Saturday, June 17, 2017

Summer Surf; Sharks Be Damned

April 29, two weeks after my last session at the Park, a woman was critically injured by a Great White Shark at San Onofre - about 2.5 miles from the Park - while swimming in the lineup by her boyfriend who was surfing.  Over the ensuing weeks, reports piled up of great white sightings between San Onofre to the south and Capistrano Beach, 5 miles north of the Park.  Swarms of juveniles were mixed with sightings of larger - 10 foot - sharks.  Most of San Clemente, including the Park, was closed or under active shark warning through all of May, into June.  Video and TV reports circulated of surfers and stand up paddlers being warned out of the water while a dozen or so great whites circulated in the water beneath them.  A beach cam captured a large white breaching in Trestles (which is between the Park and San Onofre), scant yards to the north of a dozen or so sticks in the lineup at the popular spot.  Life guard helicopters cruised the coast, tracking and spotting the predators.  Amidst it, another apparent attack occurred in the north end of Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, on a woman in the shallows, just exiting a surf session.

While San Clemente remained under alert, there had been no significant sightings since June 2.  Figuring the activity was, perhaps, moving off, I started making plans for a session for this weekend.  A small swell was due, with warming water, a low tide and benign winds.  Then, Wednesday, after a nearly two-week lull, another sighting was reported to the north of the San Clemente pier.  I dejectedly texted Mark Ghattas, "Just when you thought it was safe to go in the water...."  

However, there have always been sharks in the water.  There had been no new attacks and the sightings were, indeed, falling off.  So Cal temperatures threatened to go triple-digit, the water temperature pierced 70 for the first time since last summer and forecasts remained positive.  Hugh Berenger had posted that he'd been out SUPing Friday (without event) and hoped to see me.  My gills were parched and I had to go.

As I arrived, the day was heating up  The ocean surface was smooth with a small, mixed swell coming in.  The pier reported water temperature of 68.  I could see Hugh on his SUP at the Main Peak ares, sweeping outside the lineup of three sticks between occasional rides.  No one else in the water.

I swam out and Hugh confirmed he'd seen nothing but was monitoring between waves.  Between occasional lulls, a steady flow of waist to chin high waves were coming in, peaking at the usual sand bars.  Hugh, I, and the three surfers shared the Main Peak for about 45 minutes, while a few surfers filled in further south, below the campground.  The Main Peak started to fill in, so I moved a bit south, just above the rocks, and enjoyed that peak largely to myself.  Within another half hour, the break had totally filled in: I counted twenty surfers, including a pack of hard-charging groms, at the main peak, and another dozen to the south by the rocks.  Similarly, the sand had filled with families escaping the inland heat.  Time to pack it in.

I meant to shoot a few pictures of the pack at the Peak and the summertime crowd at the beach, but was distracted from it by Hugh's proposal of breakfast at Adele's.

This evening, the San Clemente beach report website contains the following:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Back to Back and Hoping for More

The last time I surfed back-to-back weekends was in 2015.  It's been six months since I surfed twice in a month.  It seemed that the habit and opportunity of surfing several times a month, year 'round, was fading away.  It's tough for one relegated to weekends for most of the year, one who faces a hour driving to get to waves, one that must balance surf with travel and other weekend obligations.  Today brought hope.

Almost immediately upon returning from last Saturday's session, I was checking the forecasts for today.  Through the week, I kept checking - a good swell was forecast, at four to six feet, big enough to power through the 7:30am 4.7 foot high tide.  Winds were a little iffy, but looked to be ok.  No rain in sight as a heat wave rolled across the Southland as the weekend arrived.

Well, the size was not quite as forecast, and the swell less consistent than expected (making for lulls between sets), and a moderate breeze from out of the south was ruffling the peaks and texturing the surface offshore, but there was still enough there for a solid session.

