Sunday, July 30, 2017

Shapin' Up to be the Summer of Smallies

I only got five surf sessions in, the first half of 2017.  In July, I nearly matched that.  Four sessions, and would have been a fifth - I was at Sunset Beach last weekend, but it was virtually flat.  

Like the first three July sessions, yesterday was again small surf but well-formed.  This time, it was somewhat disappointing, since earlier in the week there were projections that hurricanes Hilary and Irwin were likely to throw a significant, combined swell our way.  Unfortunately, it was not only weaker than expected but also late in arriving.  By Friday evening, our expectations had been reduced significantly.

On arrival, we found a nearly placid Pacific.  A small pod of five surfers lurked at the Main Peak, with another, slightly larger, group out at Riviera to the north.  Apparently attracted by the earlier forecasts, in the distance beyond Main Peak, there appeared to be at least 50 surfers vying for meager pickings at Cotton's Point.  Closer to us, a lone, unknown, bodysurfer was catching some smallies between peaks.

Count over 40 heads out at Cotton's in the background
Heavy overcast made a warm day - sizzling inland - seem cool, and the 70 degree water felt good.  Mark and I elected to head down to the LG1 stand, below the campground, where there appeared to be some nice peaks in the chest-high range.  Throughout the scattered peaks from Riviera to Cottons, the surf, while small, was clean and peaky.  

We got in shortly after the low tide had bottomed out, with hopes that the increasing swell and tidal push would boost the wave energy.  For the first 30 - 40 minutes, it appeared that our expectations were sound as what started as solo, rogue forerunners in the chest - shoulder high range started to become more consistent, two to four wave sets.  The wind was mild, a bit off-shore, leaving a smooth surface.  However, after a five-minute stretch where several sets had rolled in back-to-back, just as the wind picked up a bit and started to swing onshore, the bottom seemed to fall out.  Long lulls were interrupted by only a couple of moderate breakers then would return.  In the last 20 minutes I had maybe four waves.  Ultimately, it left us with the feeling that the session, while fun, was somewhat disappointing.  The upside, though, was that we had the stretch in front of LG1 totally to ourselves throughout the 90 minute session.

Through the session, the overcast had thinned but not entirely burned off, but the shoreline had filled with a summer crowd seeking to escape the inland heat.  The gaggle of boards at Main Peak had been replaced by a line of groms on soft tops, longboarders and spongers (body boarders) that stretched from not far above where Mark & I had been surfing all the way up to, and past, the steps back to the parking lot.  One thing I couldn't figure out - there were kids donning full wetsuits to go play in the surf on a warm sunny day with water temperatures over 70 degrees.  We'd just spent a comfortable 90 minutes continuously immersed in just trunks.

Ah, to breakfast at Adele's!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Typical Newport Summer at Schoolyards

The morning Newport Lifeguard report claimed water temperature of 72.  I was surprised as it's normally a few degrees cooler than San Clemente, which was reporting 67.  The drive is shorter than San Clemente and the size looked about comparable at both places.  With relatively small surf - 2-4 feet - the greater energy that a south swell brings to Newport was an additional draw.

Arriving at 15th Street for a rare solo session, I brought a towel & sandals onto the beach, which I rarely do.  Even at 8:00, a few families had set up their tents and umbrellas.  I dropped my towel just south/east of the lifeguard stand in a small stretch between two early beach set ups and checked out the surf. 

The waves appeared small and inconsistent as the tide bottomed out but the surface was glassy and there appeared to be some peaky corners a block down at Schoolyards.  Fingers of brown water stretched to the outside every block or so, evidencing active rip currents.   Between, there were some early beachgoers wading out while to the north/west there were some surfers spread out around 17th - 19th streets.  None were in full wetsuits.

It was a surprise to walk down to Schoolyards then wade out, in my trunks, into water that could not have been more than 67.  Ten minutes into the session, I'd caught a few small, fairly closed out waves and endured a lull.  I began wondering whether I'd last a half hour in the chill water without much activity.  

The recent Orange County shark activity lingers in mind, but shortly after I swam out, a dolphin breached with a burst through its blow hole about 20 feet outside of me.  Throughout the session, a half-dozen trolled the lineup, passing every 20 minutes or so.  I don't know if its only legend, but surfers believe when there are dolphin around they drive off the sharks.

