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.