The destination: Alaska.
Alaska is an abbreviation of Unalaska derived from the Aleut word Agunalaskah, meaning “The shores where the sea breaks its back”: 57,000km of coastline – three million lakes – 3000 rivers. We picked the Shumagin Islands, located in the Aleutians East Borough between the Bering sea and the pacific northwest: 20 islands, and not a soul in sight.
The season: Autumn.
From September through to November is the salmon run. After several years wandering huge distances in the ocean, most surviving salmon return to the same natal rivers where they were spawned, to spawn!
After spawning, all Pacific salmon die, and the salmon life cycle starts over again. So much spawning! It is a major event for grizzly bears, bald eagles and otters. Perfect timing for us! There was no lack of swell either.
The boat: The Milo
The Milo, is not new, in fact it is 50 years young, and could cruise to Hawaii on one tank…true!
Mike bought it in San Francisco as a decommissioned fishing boat and turned it into a floating surf house for up to nine people. The kitchen seems to be out of a Swiss chalet, the wheel house was added on top of the original one, giving room to an extra bedroom, the drying room is so toastie that all wetsuits were dry every morning and the top deck used to have a spa… not the most practical thing to keep warm in these parts!
The food: Fish
As good as the waves! Despite most of our fresh fruit and veggies going missing due to some shipping issues out of Homer, we felt like we were on a floating three Michelin starred restaurant. Making the most of the halibut that Scott caught, we ate mostly fish tacos, fish burgers, or fish soup! Some reindeer, that Mike had hunted on the way up from Homer, was also on offer
The waves: Reefs & rights
On the very first day, after only two hours at sea, we found this right-hand reef break. It could not have been glassier.
Mike gave it a name: Dingos, as a tribute to the two Aussies on the boat and the five boards that got dinged that night! We surfed until dark… 10pm.
We shared the waves with sea lions, sea otters and a whale cruising around in the background. It was only the start and the following two weeks were overwhelmingly good and varied, forcing us to surf sometime almost eight hours a day. We discovered four waves that had never been surfed before.
The crew: Seven larrikins
Tony ‘Tuesday’ Butler, film maker from Torquay, Australia. He carries 30kgs of camera equipment as carry-on luggage, he flies planes, he fixes planes, and he does all that so he can surf as often as possible.
Scott Dickerson, the go-to outdoor photographer in Alaska. He is too modest to call himself a waterman, but it’s pretty clear he is one: after every surf he would either go fishing, SUPing or spear fishing. Remember, it’s not so warm up there, especially after a four hour surf!
Jessy P! Even her name sounds like she should be famous. Possibly the most well connected girl in Montana, she even tried to hook me up with a couple of Hollywood celebrities! How can she adapt from dealing with venture capitalist’s from the Silicon Valley where she does business, to spending two weeks on a fishing boat looking for waves? She brought eight jackets on the trip!
Casey ‘Big dog’, whose wife’s cousin, Amber Heard, is married to Johnny Depp (Just sayin’) is a full-on climber and skier who has a booze box in the mountains of Montana, nailed to a tree, with a lock, so he can stop for a sip of bourbon on his way back from a climb. He writes algorithms for Nasa, amongst other things!
Mike McCunn and his ever happy wife Wendy: Two genuine pioneers of Alaska surfing. Mike sold his house to buy the boat and scout the coastline for waves. Three years on and he still finds perfect waves all to himself. He did say that our trip was the best he ever had – yep. I can not thank them enough.
I am a little bit proud to say that there is now a wave in Alaska named after me (‘Frenchies’) and that nobody has ever surfed it… simply because it was borderline flat! The spot was magic, in front of a cliff, with a waterfall lit up by the intense morning light, and sea otters checking me out.
It’s a good life.
Words and images from Benjamin Herrgott. Find out more by visiting theduckwhisperer.com