Surf and Sauna

Story:Rie Sawada / Translation: Steven Smith
Photographs:Milad Sadegi

Photo by Milad

It’s been five years since I moved to Portland, Oregon. (I have to renew my visa by the end of this year!!!)

In those early years, I struggled with living in Portland, often with more than six months of rain and a lack of sun. I would go to California every month for business or personal trips, and I was constantly thinking of moving to California someday.

I always remembered what Kevin from Golden Pliers would say when we lived together (Kevin also landed in Portland from Michigan and struggled with those early years of rain.)

“It takes about 4 years. People who have spent 4 consecutive winters in Portland usually stay in Portland for more than 10 years. They need to be mentally strong. People who can’t stand the rain and dark winters can only spend half a year. Later, they get restless or depressed and move to another city, and those who can’t stand it after two or three years of trying to endure the winters end up leaving.”

At the time, I was thinking of moving to California before my four years were up. But I decided to stay and make Portland my home and put down some roots and watch them grow.

A major reason I fell in love with Portland is that I can go surfing in an hour and a half. I would prefer if the coast was closer, but it’s reasonable and the drive is nice. Summer is really beautiful here and the weather is the best! There’s an abundance of water and beautiful green forests, perhaps more gorgeous natural environments than anywhere else, and some of the best mountain bike trails and camping are all close by. With easy access to the mountains and rivers, there are plenty of activities to enjoy all year round, including snowy mountains in the winter and rivers in the summer. The food and coffee in Portland are more delicious than in any other city, and there are a ton of kind people with great taste and sensibilities. By focusing on these things in your life, you can live a healthy and prosperous life.

Here on the Oregon Coast, in the PNW (Pacific North West), the water temperature is the same all year round and is as cold as ice water. I never thought that I would like Cold Water Surfing. (Honorary Member of the #ColdWaterClub)

It’s also in Portland that I’ve finally made a surf community- which includes Georgia, who I became friends with after interviewing for HiHeyHello Magazine #004. Georgia’s been a strong factor in my coming around to enjoying my life in Portland.

I enjoy riding bikes, but my first love is surfing. If there is a good wave, I want to paddle out and ride it, and I want to keep improving and become more confident so that I can travel anywhere and be able to catch waves. Georgia and I have the same passion for surfing and our conversations always gravitate toward surfing. I want to talk about waves, surf trips, and surf documentaries for endless hours with her. I never thought I would find my Soul Surfer Friend in the city of Portland. Huge thanks to our friend Mia for getting all of us together. Mia has since moved to Hawaii, but we’ll always be connected by surfing.

Georgia works in the ER, which is a mentally and physically challenging job, but I’m constantly impressed with her positive attitude and grounded, peaceful mind.

Georgia recently acquired a portable “tent sauna” and she told me about taking it to the beach with her partner Elsa. I also wanted to try it someday, and if possible, I wanted to try to go surfing and then sauna in the same outing.

When the holidays arrived, we finally carried out our long-awaited “Surf and Sauna” plan. And on the coldest day of the year in here in the PNW (-3°C / 27F) , we made it happen.

“Let’s go surfing and bring the tent sauna and cool off with a dip in the cold ocean! Yay!”

It’s about an hour and 45 minute drive each way from Portland to our favorite surf spot. The coast range mountain pass on the way was frozen with snow- which get’s my heart pounding and makes me a more cautious driver, but it was really beautiful.

Our favorite surf spot is a 30 minute riverside forest trail walk from the parking lot to the beach. The Simon Shapes custom surfboard I commissioned last year is manageable on the trail- as it’s light and sized for my short arms to be able to carry and hike. Georgia makes that same hike for 30 minutes with a 9 foot longboard. We love this moss-filled negative ion trail, and there’s no burden to carrying the surfboard, as it melts away. It feels like cross-training in a beautiful natural environment.

But this time, we also carried the tent sauna, so it was some work. Loaded down with surfboards, portable tent sauna, snacks and drinks for our beach party, bundles of wood for the bonfire; but with the help of my friends, we managed to carry it all. The extra effort and difficulty are essential to obtain this kind of pleasure.

After arriving at the beach, it’s snack time, and we uncork a bottle of wine! Good luck!

