Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Carmel Quickie

This post won't be long, mirroring my brief session this afternoon.

Up here on business; two blocks from the white sand crescent of Carmel Beach.  On arrival Sunday evening, the surf looked semi-decent - waist and sometimes shoulder high, and fairly smooth, but time didn't permit getting in.  Mentally, I committed to using a couple hour break in the afternoon Tuesday to slip in my first surf in Northern California.  

I'd asked a couple of exiting surfers on Sunday about the water temperature.  One said 56, the other 60, with a debate ensuing.  Silently, I thought, "ok, cold."  Having driven up, the fins were in my trunk.  With the warm summer waters South, I'd removed both my 4:3 and 3:2 to inside the house, but dug around and found an older, slightly leaky 3:2.  Not ideal for upper 50's but maybe enough.

Through midday Tuesday, a heavy overcast coupled with mild onshores.  I decided to first check it out.  A stroll along the beach left me unmoved.  (Pictures here are from that stroll.) The surf had lost a foot or so of height, sapping my enthusiasm for dunking in sub-60 water in a leaky, lightweight wet suit and dreary conditions.

Early afternoon, the sun burned through but the wind had picked up to a steady breeze.   I went to the pool for a read in the sun, but the sound of waves in the distance kept drawing my mind back to the water.  Warmed by the sun in the protected pool area, I committed.  I figured by now the small swell would be trashed by the steady onshore, but a dip in the ocean always brings some benefit.

I slipped on the wetsuit, and walked down the hill to the oceanfront, carrying my fins and finsocks.  Emerging from the oceanside mix of pine and cypress, the wind in my face was stronger, steadier, and colder than I'd anticipated.  As I crossed the fine, white sand, the gaggle of locals and tourists trying to enjoy the sun through the cool breeze eyed me with degrees of curiosity to incredulity.

Finned up, I slipped into the water, which wasn't as cold as I'd feared.  Certainly not over 60, but no stinging and no "ice cream headaches."  Although the waves appeared sloppy, much less clean than the photo above, they were more rideable than they appeared.  There were even a couple of shoulder high breakers strong enough not to crumble under the onshore onslaught.  As it turned out, I spent a pleasant half hour, dodging kelp strands along short little slides and emerged the happier for it.

And so I sit, back in my room overlooking Carmel Bay and north to Monterey Peninsula, preparing for the evening activities but evidently - by the length of this entry - more satisfied by my NorCal baptism than I realized.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Impressive Pod Presides over the Park

Stimulated by forecasts of head-high waves, warm water and benign winds, the call went out:

Expression Session in the Park!

The hope was to be able to take over a peak or two from the anticipated swarm of board surfers, similarly drawn by the alluring forecasts on a holiday weekend. The call was answered!

[Disclaimer: I took little time to shoot photos, preferring to maximize water time.  I hope to share video from Brent Crawford and in-water photos from Hugh Berenger soon.]

On arrival, a large, but lumpy and somewhat walled up, swell was obvious in evidence:

Surprisingly, there were but a few surfers of any sort in the water - no doubt drawn to the point breaks and beaches with other angles in search of better peaks.  I arrived on the tail of most of the pod, which had concluded that the southern area, beyond LG 1, held best hope for corners and peaks.  The South Bay contingent, Paul Tordella, John Rogers, Scott McPherson, Paul's son Brian and nephew Kevin Barnett, and frequent Park visitor, Neil Frank were just heading down the beach (below), as Craig Thomson and his daughter descended the steps.

After rapidly snapping these few shots, I rapidly returned to the lot, slipped into a pair of trunks, grabbed my fins and followed.  (What a luxury it is not to have to squeeze into rubber!)  Others were visible in the water - Brent "Crawdaddy" Crawford's bald pate was unmistakable, as was the trademark slide of Jeff "JPL" Lashbrook.  Steve Harkins was out as well, and it wasn't long before Mark Ghattas arrived, as well as a contingent from Team O'Gorman: patriarch Shawn, Cheyne and their friend JP, and Hugh Berenger, dean of the SCSP bodysurfing pod, backed in, camera in hand.  As a couple more joined us, we had as many as 20 bodysurfers out, stretched from north of the LG 1 guard stand over several hundred yards south, through and beyond "King's Corner."  Though there weren't many boards out, anyway, few ventured into our stretch over the next two hours.

As for the surf, the South swell was there, the water was warm, the breeze was mild and the tide was amidst an imperceptible drop from a predawn 3 foot high to a 10:00 2 foot low.  All the right ingredients, seemingly.  But, today, the Park failed to put its best foot forward.  The swell wrap was such that it was often walled up and the lumpiness evident in the first shot remained.  Even more irksome was a persistent backwash that seemed intent on appearing whenever a good peeler presented itself.  In the picture above, the inside wave is actually backwash, moving out ... often even breaking in a mush of whitewater.

