Alaskan Vacations Are Wet and Wild
By Marc Cappelletti
“Sweet break out there today!”
You’d expect to hear such excitement from a sun-tanned surfer toweling off on Hawaii’s north shore. But this time, you’d be more than a few degrees off.
Welcome to Alaskan travel, mecca for adventure seekers wanting to immerse themselves in a spectacularly beautiful and dramatic landscape. The state hosts more than 2 million tourists a year and, whale-watching notwithstanding, most stick to land-based excursions such as hikes, glacier viewing, and train rides.
But now more than ever, travelers are waving goodbye to the rocky coast, reaching for their wetsuits, and taking to Alaskan waters in search of new thrills from snorkeling and diving to jet skiing and, yes, even surfing.
The easiest way to experience the undersea is with a mask and flippers. Mountain Point, five miles outside of Ketchikan, has become a hotbed for snorkeling. The site’s shallow pools are calm and clear, making it easy to see the surprising array of Alaska’s vibrant marine life. Creatures such as sea stars, nudibranchs, anemones, chitons, limpets, and tube worms are sure to captivate.
If you’re new to snorkeling, no problem. Absolute beginners are welcomed, so go for the bragging rights of saying your first time snorkeling was in Alaska. The most difficult part is wiggling in and out of the wetsuit.
To explore the undersea even further and longer than your lungs will take you, operators including Dive Alaska of Seward bring groups of up to 12 into the rich waters of Resurrection Bay. Via a charter boat and along with expert guides, divers can check out multiple sites in a session.
While visibility is best in winter (40 to 60 feet on average), summer divers can expect 20- to 40-foot visibility at each site. It’s as close to a whales-eye-view as you can get. Because they go deeper than snorkelers, divers have a better chance to see megafauna including wolf eels, giant Pacific octopus, and the balletic movements of sea lions or harbor seals. PADI certification is a must and dry suit certification is recommended, but it isn’t required.
If you feel the need for speed, look no further than Glacier Jetski Adventures out of Whittier. Run by native Alaskan and white-water rafting guide Charlie and his Aussie wife, Bec, these tours bring adventurers past icebergs, soaring glaciers, towering waterfalls, and more in Blackstone Bay in Prince William Sound. The trip covers 60 miles on the jet ski. Drysuits, neoprene water shoes, helmets, and life jackets are provided for comfort and protection.
The choice of the Sea-Doo SPARK watercraft is a sound one, considering that they’re extremely quiet (great for wildlife viewing) and fuel efficient (great for the planet). Of course, they’re also really fast.
For the more athletically oriented, there are now options to grab a board and hit that fine Alaskan surf. However, because of its myriad barrier islands, you’ll have to go beyond the Inside Passage if you want waves. Most who surf in Alaska aren’t total beginners, but you don’t have to be Kelly Slater to have a phenomenal time. Waves are an average of waist to chest high, so the surfing is just enough to have fun with, but not so aggressive that you’ll get tossed.
Scott Reierson, owner and operator of Alaska Surf Guides out of Seward, is excited about the possibilities that surfing brings to the state’s tourism. His company uses floatplanes and helicopters to take small groups of surfers out to remote beaches with regular shore breaks. Not only do floatplanes and helicopters provide an unmatched perspective on Alaska’s beauty, they cut a two-hour boat transfer down to a half hour, round trip.
“People who never thought of water sports in Alaska are seeing our posts on social media and saying, “I can do that? There?”
Alaska Surf Adventures, also out of Seward, offers….
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Photo: Scott Dickerson Photography