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!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Desperate Measures

How to write about what was basically a poor session, yet convey why I was glad that I drove an hour this morning for an hour session in the Park, during which I caught a total of five waves, all more or less average at best?

I guess I start by noting I haven't been in the water since August 21 - six weeks - and only about 30 minutes of that session was any good (though, for that half hour, it was very good).  Add that, three weeks ago, I trekked South with pretty high expectations - a moderate tide and decent swell forecast - only to watch the Park for nearly an hour without seeing anything to persuade me to get in.

The fact is, a surf session - virtually any session - is rewarding and therapeutic.  But some come with an edge.  Most often, that happens when it's too crowded or there's a bad vibe in the water.  Or, maybe, the timing's just off and you're missing, or failing to execute on, some great waves coming through.  There's the frustration of a grueling swim out, as with my Fourth of July weekend session in Oceanside.  These can turn what could have been a great session into something less.  

Saturday, the tide, rising toward a near six foot high at 10:00, was causing problems.  But it was compounded, as was the disappointing surf three weeks ago (I suspect), by recent sculpting of the beach at the Park.  Again, the swell was there, but, again, it was struggling to break.  I did see a couple of shoulder-high peaks, though, down in the Main Peak area, that looked pretty fun...and I was desperate for water time!

As I walked the 100 yards down to the Main Peak swim out in my shortie wetsuit - water temp reported at 68 - even three foot waves were breaking on shore.  White water would surge up the beach and withdraw to a loud clatter of loose rocks being rolled up and down the sand.  Wicked currents were clashing right at the low water line.

Finned up, as I reached the low water line, I found that the flat slope of the sand dropped precipitously; kind of a submerged cliff that went from ankle deep to deeper than I could touch.

It seems that sometime in September, most of the sand was carved away at the low tide line, leaving behind a submerged flat that stretches out maybe 25 yards.  Shallow in low tide, it's at least 4 feet deep even in mid-tides, so that any swell under about 3 feet will simply surge unbreaking up to the wall, then jack up and crash.  Underneath, loose rocks bared as the sand had been dredged away accumulated at the base of the underwater sand cliff, creating a polishing turbine, tossing the rocks like clothes in a dryer.  

A lone surfer was out at the Peak, a couple more were trying to work the shorebreak further south at LG1.  He greeted me with a nod and we waited for a set large enough to break in deep water.  A deep fog engulfed the ocean offshore and throughout the wait sun battled fog for turf along the edge of the cliffs.

It wasn't until about 15 minutes into the session that some energy arrived, and over the next 15 minutes I caught four shoulder to head-high waves.  Three were rights, fast and steep, but also short, as I had to pull out on each before reaching the maelstrom created by the submerged cliff.  The left was strange, crumbly and bumpy, but longer.  Then, another 15 minute lull ensued.

50 minutes into the session, I found one more of those rights, pulled up before hitting the no return spot that would leave me smashed upon the exposed sand, and then struggled to surmount the ledge onto the shallow sand.  

Five waves.  One hour.  Warm water but an unsettled surface.  Not even three stars on the SwellWatch five star system, but I was surprisingly satiated as I navigated the freeway on ramp to commence the return trek home.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Surprising Size on Saturday in the Park

While most of the bodysurfing community congregates in Oceanside for the annual World Body Surfing Championships, I slipped in a session in the Park Saturday before leaving town for work on Sunday.  

The forecast was for 4 - 5 feet, cooler water, a rising tide, and mild onshore wind.  On my way down to San Clemente, having re-routed to Coast Highway at Dana Point due to construction on the Interstate, I was surprised to glimpse a couple of pretty large - well overhead - sets along Capistrano Beach.  Upon arrival at the Park, I was greeted by more of the same.  

The sand bars were pushing up peaks, with ride-able shoulders for many, while other sets were pretty closed out.  There was an unusual pattern to the sets.  Three or four waves, a bit larger than head-high would roll in, and then, quite often, there would be two substantially larger, waves on the outside, followed by a couple of head-high waves, and then a lull.  The pattern is evident in the next couple of photos.

That wave outside has to be a couple of feet overhead.


Of course, it wouldn't be Southern California without a bit of traffic:

It looked like it was working pretty well down at LG1, so Mark & I walked down there to swim out, figuring that the current would bring us back up through the Main Peak.  As it ended up, we spent the session down there, joined by octogenarian Neil Frank and one of the local lifeguards.  Had the stretch south of the lifeguard stand to ourselves for a 90 minute session.

The water was a cool 63 or 64, but comfortable in a rare summer use of a full wetsuit.  To start, as evidenced in the photos, conditions were clean, semi-glassy.  The first half hour was marred by lulls with occasional sets, but then, for about 30 minutes it really picked up and we were getting a lot of rides on head-high and larger waves.  

 Some were pretty fast and walled, but there were some great corners that slowly peeled into the deep inside.

Unfortunately, after that, the tide started swamping out the waves, so they just weren't breaking, moving closer and closer to shore and losing some of that height.  About the same time, the wind started coming up, at first ruffling the surface but pretty quickly creating a bump that further messed up the waves.  

So, it was a session of three parts.  Starting with three or four waves in the first 30 minutes, followed by a 30 minute session that, if extended, would have qualified as solidly "four star," and then a final 30 minutes of increasing slop.

What will linger in memory is the mid-session segment, with a few exhilarating slides on faces that were much larger than we had hoped for and expected.  I hope that's what the competitors are finding down south in Oceanside!