Lack of perfection notwithstanding, there were still plenty of good rides to be had, and lots of stoke at finally seeing a punchy swell.  Half of us enjoyed a traditional breakfast at Adele's, regaled by stories of the recent Nicaragua trip from which Paul, John & Scott just returned.  Had the surf been a little better, I would have missed the breakfast...two hours wouldn't have been enough.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Whetting an Appetite for Summer

Four weeks.

Gone two weeks ago, but there wasn't much surf even that weekend.  On the other two, nothing.  June is slipping away without a single surf session.  Going away next weekend, so it was today or suffer my first blanked month of 2014...or any year since July 2012!  

Four weeks dry.  Has to end today.  

The forecasts weren't promising, but a small (2') south swell was starting to fill in and the winds and tides were expected to be benign.  On arrival, it looked more like a SUP day than a surf day...

Heavily overcast, the leaden surface was fairly glassy as occasional waist high waves - sometimes a tad bigger - rolled in.

A west swell remnant worked with the local sandbars to make it peaky and hollow, if small.  A few sticks were scattered from the Main Peak down through LG 1, but Cotton's was surprisingly crowded in the background:

Ghattas showed up and and shamed me into forgoing any rubber, skinning it in the 70 degree water.  I was glad, as I hung in for nearly two hours without any chill.  Eventually, the sun fought through and drove the fog bank offshore.  The 1-minute video paints the scene best:

Mark only had forty-five minutes, but I surfed nearly two hours, sharing the Main Peak area with a half-dozen sticks...all of us treating it all pretty casually.  I actually found myself in numerous mini-tubes, the thin wall of the small wave a crystalline white.

In all, the purpose was served.  Many (small) waves were ridden.  My gills were wetted and my appetite whetted for some real summer surf!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Season's First Warm Water Session

I'm not sure that I missed much surf, but the last two weekends were spent on the east coast, leaving me anxious for surf this weekend.  Forecasts have been for a modest swell and reasonable conditions; tides would present no problems.  Surprisingly, on the heels of sub-60 water temperatures the first week of May (and our last session!), they reached, and even exceeded 70 during the course of the week.

The prospect of warm water and reasonable surf beckoned. 

On arrival, leaden gray skies stretched over the dark surface rippled by a slightly chilling breeze.  Chest-high sets arrived inconsistently as the tide peaked and started to withdraw.  A handful of surfers were clumped at the Main Peak, which didn't look any better or worse than anywhere along the Calafia/State Park stretch.  In the distance to the south, Cotton's Point was thickly crowded as at least fifty surfers vied for what looked like a bit larger surf.

The promised south swell was in evidence, along with a small WNW wind swell helping the sand bars with their peak creation.  As I turned back from the rail to go suit up, I was pleasantly surprised to find a grinning Bret Belyea striding toward the tracks.  Bret explained he'd come up from SD with a couple of friends and had just finished a decent, dawn-patrol session down at LG1.  Consistency was lacking, he said, but there were some good waves for the patient.

Turns out Bret was half right.  Yes, there were good waves for the patient, but as the tide receded, the consistency improved.  Pretty regular waist - to - shoulder high waves were punctuated, every ten minutes or so, by head high sets.  Initially, it was just solo waves, but later in the session, they were arriving in pairs and, occasionally,  even threes.  On the down side, the initial breeze that simply textured the water built into a bit of bump through the session.  Not enough to really mess up the waves, but creating a bit of chop, nonetheless.

Mark Ghattas and I decided to start out south of the rocks, working the north side of LG1.  We shared that for over an hour with a couple of older surfers, who were pleasant enough, if a little unsure of where to give room to a couple of bodysurfers.  Eventually, the crowd at the main peak thinned and we worked our way back up, basically enjoying the area north of the rocks to ourselves for the last half hour.

Between the overcast skies and untidy surface, it wasn't a particularly picturesque morning, so I left the GoPro ashore - a move I regretted early in the session as I was perfectly positioned to watch (and film, if I'd had it) Mark in a long, textbook, left slide.  On the other hand, what a joy it was to spend comfortably spend nearly two hours in the water in my battle-scarred "shortie" wetsuit!

My comment yesterday on Facebook noted I was looking forward to a session in the Park, perhaps not epic, but decent & warm water...pretty much nailed it.  With El Nino lining up, maybe we should get used to it!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Slim Pickin's ... a week's difference

It's pretty remarkable the difference that a week can make.  Other than the water temperature struggling to get back up into the 60's, today could have been a page from August's book.  Instead of sizable, crossing south and northwest swells throwing overhead peaks and churning the water sandy brown, a small and lazy south swell presented blue-green peelers while the beach filled in with seekers of a summer preview.

We planned a late (8:30) arrival, to allow the tide to fill in from a negative low at 7:00, but, as the photo (taken after our session) below shows, even after 10:30 it was still very low.  It was already warm as we suited up, making the 60-degree water refreshingly cool. 

