Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Un-Populated Peak in the Park

Filtered through the smoke of an uncontained wildfire to the north, the early morning sun Saturday was a blood-red disk.  Ash drifting like a light snowfall had accumulated overnight and the smell of fire hung heavy in the air.  My thoughts turned to Nicaragua, where trash fires and/or jungle clearing had presented the same sun each dawn.

With triple-digit heat rising throughout inland SoCal, it was discordant to find Newport shrouded in fog as I arrived at 15th Street about 8:30.  Through the fog, I could discern the incoming sets, head high, heavy and fairly closed out.

However, crossed signals found Mark at the Park (San Clemente) at 8:30 this morning and he reported that the Park was breaking well - peaky and fun-looking - though rather heavily populated by board surfers.  Nonetheless, figuring that, most often, we can find an unpopulated peak in Park, we settled on San Clemente (my preference from the start) and I got back on the road for the 40 minute drive South.  

Good call!  Checking from the steps, I found Mark stationed about 1/3 of the way south to Main Peak.  Beyond him, at Main Peak, maybe 20 surfers were clumped in a narrow take off zone.  150 yards north, Mark was alone.  Now running an hour behind plan, I only watched for a couple of minutes (and only took a couple of shots), but in the few minutes that I watched several nice lefts, approaching head-high, peeled across where Mark was set up.  Unfortunately, I didn't catch any shots of Mark riding one.

Following a quick change into my trunks, I was swimming out in comfortably cool water.

The late start lead to an abbreviated, one hour session.  However, throughout, the sticks remained well south.  Ashore, the beach rapidly filled with a heavy summer crowd seeking to escape the blistering heat inland, but the waders and boogie-boarders stuck to the shallow water inside.

Another attraction of going further south, the water was at least three degrees warmer - approaching if not exceeding 70.  Skinning it, the cool water felt great against the warming day.  The surf was a bit inconsistent, but shoulder high sets were common, with an occasional head-high wave or two.  In addition to those peeling lefts, the peak we'd commandeered  was regularly presenting a smaller right runner that ran pretty far inside.

A downside of San Clemente is that the Parks have shut off all the showers due the drought.  Figuring I'd be in Newport, where the beach showers still work, I'd not brought my portable shower, so I was left to splash some water from a sink onto my face and drive home salty through the summer traffic and heat.  A small price to pay.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Solo Session in the Summer Smallies

A generally unwelcome "troll" who participated in an email list for bodysurfers that was popular in the worldwide bodysurfing community before Facebook drained much of the activity from "the list" liked to denigrate those who chose to surf when the waves were less than at least head high, referring to such surf as "smallies."  There was always a sneer accompanying the term.

There was no reason to expect today to be anything other than smallies.  That troll, nom de plume King Rotten, would never have understood one electing to drive an hour to surf in waves unlikely to exceed waist-to-chest height.  In fact, I was even on the fence for today, as the 2-3 foot forecast was further marred by a peaking high tide at 8:15 (fortunately, a moderate 3.5 feet) and onshore wind direction (thankfully, moderate).  

Offsetting that was the fact that I've not been out in "the Park" - San Clemente State Park beach - since early June, along with the draw of water warming to the low 70's.  More significantly, on Friday, Bret Belyea, he who was instrumental in my inclusion on the Nicaraguan safari - had texted to say he was overnighting in Laguna and would meet me in the Park, in the morning, for a session.

Things didn't work out as planned.  Bret's ride got a flat tire and, ultimately, they weren't able to make it.  To the hour it usually takes in the early morning to get from Pasadena to San Clemente, traffic added forty-five minutes.  At least that put me at the Park after the lull that accompanies the peaking tide.

As I circled the drive through the parking lot, I could see that there were at least some waves.  On the other hand, few spaces were occupied, meaning few had chosen to park and surf, generally a bad sign.  There was nobody out in the water from Rivera, a half-mile north, to the area we call LG1, below the campground 1/4 mile south, where a knee-boarder and a couple of sticks bobbed in water.

The wind was already on the water, crumbling the smaller waves and making for almost - but not quite - light chop.  Nonetheless, a couple of set waves, maybe shoulder-high, rolled in as I scoped it out.  In a few minutes, I was swimming out alone at the Main Peak section.  For the hour I was in the water, not a single surfer of any sort was anywhere north of the rocks that split Main Peak from the LG1 section. 

I had a surprisingly fun session, reveling in the fact that any wave I wanted was mine.  And there were some good ones.  Though from the steps it had appeared that many waves were crumbing - whitewater rolling down the face of the wave before it steepens enough for anything other than a long board to ride - actually, there were many much steeper than I'd seen, and several pitching enough to present small tubes. Fortunately, the waves that were there were catching the sand bars which so often make the beach break peaky, so the rides, both left and right, were of moderate length.

Some sessions, between lulls, waiting for sets and sharing with others in the water, rides might be as infrequent as one in 10 or 15 minutes.  Though I was only in an hour, I had to have averaged a wave every 3 minutes.  Once every five minutes, a solo, larger wave - maybe chin-high - would come in.  Attuned to that timing, I think I got every one that showed in that hour period.

Smallies may not provide the adrenaline of a heavy, overhead tube, or the hyped up vibe in the water, but there's so much more to a session, even a solo session.  Watching the terns wheel overhead as an occasional solo pelican glides by low; floating in the cool, but comfortable water; observing from offshore as the empty beach slowly fill with a summer weekend crowd; and, of course, regularly dropping into empty, well-shaped waves; I think "King Rotten" missed the point.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nicaragua 2016: The video

Thanks, Bill "Froggy" Schildge for all the work (assisted by Bruce "Sensai" Robbins) to put together this wonderful, 30-minute, reminiscence of our Nicaraguan adventure.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Swiming Out in Oceanside

The long, holiday weekend found us in North San Diego County for a reunion of as many of the Nica pod who could make it.  Hosted by Meredith and Hayley at their home on the Del Mar bluffs, good food and story, and the opportunity to mix significants and kids, were highlighted by Froggy's video of the trip - so professional, so funny!  So, of course, the question was where to surf Sunday morning, ultimately deferred until a morning call to be made based on observation and the cams.  

A dropping south swell portended small waves in Del Mar but maybe more up toward Oceanside.  Unfairly, I'm not a big fan of O'side, largely because the swim out there can be pretty tough.  But as the morning dawned, texts were flying, with a consensus developing that the dawn patrol would swim out at O'side, where the "eyes on" observation by Bruce "Sensai" Robbins reported a glassy, 1-3 foot swell, while the later, family, contingent would loll at Del Mar.  I joined the dawn patrol.

With water temps reported in the low 70's around south OC and north SD counties, despite a thick, grey overcast, cool air temperature and mild offshore breeze, I opted to "skin in" in my trunks, a quick change on arrival in O'side.  Walking down the steps on the south side of the pier, with sticks arrayed off to the south, I saw three heads - Bruce, Brett and Jody - in flat water about 200 yards offshore.  As I "finned" up on the beach and waded out, I wondered whether their positioning so far out was wishful thinking.  Take care what you think, because Maia will hold you accoutable!

After a very short wade out, there was a long trough, maybe 75 yards, at least five feet deep to traverse with a mild, north-bound current running through it.  No sweat.  But as I stroked toward the end of the trough, outside set - head high and overhead in size - started arriving another 75 yards out.  A lot of water was moving shoreward, and a strong channel of side current began pushing north into the pier.  I swam out against the unceasing shoreward flow.  I swam south against the pressing north current drawing me into the pier.  For five minutes, I made a little progress toward the lineup, ducking again and again under the white water, got pushed back, then made a little progress again.  Checking my progress against markers on the pier, I'd be encouraged by seeing them draw even and start to fall behind, only to be dismayed after a few waves to see them again in front of me.  But each time, disconcertingly, a bit closer to that pier.  Yeah, once or twice, I actually thought about just packing it in and trying to swim out on the other side of the pier.

