Alaska is the last frontier of surfing
Surfing in Alaska: yes, people do it and yes, it’s really cold. But best of all, there aren’t too many places where you can catch perfect waves under the massive glacier with bald eagles flying above you, bears fishing for salmon…and a lineup with you and just a couple of friends.
Some cold hard facts about surfing in Alaska
Alaska is home to over 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline, endless surf breaks, and countless islands with exposure to open ocean swells. This makes for extremely excellent potential for surf.
The best surf occurs during spring (April) and fall (September).
As for the water: yes, of course it’s cold! Water temps can go down the 30s in the winter and early spring, where you’ll need a hefty 6/5 or 5/4 mm fullsuit with hood and 7mm booties and mittens.
During fall, it “warms up” to the mid 40s to low 50s, which allow you to scale down to a more comfortable 4/3 mm with 3-5 mm gloves and booties.
Icier temps can be found in front of glaciers and river mouths. Compare all that with Hawaii, which fluctuates between 77 in the winter and 82 in the summer!
The sports has gotten so popular that many professional surfers have included Alaska as a stop in their surf travels.
While there are tons of breaks (some never seen by humans), they are not easy to access. There are a few places in Alaska where you can drive right up to the surfing beach‚ such as Yakutat or Kodiak — but you’d still to board an airplane or ferry to get there. Most of the time you will need a boat.
Types of surfing in Alaska
Believe it or not, there are a few different ways to catch waves in Alaska:
You paddle out on your surfboard from the shore or boat and paddle into waves. Some of the most popular places include Seward (a pretty quick drive from Anchorage) Yakutat, Sitka, Kodiak, and Montague Island.
Ride the bore tide
You have to be a little crazy to do this one. Immediately south of Anchorage, the Turnagain Arm is a long and shallow stretch of Cook Inlet. It’s one of the unique places in the world that experiences massive tidal fluctuations.
Extreme low tides around the equinoxes (March and September) produce the largest “bores,” which is basically all the water rushing back into the inlet after extreme minus low tide created by the full or new moon.
A 27-foot differential feet (between high and low tide) will form a surf-able bore tide wave that’s 6-10 feet tall, with speeds of 10 to 15 miles per hour.
Surfing the bore tide takes impeccable timing. If you fall off the wave, you likely lose your chance to get on another unless you have arms of steel and can paddle your board like crazy to catch the next wave before it all passes.
Lastly, you can use a SUP on a bore tide wave, as seen above.
Glacier wave surfing
This one’s for expert surfers who are also crazy — you have to be both to qualify.
Here’s how it works: find a massive glacier that’s calving (i.e., one that has massive ice chunks falling off), and wait in the water below.
When a huge piece falls into the water, position yourself just the right distance away to with your jet ski partner, who will pull you into the wave that the ice creates from falling.
Voila! You’ve got yourself a good ride!
Here’s evidence of this craziness: