Saturday, July 11, 2015

Swell on Schedule

You can see a summer swell coming from a long way off.  Born deep in the Southern Hemisphere, waves are on their way 10 days before they get here.  Since last week, the models have forecast a playful, long interval, head-high swell to arrive on Friday and last into Saturday.

On first glimpse, crossing the railroad tracks, there it was.  The wind was calm, the tide mid-low, and water temp bumping up on 70, and the water was full of surfers ... not!  It was nearly deserted.  Mainly because, as is hinted in the picture above, it was pretty walled up (arriving parallel to the shoreline and breaking all at once instead of peeling).  

Surfline, and the other websites, had warned to head to the point breaks instead of the beach breaks.  It appears that, in Southern Orange County, people took notice - I couldn't resist taking this shot of Cotton's Point, a mile & a half south of where we stood:

Click on it for a full-screen image.  I counted over one hundred heads in the water!  As one of the guys standing at the rail, watching, commented: Even if only one decent wave comes in up here, that's more than you're going to get down there!

But there were decent waves, as the tide fluctuated, and the swells hit the various sand bars along the Park area:

Yeah, you had to be picky.   While there was head-high size, it was often walled:

 But walled is where the bodysurfer loses his disadvantage against the surfer.  There are still short rides, tubes and easy exits, while waiting for the occasional corner.

As Hugh and I swam out at the main peak, there was only one surfer in the water.  The area further south, just below the campground, was starting to fill in with visitors from the campsite who would have paddled out in anything.

After an hour or so, more & more guys started paddling out.  Few regulars, none particularly proficient.  That left the two of us shifting around to avoid them as they'd see us score a wave or two and move in to shadow us.  But there were plenty of waves for us.  Rights & lefts.  A few long ones; mostly short, fast and hollow, though.  

As the lineup filled in, the wind, onshore today, started picking up, first ruffling the surface then starting to make the top of the waves crumble into the the midsection, eliminating the tubes that had been our compensation for the shortness of the rides.  We'd had a good 90 minutes ... time to call it a morning and leave with all the good pickings behind us.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Unplanned Peaks in the Park

I went to bed last night uncertain whether or not to surf today.  Most models were showing a steady onshore wind and small waves - I'd most often pass.  However, there were inconsistencies in the wind model and the swells showed two, separate, long interval SSW ground swells with a WNW wind swell mixed in ... all a foot or so in height.  Sometimes that can work well as the swells double up and then peak with the WNW.  I left the decision to whether I happened to awake early.

I awoke early and am glad I did!  We were surprised by pretty consistent chest, shoulder and even head high surf.  The long interval made for some power, with some pretty hollow.  The WNW mixed it up nicely, so that there were shifting peaks all around.  Pretty regularly, the swell mix created a long runner to the left off the peak.

For those who can't picture it based on those words, imagine standing on shore.  A shoulder-high swell, the SSW, is coming in at a little bit of an angle from the left.  A smaller swell approaches from the right at the same time.  The bodysurfer takes off at the peak created by the intersection, but is able to slide down into the smaller wave on the right (as you look out) and ride it all the way to deep inside, while the bigger SSW swell trails behind.

The rights were the opposite, but much faster, steeper, hollower ... and shorter.

What made the session exceptional was that we had it all to ourselves.  Hugh Berenger and I were joined in the water by water photographer/surfer/bodysurfer Geoff Glenn, shooting stills with his GoPro mounted on a trigger grip.  For the first 45 minutes, there was no one else in the water from the rocks all the way back nearly to the steps.  We had the extended Main Peak area to ourselves.  

I found it a little more consistent coming off the rocky underwater spine we call the Rocks, and between there and Main Peak 25 yards to the North.  Eventually, a few sticks paddled out, but all went in at Main Peak or further north, so we had the area we'd chosen all to ourselves for over 90 minutes.  

The wind remained slack - ruffling the water surface but not affecting the waves at all.  The water was a cool 65 or 66, but the shorty sufficed as there were no long waits or lulls.  Geoff was getting some great shots and Hugh and I simply had our pick of waves.  I know that on a handful of waves, I was sliding right toward and past Geoff, so I'm hoping for some action shots to share later in the week.

Unplanned, I had my best session in the Park, or anywhere, since March!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sometimes Good Things Come In Small Packages

Swell forecasts through the week have been uninspiring.  There's a little southwest swell, generally projected for waist high, maybe some plusses.  Conditions were supposed to be decent, though, so  I turned in Friday night undecided: if I'm awake and feel like it, I'll head down to San Clemente.

I was awake, and I felt like it.  With a coffee and yogurt downed and about to head out, I get a text from Hugh: "Waist high and weak."  Damn.  I reply: "On my way, anyway."

Turned out to be a pretty good choice.  It was, as expected, fairly small.  But it had some shape and the conditions were good: clean and glassy under a flat, gray sky.  

A waist high tube is still a tube for a bodysurfer!

Today was a rare, solo session.  Hugh was at the rail but uninspired.  Mark was in San Diego.  Expectations hadn't warranted reaching out to anyone else.  

There were a surprising number of surfers in the water.  A mix of sticks, sponges, and a trio of teens launching skimmers off soft tops, were scattered from the main peak up.  At first, it seemed pretty much the same everywhere - waist high, with a few plusses, semi-hollow with a few corners.  

But a set rolled through with maybe shoulder-high peaks down at the Main Peak.  Instead of swimming out in an empty stretch just north of the stairs, I went down just past the Main Peak where there was a little gap between the rocks and Main Peak, that seemed to be getting pretty consistent corners.  I had the spot to myself for all but 10 of the next 90 minutes.

The waves were fun, and I had plenty.  There were few lulls and no competition for the waves.  Lots of chest and sometimes shoulder high peaks with nice little corners leading into fast tubes.  I even had a rare "in & out" - cover up inside the tube, then emerging back out onto the wave face.  Also, a long left slide that just kept peeling into the deep inside.

Though I had the GoPro on my wrist, with the poor lighting, small waves and lack of company, I only shot a couple of clips.  The extract above gives a pretty good idea of the semi-hollow, chest-high rights that were coming pretty regularly.

Wishing I'd just slept in?  Nah.  Sometimes good things come in small packages.

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.