Sunday, May 25, 2014

Season's First Warm Water Session

I'm not sure that I missed much surf, but the last two weekends were spent on the east coast, leaving me anxious for surf this weekend.  Forecasts have been for a modest swell and reasonable conditions; tides would present no problems.  Surprisingly, on the heels of sub-60 water temperatures the first week of May (and our last session!), they reached, and even exceeded 70 during the course of the week.

The prospect of warm water and reasonable surf beckoned. 

On arrival, leaden gray skies stretched over the dark surface rippled by a slightly chilling breeze.  Chest-high sets arrived inconsistently as the tide peaked and started to withdraw.  A handful of surfers were clumped at the Main Peak, which didn't look any better or worse than anywhere along the Calafia/State Park stretch.  In the distance to the south, Cotton's Point was thickly crowded as at least fifty surfers vied for what looked like a bit larger surf.

The promised south swell was in evidence, along with a small WNW wind swell helping the sand bars with their peak creation.  As I turned back from the rail to go suit up, I was pleasantly surprised to find a grinning Bret Belyea striding toward the tracks.  Bret explained he'd come up from SD with a couple of friends and had just finished a decent, dawn-patrol session down at LG1.  Consistency was lacking, he said, but there were some good waves for the patient.

Turns out Bret was half right.  Yes, there were good waves for the patient, but as the tide receded, the consistency improved.  Pretty regular waist - to - shoulder high waves were punctuated, every ten minutes or so, by head high sets.  Initially, it was just solo waves, but later in the session, they were arriving in pairs and, occasionally,  even threes.  On the down side, the initial breeze that simply textured the water built into a bit of bump through the session.  Not enough to really mess up the waves, but creating a bit of chop, nonetheless.

Mark Ghattas and I decided to start out south of the rocks, working the north side of LG1.  We shared that for over an hour with a couple of older surfers, who were pleasant enough, if a little unsure of where to give room to a couple of bodysurfers.  Eventually, the crowd at the main peak thinned and we worked our way back up, basically enjoying the area north of the rocks to ourselves for the last half hour.

Between the overcast skies and untidy surface, it wasn't a particularly picturesque morning, so I left the GoPro ashore - a move I regretted early in the session as I was perfectly positioned to watch (and film, if I'd had it) Mark in a long, textbook, left slide.  On the other hand, what a joy it was to spend comfortably spend nearly two hours in the water in my battle-scarred "shortie" wetsuit!

My comment yesterday on Facebook noted I was looking forward to a session in the Park, perhaps not epic, but decent & warm water...pretty much nailed it.  With El Nino lining up, maybe we should get used to it!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Slim Pickin's ... a week's difference

It's pretty remarkable the difference that a week can make.  Other than the water temperature struggling to get back up into the 60's, today could have been a page from August's book.  Instead of sizable, crossing south and northwest swells throwing overhead peaks and churning the water sandy brown, a small and lazy south swell presented blue-green peelers while the beach filled in with seekers of a summer preview.

We planned a late (8:30) arrival, to allow the tide to fill in from a negative low at 7:00, but, as the photo (taken after our session) below shows, even after 10:30 it was still very low.  It was already warm as we suited up, making the 60-degree water refreshingly cool. 

Expectations were low, but a nice day beckoned, and there were ride-able "smallies."  Only a few surfers were out, at the main peak, as Mark Ghattas and I swam out to the north and lazed our way down to the rocks south of Main Peak.  Further south, in front of the 1st lifeguard tower - "LG 1" - the junior guards program was commencing.  Throughout the session, they were on the shore, running up & down the beach, occasionally entering the cold water with poorly suppressed gasps.

It was a good day for a beginner to practice:

Meanwhile, the real pros trolled just outside the break (below - click for full screen).

Me? I decided to practice an alternative mount for the GoPro.  Previously, I have only used a wrist mount that allowed me to surf and then access it when I wanted.  This time, I used a small, floating post that permitted me to aim where I want, but required a hand to hold it throughout.  Harder to surf and shoot, but it allowed some different shots - better forward-looking angles showing the bodysurfer's view.  The results are below:

It was a lazy, low-key session, stretch 90 minutes as the day warmed and the beach filled.  Although the waves were small, there were still some decent rides to be had, evidenced in one clip in the video of Mark on a long left.  Also, there were sparkling mini-tubes, a few of which are also captured in the video (click below for full screen). 

I'm off for a couple of weeks, traveling, so it was nice to get some beach time to send me off.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Worth the Wait!

...a belated post about last Sunday's session, but the title refers to the session - especially the first half hour, rather than this post....

It had been a long time - three full months - since the last really good session in the Park.  For over a week, a solid mix of deep south groundswell and northwest windswell had been predicted, but with an expectation of heavy onshore winds Saturday and the hope of calming overnight Saturday for decent conditions Sunday morning.  Through Saturday, all proceeded as expected - the northwest windswell arrived, the long interval, deep south groundswell worked its way north from the Southern Hemisphere, and heavy winds ripped the coast on Saturday.  All good, but would the winds abate while the south filled in?

The answer came swift and welcome upon arrival.  Triangular peaks dotted a glossy surface, glazed under the early morning sun and lightly combed by a soft, offshore breeze.  Northwest lines from the right crossing perpendicular lines wrapping around Cotton's Point to the south lifted peaks to a few feet overhead, with soft shoulders running right and left.  A fairly solid string of surfers fanned from LG1 stand to the south below the campground, all the way up to the steps where we stood checking it out.

Guys were getting barreled in steeper sections and carving up the softer sections.

Neil Frank was a welcome sight, in his wetsuit, after an absence stretching back to the end of last year, as he nursed an injury now healed.  We'd missed our intrepid octogenarian in the line up!

While the air was balmy and the sky sunny, with wind comes ... upwelling.  Overnight, the San Clemente water temperature had dropped from a summerish 66 to a very wintery 56!  Fortunately, we were forewarned and prepared.  It was as cold as it has been, for a least a year, getting in, but the calm winds, warm air and sunny sky conspired to blunt the chill.

Soon, we had a small pod of four, working a peaky area north of the Main Peak but below the steps, pretty much to ourselves: Mark Ghattas, Craig Thomson, Neil and myself.  Quick drops and some hefty tubes were interspersed with long slides to the deep inside.  At one point, Neil came swimming up, an eighty-year-old as stoked as an eight year old, jabbering how he couldn't believe how wide open the large tube had been that he'd just been occupying.  

As we neared the half-hour mark, the incoming tide peaked and a lull ensued.  Quickly, the two-score of sticks dwindled to a half-dozen, well spread out, and some of us moved down to work Main Peak.  The the remaining 90 minutes, surfers would come and go, as the wind picked up a bit, shifted to the south and then, eventually, to onshore, creating a texture but not blowing out the waves.  Occasional busts of energy arrived, but never recovered the consistency of the first half hour.  

Size and conditions were enough to be the best since mid-January, but, since Thanksgiving, we've yet to see that kind of punch that gets the adrenalin pumping and demands an unfettered "whoop" on exit.  A good day, worth waiting for, for sure, but still leaving me looking for more.