, and seals. The place is beautiful on a sunny day, especially Ocean Cape. Be aware though that ocean cape belongs to the Yakutat Klingits, so camp at the forest service campground.
Some people fly in then backpack camp at the forest service campground but they are stuck at Cannons Beach, which might be okay in summer. You would get waves with onshore conditions at a minimum. The cannon waves break best at high tide around the rip channels.
I wasn’t aware of any Yakutat secret spots. It took me awhile to learn the location of some of the breaks. I had Boilers and Point Carew mixed up so it took me a long time to finally locate Point Carew. It requires a drive on the sand and it’s possible to get stuck. Never try to drive around the cape, visiting surfers get their rentals stuck in the big water holes on the single lane dirt road, and have to spend the night with the brown bears. Cape Yakutat has a number of surf spots located around the peninsula. Including Cannons Beach, Snappers, Sandys, Boilers, Point Carrew, Graveyards. Sand comes and goes with the big winter swells, so the breaks change with the seasons, more sand in summer.
The best break in Yakutat usually had about 8 surfers on a good day. I heard it gets as many as 15 surfers and SUPs. It’s less crowded than Malibu, anyway. Much of the time I surfed by myself at breaks like snappers or cannons beach.
My board is a thick wide 7ft 2 mini longboard. The short period waves can be a little mushy, so take a board that planes well in mushy surf. My Yakutat wetsuit was a 5/4/3, used without gloves or hood in august.
If a visiting surfer needs info then Jack Endicott has the local Icy Waves surf shop. He is a former weather man, knows a lot, and is helpful to visiting surfers.
Well that’s about it. I really enjoyed Yakutat most of the time and highly recommend it, even in summer, as a good destination for Alaskan surfers.
Thank you Steve!