Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Plethora of Waves at 15th Street

Quality or quantity?  Today's story was quantity.

Last weekend, I caught at most ten waves, every one an "A."  Big, fast, challenging.  Ten was completely fulfilling, and, when it starts to get big, you really can only catch them so often.  One every ten minutes is plenty.

Southern California was hit by pretty massive surf yesterday.  I didn't go.  Even if not quite beyond my capabilities, I flew in from New York Friday, arriving home close to midnight.  Not ready for a challenge Saturday morning.  By this morning, the swell had backed off alot - forecasts for 3 - 5 feet, generally.  However, there was also a big high tide around 9:00 and forecasts for a cross-shore wind to pick up between 9:00 & 10:00.

As the light gradually filled in around 6:30 on what's approaching the shortest day of the year, things still looked pretty good, up & down the coast.  However, I didn't trust the Park to hold up to that tide and wind, fearing it would be shot by the time I got there.  I also didn't really want to spend a half hour searching for a parking space and face the frustration of competing for waves with dozens of surfers, such as would be the likelihood at the Newport Jetties.  So I talked Mark into meeting me at 15th Street on the Newport Peninsula.  Good call!

Hazy sunshine took the edge off the cold air and breeze that was still offshore when we got there.  The waves were a bit messy, but unusually peaky for Newport and consistently shoulder high.  Maybe a dozen surfers spread out from Schoolyards at 13th Street up to the Point at 19th Street.  More peaks showing than surfers.


Fearing that the wind would turn to come from the south, I didn't waste much time shooting pictures.  Donned the full suit - still 3:2 - strapped on the little GoPro Sessions, and hit the water.  Oh!  Not quite 60 degrees ... the first time under 60 in a very long time!  

For over an hour & a half, Mark & I worked the area from 13th to 15th, occasionally sharing with a trio of surfers but otherwise having it entirely to ourselves.  Consistent hest and shoulder high, and a few larger, waves offered lefts like the top photo above or matching rights.  Fattened by the high tide, some were a bit crumbly, but others were even hollow, and many offered plenty long rides.  Mark was repeatedly snaring rides, left and right, into the knee high shallows way inside.

So, last weekend, 9 or 10 rides over 100 minutes.  This morning, we were in a about the same duration.  There was no counting, but we each had to have over 30 rides.  I can't rate today a 5 star session, as I did last weekend.  But it sure was satisfying for a day that could have been pretty poor!

I mentioned I was wearing the Sessions - working on a vid to add later...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Swell Saturday .. with a few photos from Hugh

OK, before all the words, here's the stoke for today:

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Forecasts for head-high, plus, holding up all week. For the weekend?  Really???  

Ok, there's gotta be a massive high tide to swamp it out, right?  Nope!  Moderate tides through the morning.

Well, I got it then: a big onshore wind to break it down? Not that either: Mild offshores through mid-morning.

Ah, the real deal-buster: rain.  Uh, skies, baby!

Yep, a real swell due to come in, in good conditions, on a weekend morning.  When was the last time that happened?  (That would be August, for the record.)

Upon arrival, it appeared to be just as advertised:

Sets were head-high, up to several feet overhead at the peaks.  Some were walled up, but the sandbars were working, and there were lots of peaks from straight in front of the steps all the way through Main Peak, the Rocks, LG1 and King's Corner 


down to North Gate and a very crowded Cotton's Point in the distance.

I didn't linger shooting, but donned the full wetsuit for the first time in eons.  The water was a remarkable 64, for December, but the chilly air suggested it.  Mark & I decided to hoof it down to the LG1/King's Corner area, which seemed to be far less crowded than the closer peaks, passing Hugh along the way.

Photo: Hugh Berenger
Before long, we were swimming out into overhead sets...

HH & NF digging for a set wave.  Photo: Hugh Berenger

...and then launching into fast, but nicely formed lefts...

Photo: Hugh Berenger

...and longer rights.

Photo: Hugh Berenger

Soon, we were joined by the intrepid octogenarian, Neil Frank (check the swell in the background):

Neil Frank.  Photo: Hugh Berenger
Most of the rights started as big, overhead peaks outside that gradually morphed into tight, fast barrels, well into the inside.

