Saturday, April 7, 2018

Hiatus Interruptus

I suspect that this is the longest hiatus in posting since I began this blog.  It's April 7 and, irrespective of some exceptional demands upon my time, unrelated to surfing, trying to intervene, I cannot allow my belated first surf session of 2018 to pass undocumented.

As has been broadly bemoaned within the Southern California surf community, this has been the most miserable stretch of winter surf in recent memory.  Applied to a weekend bodysurfer, dependent on swell, tide, weather and winds to cooperate within two, fixed days amongst each seven, the implication has been three dry months.  I don't think that's happened, or even close, since I initiated this blog nearly 10 years ago.  

The periods when I would post nearly every week, having surfed, seem a distant memory.  Those who used to check this space regularly on Sunday or Monday have, no doubt, long ago discontinued. 

Throughout, though, as the stress which comes from lack of water time gradually accumulated, I knew it always just a matter of time.

I'd love to say that the session to end this unprecedented drought was epic.  It wasn't.  In too many ways, the forecasters missed this, at least from what we got in the Park (San Clemente State Park) this morning.  The swell, forecast for 3 - 4 feet, which should translate to a regular shoulder to head high wave, was well short of that.   A 66-degree water temperature reading at the San Clemente Pier certainly didn't reflect the 60 or so degree water into which we swam out.  On the up side, the "questionable" winds for the morning were non-existent, presenting a glassy surface.

Nonetheless, though the waves were only waist to chest high, the Park was clean, peaky, glassy, almost empty and ... fun!  We swam out down by LG1, south of the Main Peak, where it seemed to be a little more consistent.  Fun though the actual, real-time, surf was, through much of the hour-long session, I kept seeing, in my mind's eye as we awaited the arrival of sets, past sessions at that spot.  

Glassy, grey mornings with with strangely gentle, though well-overhead, sets, tag-teamed by a pod of a dozen bodysurfers.  The Golden Triangle crew...EY_\, Hugh, Crawdaddy, Kahuna, MuDShArK, Da Arm, Too Tall, the Real Deal...and occasional visitors - Bret Belyea from SD, the late #9 Rick Ciaccio, Ackerman, the Lawyer MacPherson, the O'Gorman clan, Hacksaw - images of them, dropping in, sliding, spinning, ripping, seemed almost there. Many memories.  A few incredible, truly epic, mornings, surrounded by these guys.  And, of course, Mark "Sailfish" Ghattas, who, alone, was there this morning.

More than anything, it was a re-awakening.  A resuscitation.  A reliving.  It left me intensely hopeful that this would again, soon, become the norm. 

PS - sorry for the lack of photos.  When we arrived, it looked pretty lame and that's about what the pictures I took reflect.  It got better once we got in, but I have no photographic evidence...

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Diminuative Del Mar Delicacies

December was in doubt.  Not since a memorable session in the Park with Allan and Joe had conditions aligned with availability.  The long weekends of Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went while I remained dry.  It would be sad to close out the year without another session.  Forecasts for the 31st were minimal but there was a chance of some small remnants from a middling mid-week swell lingering into Saturday.

Headed down to North County San Diego to escape the swarms of tourists that inundate Pasadena for the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, I texted my Nicaragua companions, Bret Belyea and Chris Lafferty, that Saturday morning might find me checking it out in Del Mar, most likely forlornly.  I remained uncommitted but hopeful.

(image only; actual video below)
The morning surf cam was not encouraging.  Although still influenced by an early high tide, the crumbling, waist-high waves on the Del Mar cam held little promise.  But on a clear, bright, sunny winter morning, what would be better than a little time on the beach?

By pure coincidence, as I pulled into a metered spot in the parking lot by Jake's, Froggy (Bill Schildge) came walking by in front of the car.  He'd not been at Del Mar in more than a month, yet here the two of us were.  That was promising.  As we watched the surf from the vantage point beside the Life Guard headquarters, we first were surprised by the number of surfers in the water and then again by some small, but nicely formed and very clean little tubes peeling across.  Waist and chest high, occasionally maybe even shoulder high, they actually looked fun.  I texted Bret and Laff to let them know and headed back to the car to squeeze into my 4:3 wetsuit for the first time since last winter.

