Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Blog-Worthy Session in Newport

A week on vacation at the beach, on the waterfront at 17th Street on the Newport peninsula.  Warm days and evenings, clear skies, beautiful water and the warmest water temperatures in memory.  Ending Friday, it was a fantastic vacation, but offered little grist for a blog focused on surf.  Until Thursday, the surf rarely exceeded waist-high wind swells barely able to propel anything other than a longboard.  Thursday afternoon and Friday morning offered a tad more, some fun, stomach-high waves, but still pretty anemic.

The only answer was to return to the peninsula Saturday morning, when a long-interval ground swell from the south was expected to mix in with the western wind swell we'd frolicked in on Thursday and Friday.  Meeting up with Derrik "MuDsHaRk" Sciarra and Mark "Sailfish" Ghattas in the 15th Street lot about 7:45, we were quickly assured that'd we'd not be disappointed.

On a hot, sultry morning, the glassy smooth surface glittered as well defined lines offered thick, dredging head-high, and sometimes bigger, breakers.  No wind to mess it up; little current to fight; and the west swell to help break the otherwise closed out south swell lines into peaks and corners.  Fast, steep rights in pitching tubes interspersed with longer lefts, peeling slowly enough to ride into the deep inside but still with enough speed and power to thrill.

Oh, but what about the crowd on a five-star morning?  None.  Nope.  A scattering of sticks and spongers were spread out from 16th Street down to 19th, but the swell was hitting everywhere equally from Schoolyards at 13th Street to 19th.  Through a 2-1/2 hour session, occasionally, two or three might drift through but there was not a wave that one of us had to give up.  We worked between the corner of Schoolyards at 13th to in front of the guard stand at 15th essentially without interference or competition.

This is what a summer Newport swell is supposed to be.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Newport Peninsula, a Year Later ...

Well, I committed to blogging on Newport irrespective of whether it was epic or flat.  What a difference a year makes!  As expected, it's been much closer to flat than epic, whilst a year ago it was, quite literally epic: a strong south swell generated by Lowell followed by the region's biggest summer surf in 25 years generated by Marie.

Allan on a mini-left - from our bedroom balcony

Fortunately, though, it's not been completely flat.  When the wind hasn't been too much onshore and the tide hasn't been too high, there have been waves that could be ridden.  Knee to waist high, sometimes encroaching into the stomach to chest range, has been the rule for the last four days.  Too crumbly when the tide gets to its afternoon peak, and sometimes troubled by "morning sickness" - a phenomenon of choppy, jumbled surface early the in the day resulting from onshore winds in the late night and early morning hours - there also have intervals of clean surf, smooth surfaces and hollow mini-tubes. 

Kevin Schwimer right / Allan left - not a bad bedroom view!

Combine that with the clearest water I've ever seen in Newport, where the bottom six feet below is crystal clear through a warm blue-green water tone seeming more like Hawaii than SoCal/Newport, tropical water temperatures in the low 70's and an abundance of sun after mid-morning, and there can be little cause for complaint. 

Then cap that with a perfect, beachfront location between 17th & 18th Streets (the middle of the stretch from 14th to 19th that is my preferred surfing haunt in Newport) sporting an unbeaten view of that sweep of beach ... a bit of heaven!

Meanwhile, the forecast is for some swell to start to show Thursday, so we might even get some real surf before our departure Friday morning.  And, of course, I can always come back down for the day Saturday or Sunday.

However, here's a glimpse of how 17th Street looked - right in front of the house that we're in - a year ago:

The Marie photo/blogs are here:

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tale of Two Sessions

Two weekends
Two favorite surf spots
Two sessions

Seeking a south swell remnants of a tropical storm at 15th Street on the Newport peninsula last weekend.  Looking for a bit of energy from reliable San Clemente State Park on an off-weekend this weekend.

Success with both!  

On the peninsula, we look for meaty, hollow, steamroller lines when the South comes in, long period.  In the park, we look for peaks and corners pitched up by the sandbars.  While last weekend was substantially larger, as to be expected, the sessions weren't as different as might be expected.
Glassy Newport
Newport was surprisingly peaky.  It appears that some sandbars have developed through spring and early summer, morphing the shoulder and head high lines into hollow rights amongst the peeling lefts.

Sailfish Slides Right at Newport

At SCSP, we were just hoping for something to ride, and it was surprisingly fun, with the small mix of south and west swells periodically aligning over the sand bars for nice corners running in both directions.

Chest High Peaks in the Park
There was little crowding in either spot.  In both, we headed to the south of the better-known sections, to 15th, rather than 17th-19th in Newport, and beyond LG1, rather than Main Peak in the Park.  At the Park, to our North there was a steady string of summer groms struggling on their sticks, with only a few locals mixed it.  In both places, we had the area that Mark and I were working all to ourselves throughout the session.