Today, over about 100 minutes, I rode what might seem a paltry 8 to 10 waves.  The two that Hugh caught, above, were the only two I rode in a 15 minute period when he was on the beach down where we'd decided to surf.  However, every one of those waves was excellent.  Big and open, but long and very ride-able.  Heart-thumping but strangely easy.  One or two of those in a session can make it a four star.  8-10?  Not only the second 5-star session of the year, but probably the best session of the year. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Closing Out a Meager Year (with a few retrospective photos)

As December approaches - thank goodness with indications of some decent surf next weekend - I look back on what was a pretty meager year for least, for those of us Southern Californians who are constrained to weekends and vacations to get in our surfing.

Just a quick count on the blog - back in 2009, when I started this blog, I had 23 entries, followed by 39 in 2010.  Since then, from 2011-2014, I had between 25 and 30 entries each year.  In contrast, through 11 months, I have a paltry 18 entries this year.

As some of you know, while I don't blog every session, I do log virtually every session on SwellWatch, measured from 1 to a maximum of 5 stars.  The results are illuminating:

(2015 YTD through 11 months)

2011 was a banner year, with 32 sessions ranked 3 stars and higher, including 4 sessions ranked 5 stars.  I may have used a lower standard back then, but it's still impressive.  I need to look at the blog entries for some of those sessions!

I thought of 2014 as an exceptional year, mainly for its consistency.  That shows, with 25 sessions of 3 stars and greater, and 11 sessions of 4 stars.  

But what is, maybe, of greatest interest, and most telling, is looking at the number of 1 and 2 star sessions.  There were either 6 or 9 each year, back in 2011, 2012 & 2013, but only 3 in 2014 and 2 this year.  It appears that I'm getting choosier on when to go...something that I've known.  Today was a good example - in 2012, I probably would have made the trek, hoping to find something, and would have ended up with a 2 star session.

So, let's take a quick look back at 2015 highlights ... at that five star session, and some of those four star outings.

2015's lone 5-star session was, surprisingly, at Newport Beach, ranging from 15th street down to Schoolyards.  

Honestly, I was probably a bit generous on that session, since it was only head-high+, but it was both peaky and hollow, with lots of "juice" - all that Newport is supposed to be - and we had all the waves that we wanted.  Plus, the session came a day after completing a week's vacation on the peninsula that was marked by an exasperating lack of swell!  Our week in Newport, quite flat, was sandwiched between two good swells, one ending the day before our arrival and the arriving the day after our departure.

At least I was able to return the following morning to grab some of what I'd been pining for all week!  It wasn't a session on which I expended any time shooting photos from the shore; I was too anxious to get into the warm, glassy water!

So, what about those 4 star sessions?  Two of the six session also were in Newport.  One from July,

and the other an early spring swell in March:

But the Park delivered this, year, as well.  This great shot from June, by Geoff Glenn, is my favorite of the year:

I guess the broad beach at Newport discourages me from shooting from the beach, in contrast to the easy walk from across the tracks from the lot at Calafia ("the Park"), where it's easier to document some of those swells.  A few of my favorite shots include this one from a crowded, foggy morning in March:

Maybe the toughest part about 2015 was that it started out SO promising!  Three sessions in January at the Park, all at least 3 stars, included two four star sessions - the first (January 18) offering this classic photo of a winter swell and offshore conditions, one of my all-time favorite photos from the Park:

That was followed, a week later, with this classic day in the Park, with a great pod,

photographed surfing by Hugh:

Hopefully, we can close out 2015 in the Park in like kind!!!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Welcome, Fall!

Under a cloudless blue sky, illuminated by the bright, early morning sun, Southern California shimmered, unusually fresh and clean.  The sustained drought notwithstanding, the recent sporadic showers ushered in on the Pineapple Express gave life to a thin, green cover on the eastern hillsides of Griffith Park and the greying brush appeared more tan and brown.  Further on, to my right the skyscrapers of downtown shone in the reflected light of the low, eastern sun; to my left, the San Gabriel Mountains were a textured green before the deep blue backdrop; and ahead across the low haze of southern LA County lay Orange County's Santa Ana Mountains, dominated by Saddleback.

The first morning without Daylight Saving Time also was the first fall morning of the year.  It wasn't exactly chilly, warming quickly from below 60 to nearly 70 by the time I arrived in San Clemente.  The water temperature seemed symbolic: below 70 for the first time since Spring, but still a comfortable 68/69.  