Although around 60, the water felt icy on my bare hands as I made my way out, easily, to the line up.  Three long-boarders were working the peak in front of the LG HQ, but happily shared with Froggy and myself.  Eventually, as a few more of the inveterate Del Mar Bodysurfing Club denizens made their way into the water north of us, the Black Ball came out and we had the peak to ourselves.  Shortly, Bret joined us - first time I've surfed with Bret in many months! - and Froggy peeled off to join the growing band of DMBC heads in the water 100 yards to the north.

For a full 90 minute session, while my hands grew accustomed to the cold and my toes gradually numbed, we had the peak in front of Jake's to ourselves.  Most of the waves caught were in the waist high - plus range, but there were a few larger.  Most were surprisingly hollow, offering short but fun little tube rides.  A few were longer, but most pretty short.  Unarguably, though, there was a steady flow of surf-able waves...much better than expected or even hoped.

As I exited, the DMBC crew, too, were gathering for their post-swim breakfast & beer congregation in Jakes, and I got a chance to chat a bit with DMBC majordomo Vince Asky and stalwart John Hughes.  Also, I'd not seen her in the water, but another that I was happy to see from our Nica trip, Meredith Rose, was ashore.

As I was about to head out, Lafferty arrived, prepped for a swim.  Sorry not to surf with him (though that certainly would have meant less waves for me!) it was good to at least say hi and catch up a bit.

It's always amazing how much mental peace can come from an hour or two in the surf, in the company of those that share the connection to the ocean and waves.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fall Fun with Family in the Park

It was pretty close to perfection in the Park yesterday.  

Forecast at 4 - 6 feet, it was breaking consistently from chin high to overhead.  A late fall, long interval, south swell combined with an early winter, northwest swell to throw up a series of peaks from just below the steps to past the LG1 area to the south.  A mild offshore occasionally ruffled an otherwise smooth, sometimes even glassy, surface.  The water had cooled to a mild 63, but the sun was shining on a cool, fall morning.  A slowly dropping tide was due to bottom out around 10:30 at +2 feet.

While these make for close to ideal conditions for the Park - probably only improved by a rising tide, starting out somewhat lower - what made the day especially memorable was that both my sons joined me for the 90 minute session.  

When we arrived, a dozen surfers were splayed across the main peak area, while another half-dozen were clumped on a peak below the State Park campgrounds to the south.  A couple other peaks were evident, while Cotton's was pumping in the background, further south:

Cottons firing in the distance
It was a rare outing for the three of us.  Other than during our annual summer sojourn in Newport, which often includes other friends & family, it's been a long time since Allan, Joe and I surfed together.  Later this week, Joe is off on an extended trip to Australia, so this was a send off of sorts, while, for Allan, it was his first visit to my most frequent stomping ground, the Park in San Clemente.

The peak we surfed, between the rocks & LG1

We paddled/swam out at a sandbar between the rocks & LG1, north of the gaggle of surfers who were in front of the campground trail, where there seemed to be a consistent peak and no crowd.  By & large, we had it to ourselves for the 90 minute session.  Allan and Joe both were scoring long rides, both left and right, some fast, some slow, some all the way to the shore.  It was the typical (when it's good) Park blend of fast tubular peaks, slow shoulders, and fast, inside walls. 

I started slowly, getting a feel for the way it was breaking, but Al & Joe were on it in a flash.  I mainly worked the outside, getting a lot of nice, relatively short, peak tubes and a few long, slower slides into the deep inside.  Meanwhile, Joe and Al were working both inside and out, racing the faster faces and carving the slow ones.

After about 90 minutes, fatigue and calf cramps starting to set in, I caught a long left that walled up in the deep inside.  On the other end of the wall, there was Joe, finishing a right that had peeled off the rocky spine we call the rocks.  We ended up together in the middle, just south of the rocks.  An inside current was sweeping south to north, so I allowed it to pull me north of the rocks as I slowly kicked the final few yards to shore, ready to rinse and head up to a hearty breakfast at Adele's to which Al & Joe treated me.

