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!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Del Mar Drizzle (belated post)

Time constraints have made this entry from Sunday's session late, and force it to be brief.  But a very nice session demands blog recognition....sorry, no photos, and haven't had time to extract any GoPro clips...

In San Diego, with a swell - albeit fading - I was vacillating over whether to surf Sunday due to predictions of some sporadic overnight drizzle.  However, I arranged to connect with Tim Barnes to pick up my new DMBC (Del Mar Bodysurfing Club) board shorts that he'd been holding for me.

The "sporadic" part of the predictions proved wrong, and dawn brought proof of continuous overnight precipitation and a steady drizzle.  I headed up to Del Mar to meet Tim, and checked out the surf while waiting.  At 7:30, regular sets in the chest high range were showing, many with surprising peaks and somewhat hollow.  The surface was ruffled by a steady, offshore breeze.  A handful of surfers were scattered about, getting some decent rides.

Tim showed, but, spoiled by a session in Todos Santos the prior day and put off by the rain, didn't get in.  After a short deliberation, I suited up and waded into the coolest water of the season - maybe 60 - and out to the outside break.  Immediately, I scored on a shoulder high (if not bigger), hollow right.  The water was crystal clear and, in the soft light of the early, overcast day, a deep, translucent blue encased me for precious seconds before the close out.  This was quickly followed by a very long left - a bit crumbly, but an easy, slow slide into the deep inside.  I was hooked.

I ended up putting in my longest session in months - nearly 2-1/2 hours - that was interrupted by some long, fairly chilly lulls, but otherwise offered a pretty steady diet of faster, hollow rights interspersed with long, crumbly lefts.

Somewhat after 9, Vince Askey swam out with a small pod of the DMBC.  After over an hour essentially alone, company in the water was welcome, though the timing wasn't great as one of those lulls set in.  Fortunately, it didn't last and some fun ones reappeared.

I extended my session by about a half hour after I initially thought to quit - only a few calf cramps into it - as some larger sets started to reappear.  My persistence was rewarded by my final wave.  

With the exception of a couple of famous breaks, it's pretty rare for a bodysurfer to find a wave that is steep enough and hollow enough to get fully covered up (tubed) but peeling slowly enough that you can come back out of the tube.  On this wave, a feathering right still benefiting from the offshore breeze, I did something I've only done a couple of times previously: not just one cover up and emergence, but two.  As the lip feathered in front of me, still that deep, translucent blue, once then pulled back, and a second time, again pulling back, and then finally pulled ahead of me for a final time.  A long right, in the tube virtually the entire way.  

One of the DMBC crew was perfectly situated inside, at the end of the line, with a perfect view into the tube through most of my ride.  Not only an exceptional ride, but with a witness!

It was still raining as I waded ashore, rinsed and slipped out of my wetsuit.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Packing a Punch in the Park

The rains have gone but the swell from the storm that brought Southern California its heaviest rains in years lingers.  Not as big, perhaps, as yesterday, but a much cleaner swell (and water!) and much more organized, accompanied by an offshore breeze that still left a glassy surface inside.

With almost no tide swing and winds projected to be mild and offshore through midday, timing didn't matter much so I set a leisurely time of 9:00 to rendezvous with Mark Ghattas.  On arrival, I found the storm had sculpted the shore of sand, leaving mini-cliffs of sand along the beach, but also new sandbars that were showing peaks from the rocks to the south all the way up to our steps and further north.  

In response, rather than the customary pack at the Main Peak, surfers were scattered throughout, working the head-high WNW swell as the offshore raked plumes off the pitching lips.

As I observed from the steps, and snapped a few shots, my friend Jamie Knoop appeared, a tantalizing breakfast burrito from Pipe's in hand.  Shortly, Mark pulled in, followed closely by local (body)surfing luminati couple, Bryan Knowles and Scotti Shafer. 

Shortly, we were in the water, remarkably warm (63/64) for December.  Immediately, I caught a head high right with a nice drop in and climb into the face before I was cut off by an oblivious stick.  No sweat.  As the others got out to the lineup, I pulled into a steep, fast left in full layout, making eye contact with Bryan as I slid by under a feathering lip that eventually enclosed me in the first of the day's many tubes.

As hollow as the waves were, they were strangely benign, welcoming today.  The faces held open; tubes remained hollow; closeouts were almost gentle.

I had the GoPro on my wrist, but wasn't concentrating on shooting; today was for riding.  I'll edit and post a composite from the day, but grabbed a fun sequence of Bryan:

 The first shot gives some feel for the size, as Mark looks back on Bryan as he takes off, a wall of wave stretching out behind.
 The mix of swell becomes evident as Bryan slides toward me.
As he reaches me, Bryan tucks into the curl with SCSP signature cliffs behind under a rain-swept blue winter sky.

I had anticipated an hour in the water, it became two and I was reluctant to exit to make commitments back home. A classic winter day in the Park!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fun Fall Swell in South Bay

Early morning presented bright blue skies on a crisp, fall morning in Pasadena.  

Tempted by post-surf luxuries of hot showers, fresh coffee and freshly baked, homemade muffins at Chez Tordella, and lead by forecasts that favored South Bay - i.e., the lower quadrant of Santa Monica Bay - over Orange County for both swell and winds, Hermosa Secret Spot was the call for Saturday.  The early cams evidenced significant swell, but mainly walled up.  However, a quick check of the San Clemente cams showed less height, yet the same, walled up west swell with no cross-swell to create peaks.

