Breaking Waves

Meet the Makah Surfers Who Shred in Their Own Backyard

Which just happens to be one of the state's best surf beaches.

By Allison Williams July 20, 2016 Published in the August 2016 issue of Seattle Met

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Courtney Winck and her brother, Elisha, on Hobuck Beach.

Image: Bryan Aulick

“It’s almost like euphoria,” says Courtney Winck from Hobuck Beach, peering at the two-mile stretch of sand that curls on itself at either end. “Really peaceful and serene.”

Only a surfer would call a crashing Pacific wave underfoot “peaceful.” Winck, 22, is usually the only woman on a board at Hobuck and definitely the only Makah woman. That’s even though Hobuck sits squarely inside the Makah Indian Reservation in the state’s far Northwest corner.

Almost every evening, after working as a water quality technician, Winck dons a 5.4-millimeter wet suit and pulls a seven-foot board from a weathered Subaru hatchback that’s only slightly longer. Her little brother, Elisha, a quiet artist and fisherman, likes the challenge of a short performance board. In a small reservation town half a day from Seattle, there’s not much else to do. They hike their boards down to Shi Shi, three miles south of Hobuck, or head toward “PA”—Port Angeles, the closest big town—for waves on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

Hobuck may not be the gnarliest place to surf on the Washington coast, and “it never really gets perfect” for advanced riders, says Winck’s boyfriend, Drew Dean. But in summer out-of-towners flock to the mellow waves. “Hobuck” has become shorthand for Northwest surfing. 

Besides beaches, the Makah might best be known for their fierce hold on heritage. The tribe asserted their treaty rights to hunt whales from cedar canoes in 1999, and Neah Bay greets visitors with a sizable museum. There’s no casino on this reservation, so the future looks like surf, not slots. Despite its size, the reservation has sporty enthusiasm to spare; Elisha has a handful of state championship rings from a football squad that only fields eight players, and every summer a surf camp sets up on Hobuck with a lineup of adorably tiny wet suits for kids. Courtney won’t be the only girl for long.

Courtney and Elisha point to the south end of Hobuck, where an unmarked trail leads to Secret Beach. It’s lovely, though less hidden than the secret surf sites the locals guard so fiercely. “We try to keep them under wraps, those special spots,” says Courtney. Hobuck is having its moment; the rest can stay secret a little longer.

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