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Yakutat welcomes those searching for the perfect wave

The New York Times

Published: April 23, 2006

YAKUTAT -- "I should get on with you," said a female flight attendant with a wink as I boarded a plane headed from Anchorage to Yakutat. "You're the only woman on here."

I smiled and waited for men with salt-and-pepper hair and bellies hanging over their belts to load fishing rods into overhead bins and take their seats. The man I ended up next to smelled of pipe tobacco and engine oil. He was a local from Cordova who told me about a Yakutat bartender who once blew away a patron with a shotgun for being "annoying." It happened about 10 years ago; I can ask anybody, he said.

So what's a nice young lady like me doing in a place like this, he asked.

Surfing, I replied.

The man was startled and then laughed. Now, why would anyone come all this way for that?

Why, indeed. The price of a plane ticket to southeastern Alaska can rival the price of one to Indonesia or other dream surfing destinations that do not require a thick wetsuit, booties, a down jacket and rain gear. And, as a World Championship Tour surfer nervously pointed out one afternoon by a beach bonfire made from soggy driftwood and gasoline, tropical beaches don't have bears lurking in the nearby woods.

Bears are a threat that none of the locals can tell us how to properly handle. Be loud, the locals tell us, but not aggressive. Wave your arms, but never look them in the eye. And, for heaven's sake, don't run. Attacks are rare, they say, except for that one incident three weeks earlier with the ranger who had to be medevacked to Anchorage.

What Alaska does have (besides bears, eagles, wolves, whales, seals, otters, hawks, king salmon, old-growth forests, actively calving glaciers, the highest coastal mountain range in the world and the northern lights) is thousands of miles of coastline, broken up by hundreds of river mouths and dotted with small islands. The coastline has untold numbers of surf breaks that have yet to be charted, much less ridden, by anyone.

In a sport where uncrowded spots are not only coveted but fiercely guarded, and in a culture where the quest for pristine waves is an integral part of the experience, this alone is enough to pique the curiosity of hardy surfers.

A reward waiting for those spirited enough to make this journey is water warmer than one would expect. The Kuroshio current flows north from Japan to southern Alaska, resulting in average temperatures in the mid-40s to mid-50s. Even armed with this knowledge, it is still surprising to enter the ocean in full view of the 18,008-foot, snow-covered Mount St. Elias and find that the water feels warmer than that off the coast of Northern California. The waves may not always be spectacular, but the scenery is.

Yakutat (population 800), a town with only two paved roads and no way in or out save by boat or plane, lies 212 miles northwest of Juneau and 342 miles southeast of Anchorage.

It's at the midpoint of more than 300 miles of sandy beaches off the Gulf of Alaska, and it's home to about two dozen surfers. Friendly surfers. Surfers who are not only willing to tell you which dirt road leads to the best waves but who also will help pull your rusted rental car, a 1980 Ford Bronco 4x4, out of whatever bog you manage to get stuck in on the way. For a small price, they'll even help you charter a small fishing boat or Bush plane (or a neighbor's skiff) to hunt for breaks past where the roads end.

The self-named "Surf City, Alaska" has been called one of the five "best surf towns" in America by Outside magazine and was rated 39th out of 100 adventure spots by National Geographic Adventure.

Whether these claims are justified is a matter of debate. The truth behind them, though, is that in an effort to find an economically viable, resource-friendly alternative to its staple sportfishing industry, Yakutat has been promoting itself as a surf-friendly outpost.

Near the end of our trip, we heard that one of the surfers in our group, six-time world women's champion Layne Beachley, was to be given the key to the city at a cookout in our honor.

The rumor was almost true. After a feast of game caught and prepared by various attendees, Casey Mapes, Yakutat's soft-spoken mayor, stood and read a resolution endorsing surfing that had been written and adopted by the City Council.

It was long, filled with seemingly endless "wherein" statements and somewhat hard to follow. But later, on the ride home, we agreed that it meant essentially this:

"We appreciate that surfers enjoy, rather than exploit, the natural resources of our beautiful home, and we would be very happy if more of you came to visit. You're our kind of tourists. With love, Surf City, Alaska."

Roxy Pro Fiji


Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 24 April, 2006 : - - Two-time defending event champion Sofia Mulanovich (PER) made her intentions to remain atop the Roxy Pro podium crystal clear when she reached the quarter-finals of the US$78,300 event today.