Transitioning downtown and heading west, tendrils of early morning fog stretched in from the coast, but, even this early, the sun was fighting to burn it off.  As LAX slid by on my right and Dockweiler Beach approached ahead, varying haze overhung the South Bay.  As I headed south, past Shitpipe, Prat's Reef, Hammerland and El Porto, into Manhattan Beach and Hermosa beyond, regular sets of well spaced swells rolled in.

A variable haze hung over Hermosa as Paul Tordella, Mark Ghattas and I suited up at Paul's house.  From the hill above, the swell was showing in Hermosa, as well.

 A bit of shape was even evident as a modest offshore combed the wavetops.

Soon, we were swimming out in the cool, but still comfortable water - probably 63 or so.  I was glad to have a full suit on for the first time since Spring.  Maybe a dozen surfers were spread out north and south of us.  Head high and larger sets, still mostly walled up, were rolling in, but the mid-sized waves - shoulder to head-high - were showing a little form.  

My first wave was a big, thick right, that I was able to get into early for a fast descent down the face, back up into the curl and into a shimmery tube before the inevitable close out.  Nice!  Paul and Mark starting laying into a series of lefts.  

As the tide dropped over the first hour, the surfers dissipated south while corners presented themselves with increasing frequency.  The morning was a blend of big, fast, hollow ones and longer, slower slides into deep inside. 

After the tide turned, again starting to rise, a significant rip current developed, challenging the effort to maintain position.  About 90 minutes in, consensus grew that showers, coffee and muffins beckoned; perhaps one more ride.  About that time, I worked out of the rip and into a series of four solid, mid-sized rides, within a few minutes of each other.  Over another 15 minutes, I caught a couple more set waves and a couple inside.  

50 yards north, a surfer waved me over - and I recognized my son, Joe, who was just getting in.  His first wave was a kamikaze right close out ... with a full cover-over before the inevitable.   

Finally, as the two-hour mark approached, Paul worked his way ashore.  Shortly after, a head-high wave arrived that was just soft enough to allow a slide straight down the face out into the flat water ahead and then a whitewater-assisted coast all the way across the shallow flats inside and to the shore.  As I waded ashore, I watched Joe drop into an 8-foot wall, carve a classic bottom turn and climb back into the slot for a ride of several seconds in and out of of feathering lip.

As we headed across the sand, back toward Tordella's, the strand was awash with walkers, skaters, joggers, cyclists and sun-worshipers, soaking in a perfect fall day...before the rains (hopefully!) arrive Sunday.

The morning's exertions, camaraderie in the water blended with good vibe from the surfers drifting through, and a solid swell on a beautiful morning made the homemade muffins and fresh coffee at Tordella's taste that much better.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Back in the Park ... Feelin' Good!

Seems like an age since I've been out where I consider my "home" stomping grounds, San Clemente State Beach, a/k/a "the Park" (for San Clemente State Park, which sits right above it).  I guess that's because it's been six weeks since my last session in the Park, and another month since the one before that.  Nonetheless, it still feels like home.

In actuality, when I went to bed last night, I figured the chances were slim that I'd be heading south early today: most wind models had 12- 16 mph winds out of the southeast for the morning, enough to severely mess up the 2-4 foot swell anticipated.  Nonetheless, it was worth a check of the cams in the morning, since there'd be at least some swell and the tides were benign.  

Ah, the cams!  Some decry what they've done to surfing, removing that "all in" if you commit to surf, and getting there, or depriving the true local of the advantage wrought by the ability to wake up and personally check the surf.  I understand the viewpoint, but can't share it.  Left the to forecasts, I'd have been deprived of a nice little session this morning, and it's not like the Park was overrun - it was a pretty modest gathering of sticks and sponges out, throughout the morning.

So, what I saw on the cams was completely clean conditions.  Until a couple walked by on the beach to provide some scale, it looked pretty small - like, knee high - but with the human bodies to measure against, I could see that the wave height, as forecast, was up around shoulder-high.  So, I hauled myself out of bed, downed a first cup of coffee (with a roadie to go) and some Kefir, and jumped in the car for the drive south.  I was not to be disappointed.

A thin grey overcast kept the sun struggling to peak through, but what little wind there was came from offshore.  A thin line of sticks, with a few sponges interspersed, stretched from LG1 to the south up through the main peak area.  

The waves were chest and shoulder high, and peaky, with a bowl working inside at the main peak (above) and sandbars creating a variety of shifting peaks.


Amazed that I could still be surfing in my shortie, in 66-degree water, in November, in a rare solo session, I swam out to an empty area just north of Main Peak, and remained there throughout an hour and a half session, with an occasional stick (surfboard) or sponge (bodyboard) drifting through.

My first two waves were classic Park. One a right, the other a left.  Both at least shoulder high, and with a great corner that presented a fast, hard slide, followed by a pitching lip that closed over me to enclose me - for the first of many such this morning - in a shimmering crystalline tube.  

These may have been the best two waves of the day, but as the session evolved, it was about those few seconds in the tube...some just pure crystal, while others ranged from luminescent cyan to glittery sapphire.  The beauty of bodysurfing: while some of these cylindrical enclosures may have been of sufficient size to embrace a surfer on a board, there were those this morning, inaccessible to board surfers, that were sized only to the bodysurfer.

I did strap the GoPro to my wrist before swimming out.  Today's shots are more oriented toward the scenery and environment - the gestalt, if you will - of being out there in a shimmering, glassy morning with the sun peaking through, than really of the surf conditions.  I hope you enjoy!

SCSP: November 15, 2014 from Hank Haldeman on Vimeo.