Nelscott Reef: big-wave hunting

Mike Pearce rides a big wave as it crashes towards the coast. Below: Ollie Richardson pictured as he catches a big wave on the coast. (Photos by Jeremy Burke)

OREGON COAST — Located a half-mile offshore from Canyon Park on the Oregon coast, Nelscott Reef continues to be a siren song for surfers from all over the world. 

Whether it’s the 50-foot faces or the sheer difficulty of big-wave surfing, the sport itself isn’t meant for the faint hearted, but for those willing to push their limits. 

“There are a lot of opportunities to big-wave surf here on the Oregon coast, but it’s the participants which is what’s rare,” Dan Hasselschwert, owner of Ossies Surf Shop said. “It takes a special person to be willing to put their life at risk and do it here on the coast, where there aren’t many eyes or much attention.

“There aren’t many fit enough and brave enough to do it.” 

The dangers of big-wave surfing are so great, finding men and women brave enough to take them on is a challenge. You just don’t know what could happen out in the water. 

“With that amount of water, putting yourself in the wrong position or getting hit by a wave in a wrong position can break bones, ligaments, and drowning is a huge concern,” Hasselschwert said. “Sometimes you are held underwater longer than you want, as well.” 

But recent advances in techniques have shown that some big-wave surfers will use inflatable vests just in case a surfer is pulled down deep and low on oxygen. 

“You would go pull the clip and pray to God that works,” Hasselschwert said on the dangers of being caught deep underwater. 

And for the owner of Ossies Surf Shop, those worries and potential dangers were real. 

Hasselschwert even recalls the time he reached his limit at Nelscott Reef, and for him, it was nearly too much. 

“I’ve taken a six-wave set on the head and saw purple spots. I had an out-of-body experience and almost drowned at one point,” he said.  

But Hasselschwert’s run-ins with big-wave surfing have allowed him to pass on knowledge to other surfers who have come through his shop, and the Oregon coast in general. 

Surfers can either learn how to paddle out into the water with a special surfboard called a “gun” or can be assisted by personal watercraft that pull the riders into the actual wave.

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