ABOVE THE COAST, with Seaside Helicopters

By Andre' Hagestedt

The Oregon Coast will never cease to surprise you if you give it enough attention. Trust me. This insanely cool excursion will do just that, but in more ways than you'll probably imagine.

It's an unusual and powerful day on the coast: for me personally, and with the wild, funky weather that flip-flops between small rain squalls and mostly warm, even muggy, sunny weather. It feels like August in the valley, but it's only mid-April.

Over the waterIt's in this atmosphere, one of slightly mystical weather, that I embark upon Gary Turel's mind-boggingly fun ride, Seaside Helicopters.

Gary bought into this business about four years ago, after years of being addicted to flying on his own. It's like his dream job, he confesses to me after the ride in the sky. The National Guard veteran exclaims his ultimate goal would've been to wind up a fighter pilot and eventually make his way into the astronaut program. But he didn't meet the rigid criteria for the ranks of the Right Stuff set - although he qualified for commercial flight.

He's a comforting and personable presence in the helicopter as he zips around the shores of Cannon Beach, Tillamook Head and Seaside at about 100-plus miles an hour. First, you don the headset with the microphone system, enabling you to speak with Gary and he to speak to you. I blurt out, "I feel like an astronaut," and immediately wonder how many times has he heard that line.

Lookign towards AstoriaThen, you're strapped in, and takeoff happens shortly after.

With a bubble window to the world below, you feel yourself ever so gently lift upwards, a sensation similar in some ways to easing up in an airplane, but in a helicopter there's definitely that spine-tingling feeling of rising faster. It's exhilarating to say the least, with the tilt of the aircraft pulling you against its quick upward ascension.

Goonies RockFor me, I became used to this new and unique feeling within minutes, and it was soon no longer that intense thrill. I was too busy. I was armed with my digital and 35 mm camera, and quickly became engaged in trying to shoot as many photos as I could..

Over SeasideIn no time, we're up over the back of Tillamook Head, where Gary points out its sheer cliffs from this side, spots where elk congregate and even the small bald spot on top of the mountain that is the Lewis & Clark monument.

Most incredible is approaching the tip of Tillamook Head as Gary points out a rocky arch sitting offshore called "Goonies Rock," which was featured in the movie "Goonies." He swings around from here, allows me to shoot shots of Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock, Crescent Beach, Indian Beach and the top of Ecola State Park.

From there, we swing around again, head north over Tillamook Head, and he shows me that rocky shoreline beneath the headland that can't be seen any other way. At this point, Seaside is in full view, as are the shores of southern Washington and hints of Astoria. Then it's back to the landing pad, with a zoom over the adjacent Seaside Family Fun Park and its numerous fun-tastic possibilities (www.seasidefamilyfunpark.com, 503-738-2076).

Family Fun Park, on approachPerhaps ten or 15 minutes have gone by. It's hard to tell. Apparently, most rides run about 10 minutes or so, beginning at $25 per person, with options including the Cannon Beach run, a nature/wildlife run, Seaside-from-above or other combinations.

He's had several marriage proposals happen during the flights, including one memorable excursion where the man and his friends had scrawled a huge "will you marry me?" in the sands of Seaside. She emphatically squealed "yes," says Gary.

Turel and the editor (it had to be THIS week that I had a zit on my forehead)Later, we chat, and he tells me he's THE Gary Turel that ran Columbia Tax Services with his brother Stan Turel in the 90's, appearing on TV commercials and running a tax advice radio show on KEX 1190. He was like the Tom Peterson of accounting in Portland. I was in the company of a local celebrity of sorts.

Gary tells me his life of flying during these years got him the nickname of the "Flying Accountant." He and Stan sold the tax biz a few years ago, and since then Gary's been devoting his time between his love of flight and his kids, eight-year-old Andrew and 11-year-old Andrea. Now, quite literally, it seems the sky's the limit. Hwy 101, S. Seaside. www.seaside-helicopters.com. (503) 440-4123.

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coastal pubcrawl
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