Expectations were low, but a nice day beckoned, and there were ride-able "smallies."  Only a few surfers were out, at the main peak, as Mark Ghattas and I swam out to the north and lazed our way down to the rocks south of Main Peak.  Further south, in front of the 1st lifeguard tower - "LG 1" - the junior guards program was commencing.  Throughout the session, they were on the shore, running up & down the beach, occasionally entering the cold water with poorly suppressed gasps.

It was a good day for a beginner to practice:

Meanwhile, the real pros trolled just outside the break (below - click for full screen).

Me? I decided to practice an alternative mount for the GoPro.  Previously, I have only used a wrist mount that allowed me to surf and then access it when I wanted.  This time, I used a small, floating post that permitted me to aim where I want, but required a hand to hold it throughout.  Harder to surf and shoot, but it allowed some different shots - better forward-looking angles showing the bodysurfer's view.  The results are below:

It was a lazy, low-key session, stretch 90 minutes as the day warmed and the beach filled.  Although the waves were small, there were still some decent rides to be had, evidenced in one clip in the video of Mark on a long left.  Also, there were sparkling mini-tubes, a few of which are also captured in the video (click below for full screen). 

I'm off for a couple of weeks, traveling, so it was nice to get some beach time to send me off.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Worth the Wait!

...a belated post about last Sunday's session, but the title refers to the session - especially the first half hour, rather than this post....

It had been a long time - three full months - since the last really good session in the Park.  For over a week, a solid mix of deep south groundswell and northwest windswell had been predicted, but with an expectation of heavy onshore winds Saturday and the hope of calming overnight Saturday for decent conditions Sunday morning.  Through Saturday, all proceeded as expected - the northwest windswell arrived, the long interval, deep south groundswell worked its way north from the Southern Hemisphere, and heavy winds ripped the coast on Saturday.  All good, but would the winds abate while the south filled in?

The answer came swift and welcome upon arrival.  Triangular peaks dotted a glossy surface, glazed under the early morning sun and lightly combed by a soft, offshore breeze.  Northwest lines from the right crossing perpendicular lines wrapping around Cotton's Point to the south lifted peaks to a few feet overhead, with soft shoulders running right and left.  A fairly solid string of surfers fanned from LG1 stand to the south below the campground, all the way up to the steps where we stood checking it out.

Guys were getting barreled in steeper sections and carving up the softer sections.

Neil Frank was a welcome sight, in his wetsuit, after an absence stretching back to the end of last year, as he nursed an injury now healed.  We'd missed our intrepid octogenarian in the line up!

While the air was balmy and the sky sunny, with wind comes ... upwelling.  Overnight, the San Clemente water temperature had dropped from a summerish 66 to a very wintery 56!  Fortunately, we were forewarned and prepared.  It was as cold as it has been, for a least a year, getting in, but the calm winds, warm air and sunny sky conspired to blunt the chill.

Soon, we had a small pod of four, working a peaky area north of the Main Peak but below the steps, pretty much to ourselves: Mark Ghattas, Craig Thomson, Neil and myself.  Quick drops and some hefty tubes were interspersed with long slides to the deep inside.  At one point, Neil came swimming up, an eighty-year-old as stoked as an eight year old, jabbering how he couldn't believe how wide open the large tube had been that he'd just been occupying.  

As we neared the half-hour mark, the incoming tide peaked and a lull ensued.  Quickly, the two-score of sticks dwindled to a half-dozen, well spread out, and some of us moved down to work Main Peak.  The the remaining 90 minutes, surfers would come and go, as the wind picked up a bit, shifted to the south and then, eventually, to onshore, creating a texture but not blowing out the waves.  Occasional busts of energy arrived, but never recovered the consistency of the first half hour.  

Size and conditions were enough to be the best since mid-January, but, since Thanksgiving, we've yet to see that kind of punch that gets the adrenalin pumping and demands an unfettered "whoop" on exit.  A good day, worth waiting for, for sure, but still leaving me looking for more.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bloggone ... but not forgotten?

What a dry spell ... 6 weeks (!!!) ... but broken at last.  I suspect some readers wonder if I'd given up the blog, or, more unbelievable, surfing.

Mostly, there just hasn't been anything worth surfing on a weekend since early March.  It wasn't glorious, but at least there were waves to be surfed yesterday, at last, on a warm and sunny morning.

A scattering of sticks hung around the Main Peak area, picking their way through the sporadic sets.

Mark Ghattas arrived and we swam out north of the Main Peak, working that area largely alone for the first hour.  An inconsistent, but peaky, a modest mixture of swell was coming in, waist to chest high.  The winds held off until after 10:00, leaving a glassy surface with an occasional hollow little tube, like the one below - Mark Ghattas caught as I re-entered, after grabbing my GoPro following the first hour (better seen full screen by clicking on it):

 Evidently, finding our waves more appealing than theirs, the sticks moved north into our area, so we flipped south and worked are area between the rocks and main peak for the second hour.

It may not have been one of the most memorable sessions, but after such a long spell out of the water, it sure was great to get wet again!  A few clips from the morning in the video below: