Story last updated at 12/5/2012 - 2:13 pm
When people think of Southeast Alaska they think cold, glaciers, forests - lots of nature. Surfing isn't something that people associate with Alaska, but that's not stopping dedicated surfers that find themselves away from warm climates with strong waves.
Neil Nickerson, owner of Blue Nose Surf in Juneau, said there are about 20 people in Juneau regularly surfing the waves out-the-road. The three most common spots are Lena Beach, The Shrine of St. Therese, and Eagle Beach.
"Those are kind of the regular spots," Nickerson said. "We keep looking around for more. Each of them breaks differently on the tide. With our short days, there may only be one opportunity. It depends. There's definitely getting to be some regulars now that are out there."
Nickerson moved to Juneau from Hawaii, where he got to surf 5-6 times a week for four years. He said the people who surf in Juneau have learned to do so elsewhere.
"Some of them have come from Yakutat, they all have learned to surf somewhere else," he said. "They crave it. They're excited to learn they can surf here. We thought there was no surf, but then we figured it out."
Surfers here still wear wetsuits, albeit thick ones. It may sound cold - hey, the air temp is 20 degrees how could the water not feel cold, right? Nickerson said the modern wetsuit is amazing. He said his hands might get cold, and his feet might get cold but his body has never been cold from this.
"No one believes it 'til they get one on and get in the water," he said.
Surfing only happens from October to March, when the winds pick up.
"Only when we get the strong north winds," Nickerson said. "So we watch the winds at Eldred Rock. When it's starting to reach 35 knots it starts getting good. When it hits 50-70 knots we really start getting excited."
Nickerson said even though they've found the surf here, it still doesn't compare to surfing in warmer climates - more obvious surfing grounds.
"Up here all we get are wind waves, so they never have as much power," Nickerson said. "We take what we can get. Surfers in Juneau, we're frustrated we didn't have any surf. Now that we've found it, we take what we can get. When we get good surf at Lena Beach, it's as good as any small surf day in California."
But, there's still dedication to the sport. Nickerson said it's got a fair following throughout the state. He estimated 20 people in Juneau participate, 40-60 in Sitka, even more I Kodiak, 20-40 in Homer.
"There's little pockets of surfers all over the place," Nickerson said.
Blue Nose Surf has offered surfing gear rentals and stand-up surf paddling classes/trips, but Nickerson wants to add surf lessons to that.
"We're also trying to organize boat trips in the summer," he said. "To the outer coast so that we can surf year round. Definitely it's been fun getting going, passing the word to people. More people are getting interested and starting to do it. We even have some people starting to make their own surfboards. It gets really cold and most people hate the wind, but we start getting excited when it gets windy like this."
He's also set up a "surf report network" that utilizes text messaging and email to alert people when the surf's up.
For more information contact Nickerson at firstname.lastname@example.org or find the business on facebook.
Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at email@example.com.