Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Day in the Park: Mixed Reviews

What's the right way to measure, or appraise, something?  Against expectations?  Or on some absolute scale?  Or, perhaps, purely subjectively, on how you reacted to it?  Imagine a play or movie or song.  Perhaps those whose taste you respect panned it but you find yourself kind of liking it, silently defending it against that criticism.  On an absolute scale, it still be mediocre, but it was much better than expectations and, overall you found yourself liking it - a "C" on an absolute scale but an "A" versus expectations and, subjectively, a solid "B."

Assessing today's session in the Park can only be done in that context.  As the forecasts developed through the week, and even as it looked from the surfcams yesterday, there was every expectation of a very good session - a solid 3-5' WNW swell bringing in shoulder to head high+ sets; a moderate, but rising, tide, adding to the energy; mild, generally offshore wind; water temps still moderate (low 60's); and a warm, sunny day.  That's recipe for an excellent morning in the Park.  Against that expectation, the day was a bust.

Even though, driving down the hill to the Calafia lot, I saw one sizable, clean & glassy swell, other signs on arrival were bad.  I expected a packed parking lot, always the case when a good swell brings out a strong local contingent of surfers.  It was close to empty.  Observing from the steps at the RR crossing for nearly 20 minutes, there were very few waves that looked to be even worth riding.  And it wasn't just a case of being swamped by the tide, the size just didn't seem to be there, and what little wave energy was in evidence was muted by too much tide.

So, expectations for the session plummeted.  Suiting up, I was hoping for maybe one or two good waves amidst a swim and float on a beautiful fall morning.  As it ended up, the session was much better than that, though still far short of the original expectations.



Figuring the current would carry me as far south as I may wish to go, I got in a bit north of the steps.  I was pleased to have to battle out through a set with a couple of shoulder-high waves, but figured I was then due for a long lull.  In a few minutes, I was surprised by a a steep, fast left, with a five-foot face that eventually feathered over into a short tube ride.  Within the next five minutes, a couple of sets, approaching head high, arrived, a bit walled up but with short, fast rights and still hollow.  By the time Mark Ghattas joined me, about ten minutes in, I'd had four decent rides.  



We worked the area between the steps and the main peak for about 85 minutes.  There were some long lulls, but they were interrupted by bursts of wave energy ranging from shoulder to head high.  The sand bars were creating some corners, mainly rights.  A gaggle of sticks, ranging in count from 3 to maybe 6, hung at the main peak, picking off occasional peaks that would slide in, a foot or two overhead.  But those were so few, and the take off zone for them so narrow, that it made sense for Mark and I just to hang a bit to the north and enjoy without competition the smaller corner up there.



It proved to be a decent session.  Decent enough waves and no competition for them.  Still, a pleasant morning and positive vibe in the water.  Certainly not the total bust that it had looked like at first!

Versus the original expectation, a definite disappointment.  On an absolute scale, an "ok" day, and much better than feared when entering the water.  But on the scale that really matters, the purely subjective one, I have to say that it was a damn good morning.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gettin' It Good in Newport

For 90 minutes Saturday morning, Mark Ghattas and I feasted on a steady diet of chest-, shoulder- and head-high peaky tubes and long slides.  


This was, easily, my best session since Nicaragua, but came on a day of modest expectations.  A big high tide crested over 6 feet shortly after 10am, which assuredly would swamp out San Clemente, along with most other places.  The beach break at Newport, though, is relatively impervious to the high tide.  Instead of depending on the sand bars, like most other beach breaks, the shape and energy on the Newport Peninsula are created by a steep drop off relatively close to shore.  The tide may rise, but a reasonable swell still hits that ledge, pops up and breaks.

However, the Peninsula bends to face nearly due south, and the swell for today was primarily from the northwest, albeit with a small south swell mixed it.  

Between the tide and the swell direction, we really didn't expect much. What happened, though, was a pleasant surprise.  Some of that northwest swell was clearly bending around, then mixing with the smaller south swell to present a semi-consistent flow of unusually peaky crests.  



From the Point, where the peninsula bends at 19th Street, down to "Schoolyards" at 13th, there were two or three peaks within every block where every three to five minutes a set of two to four waves would pop up, at least chest high and often chin to head high.  Most of the rights began fast and hollow, often offering a two or three second barrel ride before close out, but some would open up and peel far inside.  The lefts were softer, and generally longer, but also slower.  


Conditions were ideal: a mild offshore, combing only a mild spray off the lips, helped to hold open the wave faces while still leaving a glassy, unruffled surface.  The deep overcast present when we arrived thinned, and patches of blue appeared overhead while the ocean surface took on a silvery sheen.  The water temperature has cooled to the mid-to-low 60's, but with air temperature around 70 and insignificant wind, it felt perfect in the 3/2 full wetsuit.

Because there were so many peaks, the 20 - 30 surfers out this morning were scattered over the four blocks from 19th to 15th, where we went out.   Hanging between 15th & 16th, we had pretty much any wave we wanted, only occasionally crossing paths with a small group to the south of us and a revolving couple of sticks to the north.  We each got probably about 20 good rides over a 90 minute session.



One will stick out, though.  Perhaps the best wave I've seen Mark Ghattas ride, I had caught the previous wave and was standing in the shallows inside as I watched him take of on a nice, steep right with a 6 foot face.  Mark quickly got slotted and went into his old trademark, spread-eagle layout with both arms flung wide.  Like a cross he slid across the vertical face, while lip starting pitching and catching up to him.  It got as far as engulfing all but his head, and threatened to overtake him, then backed off as he accelerated and cleared the tube, emerging fully.  The face softened slightly and Mark adjusted into a more conventional, "chcken wing," postion, with his lower arm extended but upper arm cocked and trailing back.  Still moving fast, he shot past my inside position and continued in, far into the shallows.  Unfortunately, I had made the (wrong) decision to leave my GoPro in the car today and just concentrate on surfing, as I was in perfect position to have captured the entire ride.

Summer may have been a bust, at least for me, but it looks like (fingers crossed) fall surf is here!


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Desperate Measures

How to write about what was basically a poor session, yet convey why I was glad that I drove an hour this morning for an hour session in the Park, during which I caught a total of five waves, all more or less average at best?

I guess I start by noting I haven't been in the water since August 21 - six weeks - and only about 30 minutes of that session was any good (though, for that half hour, it was very good).  Add that, three weeks ago, I trekked South with pretty high expectations - a moderate tide and decent swell forecast - only to watch the Park for nearly an hour without seeing anything to persuade me to get in.

The fact is, a surf session - virtually any session - is rewarding and therapeutic.  But some come with an edge.  Most often, that happens when it's too crowded or there's a bad vibe in the water.  Or, maybe, the timing's just off and you're missing, or failing to execute on, some great waves coming through.  There's the frustration of a grueling swim out, as with my Fourth of July weekend session in Oceanside.  These can turn what could have been a great session into something less.  


Saturday, the tide, rising toward a near six foot high at 10:00, was causing problems.  But it was compounded, as was the disappointing surf three weeks ago (I suspect), by recent sculpting of the beach at the Park.  Again, the swell was there, but, again, it was struggling to break.  I did see a couple of shoulder-high peaks, though, down in the Main Peak area, that looked pretty fun...and I was desperate for water time!


As I walked the 100 yards down to the Main Peak swim out in my shortie wetsuit - water temp reported at 68 - even three foot waves were breaking on shore.  White water would surge up the beach and withdraw to a loud clatter of loose rocks being rolled up and down the sand.  Wicked currents were clashing right at the low water line.

Finned up, as I reached the low water line, I found that the flat slope of the sand dropped precipitously; kind of a submerged cliff that went from ankle deep to deeper than I could touch.

It seems that sometime in September, most of the sand was carved away at the low tide line, leaving behind a submerged flat that stretches out maybe 25 yards.  Shallow in low tide, it's at least 4 feet deep even in mid-tides, so that any swell under about 3 feet will simply surge unbreaking up to the wall, then jack up and crash.  Underneath, loose rocks bared as the sand had been dredged away accumulated at the base of the underwater sand cliff, creating a polishing turbine, tossing the rocks like clothes in a dryer.  


A lone surfer was out at the Peak, a couple more were trying to work the shorebreak further south at LG1.  He greeted me with a nod and we waited for a set large enough to break in deep water.  A deep fog engulfed the ocean offshore and throughout the wait sun battled fog for turf along the edge of the cliffs.


It wasn't until about 15 minutes into the session that some energy arrived, and over the next 15 minutes I caught four shoulder to head-high waves.  Three were rights, fast and steep, but also short, as I had to pull out on each before reaching the maelstrom created by the submerged cliff.  The left was strange, crumbly and bumpy, but longer.  Then, another 15 minute lull ensued.

50 minutes into the session, I found one more of those rights, pulled up before hitting the no return spot that would leave me smashed upon the exposed sand, and then struggled to surmount the ledge onto the shallow sand.  


Five waves.  One hour.  Warm water but an unsettled surface.  Not even three stars on the SwellWatch five star system, but I was surprisingly satiated as I navigated the freeway on ramp to commence the return trek home.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Surprising Size on Saturday in the Park

While most of the bodysurfing community congregates in Oceanside for the annual World Body Surfing Championships, I slipped in a session in the Park Saturday before leaving town for work on Sunday.  

The forecast was for 4 - 5 feet, cooler water, a rising tide, and mild onshore wind.  On my way down to San Clemente, having re-routed to Coast Highway at Dana Point due to construction on the Interstate, I was surprised to glimpse a couple of pretty large - well overhead - sets along Capistrano Beach.  Upon arrival at the Park, I was greeted by more of the same.  


The sand bars were pushing up peaks, with ride-able shoulders for many, while other sets were pretty closed out.  There was an unusual pattern to the sets.  Three or four waves, a bit larger than head-high would roll in, and then, quite often, there would be two substantially larger, waves on the outside, followed by a couple of head-high waves, and then a lull.  The pattern is evident in the next couple of photos.


That wave outside has to be a couple of feet overhead.

 

Of course, it wouldn't be Southern California without a bit of traffic:


It looked like it was working pretty well down at LG1, so Mark & I walked down there to swim out, figuring that the current would bring us back up through the Main Peak.  As it ended up, we spent the session down there, joined by octogenarian Neil Frank and one of the local lifeguards.  Had the stretch south of the lifeguard stand to ourselves for a 90 minute session.

The water was a cool 63 or 64, but comfortable in a rare summer use of a full wetsuit.  To start, as evidenced in the photos, conditions were clean, semi-glassy.  The first half hour was marred by lulls with occasional sets, but then, for about 30 minutes it really picked up and we were getting a lot of rides on head-high and larger waves.  


 Some were pretty fast and walled, but there were some great corners that slowly peeled into the deep inside.


Unfortunately, after that, the tide started swamping out the waves, so they just weren't breaking, moving closer and closer to shore and losing some of that height.  About the same time, the wind started coming up, at first ruffling the surface but pretty quickly creating a bump that further messed up the waves.  

So, it was a session of three parts.  Starting with three or four waves in the first 30 minutes, followed by a 30 minute session that, if extended, would have qualified as solidly "four star," and then a final 30 minutes of increasing slop.

What will linger in memory is the mid-session segment, with a few exhilarating slides on faces that were much larger than we had hoped for and expected.  I hope that's what the competitors are finding down south in Oceanside!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer Sojourn: Lolling on the Newport Peninsula

In the years since my family sold the vacation house we had in Newport Beach, my mother has rented a house in August.  Originally, a house on the bay, close by the old family home, the last two years it's been a beachfront house along the boardwalk on the peninsula between 17th and 18th Streets.  For a week, or as much of it as each of them can, my family joins my mother to enjoy the surf, sun and opportunity to reconnect.

Especially over the weekend, this has become an annual opportunity to share surf with my sons, frequently with various of their friends joining us in the water.  Mornings, most are on boards but, in the generally sloppier afternoons, with black ball flying (a yellow flag with a round black circle in the middle indicates no surfboards, fiberglass boards or boards with fins permitted), all turn to bodysurfing.


The switch to the beachfront has had great promise: formerly, most surf mornings, we'd load cars with boards and paraphernalia and drive 13 blocks up the peninsula to around 18th, and then seek out parking.  Many afternoons, we'd walk the 3 blocks across the peninsula and then at least 5 blocks along the beachfront to where the waves would break better, and further out.  Now, the 18th Street surf can be checked directly from the second story and it's a short walk across the sand to jump in the water.

Beauty of beachfront living: Joe
As luck would have it, this summer, as well as last, our particular week has not been blessed with much swell.  Last year, there was nearly none from the Friday we arrived to the Friday that we left.  This year was a bit better, as a small swell - 2-3 feet - lingered over the weekend, before dying off to maybe 1-2 feet through the week.  

How to exploit a smallie (1)

How to exploit a smallie (2)
On arrival day, Friday, I got in a nice solo surf in the afternoon in moderately small and somewhat closed out surf that nonetheless had some of that punch that Newport gets on a summer south swell.  Later, as the sun slowly sank to our right and the wind gradually slacked off, Joe and I enjoyed similar, slightly better, conditions, and Allan joined us briefly as the light faded and dinner preparations called.

Small, but well formed and clean
Saturday, while the swell remained, found my sons, Allan & Joe, along with two of the Schwimers, Kevin and Michael, and an Abeger, Sam, all on boards, joining me in fun little surf in comfortably warm (71 degree) water.  This was the best of it, particularly late morning, as the wind held off while the tide filled in.  All pictures are from Saturday morning & midday.

Allan found a little size
Mini-floater - Joe
Air Schwimer
Kevin, seeking barrels
Sam, trimming
 Sunday morning, there was still enough for Joe, Allan and I to get in session in the fading swell.  By Sunday evening, the south was largely gone, leaving the 1-2 foot westerly swell that would provide slim pickings - but more than nothing! - through the remainder of the week.

Allan
Monday through Thursday, Joe and I would jump in periodically for a little recreation and to cool off.  There were periods of onshore breeze, sometimes stiff, but some glassy mornings and evenings.  At one point, the water cooled to a chilly 63, but eventually worked its way back up to 70 or 71.  

Joe
Through the week, my mother fretted, concerned that the lack of meaningful surf would ruin the vacation.  She need not be concerned!  Nothing can match it: a week of falling to sleep, and waking, to the sound of surf; of lolling on the sand, staring at the unbroken horizon or reclining on the front deck watching the constant parade of creatively and colorfully clad pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, skaters and surrey riders slide past; of tuning into the Olympics when events got interesting; of striding down to the water's edge and wading in for a swim, and a wave or two, whenever the impulse struck; and, of course, of reconnecting with family through lazy days and extended dinners.

Joe & Grandmother
Evening on the boardwalk

Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Un-Populated Peak in the Park

Filtered through the smoke of an uncontained wildfire to the north, the early morning sun Saturday was a blood-red disk.  Ash drifting like a light snowfall had accumulated overnight and the smell of fire hung heavy in the air.  My thoughts turned to Nicaragua, where trash fires and/or jungle clearing had presented the same sun each dawn.

With triple-digit heat rising throughout inland SoCal, it was discordant to find Newport shrouded in fog as I arrived at 15th Street about 8:30.  Through the fog, I could discern the incoming sets, head high, heavy and fairly closed out.

However, crossed signals found Mark at the Park (San Clemente) at 8:30 this morning and he reported that the Park was breaking well - peaky and fun-looking - though rather heavily populated by board surfers.  Nonetheless, figuring that, most often, we can find an unpopulated peak in Park, we settled on San Clemente (my preference from the start) and I got back on the road for the 40 minute drive South.  


Good call!  Checking from the steps, I found Mark stationed about 1/3 of the way south to Main Peak.  Beyond him, at Main Peak, maybe 20 surfers were clumped in a narrow take off zone.  150 yards north, Mark was alone.  Now running an hour behind plan, I only watched for a couple of minutes (and only took a couple of shots), but in the few minutes that I watched several nice lefts, approaching head-high, peeled across where Mark was set up.  Unfortunately, I didn't catch any shots of Mark riding one.


Following a quick change into my trunks, I was swimming out in comfortably cool water.


The late start lead to an abbreviated, one hour session.  However, throughout, the sticks remained well south.  Ashore, the beach rapidly filled with a heavy summer crowd seeking to escape the blistering heat inland, but the waders and boogie-boarders stuck to the shallow water inside.

Another attraction of going further south, the water was at least three degrees warmer - approaching if not exceeding 70.  Skinning it, the cool water felt great against the warming day.  The surf was a bit inconsistent, but shoulder high sets were common, with an occasional head-high wave or two.  In addition to those peeling lefts, the peak we'd commandeered  was regularly presenting a smaller right runner that ran pretty far inside.

A downside of San Clemente is that the Parks have shut off all the showers due the drought.  Figuring I'd be in Newport, where the beach showers still work, I'd not brought my portable shower, so I was left to splash some water from a sink onto my face and drive home salty through the summer traffic and heat.  A small price to pay.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Solo Session in the Summer Smallies

A generally unwelcome "troll" who participated in an email list for bodysurfers that was popular in the worldwide bodysurfing community before Facebook drained much of the activity from "the list" liked to denigrate those who chose to surf when the waves were less than at least head high, referring to such surf as "smallies."  There was always a sneer accompanying the term.

There was no reason to expect today to be anything other than smallies.  That troll, nom de plume King Rotten, would never have understood one electing to drive an hour to surf in waves unlikely to exceed waist-to-chest height.  In fact, I was even on the fence for today, as the 2-3 foot forecast was further marred by a peaking high tide at 8:15 (fortunately, a moderate 3.5 feet) and onshore wind direction (thankfully, moderate).  

Offsetting that was the fact that I've not been out in "the Park" - San Clemente State Park beach - since early June, along with the draw of water warming to the low 70's.  More significantly, on Friday, Bret Belyea, he who was instrumental in my inclusion on the Nicaraguan safari - had texted to say he was overnighting in Laguna and would meet me in the Park, in the morning, for a session.

Things didn't work out as planned.  Bret's ride got a flat tire and, ultimately, they weren't able to make it.  To the hour it usually takes in the early morning to get from Pasadena to San Clemente, traffic added forty-five minutes.  At least that put me at the Park after the lull that accompanies the peaking tide.


As I circled the drive through the parking lot, I could see that there were at least some waves.  On the other hand, few spaces were occupied, meaning few had chosen to park and surf, generally a bad sign.  There was nobody out in the water from Rivera, a half-mile north, to the area we call LG1, below the campground 1/4 mile south, where a knee-boarder and a couple of sticks bobbed in water.


The wind was already on the water, crumbling the smaller waves and making for almost - but not quite - light chop.  Nonetheless, a couple of set waves, maybe shoulder-high, rolled in as I scoped it out.  In a few minutes, I was swimming out alone at the Main Peak section.  For the hour I was in the water, not a single surfer of any sort was anywhere north of the rocks that split Main Peak from the LG1 section. 


I had a surprisingly fun session, reveling in the fact that any wave I wanted was mine.  And there were some good ones.  Though from the steps it had appeared that many waves were crumbing - whitewater rolling down the face of the wave before it steepens enough for anything other than a long board to ride - actually, there were many much steeper than I'd seen, and several pitching enough to present small tubes. Fortunately, the waves that were there were catching the sand bars which so often make the beach break peaky, so the rides, both left and right, were of moderate length.


Some sessions, between lulls, waiting for sets and sharing with others in the water, rides might be as infrequent as one in 10 or 15 minutes.  Though I was only in an hour, I had to have averaged a wave every 3 minutes.  Once every five minutes, a solo, larger wave - maybe chin-high - would come in.  Attuned to that timing, I think I got every one that showed in that hour period.

Smallies may not provide the adrenaline of a heavy, overhead tube, or the hyped up vibe in the water, but there's so much more to a session, even a solo session.  Watching the terns wheel overhead as an occasional solo pelican glides by low; floating in the cool, but comfortable water; observing from offshore as the empty beach slowly fill with a summer weekend crowd; and, of course, regularly dropping into empty, well-shaped waves; I think "King Rotten" missed the point.