Mark Ghattas & I set 8:30 for rendezvous, allowing the high to drop a bit. When I arrived shortly after 8:00, there were only two surfers out at the Main Peak, plus three just beyond the rocks further south.  It looked peaky and clean, coming in about shoulder to chin high.  The lack of a crowd surprised me, but the lineup at Main Peak filled in pretty quickly.  Further down, it appeared just as peaky and perhaps more consistent, and empty, so Mark and I elected to walk south to the area in front of the #1 Life Guard station, just below the campgrounds.

 The south breeze, dormant when I arrived, had started to pick up by the time we were in the water, about 8:40, but it wasn't really effecting the waves.  The water temperature was chilly, but at least several degrees warmer than last weekend.  The south wind brought some high clouds to dim the skies overhead, which had been clear on arrival.  A small, rising, northwest wind swell was mixing in with a larger, fading, south swell, creating the peaks evident in the photos, but also leading to several long lulls.

The inconsistency, combined with less than expected size, meant the session didn't quite meet the expectations created by the week's forecasts.  Nonetheless, we both caught a number of long, smooth lefts that took us nearly to shore, mixed with shorter, faster, hollower rights.  

This afternoon, I checked the forecasts for next weekend.  Saturday looks small (2-3) and the winds questionable, but there's supposed to be more size on Sunday (3-4) and, maybe, better wind conditions.  Whether back-to-back-to-back is in the cards, it's starting to look like this spring and summer the south might just become a consistent swell generator.  One can hope!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chillin' in the Park ... At Last!

After an eight week hiatus, I finally got out for what was only my third session of the year, and we're already into Spring!  Mostly, it's been wind, rain, tides and/or poorly timed swells.  Last weekend, though, it was when a forecast of light rain, strong winds and a high tide contraindicated a moderately strong south swell...and then proved inaccurate.  Too late, the morning beach cams last Saturday broadcast a scene of clean, head-high peelers.

This weekend, I was not to be denied.  Forecasts were for a 2-3, maybe 3 -5, foot swell, low tide, clear skies and mild wind.  Though on the small end of that spectrum, this time they were spot on; precisely what we found this morning at "the Park" (San Clemente State Beach).  

A mix of northwest wind swell and southwest ground swell made it peaky - stronger, faster rights driven by the larger, northwest swell, mixed with steep and glassy, but slower, lefts from the the southwest swell.  Somewhere, there had to be a north wind blowing, as upwelling had dropped the water temps to a very chilly mid-50's and there was a steady current from the north, continuously pushing us south.

A dozen or so sticks (surfers on surfboards) were clumped at the main peak to the south of the steps, but there was another peak, somewhat less consistent but completely empty, between the steps and main peak.  Mark Ghattas and I swam out there.  Sheathed in my heaviest (4:3) wetsuit, the chill wasn't too bad getting in, other than my unprotected hands, to which the water seemed downright icy.  

In an hour-long session, I stayed right where I swam out, while Mark allowed the current to push him south to the closer edge of the main peak area, where he got his fill of fun, shoulder-high waves.  The crowd (and traffic jam I witnessed in the photo above) notwithstanding, Mark said the vibe was good; one surfer even apologized to him for taking off on a wave that Mark was eyeing, even though the surfer had the better position.  When it's locals, the Park's a great place!

Meanwhile, I worked the further north peak, enduing some long-ish lulls, but my patience rewarded by my pick of the set waves.  Late in the session, as the tide filled in, the waves moved closer to shore. A series of really fun lefts - smooth, glassy faces that were steep, but nonetheless held open for a sustained ride - came in over the last 10-15 minutes, capping a gratifying END to this fast of waves. 

A couple of fried eggs, atop "Monster Hashbrowns" at Adele's, was the perfect postscript.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Gray Day, Green Hills and Good (Enough) Surf

The hills of Southern California are awash in a verdant green such as I've never seen before.  As I came to a dead stop in the tangle of four freeways that all meet east of downtown, the little hill to my left was dusted with wildflowers of various shades of yellow and orange. 

