Monday, May 25, 2015

Still Bloggin'

To those who have checked in over the last two months - No, I have not stopped blogging my surf outings, nor have I quit surfing.  However, it has been 8 weeks since last I surfed, the longest hiatus since I started this blog 6 years ago; in fact, the longest stretch in at least 8 years.  How is this possible?

I don't have a record of the swells over the last 8 weeks, but this is how best I can reconstruct it:

Week 1: Weekend in Ojai / Easter Sunday.  There was a little swell, but nothing notable.
Week 2: I have no notes, and there were no conflicts.  It must have been feeble surf.
Week 3: London.  No surf on the Thames.
Week 4: Just home from London; no surf.
Week 5: Hawaii, Big Island.  No surf in Hawaii; big swell hitting Southern California, but marginal conditions.
Week 6: Just back from Hawaii, but with a nasty cold.  There was small surf (2-3 feet); I would have gone if I'd be in better health.  
Week 7: Flat surf; bad weather.  Not happening.
Week 8: Finally!!!!!

Not much happening on Saturday or Sunday, but it's Memorial Day weekend, and a moderate swell out of the south has been promised all week for arrival late Sunday.  On arrival at the Park on Monday morning on a chilly morning under slate grey skies, a swell was, indeed, showing. I joined Hugh at the rail to observe a head-high set come in.

There were only a handful of surfers out, but, as we watched the swell for a few minutes, another dozen materialized with boards under arm.  By the time we'd suited up (full rubber) not only the Main Peak area but the entire range from the rocks all the way up to straight out from the rail was populated by guys on fiberglass.

Beyond, at "LG1" below the Park itself, the water was still empty.  First on the beach, I headed the quarter-mile south to LG1 and swam out.  Hugh and Mark joined me shortly for a two-hour session.  Hampered by a tide swing bottoming out mid-session, it was inconsistent.  Nonetheless, there were plenty of chest and chin high waves throughout, with some surprising rights and hollow lefts.  

The water was supposed to be 64, but felt colder, rewarding the decision to go with full wetsuits.  Until late in the session, the wind remained mild and from the south, finally starting to ruffle lips near the session's end.  Throughout, we had the area south of LG1 - "King's Corner" - all to ourselves, balancing the lower consistency there against the crowds at the areas further north well populated with sticks and sponges. 

It wasn't the best session of late in the Park, but damn if it didn't feel great to get wet!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fun in the Fog

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!"

Sunday, March 15, 2015

South Swell? Go to Newport!

A long interval swell out of the south generally plays well at the Newport Point.  Mix in a little west for corners along with Santa Ana conditions making for a hot, sunny day and a bit of offshore breeze, and it's a recipe for fun in my old stomping grounds on the south-facing Newport Peninsula.

The forecast was for a 3.4 foot swell out of 185 degrees, with a small West mixed in.  Shunning the impossible weekend parking and likely crowds of sticks along the jetties to the northwest, we decided to meet at 15th Street.  

As we checked it out, the bright, early sun shrouded Playgrounds (13th St.) in haze to the southeast and a smattering of surfers were spread between 17th and 19th Streets - the Point - to the northwest.  For a while, all we saw were waist to chest high closeouts, leading us to debate trying the jetties (33rd - 50th), which face a little less south, or even head down to the Park, which had been showing small but peaky in the early cams.  But, after a bit, a few corners appeared on some larger waves up at 17th and beyond.  It had been since summer since I'd been out on the Peninsula, so we decided to give it a try, anyway.  Good call!

We swam out about 16th and floated down in front of the LG stand at 17th, where Mark Ghattas and I enjoyed chest and chin high tubes, occasionally head high, held open by the offshore breeze.  There were fast, hollow rights and longer left slides.  Nearly every wave ended with some tube time ... some longer than others.  

For near two hours, we had the spot virtually to ourselves.  Maybe a half-dozen sticks were spread between 18th & 19th, but the only incursions within a block of our spot occurred when, a couple of times, lone bodysurfers came out to surf near our spot.  

The day warmed, high whispy clouds doing little to temper the rising heat brought by early spring Santa Anas.  The cool water - maybe 60-61 degrees - was refreshing, a little chill during the occasional lulls.  Lines of pelicans cruised the swell lines in formation as the shoreline gradually filled in with weekend beachgoers seeking respite from the inland heat.

It was good to get re-acquainted with the heavy hollowness I've known so well throughout my life!

Monday, February 16, 2015

A Tale of Two Coasts?

