Meet the surfer girls of the Alaska Boretide

{published on The Inertia}
In tiny cabins sprinkled throughout the Chugach Mountains, there is a small group of women.Some were born here and others came looking for something different.

Most of the girls I know in Alaska live here primarily for the insatiable powder lines offered in winter. I can boldly tell you that these women are not your typical red-lipped, stiletto wearing barbie dolls. While I believe nearly everyone would like to see Alaska, only a particular type of person chooses to stay, and even more so a certain type of girl.

Most of these girls live down dirt roads in the most rustic of conditions. Far from the reaches of electricity and proper plumbing, felling trees, chopping wood, hauling water and catching your own fish are just a few things most chicks around here do. Making their living from carpentry, fishing and driving boats, some might say they are living in a man’s world.

In a land mostly inhabited by hairy men, women are certainly a minority. Of this minority, a rare few choose to take the plunge into perhaps the coldest waters on the planet. When I tell people about these women, usually the first response is “You can surf there?

Of course there is surfing in Alaska. Alaska is the largest of all the states and therefore home to a big chunk of the country’s coastline. Glacier streams carve their way down towering mountains to shorelines that are the inevitable destination for a constant flow of Pacific Ocean swell. Breathtakingly beautiful and eerily empty, you are certain to find a break that is not only yours for the day but perhaps a lifetime. Besides a few curious stellar sea lions and furry sea otters, these spots remain unnamed and unexplored. It is the ultimate “secret spot” that most will never see and fewer will have the opportunity to surf.

To be honest, if you are here to surf you might be a little disappointed. As far as a surfer’s paradise goes, it is all here. With plentiful waves, constant swells, a serious lack of people, and surreal scenery, it is a dreamy surf destination. Understandably, most people think it is the temperatures that keep us out of the water but it is actually accessibility. With only a few roads covering the vast wilderness, boats and small sea planes are your best bet for getting around. It is a costly, timely, and risky endeavor. Getting to these places is an expedition.

For the small Alaskan community of surfers living on the Kenai Peninsula, many satisfy their saltwater stoke by riding the Turnagain Arm Boretide. Along the scenic road heading south from Alaska’s largest town of Anchorage, you will find tourists carrying cameras and a handful of jovial locals wearing the thickest of wetsuits and carrying all types of surfboards. All are here for the phenomenon of a wave, but only a few are here to ride it.

It is cold and usually windy. In the winter it freezes over into massive icebergs and in the summer it is home to pods of white beluga whales. The Turnagain Arm is infamous for powerful rips, sinking sand, ripping winds, deadly whirlpools and absolutely no predictability. It is a bit slow and will never barrel, but it is our local surf break.

Tide charts give times for the two daily waves, to the minute. Besides it’s arrival time, what will happen is predictably unpredictable. One day there is a slow moving wall of white water, and the next a long playful perfect little peeler. Just when it gets really good, the sand moves and the whole thing changes.

Photo: Stuart Smythe

This is the easiest place to catch a glimpse of the small crew of stoked Alaskan surfer girls. With only one chance to put themselves in the right place at the right time, they are constantly taking a gamble with a heart full of hope to win the jackpot. Some say its a mediocre beginner wave, and on many days it is. But this “beginner” wave will certainly put a massive smile on even the most experienced watermen and women.

The ride can last up to 20 minute and stretch for 15 kilometers. Most of the time it might merely just satisfy our thirst to be in the ocean, but on the rarest of days when all the factors miraculously align, its a whole lot of fun.

“The first day I saw this thing I was gobsmacked, I rode the white wash on my belly for 5 minutes, getting rocked around by this force of nature, the motion of the ocean. I had a smile from ear to ear, pure stoke. The next day I was in the right spot and rode the left for 2 minutes or more, I must have made 40 turns until my legs were so tired I went back to my belly. This amazing experience brought me back to that initial feeling I remember when I caught my first wave at 8 years old. That pure and genuine stoke that comes from just being in the water, on a novelty wave, and the simple joy that comes from that.” explains Stuart Smythe who rode the bore tide a handful of times while visiting from his home in Bali.

Now as the ice on the Turnagain Arm begins to form, we all say goodbye to the wave for the winter. Growing increasingly nostalgic, I reminisce of one particular day. It was summer solstice in addition to a full moon, this meant 24 hours of sunshine and the largest bore tide of the year. I jumped on my big yellow longboard and paddled out. Conditions were absolutely perfect. As the wave came in and picked me up, I felt like a child, so joyful and free. Looking to my right, it was only women surfing with me that day.

Back at the car park, we laugh at the irony of the situation. We are just a bunch of nature-loving, adventure-seeking, stoked surfer girls having a good time. You will most likely never see them on Instagram or the glossy pages of a magazine. Most don’t even have a tv and will probably never read this article. Thats why I want to tell you their story. This is just another reminder that there is no distance too far or temperature too cold to keep girls out of world of surfing.

Absolute badasses. Photo Courtesy: Stuart Smythe

Photo: Stuart Smythe

This article was published on The Inertia. Here is a link: http://www.theinertia.com/surf/meet-the-surfer-girls-of-alaskas-tidal-bore/

More Photos of this incredible wave:

A little homemade video of the boretide

A Beluga’s Life: Alaska Boretide Surfing from kori hahn on Vimeo