How does it feel to surfing alaska?
The surfing world’s attention is currently centered on Hawaii, yet few people consider the location that creates the swell that goes southward to the islands. Alaska has more coastline than the 48 contiguous states of the United States combined, and the storms that brew off that huge coastline are among the most powerful in the world. Scott Dickerson, an Alaskan photographer, and filmmaker have just published a teaser for his upcoming video series “Surf Alaska.” We spoke with Scott to get a feel of what it’s like to surf in such a harsh, punishing environment. Alaska appears to have a lot to offer individuals who enjoy travel and adventure. And the surf looks pretty damn fun, too.
Are you a native of Alaska? How did you start surfing in that location?
I grew raised in Alaska, and it’s still a surprise to me how I became so obsessed with surfing. I had never seen someone surfing in our hometown until a friend and I started bodysurfing in the sloppy small waves that struck the beaches. To tell you the truth, I had no idea how surfing worked. I knew it was enjoyable to be in the water, and it was even more enjoyable when there were waves! It’s been a long, cold, and slow journey to get here, but it’s been enjoying every step of the way. The spectacular excursions involving boats, aircraft, and helicopters, as well as the degree of technology we use to remain warm while surfing, were once only dreams.
What distinguishes surfing in Alaska from surfing in other parts of the world?
It goes without saying that Alaska is in a league of its own when it comes to breathtaking beauty and harsh weather. The full adventure and nature experience are frequently more important than the actual wave riding on these surf vacations. Aside from those two factors, what makes surfing in Alaska unique? The most significant distinction is that, despite the fact that surfing places all over the world are becoming more crowded, we still get to ride fantastic waves by ourselves. On a bright weekend, there may be ten surfers at the few easy-to-reach sites, but most of the time, it’s just a couple of buddies surrounded by an unending wilderness cheering each other on.
How did you get started photographing and filming surfers in that area?
Photography and videography are my major professions, as well as two of my passions: surfing and flying. In 2008, I launched SurfAlaska.net, a website dedicated to sharing photographs, stories, and information about surfing in Alaska. It took me years to eventually have the correct gear and be able to anticipate waves here, and I wanted to assist others to avoid the years it took me to get there. I also wanted a location to put all of my surf images because I had too many. I’ve always loved capturing unusual themes in my photography, and surfing in Alaska certainly fits the bill. As camera technology improved, it became easier to capture video, in addition, to still images, so I’ve been saving footage from our surf trips for the past few years.
In Alaska, how do you get to the waves? What kinds of preparations and safeguards must you take?
The most difficult aspect of surfing in Alaska is getting to the rough shoreline. We only have two alternatives if we don’t have access to roads: flying or sailing. The 58-foot motor vessel Milo has been our go-to gear for getting to the waves. It has its own set of pros and problems. We can be self-sufficient for weeks at sea with this seaworthy craft, and we’ve demonstrated several times that we can withstand the harsh conditions that come with surfing this far north.
Every journey I take, I analyze the worst-case situation and prepare accordingly. I’ve discovered that if you prepare for the worst, you’ll be able to survive and perhaps even appreciate much of what nature has to offer.
How much of the shore have you been able to see? What have you discovered to be the finest waves and set-ups?
I’ve seen a lot of Alaska’s coastline from the air and from boats, but with such drastic tidal variations and constantly shifting swell heights and orientations, even at my home break, there’s always more to explore. We’ve surfed all the way from Southeast Alaska through the Gulf of Alaska to the Aleutian Islands’ beginnings aboard the m/v Milo, but we’re never done exploring. To put things in perspective, Alaska’s coastline exceeds that of the whole contiguous United States combined. We’ve ridden incredible waves in a variety of locations, but we’re constantly on the lookout for the next big thing.
Is it still possible to find beautiful waves in Alaska that have never been surfed?
Yes, there are a lot of them.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done on a surf trip?
Winter boating in Alaska is typically not recommended. Especially not when a large storm is coming, which is exactly when we usually go out. I’ve had a couple of moments where I’ve questioned if we’re taking this surf pioneering thing too seriously. I’m not really trying to remember those moments since we’re departing in the middle of the night tonight on our next adventure, hoping to get to a secure anchorage before a huge storm strikes so we can surf the accompanying waves once the wind has died down. We’re estimating how far we can travel before we have to hunker down because the forecast contains a lot of heavy, freezing spray warnings.
How is the surfing scene there? What kind of surfers are there, and how devoted are they?
In Alaska, there are just a few people who I would consider committed surfers. Many more may surf a few times a year when the weather permits and it is not too chilly. Surfing is not compatible with a day job in this location. Because the tide and weather are continually changing so quickly, you pretty much have to be able to drop whatever you’re doing go surf when the conditions allow.
How did the web series come to be, and when will the episodes be released?
For several years, the “Surf Alaska” video series has been in the works. Exploring Alaska’s shoreline is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that only a select few will ever have. Photography is a fantastic tool for capturing some of life’s most memorable events, but it’s difficult to express the entire narrative in still photographs. I’d want to offer folks a taste of what it’s like to go wave hunting in the far north. The narrative of adjusting to nature’s whims as we hunt for that elusive and ecstatic moment of riding a wave is highly interesting. Many reality TV production companies have approached me about making a program about our surfing exploits, but they all want to follow the same boring and ugly plot of interpersonal conflict and over-hyping actual or imagined hazards and risks. Because I’m sure I’m not the only one who can’t stomach that type of nonsense, I decided to do it myself. We’re going to keep things genuine with the “Surf Alaska” film series and let nature generate the drama. The shows are on a somewhat tight timetable. Depending on the weather, I believe we’ll be able to create an episode every three to six weeks. Each episode will usually revolve around a surfing trip. So far, I haven’t had much luck planning the surf ahead of time.