Rolling up to Loge, Westport’s newest answer to “where to park my van,” it doesn’t look like much. In fact, it looks a lot like it used to: an average motel along a strip of highway in a town hanging on by its fingernails.
Westport, Washington, is the closest surf town to the metro hubs of Seattle and Tacoma and is tied to the commercial and guided fishing industry. It’s near enough to the logging-busted Aberdeen to feel like its sick brother, and most of the buildings have the same dated, sorry look. I hadn’t been here since the economy bottomed out, taking the fishing charter business with it. Back then, it seemed like shops boarded up overnight, For Sale signs lining the highway like tombstones.
So why did Johannes Ariens, a 33-year-old building design contractor and his business partner, Cale Genebacher, decide to take on a project here when it doesn’t look like much has changed?
“People come to Westport to surf for the day, and then they go home. I wanted to create a unique lodging experience for those people so they could stay.” Ariens grew up in nearby Allyn and has been coming to Westport to surf since he was a teen. “A day trip here is still a super-long day, especially for a family with a two-year-old.”
Loge, which was a common motel called The Sands built in the early 1970s, has been redesigned with surfers, kayakers, and beach-lovers in mind. Ariens’ background in building design and his passion for surfing are felt throughout the property. He kept the original motel rooms, which form a U-shape around the circular driveway, but in the middle of the U is now a European hostel-style bunkhouse complete with a community kitchen and TV lounge room. The motel lobby is a stylish bar serving beer on tap and espresso. Off to the side is a comfy couch, the big window behind it showing the rental fleet of foam-top surfboards, kayak paddles, and PFDs. “I give all the guests a code for the door,” Ariens says on our tour. “So that they can return their boards and suits when they want. They don’t have to be back by a set closing time.” Ariens is most proud of Loge’s heated drying room. It’s also built with a coded door entry, and guests can hang their wetsuits on the ladder of wooden pegs overnight. “The only parts still wet in the morning are the cuffs,” he says.
We go back through the bar to a narrow, covered porch. Warm autumn afternoon sunlight pours in through the open garage-style window that overlooks the lower half of the property. The Clean Water Classic, Washington State’s only surf contest, is wrapping up for the day at nearby Westhaven State Park, and surfers and their supporters are trickling in.
“Before, all this was just a big, grassy field,” Ariens tells me as we walk the graveled path that bottlenecks down to the camping grounds.
Each of the four covered campsites on the south side has water, raised sand enclosures for tents, and picnic tables. The uncovered RV sites opposite have full hookups. In the center of the camping area is a grassy lawn with pods of Adirondack chairs clustered around built-in fire pits. “There’s plenty of places to camp in Westport,” Ariens says. “But nothing like this. I wanted a place where surfers can be with people who share their passion.” Dotted around the property are more community fire pits (s’mores ingredients are available at the bar) and a covered outdoor group kitchen. There’s also “rustic” campsites tucked into the huckleberry thicket along the southern property line. At the very back edge of the property is a covered outdoor stage. By the end of my tour, the opening band for the competition’s after-party was warming up while a young family played a game of cornhole, couples staked out their fire pits, and beach dogs strained against their rope leashes. The space had the feel of a well-organized family reunion, complete with free beer and a pulled-pork buffet dinner.
But what about the town? Businesses are still closing. There are empty shop fronts, even along the harbor’s main drag, a three-block strand that could be Morro Bay’s scruffy cousin. There are still run-down buildings and a feel of forced optimism. “It’s cyclical,” says Westport Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Leslie Eichner. “When one business closes, another opens.”
It’s true, there’s a new ice cream and espresso shop, a Hawaiian-style BBQ joint, more deep-sea fishing charters, a block of handsome, water-view condos. “Westport’s hospitality tax revenue went up thirty-six percent in 2012-1015,” Ariens tells me in his multi-purpose office. “That’s not a small number.” Especially compared to Ocean Shores, the more sophisticated beach town located across the giant estuary bay to the North. “Theirs only went up eighteen percent.”
So are more people coming to Westport to surf? Possibly. Ariens claims that better wetsuit technology is driving more people to surf cold water. “Here in Wesport, the surf might be incredible or it might not, but you can get in the water almost every day of the year.” There are other places to surf in Washington and Oregon. “But those places may not be working. Something is always working at Westport.” Eichner agrees that surfing is part of the new economy in Westport. “It’s a great new trend. I think people used to keep the surfing here a secret.”
If Loge’s sold-out summer was any indication, that secret may indeed be out. But winters are tough in Westport—darkness falls as early as 4:30 p.m., and there’s a reason cranberry bogs thrive here: The average winter rainfall is 11 inches—twice that of Portland’s. And do surfers, who are known for their aloof, anti-establishment nature, want to hang out together at the end of the day?
“Everyone has their own unique reasoning for doing what they do, surfing is no different. I don’t believe there is such thing as a product for everyone,” Ariens tells me. “We are all so unique. But for us, we thought a place for the community we are a part of and believed existed was the direction we wanted to go and would be a good time, so that’s what we did.” There is no disputing the good times part—Ariens is the Seattle Surfrider’s chairman and he was at ease mingling with his guests as the party ramped up.
The night of my visit, Loge was booked so I drove a short distance to the state-run campground. The twisty road led past flimsy-walled bathroom houses, weather-beaten picnic tables, and empty, dark sites. It was quiet and private and offered no sense of shared passion, unless that passion happened to be stargazing. As I readied my van for the night, I reviewed Loge’s amenities in my mind: hot showers, dry wetsuits, espresso drinks and beer on tap, the chance to make new friends, and decided that, sure, I would definitely give Loge a go. But I also wouldn’t give up nights like this one—snuggled beneath my comforter with the sound of the waves lulling me to sleep—either.
Amy Waeschle is the author of Going Over the Falls and Chasing Waves, A Surfer’s Tale of Obsessive Wandering. amywaeschle.com. Photos courtesy Loge.