Sunday, February 5, 2023

Locals scoff, Gray dominates

Random surf stories from 30 years on the Oregon Coast

Surfing Lincoln City

When I moved here over 30 years ago after spending my formative surfing life in the crowded breaks of Northern California, I found Oregon to be a breath of fresh air.

Although it didn’t provide the daily surf quality of its southern neighbor, when those infrequent magical days did come, it was as good as anywhere in the world. The crowds were minimal, but so were the quality days, with sometimes weeks on end of howling winds canceling any chance of surfing. The caliber of surfing here was led by the surfers who were raised surfing in Hawaii or California and even the few Moroccans who transplanted here. Even as early as the late 60s, Californians led the way in Oregon.

In the early 90s I was asked to be a head judge for a local contest here in Lincoln City at Nelscott Beach at 32nd. All the local heroes were jabbering all week long about how they were going to dominate the contest and no one else had a chance.

Earlier that week, a gal surfer from Santa Barbara, Heather Gray, was driving through Lincoln City and found out about the contest and asked Tony Gile (one of the local surf shop owners and sponsor of the contest) if she could be in it. He said sorry but there was no women’s division. She asked if she could surf in the guys division and he laughingly said, “Sure. Good luck!”

Contest day came and it was actually pretty good — maybe five feet and pretty glassy. All the pre-contest braggadocious locals were in full bloom jabbering about how they were going to dominate. They were laughing and saying, “how could this gal think she had a chance?”

Well guess what? After four heats before the finals, Heather was dominating every one of her heats. The finals started with her and three of the expected winners in her heat. Not only did she out perform all of them, but her wave count was higher than all of them too!

When it was time to get up on the podium, two of the surfers were too embarrassed to get up there with her.

It was pretty quiet in the surf the next couple weeks. Strike one for women’s equality!

John Forse
John Forse
John Forse is a longtime surfer who likes big waves and started the Nelscott Reef Big Wave Classic in Lincoln City, Oregon.


  1. We all have heard the stories of local surfers being aggressive and violent. Tires slashed, windows waxed, punches thrown and hot wind blown. It’s was never as bad in Lincoln County as some other infamous break in Oregon, but when I moved here in 2000 I definitely saw some knuckleheads acting stupid. One or two of them “local heroes”. I chalk it up to the addictive nature of adrenaline. Since I had just spent three seasons in Santa Cruz hitting every high surf advisory, I was used to it when I first arrived and even participated in hazing outsiders myself. They are easy to spot. They usually come in packs, act stupid, get in the way and lack skill. I quickly found a consistent spot, got it wired and showed up every good day no matter how big. I will say that even Santa Cruz has nothing on Oregon juice. In fact Oregon has a little too much juice. Big swells arrive in total disarray and tear up any bottom structure that can cause good waves. I have never been so frustrated in my life. But I was still up at 4:30 most huge days listening to those buoys and chomping at the bit. No level headed “surfer” can deny I earned my place in the line up. But some individuals never accepted me. Never gave me a wave. Never spoke to me. Dropped in on me. Yelled at me on the beach, from far away like cowards. After 10 years of this I had enough. My spine was literally disintegrating from all the constant poundings. My spirit was downtrodden by having to share the ocean with a bunch of hot head drug users. I quit the ocean in 2013. Gave my gear away, snapped my fav board in half and put it out with the trash for everyone to see. I’ll never set foot in the ocean again. I can’t even stand to look at it now. I have checked the surf maybe twice in the last 7 years.
    My point is surfing is not a “contest” sport. It is about your individual experience and a brotherhood of like minded people. Now that Jeff is gone, it is that much worse here. Him and a couple others got it. Yes they had their bad days, like everyone else. But they always showed their true colors on a regular basis. Contest are what is wrong with surfing. They turn it into an ego circus free for all. And a money prize just to ice the cake. I’m over it, you can have your Fukushima plastic dioxin baths to yourselves.


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