La Push Pummel

Inside Washington's wicked surf gathering

“Saturday was crazy,” said Port Angeles, Wash., resident Jory Kahn of the gale-force winds and waves that battered the La Push Pummel paddling festival this weekend. Situated in a remote section of Washigton’s rugged, storm-battered coastline, La Push is home to the Quileute tribe. The town, roughly fours hours outside Seattle, splits the coastal section of Olympic National Park in two and is known for its towering tree-topped sea stacks, steep pounding beach, strong currents, and big surf—and recently the dubious setting of the Twilight movie series. Kayakers began the La Push Pummel in the 1980s as a laid-back, non-judged surfing event and gathering of friends in extreme winter conditions.

Ken and Ellen Debondt took over the reins of the Pummel in the late ’90s. Tragically Ellen was killed by a drunk driver near her home in Port Angeles a few days after last year’s gathering (Read more HERE). On Saturday night, participants gathered to celebrate Ellen’s life and share memories of their friend and fellow paddler. Craig Haelson wrote and sang a tribute song to her called “Sweet Ellen.”

Unfortunately, Saturday’s 45-knot onshore winds and a 23-foot swell created too much carnage for even the most daring paddler to enter the water. Tsunami Ranger and local paddling instructor Deb Volturno remembers, “we got slapped in the face by blowing foam.”

“On Sunday it was 16-foot, and much smaller in toward the jetty,” said photographer Gary Luhm, who captured these shots of a couple of the brave souls who paddled out in the (less) raw conditions on Sunday morning as the winds dropped. While only a few paddlers go some waves in, others ventured a few miles away to surf small standing waves on the the Sol Duc River’s “Mosh Pit,” while others did beach hikes in Olympic National Park a few minutes from La Push. — Rob Casey

Click HERE to see a gallery from last year and read more on this annual gathering at the sea.

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