February in Alaska. Ever heard of Cabin Fever?
That’s what someone is said to have when they do curious things in the dark and cold of winter. Normal things would include carrying wood from the woodpile to the fireplace, talking to your friends about how stupid ‘The Deadliest Catch’ is, but how you watch it anyways, or spending all the money you made commercial fishing on espresso beans to keep you from hibernating. If you happen to be up late at night on one of those long winter nights keeping the fire going and see your neighbor stumble from his house at 5am in a skin tight black suit carrying what looks like a silver body bag you can safely assume he’s off to do some self medication for his cabin fever. Off to Bear Glacier, which is at least a three hour drive and a 45minute boat ride from anywhere, unless you live in Seward, Alaska.
Last winter a few of the local surf crowd headed to the glacier for a real alaskan winter surf experience. We left home at 5am so we could be waiting at the boat when Capt. Scott showed up at first light. After pouring a couple gallons of antifreeze coolant in the right main we where on our way, all wondering if the engine was actually going to need any ‘coolant’ with the air temps far below freezing.
As we approached Bear Glacier we were engulfed in a golden fog, and greeted with a decent 3-5ft swell rolling in from the Gulf of Alaska. Everyone suited up and jumped in the water as if they had mistaken Bear Glacier for a coral reef in indonesia. I was thinking about that science experiment when I learned that salt water can be below 32F and still not freeze. I guess I should have just been thankful we were surrounded by saltwater allowing us to use our surfboards instead of ice skates. After five months of refrigeration, the water in Resurrection Bay was cold.
Looking at the back side of the waves peeling along in nice rights I had to remind myself that this was a business trip, the surfing could come after the photos. If I would have known then that camera focus issues were going to make 99% of the shots useless, I would have happily left the camera behind and went for a good sloshing in the super cold cycle. However, I needed to learn this lesson, the one about taping the focus ring to keep it from shifting. The lesson was certainly burned into my memory when I returned home and looked at all those smiling faces with incredible snow capped mountains in the background. I think they were smiling anyway; mostly they were just black blobs in a sea of green with a background of white and blue. I clearly remember thinking how incredible these shots were going to be as I happily snapped away, consoling my aching desire to surf by promises of becoming rich and famous from these photos. As chance would have it, a few of the photos taken in the surfhousing did turn out, but I’m still waiting for the rich and famous stuff.
When I was finally sure I had captured the award winning photos in both horizontal and vertical the camera was put away and I started surfing. On the first wave I stumbled off the board and was promptly pinned to the bottom of a swirling ice cream headache. After several short eternities the light appeared again and I found myself thinking about how nice it was taking pictures instead of swimming for my life with a throbbing headache.
Bear Glacier was kind enough to teach me two important lessons: Tape the lens focus in place if you are going to use manual focus in a surfhousing without a focus ring. And if you can hold your breath for 60 seconds underwater in the pool, you might hope for six to seven seconds at Bear Glacier in February.