Though the sky was gray and the lighting dim as a soft drizzle enveloped LA and Orange counties, they sparked with color, nonetheless.  The last time that I made the drive to San Clemente State Park to surf, like each of the drives in the months and recent years preceding, these hillsides were a parched gray.  Even on those mornings of brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies, the landscape was drained of color.  How much it has all changed in the weeks of rain since last I surfed the Park, in mid-November, pressed home just how long it's been.

There were waves in December and January, some quite significant, but there's been wind and rain, or the swells arrived mid-week, leaving weekends flat or swamped with high tides.  Even this long weekend, with a large swell peaking on Saturday into Sunday, looked problematic as one of the heaviest storms in years battered Southern California, bracketed by squalls both before and after.  But as we moved into the weekend, it became apparent that the trailing storm due on Monday would not get much south of the LA/Orange County line, and that enough of the weekend swell would linger to make it worth a drive through the drizzle of sodden LA.

It was gray, very, in southern Orange County, but not raining.  The ocean surface, after days of wind-whipped chop, was nowhere near smooth, but had calmed enough as a mild breeze blew offshore.  A couple of chin-high sets came through as we scoped it out from the steps, and, shortly, we were entering the chilly (58?), murky water in our heavier wetsuits.

While there were only a few surfers out when we were checking it out, by the time we swam out, there were a dozen at the main peak, and more entering the water.  But they all clumped up there, fighting for one peak amongst the several scattered from the rocks to the south up to and past the stairs from the lot.  There's greater consistency, and maybe a little more size, at the main peak, but the other peaks were empty.  So what if there are twice the number of waves, if you have to share them with 10-20 surfers?

We swam out just south of the stairs, where a right was peeling off a peak on the northern side and a slow left would regularly appear from the south side.  For an hour, Mark Ghattas and I worked that stretch alone.  There were some lulls - one, unfortunate one when we first got out to the lineup - and an occasional rip tide we had to fight.  But there were also shoulder and chin high sets, some a few larger, with some pretty long rides.  Mark was regularly catching slides into the deep inside.

Most of the waves were a bit crumbly, with the lip tumbling down the face rather than pitching out in the hollow shape beloved of bodysurfers.  But they were fun, nonetheless, and the lower energy was welcome as we slowly sharpened a rusted skill set. 

Chilly water collaborated with legs and shoulders that had become unaccustomed to the continuous fight against current and rips to persuade us that an hour was enough after the recent hiatus. 

It seems like its been ages since I last had a true, typical, winter session.  I've missed them.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Del Mar: Drought-Breaker

Sometimes you're handed a totally unexpected gem.  Such was this morning.

Two months, it's been, since last I posted; since last I surfed.  I can't remember when I've gone so long.  This week hardly brought prospects of change.  Through the week, Southern California has endured a very welcome deluge; good for drought, not so much for surf.  Friday found me in Torrey Pines for work, holding no hopes for a surf session.  It was a wet day and evening, with showers expected to linger into Saturday.  Foolishly, I allowed the forecast to lull me into a late night with associates, expecting a leisurely morning of preparation to return to Pasadena.

Hardly early, but sunlight through the hotel window awoke me at 8:20.  The sky was clear and no wind appeared to stir the trees outside.  I rolled over and grabbed my bedside iPhone and checked the Del Mar cam.  Not many people in the water, but a nice little peeler showed in sunny, glassy conditions.  Sh*t.  Need to pack, to eat, to check it worth it?  I rolled over. 

9:00 found me balancing my rolling suitcase, briefcase, umbrella, bran muffin and paper coffee cup on my way to the hotel parking lot.

As I pulled into the meters by the Poseidon parking lot behind the 17th Street Life Guard headquarters in Del Mar, there was Jody Hubbard (organizer of our Nicaragua trip last spring), peeling off her dripping wetsuit, surprise lighting her face as she saw me approach.  Chris Lafferty was a few steps behind, and Bill "Froggy" Schildge was just coming up the sand.  Hard to express how good it was to see three of our Nica pod, before, finally, getting my first session of 2017.  How wonderful is it, to be able to pull into a beach parking lot over 100 miles from home and, unarranged, encounter three great friends that I'd not seen in months?

Entering my first cold water in a very long time, I was surprised how good it felt.  No "ice cream headache," no shock, just the icy trickle down my back as I made my first duck dive in two and a half months.  No doubt, the bright, sunny morning, the lack of wind, the warm-for-winter mid-60's air, all helped.

The surface was glassy and nice, un-threatening, mid-sized waves - maybe waist to shoulder high - were consistently rolling in.  As the very high morning tide started dropping, occasional larger waves would catch the sand bars further outside, but too infrequent to warrant swimming out there. In the two blocks blackballed (no boards, no skegs) around the 17th Street station, the only other surfers out were a couple of bodyboarders to the south, who left about halfway through my 45 minute session.  Otherwise, I had it all to myself: fun, peeling, semi-hollow, clean.

The highlight of the morning came as I exited after a long "shoreboat" ride in from the lineup: I doubted my eyes as I saw Vince Askey, the driving force behind the vibrant & growing Del Mar Bodysurfing Club, dunking himself in the shallows in a pair of jammers.  Shock, not because of his exposure to the cold water, but because Vince just had surgery to remove thyroid cancer from his throat less than a week ago!  He looked great!  Amazing.

At Vince's urging, I spent a few minutes at the Poseidon bar with the regular DMBC Saturday morning crew, saying hi to John and Joe and other of the crew.  I'd hoped to see Merideth & Haylee, as well, but unfotunately, they weren't there.

I expected to get up this morning, late, eat & pack, and eventually wend my way back from La Jolla to Pasadena.  Instead, I got a compelling reminder of what so mandates my commitment to bodysurfing and the bodysurfing community.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Day in the Park: Mixed Reviews

What's the right way to measure, or appraise, something?  Against expectations?  Or on some absolute scale?  Or, perhaps, purely subjectively, on how you reacted to it?  Imagine a play or movie or song.  Perhaps those whose taste you respect panned it but you find yourself kind of liking it, silently defending it against that criticism.  On an absolute scale, it still be mediocre, but it was much better than expectations and, overall you found yourself liking it - a "C" on an absolute scale but an "A" versus expectations and, subjectively, a solid "B."

Assessing today's session in the Park can only be done in that context.  As the forecasts developed through the week, and even as it looked from the surfcams yesterday, there was every expectation of a very good session - a solid 3-5' WNW swell bringing in shoulder to head high+ sets; a moderate, but rising, tide, adding to the energy; mild, generally offshore wind; water temps still moderate (low 60's); and a warm, sunny day.  That's recipe for an excellent morning in the Park.  Against that expectation, the day was a bust.

Even though, driving down the hill to the Calafia lot, I saw one sizable, clean & glassy swell, other signs on arrival were bad.  I expected a packed parking lot, always the case when a good swell brings out a strong local contingent of surfers.  It was close to empty.  Observing from the steps at the RR crossing for nearly 20 minutes, there were very few waves that looked to be even worth riding.  And it wasn't just a case of being swamped by the tide, the size just didn't seem to be there, and what little wave energy was in evidence was muted by too much tide.

So, expectations for the session plummeted.  Suiting up, I was hoping for maybe one or two good waves amidst a swim and float on a beautiful fall morning.  As it ended up, the session was much better than that, though still far short of the original expectations.

Figuring the current would carry me as far south as I may wish to go, I got in a bit north of the steps.  I was pleased to have to battle out through a set with a couple of shoulder-high waves, but figured I was then due for a long lull.  In a few minutes, I was surprised by a a steep, fast left, with a five-foot face that eventually feathered over into a short tube ride.  Within the next five minutes, a couple of sets, approaching head high, arrived, a bit walled up but with short, fast rights and still hollow.  By the time Mark Ghattas joined me, about ten minutes in, I'd had four decent rides.  

