One of the many reasons people choose to earn their turns in the backcountry is the solitude that accompanies one as they venture out to bag a run. That and all the untracked terrain to slay is what seems to hook most. Backcountry surfing, aka hike-to-surf missions, are not quite as popular as backcountry skiing. I’m not sure why…
Maybe it’s because surfers are so used to the ease that comes with up-close coastal access. Maybe it’s because they’re not willing to gear up and hike mileage just to get skunked on poor conditions they could’ve scoped from the car. Regardless, hiking for a surf session is an adventure, and if you’re stoked to paddled out to a secluded peak, all to yourself, and don’t mind putting in a little leg work to get there, backcountry surfing just might be what you’re looking for. It sure beats dealing with grumpy old-timers that bark when you’ve been catching more waves than them (see The Hook in Santa Cruz), and for surely beats the localism handed-down by generations of unnecessarily agro surfers that feel they have ownership over the ocean.
Some of the best surf spots in Nor-Cal, as well as Oregon are hike-in spots. Some are doable in a day; others are a mandatory camp trip. Washington has both of these options in spades, and Shi-Shi beach is about as good as anywhere to cut your teeth on the adventure that comes with “earning your waves”. Actually, paddling a few hundred feet from the car is still earning one’s waves, but hiking for a session brings it to a whole different level.
While boats and planes are often used to access tough-to-reach surf breaks, hiking allows you to get a more intimate connection with the landscape you’re travelling in. You might see some interesting species like this Banana Slug hiking to Shi-Shi,
or on the Lost Coast, you have to time the tides correctly in order to continuously hike on the beach uninterrupted to reach…that break no one knows about. You travel the beach in a much different light this way than if it was just, walk this way, and at some point you’ll be there. The mileage also mandates (for most) that you find a way to strap your board to a backpack. While that method is preferred, the hike into Shi-Shi is only a couple of miles, and it won’t kill you to carry your board with a board-bag if you have one with a decent strap or handle.
The walk-in is through lush temperate rainforest accessed through the town of Neah Bay on the Makah Native American Reservation. You’ll pass at least one worthy surf break to check en route, Hobucks, that is unless a large NW pulse is lighting up the Straight, which you will have clear views of when doing the drive up to Neah Bay, which is at the far most western tip of the continental U.S.
A permit is necessary to camp on Shi-Shi beach, since it’s in Olympic National Park and considered a wilderness area. They’re easily attainable from the Olympic National Park ranger’s station. If you’re doing this as a day trip, which is easily accessible if you’re reasonably fit, no permit is required. Just load up your gear and follow the rainforest caked trail until you start to hear waves crashing on the shoreline below you. The trail will probably be muddy and wet (this is one of the wettest places in the world) so a good pair of hiking shoes will be much easier on your feet than flip-flops. When you make it to the beach, pick a peak, any peak, and have at it!
The further down the beach you go the more likely you are to find filtered (smaller) surf. Unless there’s a direct, large NW swell running. Closer to where the trail meets the beach the waves tend to amplify, and are also home to many rocks, especially at low tide. There are amazing driftwood shelters to occupy on the beach if you’re camping, and the scenery around Shi-Shi beach is the quintessential Pacific Northwest backdrop you came to gape at. Unreal describes it best. It’s definitely something backcountry skiers who surf are bound to enjoy whether they find 2’ choppy seas, or 10+’ glassy tubes. If you don’t surf, the walk and serene vibe on the beach is just as good, well almost just as good as going for a soul shower in some of the cleanest water you could ever possibly swim in.