- Interview: Christian McLeod
Ross Robinson Interview
A few weeks ago, a man named Ross replied to a post about the North Slope of Alaska. His details about the weather and wave conditions intrigued me, so I contacted him to find out more about his experience. His full name is Ross Robinson, and it turns out that being a surfer up there without a board can be a frustrating experience.
You were on a boat in Northern Alaska two years ago, near the North Slope. What were you doing up there?
I spent 62 days on a tug boat. There’s a mine, a zinc and lead mine. It’s 60 miles inland where there’s no roads, no way to get there, no way to export anything, except for a road they built to a port. But the port is too shallow for ships to come in and take the material away. So we had four tug boats and two barges. There’s a pier that’s sticking out along an exposed beach. The tug boats are self unloading, they can go in the shallow water, get loaded up with metal ore, and bring it three miles out to the ship. The operation would always run except when sea conditions would get bigger than six feet. When it got bigger than six feet, you couldn’t have the barge safely alongside the ship.
What’s the weather like? It must get pretty severe?
It’s really variable. There were days that were as warm as 50 or 60 and no wind, and there were other days that were 30 degrees, blowing 40 knots, sideways rain. In September it snowed quite a bit, in the low 20s. It takes its toll. It’s cold. It’s wet. When you’re working at the edge of weather parameters, when the sea is 5.5 ft but not 6, you can get really wet. At times we would be up to our chest in water as waves were coming through.
I saw quite a few grizzlies walking up and down the beach. You’re so far north—in the tundra—there’s no trees, and the ground is really soft and swampy. It doesn’t make for the best walking, which is why the beaches are the roads. For people and wildlife.
What’s the surf potential?
It reminded me of the Northeast, it can be flat as a lake for a couple weeks at a time, or it can get pretty wild. It was definitely frustrating a few times when a swell came through. Even on a flat day I would have liked to look around the beaches for potential setups, but you’re not really allowed to venture around. There were two large wind swells well over 12ft, reaching 20ft. In that instance we took the boats south in a bay to hide from the weather. I was wondering if it was going off somewhere. I was looking with binoculars, seeing if I could see waves. But its wind and swell at the same time. You’d have to find something wrapping in, protected from the wind.
Would you bring a board next time?
I don’t really want to go back again. It was an interesting experience, but that work was pretty brutal. I don’t really want to go back up there for work. So yea, if I went back it would be with a board.
What are you looking for in surfing?
I like the adventure aspect, even if you’re not the first person to find the wave. If it’s new to me and my group of friends, that sense of discovery is what motivates me. Whether I’m the first person or not is irrelevant to me. I like getting off the beaten track and exploring. For me its just as much fun as riding the waves. I appreciate the things outside of surfing. I used to do a lot of mountaineering and climbing. I idolize the outdoor experience in general, and those things tie together with surfing for me. I guess things that are easy aren’t that rewarding for me.