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Secret surfers

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BROOKINGS — Noah Bruce pulls on his neoprene wetsuit stealthily beneath a towel, hoping the Highway 101 passersby have no clue at what he’s doing.

With suit and booties on, he grabs his surf board and dives down a steep trail to an unnamed beach below, where the waves are starting to build in front of an approaching storm.

Within minutes, he’s bobbing in the waves, waiting for the next nice wave to ride toward shore.

And no one along Highway 101 has any clue Bruce is there and how much fun he is having.

“That’s how we like it,” says Bruce, 47, of Brookings. “Stay under the radar. We don’t broadcast what we do or where we go. We don’t want the crowds.”

Bruce is part of a small cadre of surfers in Southern Oregon, and they’re heading into the guts of a surf season they don’t want you to know about.

While Maui may have its endless summer, Brookings-based surfers such as Bruce have their endless winter. They all have shark stories to go with their cold-water avocation, and they’d rather cross paths with a great white than let others know which tucked-away beaches are ripe for big winter waves while sheltered from the coast’s notorious winter winds.

“The winter is best for surfing on the Southern Oregon coast, and this is definitely one of my favorite spots, but there’s no way I’m saying where this is,” Bruce says, swearing his visiting entourage to secrecy. “I don’t want a bunch of guys pouring in on us. This place can only handle four or five surfers.”

Winter storm watching is a bucket list-type of adventure for many Oregon inlanders who venture to the south coast to watch big waves pound against big rocks. But Bruce and his fellow surfers look to get out on the front of these storms when the waves start cresting above their heads.

“It’s my place of meditation,” says Bruce, an Ashland native who is a Realtor and builder in Brookings. It’s helped me through some hard times.

“It gets you out of your head, which is the only way you can really truly relax and be child-like,” he says.

Sometimes they surf the very public confines of Sporthaven Beach in front of the Beachfront Inn. They draw crowds of gawkers who marvel at the die-hards braving waters in the low 50s for hours before their limbs fall chilled and almost lifeless from cold.

But it’s these tucked-away beaches that draw their greatest attention, and there’s no such thing as a bad day on the waves.

I’d rather surf with good friends and good vibes on the water,” says Christopher Savaiano, a recent New Jersey transplant who quickly worked his way into the Brookings surfer crowd.

Two-foot waves are doable if he’s in the mood, Savaiano says. Ideally, the waves are 5-plus feet — the kind of waves ocean anglers eschew.

“What most people call scary are probably fun for me,” he says.

Bruce usually steps away once or twice a week from his jobs as a real estate agent and construction contractor to ride the waves as a way to relieve stress and get the endorphins cooking.

Bruce wears a neoprene wetsuit that’s 5 millimeters thick in the chest to protect his torso from water that’s in the upper 40s, with thinner plied neoprene on his arms and legs to allow for better movement.

Footies and hoods are a must. In Maui, that might be the equivalent of walking to school in a snowsuit, but it’s the only way to make winter boarding viable.

“You can’t be out there without this,” Bruce says.

And, yes, they all have shark stories.

The Southern Oregon coast is well known as great white shark territory, especially from late summer through fall as the apex predators move toward shore to chase migrating chinook salmon.

Nicholas DeGarmo’s shark story came on a beach not far from town.

The 36-year-old Brookings man had paddled offshore and was prepared to ride a wave when he looked over to see he had company.

“This great white cruised right through the middle of the wave,” DeGarmo. You could see the full silhouette. It freaked me out, and I swam as fast as I could to shore.

We call them the not so great whites, They are great, but not for us.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MTwriterFreeman.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Nicholas De Garmo rides a wave off the Southern Oregon coastline near Brookings.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Nicholas De Garmo rides a wave off the Southern Oregon coastline near Brookings.