This one is for my snow-bound friends in the frigid Northeast.  Hopefully, it comes off not as a gloat, but as a hope that it sends some vicarious warmth!

A three-day weekend, amidst a span of summer temperatures in Southern California, brought a nice swell to accompany sunny skies and minimal winds.  Many of the surf forecasts, though, had the swell largely missing lower Orange County, which didn't really make sense to me, given the size and direction.  Bolstered by what I'd seen on the surfcams on Saturday, I spurned the urgings of my South Bay (Santa Monica) friends and decided to trek south to the Park, counting on its variety of sand bars to bring peaks and shoulders to a due-West swell.

Though I've not seen the reports from South Bay yesterday (though I did peek at the cams), I was not disappointed.  The early haze was burning off under a cloudless sky on arrival, and shoulder-high peaks went unridden in a near empty lineup.

I greeted Hugh, joining me at the rail after completing stretching on the knoll in the middle of the Calafia lot.  Two surfers were out at the main peak area, but it was otherwise empty all the way to Cottons to the south and Riviera to the north.  Evidently, the combination of forecasts and an early high tide had sent the packs elsewhere.

Not wanting to squander it, we quickly suited and swam (or paddled) out - Hugh on his longboard this session.  I found a consistent right to the north of main peak, where I remained for the next two hours.  Hugh paddled down to set up outside at the main peak.  We were four of only six surfers in the water at shortly after 8:00.  A younger (20-ish) surfer had paddled out in the same area about the same time, and we shared the rights while Hugh shared the peak with a couple of others.

As evidenced in the video - below - of Hugh's ride, it remained glassy throughout the morning, as regular, shoulder-high sets came in, with an occasional "plus" set.  The sand bars were working, setting up both rights and lefts, hollow enough to get tubed in most rides.  At about 60, the chill in the water was a nice contrast to the warming air, comfortable throughout.  

Mark Ghattas came out after we'd been in about a half hour and joined Hugh in the main peak area, while I retained my spot to the north.  It seems, however, that either folks were checking the cams, or had been waiting for the tide to drop, or perhaps just were driven to the beach by sun and warmth and a long weekend.  By 9:00 there were at least a dozen scattered around the main peak area,  an additional few to the north of me and another dozen out to the south in the campground/"LG 1" area.

While Hugh maintained sole command of the outside of  main peak on his longboard (see video for his long ride of the day), Mark was seeking to pick off what he could from the position further inside required for take off as a bodysurfer.  Unfortunately, there were a couple of short board surfers that apparently operated under the misconception that they had exclusive rights to the waves ... dropping in not only on Mark, the relatively defenseless bodysurfer, but also on Hugh as he enjoyed the deep takeoff permitted by the longboard.  This lead to a ... discussion ... in the water, basically unresolved.

 Main Peak got crowded

Meanwhile, though, a mere 30 yards north, I continued to enjoy my rights, interspersed with an occasional left coming off the main peak, largely alone.  One of the guys surfing to the north of me commented that, watching me, he felt like paddling in, stashing his board, and grabbing his fins.  About 15 minutes later, there he was, out in the lineup up with a couple of yellow Vipers.  

There were at least two or three waves in every set; as a result, I always had at least one, uncontested.  Although, perhaps, not highlighted by any spectacular or exceptionally long rides, I ended up with scores of waves, most sliding across the glossy surface, punctuated by a second or two in the barrel before the final close out.  Entirely satisfying!

As we exited the water over two hours after entering, conditions remained essentially the same ... glassy and peaky, if a good deal more crowded!  There were the "Barneys" you'd expect on a holiday weekend, but some solid surfers as well.

As I walked ashore, the Brazilian surfer that I've mentioned a few times in the past - one of the best surfers to occasionally show up at the Park, and one who totally respects the bodysurfer - was just entering.  We chatted a bit before he paddled out, as he told me about his new, 2 month old, adopted daughter and how she's changing his life.  He stuck the landing above.

Empty when we arrived, the beach was filling in with winter sun worshippers, and more guys arriving with boards under arm.

And the waves kept coming.

The video clip below is Hugh's long ride of the day.  Shown at 1/2 time, it tracks his take off in the distance outside main peak to the south of me, through passing right behind me, and finishing deep inside in the distance north of me.  The actual length of ride was 21 seconds.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Park Delivers (Doesn't Disappoint)

Note to the impatient: Scroll down for a Hugh Berenger gallery from the day.
"The Park delivers," Eric ( E_Y ) Yeisley liked to say.

All week, the forecasts were for a solid W swell to arrive late Friday, accompanied by offshore, NW, winds.  But the forecasts were inconsistent.  Surfline projected South Orange County, and the Park, for a great morning ... 5 - 7 foot waves and moderate offshores:

But other reliable wave forecasts ranged as low as 1-3 feet, and some wind forecasts were for howling offshores up to 25 MPH and more.  What to expect?

Polling the various sources, the swell had to be there...the winds might be excessive but the direction was right.  Sticking my neck out, I persuaded my cousin, Charlie Raine, to come down from South Bay and had Paul Tordella leaning that way, as well.  Mark Ghattas already was in.  I was psyched for a solid morning with a good pod in the water.

Checking late Friday, nothing was showing, as yet.  I went to bed with a slight doubt.  Saturday dawned with clear skies ... and not much showing on the cams.  South Bay was closed out (thank the stars) but, while there were a few waves evident in the San Clemente cams, it looked inconsistent at best.  Setting doubt aside, I commenced the trek south.

Before I'd seen the water, Charlie reported, "it looks flat!?!  Or, at least, nearly."  He'd driven down with an open water swimming friend, Ryan Bullock (winner of the last Hermosa to Manhattan pier-to-pier race), and I was anxious for it to be worth his while to drive an hour when all of South Bay was in his back yard.  Oh, no.

But, from the steps, you could see the long interval (18-20 sec.) swell was in the water.  There were only a few scattered sticks out, but it just felt like surf.  A few chest high waves came in, and Charlie and Ryan turned back to pay for parking and suit up.  ...wait (!) ... look at this (!) ....

Maybe not quite epic, but look at that right; check the rooster-comb spray.  

As I turned back to the lot, another set rolled in.  OK, maybe not the 5 - 7  feet anticipated, but nicely- formed, clean and shoulder-high.  

Shortly, a pod of five were headed into the water, a cool 60, spreading out above and below the main peak, which we had nearly to ourselves for the first hour.

Paul, Ryan, Charlie, Mark, Hank
Photo: Hugh Berenger 

 Early on, there were chest and shoulder-high sets with occasional lulls, but building through the morning.  As evidenced in Hugh's photos, the hollow waves offered everyone plenty of tube time.  Even the sticks got some:

GoPro Photo: Hank Haldeman

 The sun was shining in a cloudless, deep blue, winter sky.  The water was sparkling blue-green, surprisingly glassy as the offshore wind continued through the morning. 

GoPro Photo: Hank Haldeman

 In the second hour, the swell continued to grow, as occasional head-high sets became increasingly frequent.  So, too, did the number of surfers, body-boarders, photographers, and even bodysurfers, in the water.  But the stoke remained, the peaks were spread out, and everyone was getting theirs.  Good vibe.

I had several memorable waves, enjoying sliding across increasingly large glossy, open faces.  But, this day, we had the good fortune of having Hugh Berenger ashore to document the day.  All photos below by Hugh Berenger  (click on photo for larger size)

The Park delivers!
  Mark (?)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Swell Sunday Surprise Session

Depending where you looked, swell forecast was 1-2 or 2-3 feet for South San Clemente.  Super high tide, over six feet at 6:45.  Not a recipe for a great session.  Taken at face value, through most of the morning we'd see a barely-breaking surge sweeping up the sand.

Something made me doubt it - there were two west swells coming in, both over 2 feet...they could combine for some reasonable surf.  Well, it appears that most of the surfers in South Orange County believed the forecast, as, on arrival at 8:15, there was only a scattering of long-weekend surfers down from the SC State Park Campground above, south at LG 1 and a couple of locals out at Riveria to the north.  Main Peak was empty as shoulder-high, peaky and bowling waves shimmered under the semi-overcast morning.

I was anxious to get in, lest word get out.  I was half-suited up by the time Mark Ghattas arrived in the lot, and was swimming out at the Main Peak area moments later.

Even before Mark was in the water, I'd caught two hollow rights, both with barrels glowing turquoise in the filtered sunlight.

For over an hour, we had the long stretch from the steps to the rocks entirely to ourselves, save a couple of marines from Texas that were out on surfboards for the first time ever.  Any wave we wanted was ours, and there were plenty of fun ones.

For most of a half hour, the life guard on duty parked where we were surfing and watched from her truck.  We had occasional audience from the strollers drawn to the beach on a warming winter day as the sun burned through the high clouds.

The water was a little cooler - the San Clemente pier has yet to register under 60, but it seemed barely that today.  It was fun with the GoPro today.  I got a lot of clips of Mark, the better of which are in the video below.  A great first session in the Park for 2015!