Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fun Fall Swell in South Bay

Early morning presented bright blue skies on a crisp, fall morning in Pasadena.  

Tempted by post-surf luxuries of hot showers, fresh coffee and freshly baked, homemade muffins at Chez Tordella, and lead by forecasts that favored South Bay - i.e., the lower quadrant of Santa Monica Bay - over Orange County for both swell and winds, Hermosa Secret Spot was the call for Saturday.  The early cams evidenced significant swell, but mainly walled up.  However, a quick check of the San Clemente cams showed less height, yet the same, walled up west swell with no cross-swell to create peaks.

Transitioning downtown and heading west, tendrils of early morning fog stretched in from the coast, but, even this early, the sun was fighting to burn it off.  As LAX slid by on my right and Dockweiler Beach approached ahead, varying haze overhung the South Bay.  As I headed south, past Shitpipe, Prat's Reef, Hammerland and El Porto, into Manhattan Beach and Hermosa beyond, regular sets of well spaced swells rolled in.

A variable haze hung over Hermosa as Paul Tordella, Mark Ghattas and I suited up at Paul's house.  From the hill above, the swell was showing in Hermosa, as well.

 A bit of shape was even evident as a modest offshore combed the wavetops.

Soon, we were swimming out in the cool, but still comfortable water - probably 63 or so.  I was glad to have a full suit on for the first time since Spring.  Maybe a dozen surfers were spread out north and south of us.  Head high and larger sets, still mostly walled up, were rolling in, but the mid-sized waves - shoulder to head-high - were showing a little form.  

My first wave was a big, thick right, that I was able to get into early for a fast descent down the face, back up into the curl and into a shimmery tube before the inevitable close out.  Nice!  Paul and Mark starting laying into a series of lefts.  

As the tide dropped over the first hour, the surfers dissipated south while corners presented themselves with increasing frequency.  The morning was a blend of big, fast, hollow ones and longer, slower slides into deep inside. 

After the tide turned, again starting to rise, a significant rip current developed, challenging the effort to maintain position.  About 90 minutes in, consensus grew that showers, coffee and muffins beckoned; perhaps one more ride.  About that time, I worked out of the rip and into a series of four solid, mid-sized rides, within a few minutes of each other.  Over another 15 minutes, I caught a couple more set waves and a couple inside.  

50 yards north, a surfer waved me over - and I recognized my son, Joe, who was just getting in.  His first wave was a kamikaze right close out ... with a full cover-over before the inevitable.   

Finally, as the two-hour mark approached, Paul worked his way ashore.  Shortly after, a head-high wave arrived that was just soft enough to allow a slide straight down the face out into the flat water ahead and then a whitewater-assisted coast all the way across the shallow flats inside and to the shore.  As I waded ashore, I watched Joe drop into an 8-foot wall, carve a classic bottom turn and climb back into the slot for a ride of several seconds in and out of of feathering lip.

As we headed across the sand, back toward Tordella's, the strand was awash with walkers, skaters, joggers, cyclists and sun-worshipers, soaking in a perfect fall day...before the rains (hopefully!) arrive Sunday.

The morning's exertions, camaraderie in the water blended with good vibe from the surfers drifting through, and a solid swell on a beautiful morning made the homemade muffins and fresh coffee at Tordella's taste that much better.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Back in the Park ... Feelin' Good!

Seems like an age since I've been out where I consider my "home" stomping grounds, San Clemente State Beach, a/k/a "the Park" (for San Clemente State Park, which sits right above it).  I guess that's because it's been six weeks since my last session in the Park, and another month since the one before that.  Nonetheless, it still feels like home.

In actuality, when I went to bed last night, I figured the chances were slim that I'd be heading south early today: most wind models had 12- 16 mph winds out of the southeast for the morning, enough to severely mess up the 2-4 foot swell anticipated.  Nonetheless, it was worth a check of the cams in the morning, since there'd be at least some swell and the tides were benign.  

Ah, the cams!  Some decry what they've done to surfing, removing that "all in" if you commit to surf, and getting there, or depriving the true local of the advantage wrought by the ability to wake up and personally check the surf.  I understand the viewpoint, but can't share it.  Left to the forecasts, I'd have been deprived of a nice little session this morning, and it's not like the Park was overrun - it was a pretty modest gathering of sticks and sponges out, throughout the morning.

So, what I saw on the cams was completely clean conditions.  Until a couple walked by on the beach to provide some scale, it looked pretty small - like, knee high - but with the human bodies to measure against, I could see that the wave height, as forecast, was up around shoulder-high.  So, I hauled myself out of bed, downed a first cup of coffee (with a roadie to go) and some Kefir, and jumped in the car for the drive south.  I was not to be disappointed.

A thin grey overcast kept the sun struggling to peak through, but what little wind there was came from offshore.  A thin line of sticks, with a few sponges interspersed, stretched from LG1 to the south up through the main peak area.  

The waves were chest and shoulder high, and peaky, with a bowl working inside at the main peak (above) and sandbars creating a variety of shifting peaks.


Amazed that I could still be surfing in my shortie, in 66-degree water, in November, in a rare solo session, I swam out to an empty area just north of Main Peak, and remained there throughout an hour and a half session, with an occasional stick (surfboard) or sponge (bodyboard) drifting through.

My first two waves were classic Park. One a right, the other a left.  Both at least shoulder high, and with a great corner that presented a fast, hard slide, followed by a pitching lip that closed over me to enclose me - for the first of many such this morning - in a shimmering crystalline tube.  

These may have been the best two waves of the day, but as the session evolved, it was about those few seconds in the tube...some just pure crystal, while others ranged from luminescent cyan to glittery sapphire.  The beauty of bodysurfing: while some of these cylindrical enclosures may have been of sufficient size to embrace a surfer on a board, there were those this morning, inaccessible to board surfers, that were sized only to the bodysurfer.

I did strap the GoPro to my wrist before swimming out.  Today's shots are more oriented toward the scenery and environment - the gestalt, if you will - of being out there in a shimmering, glassy morning with the sun peaking through, than really of the surf conditions.  I hope you enjoy!

SCSP: November 15, 2014 from Hank Haldeman on Vimeo.