That there'd be a swell today was not in question: about a week ago, Cyclone Pam spun away from New Zealand and threw a good-sized swell at Southern California. The only question would the local conditions and crowds in the line up.
As I traversed Orange County, I'd drive into sections of fog and out again. A couple of sizzling days had resulted in substantial evaporation off the cool, winter ocean and no onshore winds (a good thing) were there to disperse it. As I turned the bend into San Clemente, though, the thick fog bank hung offshore like an ominous gray haboob, wrapping from Trestlest to the south in arc a quarter mile offshore, bending back in at Dana Point. San Clemente itself was sparkling. In my mind, I was already sharing here photos of the phenomenon.
As I descended the incline to Calafia, though, a mild breeze from the South released the sunny pocket into a dense fog. As I approach Hugh and a gaggle of other local surfers at the rail, the main peak was barely visible.
Shortly, it disappeared completely. The beckoning "kee-rack!" of overhead sets punctuated the calm, but swimming out into overhead surf that you couldn't see? Not a great idea! Looking overhead, though, wisps of blue were evidence of the sun's success in beating down the gray...patience.
As it started to thin, Mark Ghattas and I returned to the lot to suit up. The dozen sticks out at the peak prior to the envelopment quickly doubled. But, presumably evidencing a lack of local knowledge, every new entry into the water paddled out where the others already were.
A sharp eye will pick out 19 in the 20 yard stretch of Main Peak, above. This lead to the inevitable:
The peaks were crumbly at the crest, but quickly shaping into some tight, fast, overhead barrels.
As we watched, surfer after surfer swerved shoreward, chickening out of the tube, and its inevitable conclusion. Fortunately, there were a few intrepid souls who knew what to do:
We'd seen that, with the dropping tide, a pretty good peak was working down at "LG1" below the campgrounds to the south, so Mark & I bypassed the glutted Main Peak and found a stretch that we were able to work without any interference for the next 90 minutes. We gave up a little height - surfing shoulder & head-high waves, with some plusses - but that was more than compensated by having any decent wave coming through to ourselves.
As the fog slowly burned off and the shore began to fill in, the stretch from LG1 to "Kings Corner" was ours in solitude. By the time we were exiting, shoreside was an image portending summer.
The umbrellas were up as waders tested the waters.
Meanwhile, the overhead sets kept rolling in,
still presenting traffic challenges for the boys on fiberglass,
but some tube-time opportunities for those willing to go for it.
Again, "the Park delivers!"