Finally, I seemed to be making some progress without backsliding and hit a break when I could stroke out into the line up.  No SoulCycle, no interval circuit training, prepares you for that.  Bret greets me to the lineup with the information that they had been drawing straws to see who got to come in and get me.  Thanks.

Once out there, I was surprised by the size of the surf.  And it wasn't without some power.  Unfortunately, while there were a few corners for the patient, or for the intrepid willing to take off closer to the pier, the sets were fairly walled off, closing out.  However, the faces were holding open for a while, so even the more closed out walls offered a ride of several seconds.  The sets were head high, and plus, with some inside waves with a bit more form, offering some longer lefts that Jody and Brett were exploiting.  Meanwhile, Bruce was picking off the set waves that had any kind of shape, and making far more of them than I ever could, driving far inside toward the pier.

The waves I did catch - and I got my share - tended to be shorter, but hollow and pitching while being strangely forgiving.  There was no real "price to pay" at the end, as every exit was clean.  While the left corners were more obvious, and longer, they carried with them the levy of fighting the current back south from the pier and a longer swim back out.  The rights were fast, hollow and fun.  But short.

The sticks pretty much left us alone, ranging to the south, which was peakier but also allowed longer lefts without the immobile stopping point of the pier to consider.  

Bret & Jody had to leave after an hour.  I lingered another 30 minutes with Bruce, starting to get a bit chilled without any rubber - Jody & Bruce wore full suits and Bret was in a spring suit - leading to leg cramps on pretty much every wave.  

It was great to share some waves with some of the Nica pod, even if so different from Nica.  While the waves were fun, I can't say that Sunday's swim out in any way decreased my antipathy toward O'side...though maybe I should have heeded the local's suggestion from Bret to swim out on the north side of the pier and then swim down through the pier.  You think?

I love the the variety of different spots.  And, yes, rising to the unique challenges that they present.  Next time, though, I think I'll lobby for Encintas.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summer Swelter Summer Swell

You know that summer has arrived when...
... a large, south swell pounds Southern California beaches
... inland temperatures soar daily into the upper 90's
... fires burn across the state
... water temperatures approach 70
... and it's time to hit the Newport peninsula.

Weekend parking is hard enough to find in the Newport jetties in winter.  Summer is more difficult; add a swell, bringing in surf crowds, and it becomes almost impossible.  Our initial call was along the peninsula at 15th Street, hoping that the south-facing beach would be angled enough not to be closed out.  

Even before I could see the waves, I suspected that hope was to be dashed: walking across the lot at 15th, I couldn't see the water but had no problem seeing the whitewater leaping high above the sand horizon as a set came in.  I watched for a while, but, as I said to Mark when he arrived a few minutes later, "it just looks big and mean."

The regular sets, overhead in height, were heavy and closed out.  Just didn't look like fun.

 We watched for a while longer and decided to check Blackies, up at the pier, which generally is much smaller but peaky.  There's a large lot on the north/west side of the pier, but the dory boat fish market combined with a farmers market and sizzling inland heat to bring in an early crowd.  It was backed up just entering the lot.  Amazingly, though, a car pulled out just as I inched my way into the lot. I went to check Blackies, but it was not only breaking small - maybe waist high - but was nearly as crowded as the parking lot - long boarders, soft-toppers and sponges galore!  Basically a beginner's beach, it was probably the only spot within miles that most of them were proficient enough to surf.

However, looking back south/east, beyond the pier, The Point - 19th Street - seemed to hold promise and was uncrowded. 

More important, the uneven, shallow shelf that juts out at the point was creating some nice little peaks.  Though much smaller than 15th street, the shoulder-high corners looked promising.

