Nelscott Reef Classic (Oregon)
Waiting Period: October 1st through March 31st
Event Status: Yellow
News Link for 2011 Event
Nelscott Reef is located a half mile out to sea in Lincoln City, Oregon, just up the beach from Spanish Head. It is a high performance big wave with both rights and lefts, but predominantly rights when it’s really big. The wave is protected by miles of beach break surf that is mostly impassable when the swells are big enough for the reef to break. Although there are smaller days when the reef can be paddled to from the beach, Nelscott Reef isn’t generally considered a big wave spot until the beach break is too big to paddle. In these conditions, PWCs are the access vehicle of choice, but you still have to deal with beach launching to get to the wave, and launching a ski from the beach can be a truly precarious undertaking with high tides and huge surf. The waves at Nelscott Reef are rideable up to 50-foot and beyond. Add regular rainfall and chilly land and sea temperatures to the equation, and you’ve got a truly rugged big wave spot. Water temperatures from October to March range between 47-53 F (6-12 C), while the average daytime air temperatures range between 55-61 F (13-16 C).
For years, like outer reefs everywhere, Nelscott Reef existed only as a dream for the local surfers who would watch it from the bluffs and cliffs of Lincoln City. One of those surfers, John Forse, current Contest Director for the Nelscott Reef Big Wave Classic, wouldn’t let his dream go unridden. His first attempt at surfing Nelscott Reef came in 1995 when he took a big wave gun out to the spot in a zodiac. After getting blown off the face of the first wave he attempted, and almost getting run over by the following waves of the set, John knew for sure that Nelscott was the real deal, a true big wave. However, it wasn’t until 2003, that John got his shot at surfing the wave. With tow-surfing gone wild throughout the surfing world, John was able to convince Santa Cruz surfers Peter Mel and Adam Repogle to come and join him and photographer, Nate Lawrence, for a session at the reef. Finally, John got towed into what he modestly claims as a “twenty footer”, only to be destroyed at the bottom of the wave. The ensuing session by Mel and Repogle was documented by Lawrence, and Nelscott Reef was legitimized as a big wave spot.
Shortly thereafter, the inaugural Nelscott Reef Tow-In Classic was held on December 11th, 2005. The contest has run every year since. And in 2008, a paddle-in exhibition was held between the semis and finals of the tow-in event. Keali Mamala won the heat, and the paddle movement at Nelscott Reef took root. The next years’ event had another paddle-in heat, but this time, the heat was more than just an exhibition. This time, the surfer with the best combined paddle and tow-in score, Ross Clarke Jones, was awarded the Kingfish Award. Then, in 2010, mirroring the overall sentiment of the big wave surf community, the 2010 event, combined forces with the Big Wave World Tour and held the first paddle-only event in Nelscott Reef contest history. Credit John Forse and Gary Linden for realizing the timing was right for the Nelscott event to go paddle-only.
For a more in depth discussion on who surfed Nelscott first, and some interesting insights into some of the early controversy surrounding the contest in its early days, read Will Henry’s article: Forsing Nelscott: Anger and Controversy Erupt at West Coast’s Only Big Wave Tow Contest.