Sunday, January 17, 2016

Pickin' Up the Pieces in the Park (with photos by Hugh)

Two sessions in one the dead of winter!  While the swell yesterday may have been a bit smaller, and somewhat inconsistent with some long lulls, there were some pretty fun rides, nonetheless.  
Photo: Hugh Berenger

On arrival,  I was surprised to see nearly 20 surfers clumped at the Main Peak to the south of the steps.  A few more were scattered around in the LG1 area further south.  The forecast was for a new swell to show on Sunday and, forecasts for a 3-4 foot remnant of the mid-week swell notwithstanding, it was looking pretty weak.  Not the kind of surf that would normally draw so many into water finally turning cold (58-59) with much better to follow in a day.  

Hugh was up on the bench at the base of the cliff, with fellow surfer/photographer, Kurt Eyraud, checking it out...and not much inspired to get in. 

It certainly wasn't worth swimming out in that crowd for meager pickings.  But the tide was about to bottom out, and there was a regular right peeling off the sandbar in the empty waters just north of the bench.  With expectations that it would pick up a bit with the tidal push, and anticipating having whatever came entirely to myself, I swam out there and immediately caught a fun little right.

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Shortly, Hugh moved down to the rail above the steps, camera in hand.  In due course, Mark Ghattas arrived and joined me.  Shortly after, surf photographer Geoff Glenn paddled out with a friend, prone on a standup paddleboard, intending to paddle out to the rocks several hundred yards offshore, but found the surf just playful enough to hang around and surf it, just north of us, on the ungainly boards.

Just to be ornery, I pulled in high on a little right on which Mark had position, and rode it, looking back to see how he'd react.  Hugh caught me in the act.

Photo: Hugh Berenger
But it's not like Mark didn't get his share of the mix of lefts and rights peeling off the sandbar.

Surfer: Mark Ghattas.  Photo: Hugh Berenger
The beauty of bodysurfing is that it doesn't take much for a wave to be "overhead," and there were quite a few nice little tubes to lock into.

Surfer: me.  Photo: Hugh Berenger
So, for nearly 90 minutes in the chill water, under a sky that went from slate gray, to blue then to stormy overcast, we messed in the shoulder-high lefts & rights.  The RipCurl SearchGPS didn't register any of the rides as rides per se - not sure if it's length, duration or speed that's missing, but will figure it out.  The squiggles below, though, can be translated into an interesting session with quite a few rides going both ways.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Poor Timing; Good Company

Except for the company, my inaugural session for 2016 would have to be measured a disappointment.  That said, I will never complain any time that I can get some waves mid-week, and share a session with four of my favorite surf companions from the San Diego area.  I met Bret Belyea, Chris Lafferty, Bruce Robbins and Jody Hubbard at the 17th Street Del Mar LG Tower at 8:00 on a chill, winter morning (48 degrees!) with a mild offshore wind and partial cloud cover.  With the chill air and water temperature dipping into the 50's, I picked my heavy, 4:3 wetsuit..for the first time since sometime in early 2014! 

Today was my first outing with the RipCurl SearchGPS watch that Allan gave me for Christmas.  Though only one of my rides registered as such (the red line), the chart does, nonetheless, tell the tale of the session.  The satellite map looks cool:

But my tracks from the session are much more visible on a streets map background:

Deciphering what it shows, when we first got in the water, the sets were breaking way outside.  They were infrequent, and only a couple of waves per set, but they were breaking a couple of hundred yards offshore.  (Because the tide was high, the water was actually lapping up on the wall on the far right side of the pictures above.  The red line is 30 yards long.)  

So, you can see how we swam out to the far left, and worked that for a while.  Unfortunately, with the high tide, it was fat and pretty mushy out there and I didn't catch anything.  So, not long into the session, we moved inside...where all the squiggles are, and had some fun in what was often jumbled, semi-organized waves.  Occasionally, a well-formed left corner would appear, or a fast, tight right.  Surprisingly, I had one left that was a several second cover-up, and one right that featured a steep, wide open, barrel.  

Each of us had a few good rides interspersed through a 90 minute session.  The SearchGPS tells me that we were in the water exactly 90 minutes, and that I covered 2.1 miles in all those squiggles, above.

I was worried that the watch wouldn't pick up my rides at all.  I think the one that it did measure was one of my last rides.  Initially, I thought it was the wave I rode afterwards, to shore, but that was straight in and would have gone much further in, rather than the right which the watch picked up.  I am going to have to experiment to see what triggers the watch to register a ride as a wave ridden.  I am confident that longer, faster rides will show up.  

