By Olivia Klein
When thinking of surfing, the warm weather and pristine sand beaches of Hawaii or California usually come to mind. A sport of vacation and relaxation.
But this excludes a lively subculture of surfers in the cold and perhaps unlikely location of the Pacific Northwest.
Freshman Antonia Parrish has been surfing for the past two years.
“I live about two hours away from where I usually surf on the Oregon coast,” Parrish said. “It’s this little beach called Short Sands, and it’s in Oswald West State Park.”
Evergreen trees scatter the rocky landscape leading up to the water, and moss is growing everywhere.
“It’s just beautiful,” Parrish said. “Everything is so green.”
Once outside of the forest, the open beach is alive with activity.
“There’s people with campfires set up and there’s dogs running everywhere,” Parrish said. “And surfers already in the water.”
Parrish is one of many surfers at Western. Although the sport may seem catered to a niche audience, Western’s Surfrider Foundation chapter is the longest running Associated Students club according to its webpage.
Junior Laura Anthony is one of the three co-presidents of Western’s Surfrider club.
“Surfrider is actually a national organization that began in California when some surfers wanted more public access to beaches. As it moved north, it became [about] just general keeping our beaches clean for recreation,” Anthony said. “Right now, we do a bunch of ocean advocacy work like beach cleanups and water quality testing.”
The club meets once a week and holds events like beach cleanups on the weekends.
“On Earth Day we did a beach cleanup, but it was through the whole Northwest Straits chapter of Surfrider,” Anthony said. “We got over 50 people to come and help out at Locust Beach, 10 minutes from campus.”
Recently, Surfrider has also been working on “Ocean Friendly Restaurants,” with the mission of promoting marine environmentalism through partnering with Bellingham restaurants.
“We’re trying to get local restaurants to cut back on one-use plastics and styrofoams and stuff like that,” Anthony said.
The heightened importance of environmental awareness for surfers in the Northwest is part of what distinguishes it from other surfing communities. Despite extreme differences in climate and terrain, Parrish said the contrasts in surfing culture are what differentiate the Pacific Northwest the most from other places.
“I would say that how welcoming the people are in the Pacific Northwest is definitely what sets it apart from other surf scenes,” Parrish said. “In Hawaii, there’s a lot of competition. People just [assume] ‘Oh you’re a tourist, you’ve never surfed before’ and get mad. But here, everyone’s so welcoming and they just want to talk with you and help you out.”
Parrish recently took a weekend surfing trip to Westport, a beginner surfing beach four hours from Bellingham. With the rapid approach to summer, surfers are taking advantage of warm spring weekends.
“There were so many people there,” Parrish said. “We had to wait in this huge line to get one of our friend’s surfboards, but that made it even more fun, ‘cause there were just so many people to talk to.”
The beach was covered in sand dollars, and there were multiple sightings of baby seals.