I did not see this one coming…I went surfing in Alaska! And it wasn’t even on an ocean wave; it was on a tidal rip.
Tidal rips are created when a large body of water empties through a narrow constriction during a tide change. Gazillions of gallons of water (yes, I fact checked this) must flow through a narrow rocky opening in just a few hours creating amazingly powerful whitewater.
We met a great couple, Dave and Kelly on S/V Arctos, upon anchoring in Fords Terror. Dave was a former river guide who had always wanted to try and surf this channel (which we had just taken our sailboat through a few hours before, at slack tide—yikes). I had my wetsuit and he had a surfboard and extra wetsuit for our guest, Micah, so why not give it a go. We made an afternoon of it with the boys providing the entertainment and everybody hooting and cheering from a viewpoint above.
In order to surf it we found a spot where a rock or ledge or obstruction forced the water to stand up in a steep breaking wave. Next, we had to jump into water that was just a few hours prior… ice. As the current rapidly pulled us downstream we had to frantically paddle across the current and, facing upstream, attempt to align our boards with the large wave that we were about to smack into while being drug backwards downstream at a high rate of speed.
As the smack occurred we would paddle as hard as possible to try and slide down the front of the standing wave and, if everything went right, we could jump up and surf in place on a virtual treadmill of water flowing beneath our boards.
None of this is easy, of course, or the same twice, and the punch line is that whether or not you succeed, you’re still going to get drug downstream in a violent mess of freezing whitewater sooner or later. When that happens you have to try and stay on your board and paddle for all you’re worth to get across the whitewater on the side of the current that doesn’t pull you out to sea.
A lot of you might be shaking your heads thinking this doesn’t sound fun at all, but picture doing something completely new and exciting in the most astounding setting that you can imagine (think Yosemite Valley filled with water), with a great group of friends, and you have one perfect day. Alaska, you continue to surprise me.