Surfing in Hurricane Bay?

By Tim Hauserman

Just a bit down the west shore from Sunnyside Lodge sits Hurricane Bay. While on a calm day in the summer you might wonder how this lovely little bay got the name Hurricane Bay, once a really big east wind delivers enormous waves to the shoreline, you will quickly begin to understand.

On February 9th the top of Kirkwood Resort saw a 200+ mile per hour wind gust, and the whole Sierra Crest experienced steady wind over 100 miles per hour. While the wind was less at lake level, it was enough to kick up some five foot plus waves in Hurricane Bay, splashing water onto the bike trail (as well as every pier along the West Shore, including Sunnyside’s).

While five-foot waves, heavy winds and 32-degree temperatures, would not entice most of us into Lake Tahoe, there is a small, but very dedicated group of surfers who keep their eye on the water hoping for big waves to surf on. One of those surfers is Scott Gaffney, who is best known as a world class skier and ski movie producer for Matchstick Productions.

“Surfing is my second favorite sport,” says Gaffney. He loves the mountains and doesn’t have a chance to get to the ocean very often, but he usually gets 10-15 good surfing days on Lake Tahoe each winter. “The water is not that bad; the coldest part is getting in and out of your wetsuit.”

Gaffney says that sometimes Tahoe waves are messy and bumpy, but there are a lot more waves coming at you than on the ocean. This means that you don’t have to wait as long for a ride. On the other hand, it is a lot of work getting back out there past the waves after a ride. “Every once in a while you get a great ride.” said Gaffney.

The surf bonus for ski lovers like Gaffney is that a day of surfing doesn’t mean giving up on the skiing, because the days that are best for surfing are usually not good for skiing. Surfing days on Tahoe’s West Shore are east wind days. Powerful east winds not only arrive without snow, but they have a tendency to shut down ski lifts. “If most of the mountain is closed, that is a good surf day,” says Gaffney.