Sunday, November 25, 2012

Best in a While Ain't Saying Much

What a difference a year can make!

Though in both years, I had a heavy, heavy travel schedule, limiting my weekend opportunities to get in the ocean, I had a fantastic run of surf in 2011, from September through December.  Not so much this year.

Just looking at last year, measuring sessions using the SwellWatch, 5-star rating approach, it was pretty remarkable - from September through early December, three were four-star ( least overhead & good) plus one five-star (all-time...8-10 foot faces, glassy and great shape).  In the same period this year, no five star and only one four-star - that, barely within the window on September 2nd.  Instead, there have been four sessions that barely rated three-star.

Prior to Thanksgiving, my last time out was a mid-week session in mid-October, in Del Mar.  A good session for Del Mar, but nothing really special.  The last session in the Park was nearly six weeks ago (!).  That was a marginal three-star - pretty swamped by high tide but nice conditions on a pretty fall day.

In between, it's been week after week of no (weekend) swell, high tide and/or bad conditions ... often all three!  There was one day in late October, where work had me in Orange County mid-week.  Tide and conditions were decent and a bit of swell was forecast.  I met Mark down at the Park and it was flat.  Just no point in going in. 

So, I was watching the Thanksgiving weekend forecasts.  A nice swell was due to fill in Wednesday night, peak on Thursday and linger into Friday.  A session Thursday wasn't going to be possible, but it looked like a 2-4 foot swell (chest to head high waves) would combine with mild off-shore or north winds and a tide falling from a pre-dawn high.  A beautiful, clear fall day - into the upper 70's at the beach and hotter inland - was predicted.  Into the weekend, the swell was due to fade and high tide move into the morning surf window, so Friday it was to be!

Prior to an early start out, the cloudless sky in Pasadena was promising, but the news was reporting dense fog along the coast.  Driving south, I passed through sections of tule fog and the lot was socked in as I pulled into the Park.  A chilly breeze was blowing from the north.  Trying to check out the surf, I could barely make out the waves, straight out from the rail, and couldn't tell what was going on up at the main peak.  As far as I could tell, no one was out.  It was tough to tell how good the surf was, except by sound.  Clearly, there were some waves, but no huge sets.

I vacillated about going out in the fog, alone.  Finally, it looked to be thinning slightly, and I decided to suit up and walk down to the main peak.  Actually, it felt good to put on the full suit as protection against that chilling breeze...what happened to the bright, sunny day into the upper 70's, I wondered!  

When I got to the main peak, 50 yards south of the rail, I made out two surfers in the water.  One looked to be Casey, a local who oftens bodysurfs with us.  There were some shoulder high waves coming in with ok form, so I finned up and swam out.  Though since I'd last been in, the water had dropped from the high 60's all the way down to mid-50's, it now had recovered to a cool 62 or so.  Nonetheless, I'd forgotten how cold those first few minutes can be, even in the low 60's.

The first half hour was really pretty good. 

The fog lingered, and it was just Casey, the other surfer and me, enjoying decent, but not great, shoulder to, sometimes, head-high waves.  Some had decent form.  Others were crumbling a bit or backing off as the tide was still a bit too high for the Park.

After a half hour, the sun broke through the fog.  Within ten minutes, a dozen surfers had joined us in the line up.  There really wasn't enough to go around, so I set up at a smaller peak, just north of the main peak.  After about 10 minutes, most of the pack of surfers had paddled up to join me, apparently drawn by having seen me catch quite a few waves, uncontested.  Not wanting to compete for the waves, I went south of the main peak, to catch the left that comes off the rocks.  Only Casey was there.  The fog had rolled back in, and we share the hope that the others would dwindle with the fog, but no luck.  

Needless to say, it didn't take long for the pack to spread back down to where Casey and I were sharing waves, so I headed further south to the "LG1" area.  There were a few surfers out down there, but spread out, so wave competition was no problem, but it really wasn't as good down there.  I spent maybe 45 minutes down there before heading back up, now with two hours in the water, figuring I'd just swim back up to the steps and catch a few along the way.

It turned out that the persistent fog had thinned the surfers a bit, and I was able to snag a number of decent rides as I worked through the rocks, main peak and the sand bar north of main peak...another half hour in the water.

Cramping and tired, I finally got out after nearly 2-1/2 hours.  But, walking up the shore, I felt unusually unsatisfied.  I guess I'd built up my expectations for the day.  It was a decent, "three-star," day.  But I only had a couple of exceptional rides.  Being chased, time and again, by sticks migrating to where they saw me enjoying a few waves alone, takes its toll, as do a few too many crumbling waves.

On the other hand, how great to get wet again!  There's nothing like a few hours in the ocean, even on an average day.  You take what you can get; they can't all be like fall of 2011.

(No pictures due to dense fog.)

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