Saturday, April 2, 2016

Getting Worked in the Park

I took a bit of a beating today.  

My first wave, a beefy right, I executed a quick take-off and started to set a high line.  Quickly, the bottom fell out and I dropped, free-fall, to the flat water below, the weight of the lip quickly following me.  Though a quick roll popped me out the back, the wave wasn't done with me, sucking me back down into the maelstrom.

Ending my session, after catching my last wave, I was in "no man's zone," inside the main break, as I saw a wave lining up outside.  Digging to get under it, I was pinned for a moment, deep, but no real problem, and angled back up to continue my flight to the outside.  However, the second wave was significantly larger, and further out.  No way to get under and past it.  So I dove, and took one "on the head."  Popping up, I was to discover that it proved to be a five-wave set - rare today - with me in the impact zone.  The long interval - 14 seconds - between waves gave plenty of time to grab a lungful of air between waves, but I took a pounding, nonetheless.  

In between, I never really quite got slotted.  Over 90 minutes, I had maybe two clean exits.  The rest included some sort of free-fall, close-out drop.  I can't remember the last time that I had more than one or two in a single session. 

It was a good - perhaps excellent day at the Park.  Main Peak was going off, with head high and overhead peaks created by a good mix of southwest and northwest, long interval, swells.  Wind was light and surface pretty glassy.  Sun overhead and decent water temp (61) for early April.   However, it appears that a few others figured that out.  

 From the rocks to the north side of Main Peak, it looked like this (above).  Not a break in the line and, frankly, most of them hadn't a clue what they were doing.  Not a good place for a bodysurfer.  Too much fiberglass with too little control.  So Mark Ghattas, Matt Hughes and I swam out straight out from the steps where sandbars and the mixed swell appeared to be creating some peeling rights and lefts, ranging from shoulder high to a foot or two overhead.  While Mark and Matt scored on some, riding them to deep inside, most of my waves seemed to look like this:

Nice heft and clean but way too fast for a bodysurfer.  But that's not fair.  I'm usually pretty good at wave selection and today was no exception.  Instead, in retrospect, the issue may be my inclination to take a high line, tucking in under the lip.  Today, where we were, the back-most curve of the wave appears to have been set lower in the wave.  As I sought to ride up high, time after time the bottom would drop out on me.  I need to adjust better!

Meanwhile, to the south of us, the Barneys continued to flail:

Too much traffic for me!  However, there were a couple out there who knew what to do and dominated the peak with elan.  Flipping through my pre-swimout shots, I find one appearing regularly.  I didn't realize until I got home and cycled through the photos that it was Hugh:

I should have known!  When I pulled into the lot, I parked next to his van, but didn't see him at the rail or on the beach shooting.  Of course, he was the guy in the water, master of the Park.  Had I known that, I probably would have headed down to Main Peak, knowing we can always count on Hugh to run interference....


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Scintillating Smallies at Schoolyards

A particularly irksome alter ego participating on an international email list of bodysurfers would disdainfully refer to any swells producing under at least head-high waves as "smallies."  Those that would deign to wallow in them didn't have the, well, huevos, for the big stuff.  Eventually, some of us started to delight in goading the testosterone-laden scribe, posting exuberant accounts of exploits in smaller surf. 

Today was a reminder how sportive smallies can be.  It helps to start with low expectations.  Even during the week, it was questionable whether Saturday would present ridable surf.  A small swell was coming in from the Southwest, but a 5-foot high tide was peaking around 7:30 - more than enough to swamp it out at most breaks.  Sunday promised a slightly larger swell, but an even higher tide, destined to peak in mid-session.  My "go-to" break, the Park, would be hopeless both days.

On the other hand, the Saturday swell was long interval. The increased energy brought by the greater mass of a long interval swell increases the wave's tendency to break in deeper water.  Further, the direction of the swell was well targeted for the Newport peninsula, where a flat stretch of shallows before a fairly steep drop off enhances the ability to handle higher tides.  With these considerations in mind, I prepped Friday evening for a session in Newport.

Come morning, a check of the surf cams was not encouraging.  The Park was as flat as expected, and what was breaking in Newport, from the Point (18th/19th Street) through the jetties up to Huntington Beach, appeared pretty meager.  However, it's been a disheartening five weeks since my last session, and that, single, February session was the only surf I've been in since mid-January.

So I jumped in the car and headed south.  As I started across the broad sand of 15th street, shoreline not yet visible, I was surprised by the sharp crack of a breaking wave.  Hastening, I caught a glimpse of a second wave.  Encouraged, I waited until about five minutes later, a reasonable set, approaching chest-high height, rolled in.  Between, though, it was pretty minimal.

Mark Ghattas joined me, and we watched while a few smaller, but still ridable sets came in: enough to conclude getting in was better than not.

In the one-hour session at Schoolyards - 14th Street - that ensued, we had some remarkably good waves.  Little lefts, ranging from waist to shoulder height, were peaking on a sand bar at the north corner of the playground, presenting a nice corner that would slow as it hit some deeper inside water then pop up, with surprising energy, as it approached the shallows, ending up far inside.  The rights, from the same peak, were faster and shorter, but sometimes hollow enough for a little tube time.  Occasionally, a two-wave set would arrive "outside" - everything is relative! - that hinted at the power that's the signature of Newport peninsula on a South swell.

Needless to say, we had no competition for the waves.  A bodysurfer and sponge were surfing a block south of us, and a stick or two were testing it around 18th Street.  Occasionally, the wind would pick up from the east, ruffling the surface but doing no harm.  Otherwise, it was a smooth, glassy day, in cool but not frigid water under an uneven, gray sky.

What I needed.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Persistence Pays Off at the Park

Last Saturday, the forecasts looked promising. There was a deep (6 foot) high tide at 7:20, but also a long period (14 sec.), 3-foot swell from the West-North-West. The tide was due to drop steeply, to a negative, by early afternoon, so I figured that, by 8:30, the Park would no longer be swamped. I arrived about 8:20, and watched at the rail with Hugh, as others came and went, for two hours without seeing a wave I could ride. They just dribbled in, and backed off, never really breaking. The first time in years that I've been skunked - driven all the way to San Clemente without at least getting in. Today was different. 

Bryan Knowles

A stronger swell, a benign (low) tide, light winds, generally offshore, were all forecast for a summery-warm Southern California Sunday.  I was confident enough to send a call out on FaceBook, and this time, the Park delivered...the best session, for me, since early December.  Over nearly two months during which El Nino conditions to the North sent a lot of swell to Southern California, I finally got a little.

The swell was deep enough for set waves to catch the sandbar well outside, maybe 75 yards out.  From time to time, a clean, peeling left was rolling off the Main Peak area.

But rights were coming off the Main Peak sandbar as well, some with nice little corners to be ridden way inside.  The water was cold - 61 - but warmed up from the under-60 chill of recent weeks.  The air rapidly warmed, but a hazy sky lingered while a dense fog bank lurked a mile offshore.  

There were surprisingly few surfers in the water.  They tended to remain clumped, and fixated on an occasional peak to the south of the principal Main Peak sandbar.  Ironically, it's a spot I often work, while the sticks tend to anchor right at the usual, main sandbar.  But Mark Ghattas and I maintained our spot on the north edge of the Main Peak for a solid 90 minute session with almost no incursion from the 6 - 10 surfers 50 yards to the South.  Further, few had the patience to remain outside, awaiting the sets, as everything else was breaking maybe 25 yards closer in. 

Mark was regularly scoring long, long rides to the far inside ... and the labors of returning to the lineup thereafter.  Most of my rides were shorter, but, whether it was the drops or the length, they were finally registering on the RipCurl SearchGPS watch.  It was fun to see the wavecount rise, and then view the length & location, once home. 

The response to my FaceBook call out was limited - maybe because it's Valentine's Day?  Hugh was there, of course, but remained at the rail since he had to get off to work at 11.  Kahuna - Chuck Herpick - came by to watch & chat at the rail for a while, but he's waiting for warmer water.

Bryan Knowles showed up just as we were exiting the water.  My legs were cramping on every wave after 90 minutes, so we'd called it as he came walking up.  After changing, I grabbed my camera and was able to get a nice sequence of Bryan from beside the railroad tracks:

All-in-all, a very satisfying session; long overdue!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Pickin' Up the Pieces in the Park (with photos by Hugh)

Two sessions in one the dead of winter!  While the swell yesterday may have been a bit smaller, and somewhat inconsistent with some long lulls, there were some pretty fun rides, nonetheless.  
Photo: Hugh Berenger

On arrival,  I was surprised to see nearly 20 surfers clumped at the Main Peak to the south of the steps.  A few more were scattered around in the LG1 area further south.  The forecast was for a new swell to show on Sunday and, forecasts for a 3-4 foot remnant of the mid-week swell notwithstanding, it was looking pretty weak.  Not the kind of surf that would normally draw so many into water finally turning cold (58-59) with much better to follow in a day.  

Hugh was up on the bench at the base of the cliff, with fellow surfer/photographer, Kurt Eyraud, checking it out...and not much inspired to get in. 

It certainly wasn't worth swimming out in that crowd for meager pickings.  But the tide was about to bottom out, and there was a regular right peeling off the sandbar in the empty waters just north of the bench.  With expectations that it would pick up a bit with the tidal push, and anticipating having whatever came entirely to myself, I swam out there and immediately caught a fun little right.

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Shortly, Hugh moved down to the rail above the steps, camera in hand.  In due course, Mark Ghattas arrived and joined me.  Shortly after, surf photographer Geoff Glenn paddled out with a friend, prone on a standup paddleboard, intending to paddle out to the rocks several hundred yards offshore, but found the surf just playful enough to hang around and surf it, just north of us, on the ungainly boards.

Just to be ornery, I pulled in high on a little right on which Mark had position, and rode it, looking back to see how he'd react.  Hugh caught me in the act.

Photo: Hugh Berenger
But it's not like Mark didn't get his share of the mix of lefts and rights peeling off the sandbar.

Surfer: Mark Ghattas.  Photo: Hugh Berenger
The beauty of bodysurfing is that it doesn't take much for a wave to be "overhead," and there were quite a few nice little tubes to lock into.

Surfer: me.  Photo: Hugh Berenger
So, for nearly 90 minutes in the chill water, under a sky that went from slate gray, to blue then to stormy overcast, we messed in the shoulder-high lefts & rights.  The RipCurl SearchGPS didn't register any of the rides as rides per se - not sure if it's length, duration or speed that's missing, but will figure it out.  The squiggles below, though, can be translated into an interesting session with quite a few rides going both ways.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Poor Timing; Good Company

Except for the company, my inaugural session for 2016 would have to be measured a disappointment.  That said, I will never complain any time that I can get some waves mid-week, and share a session with four of my favorite surf companions from the San Diego area.  I met Bret Belyea, Chris Lafferty, Bruce Robbins and Jody Hubbard at the 17th Street Del Mar LG Tower at 8:00 on a chill, winter morning (48 degrees!) with a mild offshore wind and partial cloud cover.  With the chill air and water temperature dipping into the 50's, I picked my heavy, 4:3 wetsuit..for the first time since sometime in early 2014! 

Today was my first outing with the RipCurl SearchGPS watch that Allan gave me for Christmas.  Though only one of my rides registered as such (the red line), the chart does, nonetheless, tell the tale of the session.  The satellite map looks cool:

But my tracks from the session are much more visible on a streets map background:

Deciphering what it shows, when we first got in the water, the sets were breaking way outside.  They were infrequent, and only a couple of waves per set, but they were breaking a couple of hundred yards offshore.  (Because the tide was high, the water was actually lapping up on the wall on the far right side of the pictures above.  The red line is 30 yards long.)  

So, you can see how we swam out to the far left, and worked that for a while.  Unfortunately, with the high tide, it was fat and pretty mushy out there and I didn't catch anything.  So, not long into the session, we moved inside...where all the squiggles are, and had some fun in what was often jumbled, semi-organized waves.  Occasionally, a well-formed left corner would appear, or a fast, tight right.  Surprisingly, I had one left that was a several second cover-up, and one right that featured a steep, wide open, barrel.  

Each of us had a few good rides interspersed through a 90 minute session.  The SearchGPS tells me that we were in the water exactly 90 minutes, and that I covered 2.1 miles in all those squiggles, above.

I was worried that the watch wouldn't pick up my rides at all.  I think the one that it did measure was one of my last rides.  Initially, I thought it was the wave I rode afterwards, to shore, but that was straight in and would have gone much further in, rather than the right which the watch picked up.  I am going to have to experiment to see what triggers the watch to register a ride as a wave ridden.  I am confident that longer, faster rides will show up.  

So, why a disappointment?  Well, there's been a lot of good swells coming in the past few weeks, including some pretty big stuff yesterday.  It looked like there might be some pretty good leftovers this morning, but I fear our timing was off.  Earlier, the larger swells were catching the sandbars way outside, but the rising tide swamped those right about when we got it.  After we'd exited, as we hung in the Poseidon parking lot, talking, those same waves really started working on the inside sand ledge.  We just kind of missed it.

Nonetheless, a session with Bret, Chris, Bruce and Jody, in chest to maybe head high surf, where we all get at least a few good ones?  Good times.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Plethora of Waves at 15th Street

Quality or quantity?  Today's story was quantity.

Last weekend, I caught at most ten waves, every one an "A."  Big, fast, challenging.  Ten was completely fulfilling, and, when it starts to get big, you really can only catch them so often.  One every ten minutes is plenty.

Southern California was hit by pretty massive surf yesterday.  I didn't go.  Even if not quite beyond my capabilities, I flew in from New York Friday, arriving home close to midnight.  Not ready for a challenge Saturday morning.  By this morning, the swell had backed off alot - forecasts for 3 - 5 feet, generally.  However, there was also a big high tide around 9:00 and forecasts for a cross-shore wind to pick up between 9:00 & 10:00.

As the light gradually filled in around 6:30 on what's approaching the shortest day of the year, things still looked pretty good, up & down the coast.  However, I didn't trust the Park to hold up to that tide and wind, fearing it would be shot by the time I got there.  I also didn't really want to spend a half hour searching for a parking space and face the frustration of competing for waves with dozens of surfers, such as would be the likelihood at the Newport Jetties.  So I talked Mark into meeting me at 15th Street on the Newport Peninsula.  Good call!

Hazy sunshine took the edge off the cold air and breeze that was still offshore when we got there.  The waves were a bit messy, but unusually peaky for Newport and consistently shoulder high.  Maybe a dozen surfers spread out from Schoolyards at 13th Street up to the Point at 19th Street.  More peaks showing than surfers.


Fearing that the wind would turn to come from the south, I didn't waste much time shooting pictures.  Donned the full suit - still 3:2 - strapped on the little GoPro Sessions, and hit the water.  Oh!  Not quite 60 degrees ... the first time under 60 in a very long time!  

For over an hour & a half, Mark & I worked the area from 13th to 15th, occasionally sharing with a trio of surfers but otherwise having it entirely to ourselves.  Consistent hest and shoulder high, and a few larger, waves offered lefts like the top photo above or matching rights.  Fattened by the high tide, some were a bit crumbly, but others were even hollow, and many offered plenty long rides.  Mark was repeatedly snaring rides, left and right, into the knee high shallows way inside.

So, last weekend, 9 or 10 rides over 100 minutes.  This morning, we were in a about the same duration.  There was no counting, but we each had to have over 30 rides.  I can't rate today a 5 star session, as I did last weekend.  But it sure was satisfying for a day that could have been pretty poor!

I mentioned I was wearing the Sessions - working on a vid to add later...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Swell Saturday .. with a few photos from Hugh

OK, before all the words, here's the stoke for today:

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Forecasts for head-high, plus, holding up all week. For the weekend?  Really???  

Ok, there's gotta be a massive high tide to swamp it out, right?  Nope!  Moderate tides through the morning.

Well, I got it then: a big onshore wind to break it down? Not that either: Mild offshores through mid-morning.

Ah, the real deal-buster: rain.  Uh, skies, baby!

Yep, a real swell due to come in, in good conditions, on a weekend morning.  When was the last time that happened?  (That would be August, for the record.)

Upon arrival, it appeared to be just as advertised:

Sets were head-high, up to several feet overhead at the peaks.  Some were walled up, but the sandbars were working, and there were lots of peaks from straight in front of the steps all the way through Main Peak, the Rocks, LG1 and King's Corner 


down to North Gate and a very crowded Cotton's Point in the distance.

I didn't linger shooting, but donned the full wetsuit for the first time in eons.  The water was a remarkable 64, for December, but the chilly air suggested it.  Mark & I decided to hoof it down to the LG1/King's Corner area, which seemed to be far less crowded than the closer peaks, passing Hugh along the way.

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Before long, we were swimming out into overhead sets...

HH & NF digging for a set wave.  Photo: Hugh Berenger

...and then launching into fast, but nicely formed lefts...

Photo: Hugh Berenger

...and longer rights.

Photo: Hugh Berenger

Soon, we were joined by the intrepid octogenarian, Neil Frank (check the swell in the background):

Neil Frank.  Photo: Hugh Berenger
Most of the rights started as big, overhead peaks outside that gradually morphed into tight, fast barrels, well into the inside.

Today, over about 100 minutes, I rode what might seem a paltry 8 to 10 waves.  The two that Hugh caught, above, were the only two I rode in a 15 minute period when he was on the beach down where we'd decided to surf.  However, every one of those waves was excellent.  Big and open, but long and very ride-able.  Heart-thumping but strangely easy.  One or two of those in a session can make it a four star.  8-10?  Not only the second 5-star session of the year, but probably the best session of the year.