Mike Mannelin, Explorebigsky.com Columnist
The “Help Wanted!” sign in the door hung crookedly,
as if somebody in a hurry slapped it up in between
tasks. The two baristas ran in circles behind the counter,
every movement calculated for optimum efficiency.
The drive-up window slid open, and a customer’s
hand appeared, holding paper bills. I felt a chill as a
blast of wind blew across the counter.
I got my coffee to go, and headed back to the truck. The
surf report for Kodiak Island was favorable, which was
all I needed to make the 40-plus mile drive to Narrow
Cape, the local beach break, to have a closer look.
Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the U.S. It
has just over 100 miles of road on its northeast side.
From town, we drove along the coast past some protected
bays. The mountains on the other side of the
road were still covered in snow. As we drove by Kalsin
Bay the road climbed to 300 feet, and the bank on the
side dropped straight to the ocean.
The final stretch of road to the main surf beach began
with “hold your breath hill,” the first spot on the drive
where we could see the surf. The swell lines were
stacked up, and the waves were breaking—a big relief.
Some days, the hour drive is rewarded only by a beautiful
view with bathtub-sized waves.
The water temperature was around 41 degrees, so I
opted for an extra neoprene layer under my wetsuit. I
pulled on my hood and
strapped the leash to my
ankle, then stretched and
watched while waiting
for a bigger set to crash.
As the last wave dumped
over I took a few running
steps, pushed my board
underneath me, and
started paddling to make
it outside the break.
During late April and
early May whales
migrate past Kodiak, and gray and orca whales were
spouting all over the place. Some of them came in
pretty close, but I figured they probably weren’t going
to eat me.
I caught a few more waves, and when my arms were
tired, rode one to shore. There, I began the process
of peeling my second neoprene skin off of my frozen
With 18 hours of daylight between dawn and dusk,
there was still plenty of time to get a ski run in on the
way home. We took a left at the airport and headed out
one of the last stretches of gravel left on Kodiak’s road
The parking lot was buzzing at Pyramid Mountain, the
island’s most popular ski spot. The snow still made a
continual path all the way down to the road, making it
easy for locals to run out and make a couple laps after
work and still be home in time for dinner.
We ran into a few people on the skin track. Everyone
was excited to be out on the mountain. Atop the peak,
we stopped to look at the view of mountains and ocean
The corn snow made carving turns really fun. The
steeper pitch off the summit gave way to a long, mellow
cruiser, and then the final pitch back to the road.
There were natural half pipes and jumps, and wide
open stretches of untracked snow. The closer we got
to the road, the more alder brushes appeared, and we
made a game of dodging them.
We high fived, packed up our trucks, and drove back to
town to celebrate at the Kodiak Island Brewery. With
fresh beer and giant smiles, we raised our glasses in appreciation
of a good day on this north Pacific island.
Mike Mannelin is a Big Sky skier, traveling to the further
fetches of Alaska to count fish for the summer with
his wife and dog.