For a week, a mild intestinal bug had sapped energy, but Sunday morning I felt good, anxious to get in the water.  Forecasts were less than epic - 2-3 feet, with a tide rising from an early morning "low" of over 3 feet to a swamping midday high over 6 feet.  Nonetheless, even with 4 feet of tide, the push of the rising tide should help, along with the lack of winds.  The past couple of sessions had been disappointing, even frustrating.  Today, I was confident that properly low expectations would be exceeded.

Hugh's report upon my arrival helped substantiate that - "There are waves," he said.  "I'm about to jump in."  A quick check at the rail, camera in hand, validated that.  Only a couple of sticks were in the water, but they were having fun in chest-high waves, breaking just far enough out.  Though small, it was pitching and hollow - enough for a crouching surfer to get fully tubed.

With the threat of the rising tide, I wasn't going to waste any time watching.  Though the cloudless sky, windless air, and slowly rising temperature were comfortable, the thought of under-70 for the first time in over 6 months lead me to don the short-sleeved, short-legged lightweight spring suit.

By the time Hugh and I walked over to the Main Peak, it was deserted.  I was in first, greeted as soon as I was ready by a chest-high, hollow right that pitched over my head for a clean, fast welcome.  Yes!  Perhaps my best ride since early September.  As I turned to swim out and Hugh stroked to the lineup, two dolphins lazed by, heading South about 30 feet out.  Ah, Fall surf!

Hugh Slotted
For the next 90 minutes, we had the Main Peak all to board paddled out a bit south of us for a while, and a young bodysurfer with GoPro honed his skills in the shorebreak, but no one else was in the water.  Mark Ghattas joined us about halfway through, as the tide started to drag it down, but for most of the session, anything over waist high was breaking in enough water to ride.  The lefts took you inside to break on the beach pretty quickly, but the rights tended to peel for longer rides.  It remained hollow throughout.

Want to know what it looks like inside the tube?  A little tube-time selfie:

The beauty of the Park on a clear fall day...

As the Surfliner slides by...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What? Me Blog?

"Are you gonna blog this session?" Matt Hughes asked, halfway through yesterday's session at the Park.  

Matt's a regular reader of the blog and has joined us several times for sessions in the Park.  In his mid-twenties, Matt used to surf pretty much everything - from handblades and kickboards through bodyboards to short boards, long boards and stand up.  Now, though, he pretty much concentrates on bodysurfing, perhaps with a handplane or kickboard.  

"I don't know," I replied.  "Not sure what I'd write about."

It was a minimal session.  Early on, Mark Ghattas and I were debating the appropriate rating for WetSand's five-star system.  Most of the time, we agree.  Mark was pushing for a 1, while I was giving it a 2, because, after all, there were some waves.  

There was, indeed some swell, ranging from one to three feet, but all save the largest of that range of small waves was just breaking on the rounded rocks that had been exposed as much of the sand along the waterline was washed away by last week's heavy swell.  Nobody wants to be dumped on grinding, softball-sized rocks. Even if you can get your feet under you, you're risking an ankle sprain or bruise as the waterwater grinds them around.

We moved up and down the break, looking for a spot with some consistency.  The only others in the water were the four kids that appear to have become regulars on marginal days, launching early into waves on their softtops, then shoving a skimboard off the front and leaping onto it to carve up the shorebreak.

Unless you want a broken or badly dinged board, yesterday was a day for determined bodysurfers and the kids on the softtop/skim board combo.

The surface was ruffled, not quite choppy, but the water was warm and the air blessedly cool, at last.  And waves did come, occasionally.  In 90 minutes, I had three or four decent waves - maybe three to four foot faces that broke deep enough to be in water throughout, including a couple of tubes.  Between, there were maybe a dozen quick slides and quicker pull-outs on smaller waves.

In between, there was the good vibe that comes from having the ocean to all to just the few of us with a shared passion, a few waves and loose banter.  Followed, of course, by a classic breakfast at Adele's.  I can't think of what else I would rather have done.  So, I guess, that's what I'll write about.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bigger Doesn't Necessarily Mean Better (but it helps)

I thought maybe today would be a five star session.  Certainly four star: a solid, long interval groundswell from deep in the South Pacific mixing with a more westerly, but still long interval, swell from the West, from Hurricane Oho.  Add in offshore winds and, a peaking high tide notwithstanding, it's gotta be big and peaky and, well, great, right?

The view walking across the tracks present the welcome sight of well-defined ranks of swells, a regiment marching toward shore.