Mulanovich, the 2004 Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) WomenaEUR(tm)s World Champion, was in dynamic form in the perfect 4-6 foot (1.2 - 2 meter) waves at Cloudbreak Reef, off the islands of Tavarua and Namotu, Fiji.

She earned the dayaEUR(tm)s highest heat score with a brilliant round three heat against South AfricaaEUR(tm)s Heather Clark, scoring 19.10 out of 20 possible points with a 9.5 and a 9.6 ride.

aEURoeI just love this place! Plus I feel way more comfortable after that win,aEUR Mulanovich said after the victory. aEURoeI was pretty nervous in my first heat and not really surfing top to bottom, but then I said to myself: aEUR~If you canaEUR(tm)t surf top to bottom, maybe you donaEUR(tm)t deserve to win this contest.aEUR(tm) So I gave it everything I had in that heat and I am feeling really confident now.aEUR

Mulanovich, like reigning world champion Chelsea Georgeson (AUS), needs to post a solid result here if she wants to factor into the 2006 world title race. Both Georgeson and Mulanovich, numbers one and two in the world respectively last year, fell victim to early exits in the first event of the year, the Roxy Pro on AustraliaaEUR(tm)s Gold Coast.

Blue Wahoo Wet and Wild Water Women's Weekend

Celebration of Womens Surfing in Ireland - May 6-7 2006

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 13 April, 2006 : - - Blue Wahoo Wet and Wild Water Women's Weekend is back in Enniscrone on the 6/7 May 2006. If you are a woman (any age) and surf in Ireland (anywhere) then this weekend is for you.

This event is a celebration of women's surfing in Ireland offering an opportunity for women surfers and those who are interested in trying surfing to meet, to share advice and information and to surf with other women of all ages and surfing abilities. It's the most exciting and fun event of the year for Irish women surfers.

With an action packed programme and all female coaches the weekend will include novice surfing lessons, advanced coaching, information on safety, clubs, schools, suitable beaches for surfing, equipment, making and repairing surfboards, forecasting waves and fitness for surfing.

The fun doesn't stop on the beach and there are a number of social events to check out over the weekend. These include a beach barbecue on Saturday afternoon, and music by the Surf Chixxx, (Aine O'Doherty and Niamh Hamil), who will be playing on Saturday night at the Benbulben Hotel.


By Kate Butler

At the recent tryouts for the 2006 British Columbia Surfing Association Junior Team, six young men were chosen to represent B.C. and Canada at the World Junior Championships in Brazil in early May.

These teens will have the chance to compete against the best in the world and will also get to train with some of the best instructors in Western Canada before they head for the competition. Unfortunately, B.C. will not be sending any girls to the championship.

The reason?

No teenage girls tried out for the team.

The lack of young women competing in surfing competitions is troubling. Many Canadians are aware of the international reputation that Canada has regarding women in sports. Canadian women shine in world sporting competitions, especially in events that were traditionally male-dominated. Canadian female figure skaters rarely achieve lasting success, but our womenaEUR(tm)s hockey team is undeniably the best. Our womenaEUR(tm)s gymnastics team is nothing to be feared, but our womenaEUR(tm)s speed-skating team makes victory look easy.

The recent Winter Olympics in Torino showcased the strength of Canadian female athletes. Of the 24 medals won by the Canadian team, 16 were won by female athletes. Cindy Klassen broke records, received international recognition and earned the admiration of many after winning an impressive five medals in long-track speed-skating. In Torino, Canadian female athletes showed the world Canadian sporting associations are doing the right thing by supporting male and female athletes in an equitable way.

Thanks to female athletes from Canada, the U.S., Australia and European countries, more girls are choosing to participate in sports worldwide. Despite those international successes, female competitive surfing has taken a back seat on CanadaaEUR(tm)s West Coast.

Those involved in surfing in Tofino, Ucluelet, and other towns on the Island realize too few girls are competing, but nobody knows how to remedy the problem.

A supportive surfing community exists for young women interested in surfing: from surf lessons focused on making women comfortable, to official surfing websites calling for more female competitors, to the presence of former women champions living in Tofino.

The ingredients for success for women surfers on the West Coast are definitely present. By not having any Junior Girls competing in Brazil, Canada takes a giant step backwards. On an international level, we have been leaders in the struggle to achieve equality between male and female athletes.

When a country such as Canada cannot field a team of Junior Girls, countries that do not have good track records when it comes to women in sport will take notice. Canada has missed an opportunity to further showcase the strength of women in sports. It is too late now to send a strong team of B.C. female surfers to Brazil: both Canada and the world lost this round.