Some Lines in the Park

At Newport, I decided to try out a new GoPro Hero Session camera.  The camera is great - downsized from prior GoPros and waterproof itself, rather than needing housing.  But, as with most equipment, it takes getting used to.  One button push turns the camera on and starts filming ... but with about a two-second delay, something I didn't realize until reviewing what I had shot.  Pretty much missed most of the action that I was going after, unfortunately.

GoPro Selfie, Mid-slide in Newport

At SCSP, the deep overcast combined with the smaller waves lead me to stash the camera for the session.

As a result, from Newport, there are only some GoPro stills, while at SCSP, I've got the usual "rail"shots. 

Hugh and Mark at the SCSP Rail

Though Newport is always a couple of degrees colder than San Clemente, despite the fact that it was the end of July, it was completely comfortable "skinning" it through both sessions.  So continues a run of record warm water that's stretched over a year, with no end in sight.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Swell on Schedule

You can see a summer swell coming from a long way off.  Born deep in the Southern Hemisphere, waves are on their way 10 days before they get here.  Since last week, the models have forecast a playful, long interval, head-high swell to arrive on Friday and last into Saturday.

On first glimpse, crossing the railroad tracks, there it was.  The wind was calm, the tide mid-low, and water temp bumping up on 70, and the water was full of surfers ... not!  It was nearly deserted.  Mainly because, as is hinted in the picture above, it was pretty walled up (arriving parallel to the shoreline and breaking all at once instead of peeling).  

Surfline, and the other websites, had warned to head to the point breaks instead of the beach breaks.  It appears that, in Southern Orange County, people took notice - I couldn't resist taking this shot of Cotton's Point, a mile & a half south of where we stood:

Click on it for a full-screen image.  I counted over one hundred heads in the water!  As one of the guys standing at the rail, watching, commented: Even if only one decent wave comes in up here, that's more than you're going to get down there!

But there were decent waves, as the tide fluctuated, and the swells hit the various sand bars along the Park area:

Yeah, you had to be picky.   While there was head-high size, it was often walled:

 But walled is where the bodysurfer loses his disadvantage against the surfer.  There are still short rides, tubes and easy exits, while waiting for the occasional corner.

As Hugh and I swam out at the main peak, there was only one surfer in the water.  The area further south, just below the campground, was starting to fill in with visitors from the campsite who would have paddled out in anything.

After an hour or so, more & more guys started paddling out.  Few regulars, none particularly proficient.  That left the two of us shifting around to avoid them as they'd see us score a wave or two and move in to shadow us.  But there were plenty of waves for us.  Rights & lefts.  A few long ones; mostly short, fast and hollow, though.  

As the lineup filled in, the wind, onshore today, started picking up, first ruffling the surface then starting to make the top of the waves crumble into the the midsection, eliminating the tubes that had been our compensation for the shortness of the rides.  We'd had a good 90 minutes ... time to call it a morning and leave with all the good pickings behind us.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Unplanned Peaks in the Park

I went to bed last night uncertain whether or not to surf today.  Most models were showing a steady onshore wind and small waves - I'd most often pass.  However, there were inconsistencies in the wind model and the swells showed two, separate, long interval SSW ground swells with a WNW wind swell mixed in ... all a foot or so in height.  Sometimes that can work well as the swells double up and then peak with the WNW.  I left the decision to whether I happened to awake early.

I awoke early and am glad I did!  We were surprised by pretty consistent chest, shoulder and even head high surf.  The long interval made for some power, with some pretty hollow.  The WNW mixed it up nicely, so that there were shifting peaks all around.  Pretty regularly, the swell mix created a long runner to the left off the peak.

For those who can't picture it based on those words, imagine standing on shore.  A shoulder-high swell, the SSW, is coming in at a little bit of an angle from the left.  A smaller swell approaches from the right at the same time.  The bodysurfer takes off at the peak created by the intersection, but is able to slide down into the smaller wave on the right (as you look out) and ride it all the way to deep inside, while the bigger SSW swell trails behind.

The rights were the opposite, but much faster, steeper, hollower ... and shorter.

What made the session exceptional was that we had it all to ourselves.  Hugh Berenger and I were joined in the water by water photographer/surfer/bodysurfer Geoff Glenn, shooting stills with his GoPro mounted on a trigger grip.  For the first 45 minutes, there was no one else in the water from the rocks all the way back nearly to the steps.  We had the extended Main Peak area to ourselves.  

I found it a little more consistent coming off the rocky underwater spine we call the Rocks, and between there and Main Peak 25 yards to the North.  Eventually, a few sticks paddled out, but all went in at Main Peak or further north, so we had the area we'd chosen all to ourselves for over 90 minutes.  