Fortunately, as the tide started rising, so, too did the wave energy.  Fairly hollow sets ranging waist- to chest- to chin-high, with force belied by their size, started showing regularly.  From that point, I didn't go more than three or four minutes without a wave.  Meanwhile, with the incoming tide and rising air temperature, the water slowly warmed.  Over the next hour, the water became increasingly comfortable while the wave energy continued to rise.  The latter part of the session, the sets - shoulder high and up - were pretty regular.  Throughout, I was the only surfer of any sort - no sticks, no sponges, no bodysurfers - within three or four blocks.  

The usual surfers were out around 19th, and after I got out, a solo short-boarder was messing around where I'd been.

A little over an hour in, repeating, intense calf cramps drove me to shore, satiated by the juice of the hollow Newport waves, happy to recall what a bit of summer South swell can do on the Newport peninsula.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Scads of Summer Smallies

It was smaller than the 3-4 foot swell (about head-high) that had been forecast.  However, there was a growing south swell nonetheless, the water temperature was approaching 70, the surface was glassy, the skies were sunny, the waves were peaky and plentiful, and the respite from triple-digit inland heat most welcome!

Even small rights were hollow
Although there wasn't much in evidence when Mark and I arrived at the Park, we were surprised by the pack of a dozen surfers clumped right in the main peak area.

Further to the south, at LG1, directly below the Park, there appeared to be more consistency, better peaks, and no competition for waves.

Empty peaks at LG1.  Note the crowd at Cottons in upper left.

So we headed down there for nearly two hours of nearly uncontested waves.  The biggest may have gotten to chin-high height, but they were fun, peaky waves, with few lulls and gradually growing size.  Half-way through, Craig Thompson joined us, along with his daughter, and shortly after, another, unknown, bodysurfer swam out as well.  Spread over about 100 yards, no one had any problem getting his share of rides.

Skinning it for the first time since last summer was a luxury, and the GoPro gave me something to tinker with between waves.

Mark tucked under a right lip
The smooth surface persisted as the beach gradually filled in with beach-goers seeking relief from the inland heat.

View on take off of LG1 and the Park campsite above
Mark in a tiny right
By the time we were wrapping up, there were a few more sizeable waves coming in.  Late in the session, I spotted something outside and stroked out to greet a perfectly shaped left corner that might have approached head-high size.  It was great to be reminded of the forgotten sensation of actually sliding down a face before trimming up into the curl under the lip!

A few got some bigger waves
As we left, despite the fact that the surf was much better, and the wind had yet to mess it up at all, there was nearly no one at the Main Peak.  A small group of groms, messing around with soft-tops, had it all to themselves.

Sharing a wave
Different styling

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sure Beats Not Surfing

I'd been standing on the Del Mar Lifeguard HQ deck for maybe 15 minutes, watching small, generally crumbly surf roll in under a heavy cloud cover; waiting for some of the Del Mar crew from our Nicaraguan trip to show.

A surfer that had been standing beside me, checking it out, greeted a buddy exiting the water: "Is it as bad as it looks?'

"Had some fun," came the reply, "sure beats not surfing!"

Shortly thereafter, I saw the guy, now suited up with board under arm, heading out, wearing a smile.

"Persuaded you?" I asked.

"Shamed me into it," he responded with a grin.

Shortly, Chris Lafferty and Jodi Hubbard had arrived and we were suiting up ourselves.  Cool air and heavy overcast notwithstanding, some of the early crew of surfers had persuaded me that the water had warmed sufficiently that even a shorty wetsuit was plenty.  I took their word for it and was pleased to feel the cool but comfortable water as I waded out.

Waist high rollers were plentiful, occasionally larger.  Though most were pretty crumbly, a few had cleaner faces and, for a while, there was a surprising number of fun little waves.  Froggy joined us shortly, so four of the Nica dozen enjoyed a stretch of Del Mar to ourselves, hemmed north and south by a surprising crowd of surfers.  

Unfortunately, the wind was rising and the burst of energy we'd found upon first getting in faded, so we called it after about an hour.  As we exited, the Del Mar Bodysurfing Club regulars were starting to congregate on the shore.  It was great to see Meredith (also from the Nica trip), along with DMBC doyen Vince Askey as well as John Hughes and Ray Sullivan.

Yeah, gotta agree, it sure beats not surfing!

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.