Does it get better?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Magic Dusk in Del Mar

I'm sorry that I don't have any pictures to convey what was an unexpectedly magical sundown session at 17th Street in Del Mar.  The stats don't tell the story but they set the scene:

Swell: Beautifully formed, head high, hollow-breaking peaks.
Surface: Smooth, with a slight offshore breeze
Water Temperature: 71 (yes, in late October)
Air: 90 and clear
Crowd: Nobody within a block in either direction

Yes, for 90 minutes, I had moderately-sized surf that approached perfect, all to myself, in warm water on a balmy fall day. 

I'm so used to morning, and even mid-day, surfs that I was enchanted by the phenomenon created by a clear, bright sun, dropping behind a good-sized wave: on take-off, behind a face shaded by the wave, the swell itself, illuminated from behind, glowed a luminescent turquoise.  

In the tube, I am used to the morning sun transforming the lip into a glittering, crystalline curtain.  Instead, at dusk, the lip is a dark curtain to the inside, and the tube instead is lit by the glow through the wave behind.  

The blackball was up, from 16th to 18th street for part of the time that I was out.  As the sole bodysurfer in the water, I wasn't surprised to have it to myself (though I wondered where the locals from DMBS were, given the great conditions!).  But after the guards took down the blackball, the surfers, even though in some concentration, left the traditional bodysurfers' zone alone. 

The only thing I was missing was someone with whom to share the stoke.  About an hour in, I caught a perfectly-formed left that included some nice time closed in high in the barrel, after a reasonable open-faced slide.  As I returned to the lineup, I noticed a local regular, Morgan Launer, whom I'd not previously met, swimming out.  "Beautiful left," she commented as she sought her position in the lineup.  Shortly, she was dropping into a set wave right, showing perfect trim as she slid out of sight.  

Morgan's arrival occasioned a burst of wave energy, with shoulder & head-high sets coming in nearly continuously.  We traded waves for a while before exhaustion got the better of me and I caught a "shore boat" ride to the inside and staggered up the sand. 

As I fell asleep, images of backlit waves, glowing turquoise, filled my head.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

In the Water Again, At Last!

The forecasts were sketchy: reasonably benign conditions but questionable swell.  Most of the forecasters were hedging their bets, with things like "1 - 3 feet."  There's a lot of room between one foot - basically un-rideable - and three feet, which can be a lot of fun!  There was also the threat that an early high tide, nearly five feet, that wasn't going to drop very fast, would swamp what was there.

On the other hand, I'd not been in the water since August, with the sole weekend (last week) with good surf since August arriving on the only weekend I was out of town.  I was desperate.  Besides, the winds were favorable, the air warm and the water temperature continued to hover around 70.  Had to give it a chance.

As I pull off the freeway at Calafia, I note a text in from Mark Ghattas: "Haven't seen a single rideable wave!"  The State Beach parking lot is completely empty, except for Mark's car.  These are not encouraging signs!  As I walk across the tracks to the rail, there's nobody in the water and the "waves" in view are more of a surge up the sand; what little was there was swamped by tide.  However, as we watch, occasionally a couple of waves, a couple of feet in height, break in water, rather than on the sand, and the decision is made to, at least, get wet.

 It seemed that it was breaking a little further out, further down the beach at LG1, but we stopped at Main Peak to give it a try.  Still alone in the water, it didn't take long to find out that those 2 - 3 footers were breaking in just enough water to be ridden, and had surprisingly decent shape.  There's really no difference between a stomach-high wave ridden a few feet from shore and one ridden 20 yards out - what matters remains the size, shape and direction of the wave.  And these were actually pretty OK.

About 30 minutes into a session that ran almost 90 minutes, a burst of energy arrived.  For about five minutes, both Mark and I were catching fun little rights and lefts, peeling off the peak area, as fast as we could get back out after each ride.  Inevitably, a long lull arrived.

