My first introduction to the area was during a BCU 3-star training course. I had arrived a couple of days early to get some surf practice in before the ‘real’ classes started. As it was early spring, wouldn’t be a BCU training session if we didn’t have wind and swell, none of the usual amenities for visitors had opened yet. Rolling down a dirt road pondering my next choice I notice a tribal police car headed my way. Explaining my dilemma to the officer he kindly told me to disregard the ‘no camping’ signs and make myself at home. I’ve been in love with the area and the people ever since!
The Makah are an indigenous people of the Northwest Plateau living in the northwestern corner of the continental United States in Washington. They are enrolled in the federally recognized Makah Indian Tribe of the Makah Indian Reservation.
Linguistically and ethnographically, they are closely related to the Nuu-chah-nulth and Ditidaht peoples of the West Coast of Vancouver Island, who live across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in British Columbia.
Surfing soothes me, it’s always been a kind of Zen experience for me. The ocean is so magnificent, peaceful, and awesome. The rest of the world disappears for me when I’m on a wave. – Paul Walker
Archaeological research suggests that the Makah people have inhabited the area now known as Neah Bay for more than 3,800 years. The ancient Makah lived in villages, inhabiting large longhouses made from western red cedar. These longhouses had cedar-plank walls. The planks could be tilted or removed to provide ventilation or light. The cedar tree was of great value to the Makah, who utilized its bark to make clothing and hats. Cedar roots were used in basket making, while canoes were carved from whole trees to hunt seals, gray whales and humpback whales. The Makah acquired much of their food from the ocean. Their diet consisted of whale, seal, fish, and a wide variety of shellfish. They would also hunt deer, elk, and bear from the surrounding forests.
Much of what is known about the way of life of the ancient Makah is derived from their oral tradition. There is also an abundance of archeological evidence of how the Makah lived which was recovered in the 1970’s from the Ozette site located further south down the coast. But that’s another story.