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Surf Alaska


Written by
Lauren Hunsberger

Photography by
Scott Dickerson

Alaska is known worldwide for its rugged, stunning and sometimes downright menacing terrain. Meaning it’s not necessarily the first destination that comes to mind when talking about surfing. Especially if it’s wintertime, when ocean and air temperatures plummet. But Mike McCune, who grew up surfing the beaches of Hawaii and later moved to Alaska to live with his family on his boat, Milo, wants to change that. With snow-covered mountains, fjords and whales in the backdrop, he says even in the dead of winter it can be a surfer’s paradise.

Reflections magazine: What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for people interested in winter surfing in Alaska?
Mike McCune: My recommendation is to just do it. It’s amazing how much fun it is to surf up here and paddleboard. 

RM: Do people need surfing experience to enjoy an experience with your company, Ocean Swell Ventures?
MM: Not necessarily. We do have novice surfers that go out with us. We match the trip with the group level. On any given trip, we can have families: mom and dad and kids. There’s really something for everyone. 

RM: What kinds of gear do people need, specifically in regard to wet suits?
MM: We do have some available low-cost rental wet suits available, but it’s always nice to have your own wet suit. The thickness depends on the time of year. In the dead of winter, a 5/4 millimeter is OK, but a 6 millimeter is much better. Booties and gloves are the most important: we suggest 7-millimeter booties and gloves.

RM: What about time of year? What’s ideal for Alaska surfing?
MM: Right now [late October] we’re probably three or four five degrees warmer than normal, and that’s nice. They say El Nino will drive the weather this winter, but the more we know, the more we don’t really know. Early spring is always great because the daylight is coming back. 

RM: What are the waves like in Alaska?
MM: It’s like anywhere in the world. It runs from one- to two-foot beach break to eight to 10-point waves. What we’re finding is when it’s really stormy, we go way up the fjords where there is no wind with cobblestone beaches and waves breaking waist-high. It’s a lot of exploration. We’re learning new things with every trip, and with the range of tides, you can go by the same coastlines within a few hours and it’s different.

RM: How much do you interact with the wildlife?
MM: We commonly see whales while paddleboarding as well as seals, sea lions, bears on the beach, mountain goats on the cliffs. We often catch our dinner; there’s something about fresh fish tacos that’s awfully tasty. The wildlife is in its natural state, which is amazing. The spring is especially nice: life is returning and there are lots of migratory mammals or birds that are nesting or crawling out of their den. It really brings you back in time.

RM: Is there anyone who isn’t suited for this sport? Anyone who could be at risk for harm? 
MM: I think someone who wants to be totally pampered. We can make it quite comfortable—people can go below to the fireplace and get toasty, and we have a hot-water hose that you can put directly into your wetsuit—but when you go around the bend, there’s no cell coverage. And it’s just a little group on the boat. But gosh, my dad comes out with us and he’s 87 years old. Now, he has an ocean background, but we always pick the best weather and travel the course of least resistance.

RM: Any last words of encouragement for someone on the fence?
MM: The number-one thing that everyone who has gone out with us says is that it brings the activity of surfing back to its original state, just a group of people absolutely having fun, hooting, hollering, letting waves go by so someone else can get it.

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