Saturday, March 23, 2013

Change of Season brings a Classic Park Day

SCSP surf today, the best day since September, reminded me of the first spring that I discovered San Clemente State Park.  It was thick and hollow ... dredging lefts and rights and packing a punch.

The forecasts were good, and the Park delivered.  In the dim light of a heavily overcast sky, as I crossed the tracks to the rail, I was met by that welcome and familiar, but recently absent, crack and rumble.  Surf!

Immediately, a couple of sets, two or three foot overhead, rolled in, a thick lip pitching off the peak at "Main Peak."

A concentration of sticks at the Main Peak were getting consistent, long barrel rides, like the one below.  This guy emerged after a sustained cover up. (Add: Hugh identified the surfer below as Casey, who as often bodysurfs as board.)

Ghattas pulled up and we quickly suited up and headed down the beach.  The take off zone seemed pretty narrow at Main Peak, with a clump of sticks scratching for position, while further south beyond The Rocks, stretching to LG1, there appeared to be shifting peaks and more consistency, if a bit less size...and just a couple of sticks and kneeboards.  We set up just south of the Rocks and enjoyed shoulder-high, head-high and overhead waves for the next 90 minutes.  There was a great vibe in the water as it wasn't overcrowded and everyone was getting theirs.

As the Park often will, in addition to some thick, steep, hollow slabs, it was also throwing up corners, offering long, long slides from the lineup into the far inside.  About an hour into the session, Craig Thomson showed up to join us as his 13-year-old daughter watched from the shore.  She's a junior olympics swimmer, and was suited up in her full wetsuit and had fins in hand, but sat a long time at the water's edge, sizing up the sets, before deciding not to swim out today.

We decided to use our last half hour in the water, allowing the mild current running north to carry us back past The Rocks into the Main Peak area and towards the steps.  Just north of the rocks, we encountered Casey, with his board today, working the left off the north side of The Rocks.  Further up, Hugh was sitting outside on his board, like king on a throne, ruling over the Main Peak.  As I swam up, he offered to run interference for me on the next Main Peak left.  

We ended up hanging around a bit longer than intended - I was getting calf cramps on every other wave and Ghattas was running late for an appointment - but the vibe at main peak was really exceptional.  It was mostly locals and many were enjoying viewing us deep in the barrel, from up and down the line, between their own.  Further north, a pod of sponges were working barrels and aerials of their own.  It's really fun when you have competent bodysurfers, board surfers, bodyboarders and kneeboarders all out, making the most of a good swell and sharing the stoke.

As evident from the last two shots above, and the following shots, as we exited the water, the wind had turned to come from the south and cleared out the overcasts, unveiling a warm, sunny day.  The size was holding up (see the second photo above) and there were some very solid surfers out, showing off their best moves (photo above).

There appeared to be a couple of new techniques being tried out, too:

But lording over the pack of sticks, showing home break knowledge beyond the others, Hugh was putting on a clinic.  In the time I was photographing him - below - he caught five set waves while nobody else had more than two waves of any kind.  

Hugh was working them, too, with radical cutbacks, floaters, you name it - see photo below.  

I have one long, long sequence - my camera clocked it at 15 seconds - of Hugh starting from deep outside and working a wave through several steep sections, a couple of cutbacks and a floater, all the way into the far inside. 

Did I mention, there were some new techniques in evidence (not Hugh!):

So, today was the first surf day of Spring.  Fall and Winter this year weren't so memorable in the Park.  But seasons change...
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Satisfying Sunday in the Park (with photos by Hugh)

 Yesterday (Saturday) it dawned sunny and was over 80 degrees at the beach by 8:30, driven by offshore winds that combed a decent winter swell.  A real beach day.  Rather than surf, I opted to catch up from a week's travel, postponing my session until today, and spent most of the day second-guessing myself.  Sunday's forecast may have been for a better "combo" swell (combined swells from NW and WSW), but the wind was projected to shift onshore, bringing air temperatures more than 20 degrees cooler and overcast skies.

The sky was mottled gray with a few blue spots peeking through as I pulled into the lot.  Mark Ghattas was suiting up but shook his head as he walked over.  "Clean, but no size, and kind of closed out," he commented, holding his hand up just above his waist. 

As we crossed tracks and walked up to the rail to check it out, though, a peaky, shoulder-high set rolled in.  What wind there was, was gentle and out of the Northeast.  Just clearing the bluffs, the sun was peaking through those gaps in the gray and glinting off glossy wave faces.  There were a couple of surfers out, along with a hand-boarder, who caught a nice left as we watched (below - remember - click on any picture for full screen).

Mark headed down the steps and down the beach as I returned to suit up.  The sun continued to fight the clouds, but was enough to be mildly warming; the water was cold - 57 - but not bad.  For the next hour, we enjoyed inconsistent, but sometimes quite good, shoulder high waves ... sometimes a bit bigger... in that nice mix of corners and tubes that makes the Park so fun.
 --click on photo for full resolution--

As the session progressed, surfers filled in and Mark had to take off.  I moved around, finding peaks where I didn't have to fend too many off.  Paddling south at one point, having nodded as I passed a guy in the line up, the surfer commented, "I've been watching you getting shacked a bunch up there; great view of you in the tube, down the line here."  

Good vibe...unfortunately, not totally shared:  I'd set up just north of the rocks, enjoying the energy coming off that submerged mini-point, when two sticks paddled out right where I was.  Sets were coming in as single waves, and one proceeded to set up behind me and take the next set wave.  Then he paddled out and did it again, and then a third time.  I was in perfect position for the next set wave, the best of the four, when he paddled up just two feet behind me.  As I started to swim, I looked him in the eye and said, "This one is mine; I am taking it."  I turned and dropped in, but out of the corner of my eye could see that he continued to paddle for it behind me.

When I popped up after a nice right, he was right there behind me.  "Why do that?" he asked.  "You took three; I get a turn.  We can share the waves out here," I responded, maintaining cool.  "I share!  Why are you talking to me?" he asked.  "You asked!" I responded.  He continued talking as we paddled back out, but then turned and paddled 20 yards north (mission accomplished from my viewpoint!).  As he paddled up to his friend, I heard the friend say to him, "I've never seen that!  Snaked by a bodysurfer, then heckled afterwards!"

Shortly afterwards, I saw that Hugh Berenger - San Clemente surf photographer par excellence - had come back up the beach with his camera.  I'd seen him earlier, walking the beach with his coffee.  Time to perform for the camera!  And, of course, a long lull set in.  After 10 minutes, I took an inside wave to shore, but Hugh convinced me to head further south to LG1, where it seemed a little more consistent with larger gaps between the sticks.  As we walked up (me, still wearing my fins), it looked like "Kings Korner," that peak right in front of where Life Guard stand #1 (hence, "LG1") sets up in summer, was working, so I swam out there.

Indeed, it was!  With minimal interference from sticks, the next 15-20 minutes were a flurry of moderate sized rights, while Hugh snapped photos ashore.  The sequence below was typical.

As Hugh & I walked back to the lot, I noticed the "why do that?" guy and his friend (whom Hugh had earlier described as some kooks recently arrived in San Clemente from Huntington who'd been seeking some help from him to promote a product they were developing) were coming up behind us.  Not so surprisingly, they worked pretty hard to avoid encountering us....

To enjoy more Hugh's incredible photography, check out his Flickr site:

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