About the same time, the only surfer to come out the entire time, anywhere between Riviera to the north and Cotton's to the south, arrived.  Inevitably, he paddled out right where we were.  Fortunately, though, he didn't have the skills to take many waves from us and he didn't stay long.

There were some long lefts... least, for those that know how to ride them.

Altogether, it was a beautiful morning, with plenty of fun little waves, making for an excellent break from the so-dry month of September.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Newport, Then & Again

No, I have not quit surfing. No, I have not quit blogging, either. 

My last post, July 30, reflected on the four sessions I'd gotten in during July after having surfed only five times in the preceding six months.  August was blessed with even more water time, on eight separate days.

What's kept me from blogging is the quandry over what to write about, when my surfing consists of the repetition of something I've done, so many summer days, year after year.  How to convey what is new and fresh, even though every session is exactly that?

I first bodysurfed the Newport Peninsula as a pre-teenager.  Every summer in the half-century since, I've sojourned there to surf.  Daily throughout the summer, 1965 would find the 11-year-old Hank, slowly wading out into what seemed too-chilly water with a single, stiff, all-blue Duck Feet fin in hand, nervously scanning the break at 13th Street for outside sets.  Even a four-foot breaker in that heavy shore-pound was seen as a serious threat.  

In 2017, the entry is a quick duck-dive, the insulation brought with age converting upper-60's water from chill to refreshment.  The fin choice is still Duck Feet, but now there are two, colored a swirl of blue & green with black around the heel, composed of a much softer, flexible rubber composite developed specifically for bodysurfing by Dr. Greg Deets. The fins are donned on the beach, over 1mm, H2Odyssey fin socks.  A four-footer now is a delight; a six-footer perfection.  The Newport shore-pound remains heavy, but it has to get overhead to get the nerves jangling and heart pumping.

AM surf, viewed from bedroom balcony
For six days in late August, I followed the same daily routine: Rise, grab a cup of coffee, take a seat on the balcony off our second-floor, bedroom, beachfront between 17th and 18th streets, which commanded an unimpeded view of the surf.  Invariably, in my mind's eye, I would see the Pipeline-worthy, 20-footers that had attacked this beach three years ago during the swell spawned by Hurricane Marie.  

18th Street, 2014 Hurricane Marie

Instead, though, what I actually would see daily was a steady flow of nicely formed, waist to shoulder high peaks (2 to 4 foot).  Through the week, conditions varied: some days tainted with "morning sickness," a lumpy condition wrought by overnight winds, while on other days the peaks were clean and smooth, the surface glassy.  By 8:00, I'd be in the water.

 The second and third mornings were the best, coming in clean, glassy and head-high.  Even though day two was a Sunday, there were few surfers in the water and a good vibe permeated.  With lots of waves over a three-hour session, clean conditions, many barrel rides and a few long slides, it was my best session of 2017, so far.  Monday was a little smaller, but even less crowded.  Making it unique was the rare solar eclipse that day, observable while lolling in the lineup between waves, using disintegrating paper & plastic "eclipse glasses" that Michael Schwimer kept tucked into his board shorts.

Joseph - evening session
  Each afternoon, a reprise session would follow, but generally in smaller surf now choppy with afternoon winds.

Midweek sessions were enhanced by the company of Mike "Sully" Sullivan and his two kids, Brenna and Conner, down from NorCal, along with Stan and Michael Schwimer.  Perhaps most memorable, though, was Wednesday morning, when, coxed by the irrepressible Michael Schwimer, Heather came out for her second surf lesson.  A smooth, glassy morning, with waist to chest high sets, Heather took another step toward confronting her lifelong fear of surf, as she recounts in her blog: White Water

By Thursday, the surf was down to barely over waist high, while, strangely, more surfers started appearing in the lineup.  By Friday morning, departure day, it was just dribbles insufficiently compelling to demand getting in.  

Writing now, in late September, the surf this weekend matches that of most since late August, as well as the foreseeable forecast: under waist high.  So, I reflect on this summer in Newport and the summers that preceded it.