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Camels and Blowholes 

Paddling out on the North Coast

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The surf scene up here is unique. There is so much more that goes into a session in Humboldt County than in a daily check of different beaches along the California coast. The water is colder, the ocean angrier, and the sea life much more abundant and a little less friendly. If you want to set foot in the sub 50-degree water and take a chance at surfing, you need to be prepared and respectful. But if you have that in mind, you might score and have a great time.

The temperature is the first scare that prevents travelers from entering the waters up here. On average, the temperature is around 53 degrees. But winter water temps can drop to a chilly 46 degrees and the summer temps can rise to a not-so-warm 57 degrees. Summer months are accompanied by strong north winds and thick fog. Our part of the Pacific Ocean requires a 5-millimeter wetsuit with a hood and booties for your feet. Wetsuits are never optional; hypothermia can occur in as little as 10 to 15 minutes at those temperatures. If you choose not to purchase one, the result is an express ride straight to the hospital. I'll let you decide.

The second deterrent to surfing on the North Coast is the conditions. The ocean up here is very moody and can be unforgiving. Every year people lose their lives in our rough waters. Despite these obstacles, the ocean can provide absolute freedom. But you have to be on top of your forecasting. You have to know where to go when the wind is out of a certain direction, or when the tide is low or high, and decide where will allow the most opportunity. The National Weather Service is a solid source at www.wrh.noaa.gov. It covers everything you need to know before you paddle out, from wind direction and strength to hourly buoy reports.

Though there are many beaches here, some only break certain times of the year on certain swells and tides. Some require low tides and north winds, while others require south winds and a high tide. So get clued into swells, tides, wind, swell periods and wave heights. The most consistent spots for the most fun are around the Moonstone Beach area and College Cove. These beaches are close to one another and both have variances in their waves that allow you to surf them almost year round.

College Cove is a great place because you can do a little bit of everything. People go there to sunbathe on a hot day, rock climb, play with dogs and spend time with family and friends. Of course, there's surfing, as well. This dumpy to mushy beach break has a nearly 270-degree view of a rocky, pine tree dotted shoreline, not to mention a blow hole. It's in a protected cove that blocks most of the larger surf in the winter, creating a manageable sized wave that is generally more sheltered than at other North Coast beaches. The surf isn't huge but it is a fun beach scene and a forgiving location, making this spot great for both beginner and expert surfers alike.

The Moonstone stretch of coast a couple miles to the south is a different story. Much more open to winter-driven storms than College Cove, this beach can still be manageable and fun for all. Bouldering is popular at Houda Point, the beach inshore from the infamous two-humped Camel Rock. This long stretch of beach provides lots of real estate for different waves to form, which offers a variety of peaks for multiple skill sets and surf levels. But with a more exposed beach comes more variation with the weather. Camel Rock has had more than its share of Coast Guard calls and helicopter rescues for swimmers and surfers. It is important to be informed about our powerful local surroundings, for your safety is on the line when approaching the ocean at the wrong place and time. The sea can be powerful and unpredictable. Keep in mind that, when we enter the water here, we enter shark habitat; usually we avoid one another, but occasionally there are run-ins. If you stay away from river mouths and educate yourself about the conditions on a daily basis, you can have a great, safe time.

Whether the surf isn't that good or the water is a little crowded, it shouldn't hinder from the experience you get in the ocean. Both spots are gorgeous to say the least, each with its own unique look. And with beautiful venues like College Cove, Moonstone and Camel Rock, who wouldn't be encouraged to practice?


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Sean Jansen

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