So, why a disappointment?  Well, there's been a lot of good swells coming in the past few weeks, including some pretty big stuff yesterday.  It looked like there might be some pretty good leftovers this morning, but I fear our timing was off.  Earlier, the larger swells were catching the sandbars way outside, but the rising tide swamped those right about when we got it.  After we'd exited, as we hung in the Poseidon parking lot, talking, those same waves really started working on the inside sand ledge.  We just kind of missed it.

Nonetheless, a session with Bret, Chris, Bruce and Jody, in chest to maybe head high surf, where we all get at least a few good ones?  Good times.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Plethora of Waves at 15th Street

Quality or quantity?  Today's story was quantity.

Last weekend, I caught at most ten waves, every one an "A."  Big, fast, challenging.  Ten was completely fulfilling, and, when it starts to get big, you really can only catch them so often.  One every ten minutes is plenty.

Southern California was hit by pretty massive surf yesterday.  I didn't go.  Even if not quite beyond my capabilities, I flew in from New York Friday, arriving home close to midnight.  Not ready for a challenge Saturday morning.  By this morning, the swell had backed off alot - forecasts for 3 - 5 feet, generally.  However, there was also a big high tide around 9:00 and forecasts for a cross-shore wind to pick up between 9:00 & 10:00.

As the light gradually filled in around 6:30 on what's approaching the shortest day of the year, things still looked pretty good, up & down the coast.  However, I didn't trust the Park to hold up to that tide and wind, fearing it would be shot by the time I got there.  I also didn't really want to spend a half hour searching for a parking space and face the frustration of competing for waves with dozens of surfers, such as would be the likelihood at the Newport Jetties.  So I talked Mark into meeting me at 15th Street on the Newport Peninsula.  Good call!

Hazy sunshine took the edge off the cold air and breeze that was still offshore when we got there.  The waves were a bit messy, but unusually peaky for Newport and consistently shoulder high.  Maybe a dozen surfers spread out from Schoolyards at 13th Street up to the Point at 19th Street.  More peaks showing than surfers.


Fearing that the wind would turn to come from the south, I didn't waste much time shooting pictures.  Donned the full suit - still 3:2 - strapped on the little GoPro Sessions, and hit the water.  Oh!  Not quite 60 degrees ... the first time under 60 in a very long time!  

For over an hour & a half, Mark & I worked the area from 13th to 15th, occasionally sharing with a trio of surfers but otherwise having it entirely to ourselves.  Consistent hest and shoulder high, and a few larger, waves offered lefts like the top photo above or matching rights.  Fattened by the high tide, some were a bit crumbly, but others were even hollow, and many offered plenty long rides.  Mark was repeatedly snaring rides, left and right, into the knee high shallows way inside.

So, last weekend, 9 or 10 rides over 100 minutes.  This morning, we were in a about the same duration.  There was no counting, but we each had to have over 30 rides.  I can't rate today a 5 star session, as I did last weekend.  But it sure was satisfying for a day that could have been pretty poor!

I mentioned I was wearing the Sessions - working on a vid to add later...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Swell Saturday .. with a few photos from Hugh

OK, before all the words, here's the stoke for today:

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Forecasts for head-high, plus, holding up all week. For the weekend?  Really???  

Ok, there's gotta be a massive high tide to swamp it out, right?  Nope!  Moderate tides through the morning.

Well, I got it then: a big onshore wind to break it down? Not that either: Mild offshores through mid-morning.

Ah, the real deal-buster: rain.  Uh, skies, baby!

Yep, a real swell due to come in, in good conditions, on a weekend morning.  When was the last time that happened?  (That would be August, for the record.)

Upon arrival, it appeared to be just as advertised:

Sets were head-high, up to several feet overhead at the peaks.  Some were walled up, but the sandbars were working, and there were lots of peaks from straight in front of the steps all the way through Main Peak, the Rocks, LG1 and King's Corner 


down to North Gate and a very crowded Cotton's Point in the distance.

I didn't linger shooting, but donned the full wetsuit for the first time in eons.  The water was a remarkable 64, for December, but the chilly air suggested it.  Mark & I decided to hoof it down to the LG1/King's Corner area, which seemed to be far less crowded than the closer peaks, passing Hugh along the way.

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Before long, we were swimming out into overhead sets...