The wind remained slack - ruffling the water surface but not affecting the waves at all.  The water was a cool 65 or 66, but the shorty sufficed as there were no long waits or lulls.  Geoff was getting some great shots and Hugh and I simply had our pick of waves.  I know that on a handful of waves, I was sliding right toward and past Geoff, so I'm hoping for some action shots to share later in the week.

Unplanned, I had my best session in the Park, or anywhere, since March!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sometimes Good Things Come In Small Packages

Swell forecasts through the week have been uninspiring.  There's a little southwest swell, generally projected for waist high, maybe some plusses.  Conditions were supposed to be decent, though, so  I turned in Friday night undecided: if I'm awake and feel like it, I'll head down to San Clemente.

I was awake, and I felt like it.  With a coffee and yogurt downed and about to head out, I get a text from Hugh: "Waist high and weak."  Damn.  I reply: "On my way, anyway."

Turned out to be a pretty good choice.  It was, as expected, fairly small.  But it had some shape and the conditions were good: clean and glassy under a flat, gray sky.  

A waist high tube is still a tube for a bodysurfer!

Today was a rare, solo session.  Hugh was at the rail but uninspired.  Mark was in San Diego.  Expectations hadn't warranted reaching out to anyone else.  

There were a surprising number of surfers in the water.  A mix of sticks, sponges, and a trio of teens launching skimmers off soft tops, were scattered from the main peak up.  At first, it seemed pretty much the same everywhere - waist high, with a few plusses, semi-hollow with a few corners.  

But a set rolled through with maybe shoulder-high peaks down at the Main Peak.  Instead of swimming out in an empty stretch just north of the stairs, I went down just past the Main Peak where there was a little gap between the rocks and Main Peak, that seemed to be getting pretty consistent corners.  I had the spot to myself for all but 10 of the next 90 minutes.

The waves were fun, and I had plenty.  There were few lulls and no competition for the waves.  Lots of chest and sometimes shoulder high peaks with nice little corners leading into fast tubes.  I even had a rare "in & out" - cover up inside the tube, then emerging back out onto the wave face.  Also, a long left slide that just kept peeling into the deep inside.

Though I had the GoPro on my wrist, with the poor lighting, small waves and lack of company, I only shot a couple of clips.  The extract above gives a pretty good idea of the semi-hollow, chest-high rights that were coming pretty regularly.

Wishing I'd just slept in?  Nah.  Sometimes good things come in small packages.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Still Bloggin'

To those who have checked in over the last two months - No, I have not stopped blogging my surf outings, nor have I quit surfing.  However, it has been 8 weeks since last I surfed, the longest hiatus since I started this blog 6 years ago; in fact, the longest stretch in at least 8 years.  How is this possible?

I don't have a record of the swells over the last 8 weeks, but this is how best I can reconstruct it:

Week 1: Weekend in Ojai / Easter Sunday.  There was a little swell, but nothing notable.
Week 2: I have no notes, and there were no conflicts.  It must have been feeble surf.
Week 3: London.  No surf on the Thames.
Week 4: Just home from London; no surf.
Week 5: Hawaii, Big Island.  No surf in Hawaii; big swell hitting Southern California, but marginal conditions.
Week 6: Just back from Hawaii, but with a nasty cold.  There was small surf (2-3 feet); I would have gone if I'd be in better health.  
Week 7: Flat surf; bad weather.  Not happening.
Week 8: Finally!!!!!

Not much happening on Saturday or Sunday, but it's Memorial Day weekend, and a moderate swell out of the south has been promised all week for arrival late Sunday.  On arrival at the Park on Monday morning on a chilly morning under slate grey skies, a swell was, indeed, showing. I joined Hugh at the rail to observe a head-high set come in.

There were only a handful of surfers out, but, as we watched the swell for a few minutes, another dozen materialized with boards under arm.  By the time we'd suited up (full rubber) not only the Main Peak area but the entire range from the rocks all the way up to straight out from the rail was populated by guys on fiberglass.

Beyond, at "LG1" below the Park itself, the water was still empty.  First on the beach, I headed the quarter-mile south to LG1 and swam out.  Hugh and Mark joined me shortly for a two-hour session.  Hampered by a tide swing bottoming out mid-session, it was inconsistent.  Nonetheless, there were plenty of chest and chin high waves throughout, with some surprising rights and hollow lefts.  

The water was supposed to be 64, but felt colder, rewarding the decision to go with full wetsuits.  Until late in the session, the wind remained mild and from the south, finally starting to ruffle lips near the session's end.  Throughout, we had the area south of LG1 - "King's Corner" - all to ourselves, balancing the lower consistency there against the crowds at the areas further north well populated with sticks and sponges. 

It wasn't the best session of late in the Park, but damn if it didn't feel great to get wet!