Saturday, December 06, 2008

Surf's Up In Yakutat, Alaska; Twenty-Foot Waves Greeted Moviemaker Tony Harrington And Crew On November 29th

If you made a list of places to go surfing, I'll bet Alaska would never appear on your list. But adventure surfers actually consider the Southeast Alaskan community of Yakutat (map HERE), with 680 or so full-time residents, a regular stop on their circuit. According to Yakutat resident Jack Endicott, who runs the Icy Waves Surf Shop in town, adventure surfers visit every summer to ride the Southeast coast's rather modest six-to-eight-foot waves. Pictured above left, 18,008 ft Mt. St Elias visible from Yakutat Bay.

But on November 29th, 2008, a group of adventure surfers led by Australian-born moviemaker Tony Harrington hit the jackpot, as a series of 15-to-20 foot waves rolled into the bay. One wave even topped out at 23 feet. A lengthy story of the experience is published in the Anchorage Daily News. ADN also provides a series of four photos HERE.

Harrington got the idea during one of his previous trips to Alaska, when during a flight out, he saw the surf out the window of his plane. In Alaska, no less. This he did not know, nor expect. Being an adventure surfer himself, his interest was piqued - and he decided to plan a trip which would culminate in a documentary film on extreme adventures, including a surfing scene in Alaska.

He planned carefully, asking Jack Endicott about Yakutat's winter weather and wave patterns. He tapped the Red Bull energy drink corporation for funding, and got five of their professional surfers who they sponsor. The stage was set - now all he needed was the ideal conditions.

It wasn't until mid-November that Harrington and his team determined that some big sets were rolling toward Southeast Alaska and due in about a week. On November 20th, they stepped off a plane in Yakutat with a budget that would last 10 days. Air temperatures hovered around the freezing point, and the water was only about 10 degrees warmer.

And there they waited. For the first eight days, the waves were disappointing. And sitting in the water in the doldrums made it colder. And there were casualties. Brazilian surfer Maya Gabiera grew hypothermic and was urged back to shore, although one of the ADN photos shows her subsequently returning to action. Tahitian jet-ski driver Raimana Van Bostaloer got hit in the head by a flying surfboard, requiring a three-staple suture to his skull.

Then on November 29th, just one day before their planned departure, PAYDIRT! A buoy about 50 miles southwest provided good news: A wave 23 feet high was headed toward Yakutat. Others were nearly as big. Best of all, they were expected to arrive in the middle of Yakutat's brief five-hour window of daylight.

"Then all of a sudden the tide changed, rideable waves appeared before our eyes and the only 20 minutes of sun of the entire trip cast the most incredible rainbows we had ever witnessed," Harrington said.

You can view the entire set of photos on the website.

"They were certainly the biggest waves ever surfed in Alaska, and they were ridden with style and finesse," added Harrington. Harrington also posted more information and pictures of the crew HERE.

So our secret is now out. Alaska isn't just a skier's paradise or a musher's paradise - it's also a surfer's paradise (sort of). But what Yakutak is really known for is its fishing, hunting, and sightseeing opportunities.

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