And there was the pod of sticks, scratching out toward overhead peaks.

But something was just a little bit ... funky.  

The high tide had all but the largest sets breaking almost on the sand.  We arrived at the peak of the tide, with the idea of being out there as the tide dropped and the swell started to hit the deeper sandbars, but even 90 minutes later, after it had dropped a foot or two, it was still breaking very close in.  

Despite the offshore wind, the lip was folding in high on the wave - see the shot above.  At least once, I was lined up on a beautiful, peeling, head-high left, set right where I should normally be to be slotted in the curl, and - wham! - the lip broke right on my back, prematurely ending that wave!  

Faces were 5 - 7 feet, regularly, with some of 9 feet or more...should be great!  But one wave would be closed out; the next would not catch the bar and break inside; the peak on the next would be out of reach.  Too many collapsed on themselves.

Mid-way through the session, I had one great left.  Well overhead, lined up just north of the rocks, a fat, open face peeling to the north.  I was in position.  Ghattas, just north of me, looked at me and asked, "you got it?"  "Yep!"  A fast slide on an oversized, steep face, while the wave held up, peeling north.  Close out and pop up out the back, hooting!  Where are the rest of those???

In something between 1-1/2 and 2 hours, Mark and I each got maybe a dozen waves, at best a third of which good rides.  After several pitch & drops, I had one good right to close the session.  The rest of the good ones - maybe three waves -were lefts.  Neil Frank had joined us, and finished the session without a single score.  Good news for Neil, though, was that the fin he'd lost first entering was found at the end of the session.

So, it certainly was no five star session.  Not even four.  However, at a solid three stars, what bad can you say about nearly two hours floating bareback in over 70 degree water in October, among overhead waves with a few real screamers to make the day?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Marginal Is Still Better Than...

How do you blog about a day that was marginal?  How to explain that it's worth rising early on a Saturday and driving 72 miles just to catch a handful of waves that wouldn't be overhead to a four-year-old, such as yesterday?  Or even worth it had it been completely flat, which, gratefully, it wasn't?

The concept of a surf park with man-made waves doesn't appeal to me.  Too predictable; too assured.  It misses the point.  On the surface, it's all about riding waves, but really it's about immersion in nature.  Wild, unpredictable, quirky, beautiful nature.  Why is a surf session so spiritually cleansing?  Because it demands total focus and attention, no distractions from life ashore.  It's totally in the moment.  

I didn't set my alarm yesterday, figuring if I was awake early, I'd go surf.  As the early morning was breaking, I did a quick check of the surf cams on my iPhone.  Not much showing.  Go back to sleep.  Still awake 15 minutes later, I rolled out of bed, sipped a coffee and yogurt, then hopped in the car for the hour's drive with few expectations.

I was greeted by sporadic, waist-high waves and a rippled surface, approaching light chop.  But the waves showed some shape and were hollow, rather than crumbling.  Buoyed by water temperature reports of 75 degrees and up, I figured there was little down side to slipping into my trunks and into the water.

I started at the main peak area - pictured above - but the lulls were long and the size pretty meager.  There appeared to be a little more energy down below the Park at LG1, so I swam a couple hundred yards south and found some playful waves, amongst the lulls.

It was peaky enough for some length to the rides and the larger waves, creeping into the chest-high range, were hollow enough for even a little sunlit tube time.

An hour was plenty to feed the Jones that had been creeping in after a couple of dry weeks.  Maybe only five good waves, with another half-dozen marginal rides, interspersed.  But an hour of respite and replenishment.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Smooth... Small... State Park

I'm going to let the photos speak, for the most part, about Saturday's session in the Park.  Mostly because I don't get that many actual shots of bodysurfers.

As I arrived, two heads were in the water straight out from the steps/rail, easily identified as Hugh Berenger and Neil Frank.  Steve Harkins was walking down to the water with his UDeeTs in hand.

There was some size in the glassy morning, chest to chin high, breaking in very shallow water.

Very warm water - mid-70's - offered small, but shapely, lefts & rights for Hugh and Neil as I snapped a few shots from the rail.

I didn't spend alot of time shooting from the rail, but strapped the little, GoPro Hero4 Sessions to my wrist and headed into the water.  Video of the small, but fun, waves at the end, but a few decent stills came out of it...a couple of Hugh slotted in the smallies, and...

 ... one I kind of like, showing my POV: