Monday, November 2, 2015

Welcome, Fall!

Under a cloudless blue sky, illuminated by the bright, early morning sun, Southern California shimmered, unusually fresh and clean.  The sustained drought notwithstanding, the recent sporadic showers ushered in on the Pineapple Express gave life to a thin, green cover on the eastern hillsides of Griffith Park and the greying brush appeared more tan and brown.  Further on, to my right the skyscrapers of downtown shone in the reflected light of the low, eastern sun; to my left, the San Gabriel Mountains were a textured green before the deep blue backdrop; and ahead across the low haze of southern LA County lay Orange County's Santa Ana Mountains, dominated by Saddleback.

The first morning without Daylight Saving Time also was the first fall morning of the year.  It wasn't exactly chilly, warming quickly from below 60 to nearly 70 by the time I arrived in San Clemente.  The water temperature seemed symbolic: below 70 for the first time since Spring, but still a comfortable 68/69.  

For a week, a mild intestinal bug had sapped energy, but Sunday morning I felt good, anxious to get in the water.  Forecasts were less than epic - 2-3 feet, with a tide rising from an early morning "low" of over 3 feet to a swamping midday high over 6 feet.  Nonetheless, even with 4 feet of tide, the push of the rising tide should help, along with the lack of winds.  The past couple of sessions had been disappointing, even frustrating.  Today, I was confident that properly low expectations would be exceeded.

Hugh's report upon my arrival helped substantiate that - "There are waves," he said.  "I'm about to jump in."  A quick check at the rail, camera in hand, validated that.  Only a couple of sticks were in the water, but they were having fun in chest-high waves, breaking just far enough out.  Though small, it was pitching and hollow - enough for a crouching surfer to get fully tubed.

With the threat of the rising tide, I wasn't going to waste any time watching.  Though the cloudless sky, windless air, and slowly rising temperature were comfortable, the thought of under-70 for the first time in over 6 months lead me to don the short-sleeved, short-legged lightweight spring suit.

By the time Hugh and I walked over to the Main Peak, it was deserted.  I was in first, greeted as soon as I was ready by a chest-high, hollow right that pitched over my head for a clean, fast welcome.  Yes!  Perhaps my best ride since early September.  As I turned to swim out and Hugh stroked to the lineup, two dolphins lazed by, heading South about 30 feet out.  Ah, Fall surf!

Hugh Slotted
For the next 90 minutes, we had the Main Peak all to board paddled out a bit south of us for a while, and a young bodysurfer with GoPro honed his skills in the shorebreak, but no one else was in the water.  Mark Ghattas joined us about halfway through, as the tide started to drag it down, but for most of the session, anything over waist high was breaking in enough water to ride.  The lefts took you inside to break on the beach pretty quickly, but the rights tended to peel for longer rides.  It remained hollow throughout.

Want to know what it looks like inside the tube?  A little tube-time selfie:

The beauty of the Park on a clear fall day...

As the Surfliner slides by...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What? Me Blog?

"Are you gonna blog this session?" Matt Hughes asked, halfway through yesterday's session at the Park.  

Matt's a regular reader of the blog and has joined us several times for sessions in the Park.  In his mid-twenties, Matt used to surf pretty much everything - from handblades and kickboards through bodyboards to short boards, long boards and stand up.  Now, though, he pretty much concentrates on bodysurfing, perhaps with a handplane or kickboard.  

"I don't know," I replied.  "Not sure what I'd write about."

It was a minimal session.  Early on, Mark Ghattas and I were debating the appropriate rating for WetSand's five-star system.  Most of the time, we agree.  Mark was pushing for a 1, while I was giving it a 2, because, after all, there were some waves.  

There was, indeed some swell, ranging from one to three feet, but all save the largest of that range of small waves was just breaking on the rounded rocks that had been exposed as much of the sand along the waterline was washed away by last week's heavy swell.  Nobody wants to be dumped on grinding, softball-sized rocks. Even if you can get your feet under you, you're risking an ankle sprain or bruise as the waterwater grinds them around.

We moved up and down the break, looking for a spot with some consistency.  The only others in the water were the four kids that appear to have become regulars on marginal days, launching early into waves on their softtops, then shoving a skimboard off the front and leaping onto it to carve up the shorebreak.

Unless you want a broken or badly dinged board, yesterday was a day for determined bodysurfers and the kids on the softtop/skim board combo.

The surface was ruffled, not quite choppy, but the water was warm and the air blessedly cool, at last.  And waves did come, occasionally.  In 90 minutes, I had three or four decent waves - maybe three to four foot faces that broke deep enough to be in water throughout, including a couple of tubes.  Between, there were maybe a dozen quick slides and quicker pull-outs on smaller waves.

In between, there was the good vibe that comes from having the ocean to all to just the few of us with a shared passion, a few waves and loose banter.  Followed, of course, by a classic breakfast at Adele's.  I can't think of what else I would rather have done.  So, I guess, that's what I'll write about.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bigger Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better (but it helps)

I thought maybe today would be a five star session.  Certainly four star: a solid, long interval groundswell from deep in the South Pacific mixing with a more westerly, but still long interval, swell from the West, from Hurricane Oho.  Add in offshore winds and, a peaking high tide notwithstanding, it's gotta be big and peaky and, well, great, right?

The view walking across the tracks present the welcome sight of well-defined ranks of swells, a regiment marching toward shore.

And there was the pod of sticks, scratching out toward overhead peaks.

But something was just a little bit ... funky.  

The high tide had all but the largest sets breaking almost on the sand.  We arrived at the peak of the tide, with the idea of being out there as the tide dropped and the swell started to hit the deeper sandbars, but even 90 minutes later, after it had dropped a foot or two, it was still breaking very close in.  

Despite the offshore wind, the lip was folding in high on the wave - see the shot above.  At least once, I was lined up on a beautiful, peeling, head-high left, set right where I should normally be to be slotted in the curl, and - wham! - the lip broke right on my back, prematurely ending that wave!  

Faces were 5 - 7 feet, regularly, with some of 9 feet or more...should be great!  But one wave would be closed out; the next would not catch the bar and break inside; the peak on the next would be out of reach.  Too many collapsed on themselves.

Mid-way through the session, I had one great left.  Well overhead, lined up just north of the rocks, a fat, open face peeling to the north.  I was in position.  Ghattas, just north of me, looked at me and asked, "you got it?"  "Yep!"  A fast slide on an oversized, steep face, while the wave held up, peeling north.  Close out and pop up out the back, hooting!  Where are the rest of those???

In something between 1-1/2 and 2 hours, Mark and I each got maybe a dozen waves, at best a third of which good rides.  After several pitch & drops, I had one good right to close the session.  The rest of the good ones - maybe three waves -were lefts.  Neil Frank had joined us, and finished the session without a single score.  Good news for Neil, though, was that the fin he'd lost first entering was found at the end of the session.

So, it certainly was no five star session.  Not even four.  However, at a solid three stars, what bad can you say about nearly two hours floating bareback in over 70 degree water in October, among overhead waves with a few real screamers to make the day?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Marginal Is Still Better Than...

How do you blog about a day that was marginal?  How to explain that it's worth rising early on a Saturday and driving 72 miles just to catch a handful of waves that wouldn't be overhead to a four-year-old, such as yesterday?  Or even worth it had it been completely flat, which, gratefully, it wasn't?

The concept of a surf park with man-made waves doesn't appeal to me.  Too predictable; too assured.  It misses the point.  On the surface, it's all about riding waves, but really it's about immersion in nature.  Wild, unpredictable, quirky, beautiful nature.  Why is a surf session so spiritually cleansing?  Because it demands total focus and attention, no distractions from life ashore.  It's totally in the moment.  

I didn't set my alarm yesterday, figuring if I was awake early, I'd go surf.  As the early morning was breaking, I did a quick check of the surf cams on my iPhone.  Not much showing.  Go back to sleep.  Still awake 15 minutes later, I rolled out of bed, sipped a coffee and yogurt, then hopped in the car for the hour's drive with few expectations.

I was greeted by sporadic, waist-high waves and a rippled surface, approaching light chop.  But the waves showed some shape and were hollow, rather than crumbling.  Buoyed by water temperature reports of 75 degrees and up, I figured there was little down side to slipping into my trunks and into the water.

I started at the main peak area - pictured above - but the lulls were long and the size pretty meager.  There appeared to be a little more energy down below the Park at LG1, so I swam a couple hundred yards south and found some playful waves, amongst the lulls.

It was peaky enough for some length to the rides and the larger waves, creeping into the chest-high range, were hollow enough for even a little sunlit tube time.

An hour was plenty to feed the Jones that had been creeping in after a couple of dry weeks.  Maybe only five good waves, with another half-dozen marginal rides, interspersed.  But an hour of respite and replenishment.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Smooth... Small... State Park

I'm going to let the photos speak, for the most part, about Saturday's session in the Park.  Mostly because I don't get that many actual shots of bodysurfers.

As I arrived, two heads were in the water straight out from the steps/rail, easily identified as Hugh Berenger and Neil Frank.  Steve Harkins was walking down to the water with his UDeeTs in hand.

There was some size in the glassy morning, chest to chin high, breaking in very shallow water.

Very warm water - mid-70's - offered small, but shapely, lefts & rights for Hugh and Neil as I snapped a few shots from the rail.

I didn't spend alot of time shooting from the rail, but strapped the little, GoPro Hero4 Sessions to my wrist and headed into the water.  Video of the small, but fun, waves at the end, but a few decent stills came out of it...a couple of Hugh slotted in the smallies, and...

 ... one I kind of like, showing my POV: 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Blog-Worthy Session in Newport

A week on vacation at the beach, on the waterfront at 17th Street on the Newport peninsula.  Warm days and evenings, clear skies, beautiful water and the warmest water temperatures in memory.  Ending Friday, it was a fantastic vacation, but offered little grist for a blog focused on surf.  Until Thursday, the surf rarely exceeded waist-high wind swells barely able to propel anything other than a longboard.  Thursday afternoon and Friday morning offered a tad more, some fun, stomach-high waves, but still pretty anemic.

The only answer was to return to the peninsula Saturday morning, when a long-interval ground swell from the south was expected to mix in with the western wind swell we'd frolicked in on Thursday and Friday.  Meeting up with Derrik "MuDsHaRk" Sciarra and Mark "Sailfish" Ghattas in the 15th Street lot about 7:45, we were quickly assured that'd we'd not be disappointed.

On a hot, sultry morning, the glassy smooth surface glittered as well defined lines offered thick, dredging head-high, and sometimes bigger, breakers.  No wind to mess it up; little current to fight; and the west swell to help break the otherwise closed out south swell lines into peaks and corners.  Fast, steep rights in pitching tubes interspersed with longer lefts, peeling slowly enough to ride into the deep inside but still with enough speed and power to thrill.

Oh, but what about the crowd on a five-star morning?  None.  Nope.  A scattering of sticks and spongers were spread out from 16th Street down to 19th, but the swell was hitting everywhere equally from Schoolyards at 13th Street to 19th.  Through a 2-1/2 hour session, occasionally, two or three might drift through but there was not a wave that one of us had to give up.  We worked between the corner of Schoolyards at 13th to in front of the guard stand at 15th essentially without interference or competition.

This is what a summer Newport swell is supposed to be.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Newport Peninsula, a Year Later ...

Well, I committed to blogging on Newport irrespective of whether it was epic or flat.  What a difference a year makes!  As expected, it's been much closer to flat than epic, whilst a year ago it was, quite literally epic: a strong south swell generated by Lowell followed by the region's biggest summer surf in 25 years generated by Marie.

Allan on a mini-left - from our bedroom balcony

Fortunately, though, it's not been completely flat.  When the wind hasn't been too much onshore and the tide hasn't been too high, there have been waves that could be ridden.  Knee to waist high, sometimes encroaching into the stomach to chest range, has been the rule for the last four days.  Too crumbly when the tide gets to its afternoon peak, and sometimes troubled by "morning sickness" - a phenomenon of choppy, jumbled surface early the in the day resulting from onshore winds in the late night and early morning hours - there also have intervals of clean surf, smooth surfaces and hollow mini-tubes. 

Kevin Schwimer right / Allan left - not a bad bedroom view!

Combine that with the clearest water I've ever seen in Newport, where the bottom six feet below is crystal clear through a warm blue-green water tone seeming more like Hawaii than SoCal/Newport, tropical water temperatures in the low 70's and an abundance of sun after mid-morning, and there can be little cause for complaint. 

Then cap that with a perfect, beachfront location between 17th & 18th Streets (the middle of the stretch from 14th to 19th that is my preferred surfing haunt in Newport) sporting an unbeaten view of that sweep of beach ... a bit of heaven!

Meanwhile, the forecast is for some swell to start to show Thursday, so we might even get some real surf before our departure Friday morning.  And, of course, I can always come back down for the day Saturday or Sunday.

However, here's a glimpse of how 17th Street looked - right in front of the house that we're in - a year ago:

The Marie photo/blogs are here: