By Charlotte Austin

Adventure is about building memories,” believes photographer Alexandra Pallas. “Which happens any time we set out on a journey. Sometimes those adventurous journeys are small, like the beautiful hour I spent watching a baby deer from my back deck this morning. Sometimes they’re huge, ambitious, all-encompassing, international expeditions. But each of those experiences leaves us with moments that we can look back on. Those moments reflect what we’re proud of, and symbolize the things that we value most.”

Alex, who lives with her husband and their three-year-old Sheepadoodle in Pacific City, Oregon, was the natural choice to shoot Pelican’s series of Updrift Adventure stories. An experienced lifestyle, adventure, wedding, and portrait photographer with a background in competitive extreme sports, her work is vibrant, authentic, and natural. Raised in nearby Portland, she’s called Oregon home for most of her life. She radiates passion for her craft, and has an intrinsic understanding of the coast.

While Alex has years of experience as a photographer — and a degree in fine art — living on the coast has deeply informed her aesthetic as a photographer. “This is a magical place to shoot,” she says. “Taking pictures in the Pacific Northwest forces me to pay attention to light. It gives me a great appreciation for the gray, which can be tricky for photographers — it can soften colors and create a haze. But it’s taught me to be a little more assertive in my vision.” She believes in embracing and showcasing the area’s natural beauty, and does her best to accurately represent the coastal landscape. “The specific color of Cape Kiwanda has particularly affected my style — I love that sandstone rock, and on a day with good light, the yellow really shines through. I’m also very influenced by greens. They’re everywhere in this environment, and they’re spectacular.”When she’s not shooting, Alex loves learning to surf. She’s a hearty cheerleader for Pacific City’s informal Ladies Surf Club, a local meet-up group of locals and friends who are working to build community for female cold-water surfers in the Pacific Northwest. While she has a built-in surf partner in her husband, who manages the local surf shop and teaches surfing lessons, Alex especially loves her time on the water with fellow women. “It can be challenging and hugely intimidating to get into extreme sports,” she recalls. “I absolutely remember that from my years of competitive ski racing. And surfing can feel really scary — for the cold water a lot of gear is needed, there’s no instruction manual, and the ocean is an intense place. But at the end of the day, it’s about having fun. So with our women’s surf crew, we’re trying to form a space where we can come together to uplift and encourage each other, and it’s really positive.” The crew gathers at Pelican Brewing weekly to surf, share tips, and enjoy some saltwater.

Alex’s eyes twinkle as she reflects on the other outdoor sports she’s mastered, but it’s clear that all that experience has given her patience and wisdom, too. “I’m a beginner in this sport, so I totally accept the fact that I’ll fall,” says Alex. “I’m naturally very driven, but with surfing, I’m doing everything I can to accept myself and my journey — sometimes I’ll just go float on the ocean! I also want to show other people that I’m totally accepting of where I am, and I want to invite other women to join me in this process of learning to surf in cold water. It’s so important for women to remind other women that we don’t need to compare or judge. We all need the space to say ‘we’re all in this together.’”
Alex also confesses that she has a favorite off-season beach activity: hunting for sand dollars. “It’s so peaceful,” she reflects. “You can go out any time of day, even for just a few minutes at a time.” She’s always environmentally conscientious, though: “If they look like they have a chance at living, I immediately put them back into the ocean — I call myself a champion of sand dollars! — but if they’re definitely dead, I keep them. I like the ones with no cracks, no holes, and nice smooth edges.” Once she gets her sand dollars home, she has a specific system: she lays them out carefully on her deck to let them dry fully, then shakes all the sand off, then collects them in a vase. “It’s so fun — everybody’s out here doing super extreme things, but I get so much joy out of going for a run and hunting for humble little sand dollars. I love having little pieces of the ocean in our home.”

That theme — of re-grounding into the local — has been one of the important threads for Alex and her family this season. “2020 is  a complicated year for all of us, and everybody’s gravitating back toward home. We’re all seeking out our roots, and re-focusing on what we need in life. When I first came to this coastline on vacation from Portland as a kid in elementary school, the biggest thing I remember about this town is the Pelican Brewery. By being here, it’s allowed for more elements of the community to be built around it. That’s been so instrumental. And it’s only fitting that now my husband and I call Pacific City home.”When reflecting on her project to document the community around Updrift, Alex glows. “As I work through these photos, there’s an overall happiness that’s incredibly unique. Even when I asked people to be straight-faced and look at the camera, it’s been so clear that there’s a sense of relaxation and overall contentment. It’s not just because they’re doing activities that they love; it’s also because every single person here is happy to be a part of this community. This project isn’t just uplifting them, but it’s putting words and images to the coastline that they love.”



Charlotte Austin is an award-winning adventure writer and mountain guide living on Bainbridge Island, Washington. She works for International Mountain Guides, where she leads climbing and mountaineering expeditions around the world. She is a Wilderness-EMT, a Leave No Trace (LNT) Trainer, an extra class ham radio operator, and holds Level 2 certification with the American Institute for Avalanche Education and Training (AIARE). She has written for Outside Magazine, The New York Times, Seattle Met, and many more national and international print and online publications. She summited Mount Everest on May 22nd, 2019; since then, she has been icing her knees, drinking cold beer, and falling off her surfboard.

Alexandra Pallas is a freelance photographer based out of Pacific City, Oregon. A native Oregonian, she was skiing by the age of three and backpacking by the age of seven. Her life-long love of the outdoors and an adventurous spirit inspires her photographic work. When she isn’t behind the lens you can find her skiing, surfing with her husband, hiking, and playing with her Sheepadoodle Napoleon.

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