Mark went off to find a parking spot around 19th and I added a couple of hours to my parking and suited up in my spring "shortie" for the first time this year.  For a little over an hour, we fought a steady current to maintain position around the 19th street lifeguard stand and shared some fun, hollow, Newport waves with a couple of knee-boarders and an occasional stick.  

As Mark had to leave, I was tiring of the constant swim and had noticed that somewhere around 18th Street, those closed-out lines from 15th appeared to bend into big, fast lefts.  

For my final half-hour, I decided to walk up the beach, nearly to 17th, and drift into a few of those.  I got several of those larger lefts, then allowed the current to carry me up to 19th and close the session out with several final waves at the point.

First taste of summer surf...not bad.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cool and Closed Out in the Park

It's been two months since I was last out in the Park.  Of course, in between was a week of intensive bodysurfing in Nicaragua.  In the several weeks since return, the stars haven't aligned, until this week.  

Forecasts held a lot of promise - maybe 4 - 6 feet, at least 3 - 4, with a moderate high tide and soft, even offshore, breeze.  The weekend was shaping up hot and sultry, at least inland.  Cool water and good waves beckoned.  

While it was good to get back in the water - that's true, without fail - what we found Saturday morning was not at all as expected.  Thick overcast, sometimes dropping to fog, overlay the coast.  A fairly stiff onshore breeze ruffled the surface and crumbled the crests of the waves.  Wind and moisture in the air, combined, made it even a bit chilly, making the water temp, in the low 60's, seem even colder.  The swell was there - sometimes up to head-high - but wasn't really catching the sandbars that often bring that peakiness to the park.  Instead, sets tended to be beach-break close outs.  

Of course, one benefit of marginal surf and cooler conditions is the lack of crowds.  The five guys above were the only guys in the water north of the rocks.  Further south, there were maybe 10 or so out, below the campgrounds - most likely early summer visitors to the campground.  Through most of a 90-minute session, Mark Ghattas and I were sharing waves with only a couple of local sticks, and the vibe in the water was relaxed and fun.

The wind came and went, sometimes getting a bit glassy, and there were occasional peaks on even set waves, for the patient. 

But it was highly inconsistent and the middle of our session was marked by an extended lull as the tide peaked.  And the higher tide gutted most of the inside break.  I did have one, well-formed left that allowed for a moderately long slide, along with several faster, steeper right, but those were short.  Over the session, I doubt I caught 10 waves.

However, after adapting to the cool water - initially a shock after the bathtub temperatures of Nicaragua - it was nice to float, paddle against the current, and catch an occasional wave.  Near the end of the session, I got a double calf cramp, aggravated no doubt by the cooler water, and concluded it was time to catch a shoreboat wave and head up to Adele's.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nica: The Chinanadega Red Cross Lifeguards

I am not sure of the origins, but Nanz Zekela, Del Mar bodysurfer, has been connected with Jorge Tercero Ceo of the Nicaraguan Red Cross (Cruz Roja Nicaraguense) in Chinandega, where he works to train lifeguards.  She was aware that they had no fins for the guards to use, and, preceding our trip, organized an effort to acquire fins for us to take down to them.  She enlisted Chris Lafferty and Jody Hubbard, along with Del Mar 17th Street Chief Lifeguard Pat Vergne, in the effort.  Rusty's in Del Mar donated four pair of DaFins and DaFin discounted three additional pair that Nanz bought.  Between them, Chris and Jody Hubbard carried the fins to Nicaragua.

After lunch on our first day, Suday, Jorge arrived from Chinandega with a pack of teenage lifeguards, and were presented with the fins.  We were about to leave for an afternoon surf in "the Bay," mentioned and mapped in my last blog entry, and the carload of guards decided to join us!