Sandwich Island Girl

Recently, a cover and column in an 1888 Ashbury Park "Police Gazette" have had the surf historian community talking.

It is significant for us surfing historians and writers of surfing history because it indicates that the first USA mainland surfing was NOT performed by Hawaiian princes schooling in the Santa Cruz area in 1895. It was most likely performed by an unknown Hawaiian girl or woman in Ashbury Park, New Jersey, in 1888!

Sandwich Island Girl

Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival

Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival

Surfing Queensland
Maroochydore QLD
15 - 18 April

"World's Best Bundled Out"

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 16 April, 2006 : - - A day of upsets on the Sunshine Coast has seen world tour surfers Trudy Todd (Coolangatta) and Samantha Cornish (Crescent Head) eliminated in the second round of the Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival at Maroochydore.

World number three ranked Cornish was bundled out of the 1 Star Rated World Qualifying Series (WQS) event by former top tier competitor Pauline Menczer (Ocean Shores) and Central Coast surfer Melissa Sherringham while fifth ranked Todd was convincingly beaten by West Australian Sarah Beardmore and CaloundraaEUR(tm)s Linda Fisher.

Both surfers struggled in the blustery 1m conditions, failing to post any score higher than a two-point ride in their respective heats.In contrast to the shock loss of the top ranked pair, fellow World Championship Tour (WCT) surfers Silvana Lima (BRZ) and Serena Brooke (Coolangatta) had little problems moving through to tomorrowaEUR(tm)s Quarter Finals from their round two match-upaEUR(tm)s.

NoosaaEUR(tm)s Rebecca Oakley became the second local surfer through to the Quarter Finals after progressing in second position from her opening heat of competition behind Tweed Heads surfer Lauren McGregor. Both McGregor and 19-year-old Oakley narrowly edged out Jessica Hickson (Boomerang Beach) and Ayla Whitney (Thirroul) in todayaEUR(tm)s second round.

In a day of low scoring heats, it was former pro Menczer and 15-year-old Sally Fitzgibbons who broke the mold, posting strong wins and emerging as early favourites. Dynamic South Coast surfer Fitzgibbons (Gerroa) won four divisions at the Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival in 2005 including a career best result after finishing runner up to Rebecca Woods (Copacabana) in the 1 Star Rated WQS component.

Only entered in three divisions this year, the young natural footer started strongly in her second round WQS heat, winning comfortably over Nicola Atherton (Bronte), eliminating Cecelia Enriquez (USA) and Angie Koops (NZ). aEURoeThe waves are just like last year,aEUR said Fitzgibbons. aEURoeThere are some really fun little left and right peaks with double-ups that are running through to the beach.aEUR

aEURoeIaEUR(tm)m a bit older now so I have only entered three divisions this year, I just want to concentrate on those.aEUR aEURoeSilvana and the other WCT girls just rip, but if I can focus on just catching my own waves and surfing my own heat I should be able to do well.aEUR The 15-year-old has already won two Australasian Pro Junior events in 2006, defeating her older opponent Atherton in the final on both occasions.

Her two wave total of 14.75 out of a possible 20 was enough to win the heat easily over AthertonaEUR(tm)s 10.40 and secure the rounds highest combined score. aEURoeI have surfed against Nicola a lot this year and I guess it is just the luck of the draw that I have won,aEUR said Fitzgibbons. aEURoeThe waves have just come my way.aEUR

Fitzgibbons will face Atherton again in the Quarter Finals in what is proving the most anticipated heats of the event to date. The pair will surf against Brazilian WCT surfer Lima and former top ranked star Amee Donohoe (MacMasters Beach). The Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival will finalise on Tuesday with Maroochydore being the most likely venue.

The Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival is supported by Vodafone, Sea FM, Surfing Australasia and Surfing Queensland.

WQS Quarter Final Match-Ups
Quarter 1: Amee Donohoe (AUS) Silvana Lima (BRZ) Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) Nicola Atherton (AUS)
Quarter 2: Lauren McGregor (AUS) Rebecca Oakley (AUS) Serena Brooke (AUS) Tara Christie (AUS)
Quarter 3: Pauline Menczer (AUS), Melissa Sherringham (AUS) Lyndsay Noyes (AUS) Mischa Davis (NZ)
Quarter 4: Sarah Beardmore (AUS) Linda Fisher (AUS) Jenny Quam (USA) Airini Mason (NZ)

Simon Barratt

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