We worked the area between the steps and the main peak for about 85 minutes.  There were some long lulls, but they were interrupted by bursts of wave energy ranging from shoulder to head high.  The sand bars were creating some corners, mainly rights.  A gaggle of sticks, ranging in count from 3 to maybe 6, hung at the main peak, picking off occasional peaks that would slide in, a foot or two overhead.  But those were so few, and the take off zone for them so narrow, that it made sense for Mark and I just to hang a bit to the north and enjoy without competition the smaller corner up there.

It proved to be a decent session.  Decent enough waves and no competition for them.  Still, a pleasant morning and positive vibe in the water.  Certainly not the total bust that it had looked like at first!

Versus the original expectation, a definite disappointment.  On an absolute scale, an "ok" day, and much better than feared when entering the water.  But on the scale that really matters, the purely subjective one, I have to say that it was a damn good morning.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gettin' It Good in Newport

For 90 minutes Saturday morning, Mark Ghattas and I feasted on a steady diet of chest-, shoulder- and head-high peaky tubes and long slides.  

This was, easily, my best session since Nicaragua, but came on a day of modest expectations.  A big high tide crested over 6 feet shortly after 10am, which assuredly would swamp out San Clemente, along with most other places.  The beach break at Newport, though, is relatively impervious to the high tide.  Instead of depending on the sand bars, like most other beach breaks, the shape and energy on the Newport Peninsula are created by a steep drop off relatively close to shore.  The tide may rise, but a reasonable swell still hits that ledge, pops up and breaks.

However, the Peninsula bends to face nearly due south, and the swell for today was primarily from the northwest, albeit with a small south swell mixed it.  

Between the tide and the swell direction, we really didn't expect much. What happened, though, was a pleasant surprise.  Some of that northwest swell was clearly bending around, then mixing with the smaller south swell to present a semi-consistent flow of unusually peaky crests.  

From the Point, where the peninsula bends at 19th Street, down to "Schoolyards" at 13th, there were two or three peaks within every block where every three to five minutes a set of two to four waves would pop up, at least chest high and often chin to head high.  Most of the rights began fast and hollow, often offering a two or three second barrel ride before close out, but some would open up and peel far inside.  The lefts were softer, and generally longer, but also slower.  

Conditions were ideal: a mild offshore, combing only a mild spray off the lips, helped to hold open the wave faces while still leaving a glassy, unruffled surface.  The deep overcast present when we arrived thinned, and patches of blue appeared overhead while the ocean surface took on a silvery sheen.  The water temperature has cooled to the mid-to-low 60's, but with air temperature around 70 and insignificant wind, it felt perfect in the 3/2 full wetsuit.

Because there were so many peaks, the 20 - 30 surfers out this morning were scattered over the four blocks from 19th to 15th, where we went out.   Hanging between 15th & 16th, we had pretty much any wave we wanted, only occasionally crossing paths with a small group to the south of us and a revolving couple of sticks to the north.  We each got probably about 20 good rides over a 90 minute session.

One will stick out, though.  Perhaps the best wave I've seen Mark Ghattas ride, I had caught the previous wave and was standing in the shallows inside as I watched him take of on a nice, steep right with a 6 foot face.  Mark quickly got slotted and went into his old trademark, spread-eagle layout with both arms flung wide.  Like a cross he slid across the vertical face, while lip starting pitching and catching up to him.  It got as far as engulfing all but his head, and threatened to overtake him, then backed off as he accelerated and cleared the tube, emerging fully.  The face softened slightly and Mark adjusted into a more conventional, "chcken wing," postion, with his lower arm extended but upper arm cocked and trailing back.  Still moving fast, he shot past my inside position and continued in, far into the shallows.  Unfortunately, I had made the (wrong) decision to leave my GoPro in the car today and just concentrate on surfing, as I was in perfect position to have captured the entire ride.

Summer may have been a bust, at least for me, but it looks like (fingers crossed) fall surf is here!