HH & NF digging for a set wave.  Photo: Hugh Berenger

...and then launching into fast, but nicely formed lefts...

Photo: Hugh Berenger

...and longer rights.

Photo: Hugh Berenger

Soon, we were joined by the intrepid octogenarian, Neil Frank (check the swell in the background):

Neil Frank.  Photo: Hugh Berenger
Most of the rights started as big, overhead peaks outside that gradually morphed into tight, fast barrels, well into the inside.

Today, over about 100 minutes, I rode what might seem a paltry 8 to 10 waves.  The two that Hugh caught, above, were the only two I rode in a 15 minute period when he was on the beach down where we'd decided to surf.  However, every one of those waves was excellent.  Big and open, but long and very ride-able.  Heart-thumping but strangely easy.  One or two of those in a session can make it a four star.  8-10?  Not only the second 5-star session of the year, but probably the best session of the year. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Closing Out a Meager Year (with a few retrospective photos)

As December approaches - thank goodness with indications of some decent surf next weekend - I look back on what was a pretty meager year for least, for those of us Southern Californians who are constrained to weekends and vacations to get in our surfing.

Just a quick count on the blog - back in 2009, when I started this blog, I had 23 entries, followed by 39 in 2010.  Since then, from 2011-2014, I had between 25 and 30 entries each year.  In contrast, through 11 months, I have a paltry 18 entries this year.

As some of you know, while I don't blog every session, I do log virtually every session on SwellWatch, measured from 1 to a maximum of 5 stars.  The results are illuminating:

(2015 YTD through 11 months)

2011 was a banner year, with 32 sessions ranked 3 stars and higher, including 4 sessions ranked 5 stars.  I may have used a lower standard back then, but it's still impressive.  I need to look at the blog entries for some of those sessions!

I thought of 2014 as an exceptional year, mainly for its consistency.  That shows, with 25 sessions of 3 stars and greater, and 11 sessions of 4 stars.  

But what is, maybe, of greatest interest, and most telling, is looking at the number of 1 and 2 star sessions.  There were either 6 or 9 each year, back in 2011, 2012 & 2013, but only 3 in 2014 and 2 this year.  It appears that I'm getting choosier on when to go...something that I've known.  Today was a good example - in 2012, I probably would have made the trek, hoping to find something, and would have ended up with a 2 star session.

So, let's take a quick look back at 2015 highlights ... at that five star session, and some of those four star outings.

2015's lone 5-star session was, surprisingly, at Newport Beach, ranging from 15th street down to Schoolyards.  

Honestly, I was probably a bit generous on that session, since it was only head-high+, but it was both peaky and hollow, with lots of "juice" - all that Newport is supposed to be - and we had all the waves that we wanted.  Plus, the session came a day after completing a week's vacation on the peninsula that was marked by an exasperating lack of swell!  Our week in Newport, quite flat, was sandwiched between two good swells, one ending the day before our arrival and the arriving the day after our departure.

At least I was able to return the following morning to grab some of what I'd been pining for all week!  It wasn't a session on which I expended any time shooting photos from the shore; I was too anxious to get into the warm, glassy water!

So, what about those 4 star sessions?  Two of the six session also were in Newport.  One from July,

and the other an early spring swell in March:

But the Park delivered this, year, as well.  This great shot from June, by Geoff Glenn, is my favorite of the year:

I guess the broad beach at Newport discourages me from shooting from the beach, in contrast to the easy walk from across the tracks from the lot at Calafia ("the Park"), where it's easier to document some of those swells.  A few of my favorite shots include this one from a crowded, foggy morning in March:

Maybe the toughest part about 2015 was that it started out SO promising!  Three sessions in January at the Park, all at least 3 stars, included two four star sessions - the first (January 18) offering this classic photo of a winter swell and offshore conditions, one of my all-time favorite photos from the Park:

That was followed, a week later, with this classic day in the Park, with a great pod,

photographed surfing by Hugh:

Hopefully, we can close out 2015 in the Park in like kind!!!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Welcome, Fall!

Under a cloudless blue sky, illuminated by the bright, early morning sun, Southern California shimmered, unusually fresh and clean.  The sustained drought notwithstanding, the recent sporadic showers ushered in on the Pineapple Express gave life to a thin, green cover on the eastern hillsides of Griffith Park and the greying brush appeared more tan and brown.  Further on, to my right the skyscrapers of downtown shone in the reflected light of the low, eastern sun; to my left, the San Gabriel Mountains were a textured green before the deep blue backdrop; and ahead across the low haze of southern LA County lay Orange County's Santa Ana Mountains, dominated by Saddleback.

