“Seward’s Folly.” “The Last Frontier.” Alaska. Whatever you call it, the place evokes feelings of respect and awe—and rightly so. This is untamed land, wilderness in the truest sense of the word, a place populated by shaggy outdoorsmen and semi-suicidal fisherpeople. It is rugged, cold, unpredictable, and immense—which is exactly why it is worth a visit.
The Surf: Although not the best destination if you are looking to score guaranteed perfection, Alaska does have waves—beach breaks, points, and glacial river mouths that get pummeled by consistently ferocious storms and accompanying short interval swells. The trick is to know the little nooks and crannies that can handle the conditions and turn the chaos into something beautiful. Although no bona fide heavy water spots have been discovered (yet), Alaska earns an expert-only classification on the merits its weather and inaccessibility alone.
Five Waves Worth Surfing:
- Yakutat: A region rather than a single wave, Yakutat is on the west-facing side of the Gulf of Alaska, and with numerous car-accessible setups is probably the easiest place in the state to score waves.
- Kodiak Island: Known about for years but only recently explored with any kind of consistency, Kodiak has a number of mapped setups, and is probably one of the most hardcore surf trips in existence.
- Homer to Seward Coastline: The MV Milo and her crew are currently exploring the east-facing side of the Gulf, and base themselves out of these two picturesque harbors.
- City Beach (Adak): A series of beach break peaks in the town of Adak, this is one of the few easily accessible surf spots in Alaska.
- Turnagain Arm: Although its located 200 miles inland, Turnagain Arm’s 30-foot tidal shifts produce one of the world’s few rideable tidal bores, which can be surfed in excess of two miles.
The Water: If you ever need your faith restored in the purity and strength of nature, go to Alaska. The only water “pollutant” is naturally occurring glacial silt, which gives the lineup an eerie electric blue color. Water temps get up to around 50 F (10 C) in late summer, but drop to near freezing in the dead of winter, when only the hardest of the hardcore brave waves covered in an inch of briny slush.
The Season: For good weather, relatively warm water, and a chance at swell, come in late summer and early fall (August through November). Winter has tons of swell, but it comes with deadly storms and hypothermic waters. Late spring and summer are typically flat.
The Vibe: If you run across another surfer, they’ll be more likely to hug you than to vibe you. These have to be the most surf-stoked people on the planet—otherwise they probably wouldn’t even bother suiting up.
Things To Do: Even if you don’t score a single day of good surf, your trip will still be worth it. Alaska is a naturalist’s dreamland, with untouched forests, massive glaciers, and a multitude of wildlife to observe, including bears on the beach, whales in the lineup, and puffins flying overhead. And if grueling adventure and a pocketful of cash are your thing, consider signing on with a fishing trawler or planting trees for a summer.
Where To Stay: Small hotels and hostels are available in the various coastal towns, but if you really want to experience Alaska, your best bet is to visit someone with local knowledge. Scott Dickerson and Mike McCune at SurfAlaska.net are at the vanguard of Alaskan surf exploration, and can arrange all the specifics of your trip.
What To Bring: A board with some volume, as the waves tend to be somewhat soft. A 4/3 wetsuit with a hood, plus booties and gloves—and that’s if you come in the warm season. In winter, you’ll need the warmest wetsuit on the market—something around the 6mm range. Lots of warm clothing and a good pair of mud boots. Patience and a sense of adventure.
Getting There: Anchorage is your gateway to the east-facing shores, while Juneau is the main airport if you want to hit the Yakutat area. For the ultimate road trip, consider driving up through the Pacific Northwest region of the US and Canada. US visa rules apply. Airport codes: ANC (Anchorage) and JNU (Juneau).