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September 2003

A Hiker’s Guide To Surfing and Snorkeling

Use your backpacking skills at the best surfing, climbing, trail running, and even paragliding spots

Surfing: Killer swells without the crowds. Mike Harrison

For all its soulful, shoot-the-tube appeal, surfing has a real problem. Namely, the crowded lineups and “my wave” territorialism that pervades big-name breaks. But those with the will to walk have found a solution. From the Lost Coast of California to the shores of Assateague, intrepid surfers are poring over maps and lashing boards to backpacks.

Last summer, two friends and I packed into a remote headland in Hawaii’s Volcano National Park. Hiking by headlamp to avoid the blast-furnace heat of midday, we could see the pulsing orange glow of lava in the distance. At dawn, we awoke to a turquoise bay stacked with corduroy swell. And the nectar: no competition save a pod of spinner dolphins.

Paragliding: Space: The Final Frontier. Dan A. Nelson

The moment of addiction: I was floating over Washington’s Chuckanut Mountain, thousands of feet above the Pacific Northwest Trail, when a bald eagle glided in beside my wingtip. Together, we surfed thermals all the way to Sammish Bay.

Jumping off a cliff, even with a paraglider strapped to your back, will not be fully appreciated by your insurance agent. But you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn to fly and how easily you can take this sport hiking. Paragliders weigh as little as 30 pounds, and they pack small enough that ultralight aficianados are known to fly from camp to camp. Others dayhike into backcountry launch spots (check local regulations) to set sail from ridges and mountaintops.

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Snorkeling: See what’s down under when you swim with the fishes. Jonathan Dorn

It’s one thing to catch a mess of salmon at a remote camp in southeast Alaska. It’s quite another to dive in wearing nothing but goggles so you can swim elbow to dorsal fin with hundreds of spawning fish. If you can get past the teeth, you’ll find that few experiences match the rush of mingling with a migrating herd.

For a few extra ounces in your pack, a mask and snorkel let you explore uncharted wilderness terrain. Dive a coastline for lobsters, mussels, and starfish. Follow the hidden curves of flooded canyons. Or just satisfy your curiosity for what lies beneath the surface of your favorite mountain lake.

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