The first morning without Daylight Saving Time also was the first fall morning of the year.  It wasn't exactly chilly, warming quickly from below 60 to nearly 70 by the time I arrived in San Clemente.  The water temperature seemed symbolic: below 70 for the first time since Spring, but still a comfortable 68/69.  

For a week, a mild intestinal bug had sapped energy, but Sunday morning I felt good, anxious to get in the water.  Forecasts were less than epic - 2-3 feet, with a tide rising from an early morning "low" of over 3 feet to a swamping midday high over 6 feet.  Nonetheless, even with 4 feet of tide, the push of the rising tide should help, along with the lack of winds.  The past couple of sessions had been disappointing, even frustrating.  Today, I was confident that properly low expectations would be exceeded.

Hugh's report upon my arrival helped substantiate that - "There are waves," he said.  "I'm about to jump in."  A quick check at the rail, camera in hand, validated that.  Only a couple of sticks were in the water, but they were having fun in chest-high waves, breaking just far enough out.  Though small, it was pitching and hollow - enough for a crouching surfer to get fully tubed.

With the threat of the rising tide, I wasn't going to waste any time watching.  Though the cloudless sky, windless air, and slowly rising temperature were comfortable, the thought of under-70 for the first time in over 6 months lead me to don the short-sleeved, short-legged lightweight spring suit.

By the time Hugh and I walked over to the Main Peak, it was deserted.  I was in first, greeted as soon as I was ready by a chest-high, hollow right that pitched over my head for a clean, fast welcome.  Yes!  Perhaps my best ride since early September.  As I turned to swim out and Hugh stroked to the lineup, two dolphins lazed by, heading South about 30 feet out.  Ah, Fall surf!

Hugh Slotted
For the next 90 minutes, we had the Main Peak all to board paddled out a bit south of us for a while, and a young bodysurfer with GoPro honed his skills in the shorebreak, but no one else was in the water.  Mark Ghattas joined us about halfway through, as the tide started to drag it down, but for most of the session, anything over waist high was breaking in enough water to ride.  The lefts took you inside to break on the beach pretty quickly, but the rights tended to peel for longer rides.  It remained hollow throughout.

Want to know what it looks like inside the tube?  A little tube-time selfie:

The beauty of the Park on a clear fall day...

As the Surfliner slides by...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What? Me Blog?

"Are you gonna blog this session?" Matt Hughes asked, halfway through yesterday's session at the Park.  

Matt's a regular reader of the blog and has joined us several times for sessions in the Park.  In his mid-twenties, Matt used to surf pretty much everything - from handblades and kickboards through bodyboards to short boards, long boards and stand up.  Now, though, he pretty much concentrates on bodysurfing, perhaps with a handplane or kickboard.  

"I don't know," I replied.  "Not sure what I'd write about."

It was a minimal session.  Early on, Mark Ghattas and I were debating the appropriate rating for WetSand's five-star system.  Most of the time, we agree.  Mark was pushing for a 1, while I was giving it a 2, because, after all, there were some waves.  

There was, indeed some swell, ranging from one to three feet, but all save the largest of that range of small waves was just breaking on the rounded rocks that had been exposed as much of the sand along the waterline was washed away by last week's heavy swell.  Nobody wants to be dumped on grinding, softball-sized rocks. Even if you can get your feet under you, you're risking an ankle sprain or bruise as the waterwater grinds them around.

We moved up and down the break, looking for a spot with some consistency.  The only others in the water were the four kids that appear to have become regulars on marginal days, launching early into waves on their softtops, then shoving a skimboard off the front and leaping onto it to carve up the shorebreak.

Unless you want a broken or badly dinged board, yesterday was a day for determined bodysurfers and the kids on the softtop/skim board combo.

The surface was ruffled, not quite choppy, but the water was warm and the air blessedly cool, at last.  And waves did come, occasionally.  In 90 minutes, I had three or four decent waves - maybe three to four foot faces that broke deep enough to be in water throughout, including a couple of tubes.  Between, there were maybe a dozen quick slides and quicker pull-outs on smaller waves.

In between, there was the good vibe that comes from having the ocean to all to just the few of us with a shared passion, a few waves and loose banter.  Followed, of course, by a classic breakfast at Adele's.  I can't think of what else I would rather have done.  So, I guess, that's what I'll write about.