Chris presents the fins at camp
As we finned up and swam out at the bay, it was choppy and disorganized, with crumbling waves from waist high to about chin high breaking from close in to about 75 yards out.  As our tribe scattered, ranging from Hayley outside on her longboard to Chris working the inside, where the surf was a bit cleaner, the pod of lifeguards spread out among us.  Shortly, it became a medley of party waves.

Two and three guards would take off on the same wave.  Excellent swimmers, even though there were only maybe eight of them, their grinning faces seemed to be everywhere!  Initially, the direction they chose on waves, if any, seemed to be random, and there were a lot of straight in and whitewater rides.  The chaotic surfing seemed strangely congruent with the waves themselves.  It was clear that they were having a ball.

At the Bay
After the session at the Bay, the enthusiasm and appreciation of the guards was abundantly evident.  We had vague plans for a "competition" the final day, and each of us had brought a prize for the competition.  It occurred to someone that we should invite the guards to join us for the competition.  They agreed, and there was even some talk about a local TV station covering it.

We weren't sure they'd actually show - we'd set 6am for the time and Chinandega is a 22 mile drive inland from Aposentillo.  By 6:00, most of us were in the water, near the camp at North Boom, when they arrived on shore and swam out.  I recognized several from earlier in the week, but knew no names.  One of them, Juan Canales, latched onto me and followed me everywhere in the line up, never more than a few feet away.  Isolated my our mutual inability understand each other - Juan having no English and my Spanish being extremely limited - it took a while (and some continuing imposition on Bret to translate between waves) to understand what was going on.  Eventually, I came to understand that they were out there to learn from us, how WE surf the waves - riding across the face - and that this morning was their test.  Juan was looking for me to grade him.

Quickly, the guards had assimilated the concepts of traversing the wave and respect for another surfer already in the wave.  Now, we saw them cutting across the wave faces, often with the back arm extended skyward, sailfish-style, in mimicry of how they saw our lay-back styles.  Infectious grins spread from Nicaraguan to American.  

A moment found me floating beside Chris L. between waves.  

"Zoom out from here," he said.  "It's incredible; our group of Americans, able to afford the luxury of a surf trip to Nicaragua, sharing the waves and stoke with these kids.  Just think about it: amazing."  (I hope I properly captured the sense of that, Chris.)  

The CR (Cruz Roja ... i.e., Red Cross) guards accompanied us back to camp, where we'd taken up a collection to buy them lunch with us.  As we gathered to award the prizes that we'd brought with us, the guards shocked us:  the prior day & evening, they'd labored to make prizes for us!

Wooden stands and plaques, with handpainted words (in English) memorializing our trip to Nicaragua, flying the flag of Nicaragua.  We were speechless!  

At lunch, the guards presented several of us with friendship bracelets.  I was proud to receive one - in good, blackball colors of yellow & black - from Juan, who then sat by me at lunch.  Again, we imposed repeatedly for translation, this time on Briguitte, who patiently indulged us.  It's clear that Juan's ambition is to come to the US, to compete in the Worlds (World Bodysurfing Championships in Oceanside) and continue his education.

Juan & Hank
After lunch, the guards circulated, seeking to have us sign the fins.  Each came, pre-signed with a stylized "N" and "Z" from Nanz.  We added our names and exortations...I hope they last.

At the lunch, Juan had asked for my Facebook information. We're now "friends" on Facebook and exchanging iMessages.  Jorge and at least two of the other guards are also on Facebook, and friended with me as well as others from our pod that are active on Facebook.  As I commented in a prior post, and as is implicit in Chris' comment to me in the lineup that Friday, the world has, indeed, become so small.

I fear I have fallen short - far short - of conveying how exceptional and moving to all of us this connection was, but, hopefully, I've given the reader at least a hint!  Big thanks to Nanz for making this happen and to Pat Vergne, Rusty's and DaFin for their support!

[I hope to complete this series with a post on the pod that traveled to Nica, and a profile of our camp, Rise Up Surf.]