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!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer Sojourn: Lolling on the Newport Peninsula

In the years since my family sold the vacation house we had in Newport Beach, my mother has rented a house in August.  Originally, a house on the bay, close by the old family home, the last two years it's been a beachfront house along the boardwalk on the peninsula between 17th and 18th Streets.  For a week, or as much of it as each of them can, my family joins my mother to enjoy the surf, sun and opportunity to reconnect.

Especially over the weekend, this has become an annual opportunity to share surf with my sons, frequently with various of their friends joining us in the water.  Mornings, most are on boards but, in the generally sloppier afternoons, with black ball flying (a yellow flag with a round black circle in the middle indicates no surfboards, fiberglass boards or boards with fins permitted), all turn to bodysurfing.

The switch to the beachfront has had great promise: formerly, most surf mornings, we'd load cars with boards and paraphernalia and drive 13 blocks up the peninsula to around 18th, and then seek out parking.  Many afternoons, we'd walk the 3 blocks across the peninsula and then at least 5 blocks along the beachfront to where the waves would break better, and further out.  Now, the 18th Street surf can be checked directly from the second story and it's a short walk across the sand to jump in the water.

Beauty of beachfront living: Joe
As luck would have it, this summer, as well as last, our particular week has not been blessed with much swell.  Last year, there was nearly none from the Friday we arrived to the Friday that we left.  This year was a bit better, as a small swell - 2-3 feet - lingered over the weekend, before dying off to maybe 1-2 feet through the week.  

How to exploit a smallie (1)

How to exploit a smallie (2)
On arrival day, Friday, I got in a nice solo surf in the afternoon in moderately small and somewhat closed out surf that nonetheless had some of that punch that Newport gets on a summer south swell.  Later, as the sun slowly sank to our right and the wind gradually slacked off, Joe and I enjoyed similar, slightly better, conditions, and Allan joined us briefly as the light faded and dinner preparations called.

Small, but well formed and clean
Saturday, while the swell remained, found my sons, Allan & Joe, along with two of the Schwimers, Kevin and Michael, and an Abeger, Sam, all on boards, joining me in fun little surf in comfortably warm (71 degree) water.  This was the best of it, particularly late morning, as the wind held off while the tide filled in.  All pictures are from Saturday morning & midday.

Allan found a little size
Mini-floater - Joe
Air Schwimer
Kevin, seeking barrels
Sam, trimming
 Sunday morning, there was still enough for Joe, Allan and I to get in session in the fading swell.  By Sunday evening, the south was largely gone, leaving the 1-2 foot westerly swell that would provide slim pickings - but more than nothing! - through the remainder of the week.

Monday through Thursday, Joe and I would jump in periodically for a little recreation and to cool off.  There were periods of onshore breeze, sometimes stiff, but some glassy mornings and evenings.  At one point, the water cooled to a chilly 63, but eventually worked its way back up to 70 or 71.  

Through the week, my mother fretted, concerned that the lack of meaningful surf would ruin the vacation.  She need not be concerned!  Nothing can match it: a week of falling to sleep, and waking, to the sound of surf; of lolling on the sand, staring at the unbroken horizon or reclining on the front deck watching the constant parade of creatively and colorfully clad pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, skaters and surrey riders slide past; of tuning into the Olympics when events got interesting; of striding down to the water's edge and wading in for a swim, and a wave or two, whenever the impulse struck; and, of course, of reconnecting with family through lazy days and extended dinners.

Joe & Grandmother
Evening on the boardwalk

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.