And then we get to setting up the tent sauna- which proves to be insanely easy! Setup time is less than 10 minutes.

Push, push, push, super easy set up!

Photo by Milad

Once the sauna is set up, we do a wave check before surfing. I always take this seriously. Especially on a day like this when the waves were really big. I was carefully deciding where to enter the water. It really depends on where you start to paddle out. If you make a mistake at the entrance, you will get caught in a repetitive barrage of waves, and you will have to do multiple duck dives (pushing your surfboard under the waves), and sometimes the waves will make you feel like you’re being tossed in a washing machine, I find myself thinking about the dangers of being swept out to sea. There is always a path in the sea where waves flow, called a current. It’s like picking your line on a technical bike ride.

It was a very low tide day, and the zone where the waves were breaking was so far away that the wave check looked smaller than the actual size of the waves from our vantage on the beach. 4 local paddle boarders in their 60s are the sole surfers in the sea. A testament to experience. I don’t like being in the sea when it’s crowded, but I also feel uneasy when there are no people around in case something happens. While our hearts were pounding inside, we decided to enter the sea “OK, should we try to get in here or there?” rice field. Georgia went, and so I followed.

Photo by Milad

It took 20-30 minutes to paddle out to the break. I have to push my surfboard under powerful waves over and over again, paddle harder, and use my arm muscles more than usual. I finally got out to sea, but the swell was strong, and I got separated from Georgia- couldn’t see her easily, so I was a felt uneasy. I confirmed that Georgia had paddled back toward. I waited for a wave that I could ride, hoping to catch at least one wave on my way home, but they were all so powerful that I didn’t have the courage to ride them. The last wave was not a typical duck dive. No one is around and no one notices when something happens. Sometimes you have to give up. I conceded to today’s surfing being good paddle practice so I withdrew. It can be really frustrating when I can’t catch a wave, but we should know our limits. People who drown or find themselves in distress while surfing are often those who are in situations beyond their limits. It’s already too late when something bad happens.

“It’s important to know your limits. We have to give up sometimes!”

We have the sauna set up and waiting on the beach. Let’s enjoy Sauna and Sunset!

Plunging in to the cold ocean water, you can get this natural high and it helps to clear my mind. I find it helps to rejuvenate- which we all need, and is necessary once in a while..

The Sunset was really beautiful, and it gave us all a chance to relax, and reflect on the day and enjoy some time talking to one another by the fire.

If you’ve been fascinated by the beauty of the sunset, it’s easy to lose track of time, to want to stretch the day further and prolong the magic. But those great times always pass so quickly

I checked the weather forecast on my phone. Of course, the return drive would bring more cold and icy road conditions. My heart was pounding at the thought of having to drive over a frozen mountain pass after dark for over an hour.

I told Georgia, “We should pack up and leave now. I’m concerned about us driving on these icy roads.. and we still have to hike back 30 mins to the cars on this dark frosty trail with our hands full of surfboard, the tent sauna, and the rest of our gear.

The 30 minute trek with all of our stuff proved to be super hard. The skin on my face was starting to feel numb and crisp, like I was walking in a freezer. My gear was heavy and we stopped several times along the way。。。。。 We got this!

Actually we were not this cold- that we had the remaining warmth from the sauna. But my fingertips truly are frozen!

I hopped in my van, we all said “Bye, Love you, let us know when you get home. Drive safe! Always!!!”

Driving on the icy road made me nervous again.. but I was trying to imagine a warm happy place.. listening to Hawaiian music driving on the icy road, but my nerves and reflexes were sharp after the sauna & icy water plunging session. The SimWorks van is new, but I’m still scared to drive on slick roads, especially with 2WD. So I took it extra slow, and thankfully made it home safely. I got to reflect on my day and the gratitude I have for the ability to spend these memorable and lasting moments with my wonderful friends in such a beautiful natural environment.

We’ve built a good community with great vibes..

With my body and mind brought back to balance by surfing and sauna, I felt ready for the start of another productive week back in the city.

Thank you for sharing the great experiences Georgia! Love my PNW Cold Water Club.

Friends time, Good Energy , Strong Sunshine, Surf Medicine is necessary for me sometimes.

If you’re curious and want more information about the tent sauna, email Georgia’s friend Jon ( and tell him you saw the SimWorks blog.