Saturday, March 19, 2016

Scintillating Smallies at Schoolyards

A particularly irksome alter ego participating on an international email list of bodysurfers would disdainfully refer to any swells producing under at least head-high waves as "smallies."  Those that would deign to wallow in them didn't have the, well, huevos, for the big stuff.  Eventually, some of us started to delight in goading the testosterone-laden scribe, posting exuberant accounts of exploits in smaller surf. 

Today was a reminder how sportive smallies can be.  It helps to start with low expectations.  Even during the week, it was questionable whether Saturday would present ridable surf.  A small swell was coming in from the Southwest, but a 5-foot high tide was peaking around 7:30 - more than enough to swamp it out at most breaks.  Sunday promised a slightly larger swell, but an even higher tide, destined to peak in mid-session.  My "go-to" break, the Park, would be hopeless both days.

On the other hand, the Saturday swell was long interval. The increased energy brought by the greater mass of a long interval swell increases the wave's tendency to break in deeper water.  Further, the direction of the swell was well targeted for the Newport peninsula, where a flat stretch of shallows before a fairly steep drop off enhances the ability to handle higher tides.  With these considerations in mind, I prepped Friday evening for a session in Newport.

Come morning, a check of the surf cams was not encouraging.  The Park was as flat as expected, and what was breaking in Newport, from the Point (18th/19th Street) through the jetties up to Huntington Beach, appeared pretty meager.  However, it's been a disheartening five weeks since my last session, and that, single, February session was the only surf I've been in since mid-January.

So I jumped in the car and headed south.  As I started across the broad sand of 15th street, shoreline not yet visible, I was surprised by the sharp crack of a breaking wave.  Hastening, I caught a glimpse of a second wave.  Encouraged, I waited until about five minutes later, a reasonable set, approaching chest-high height, rolled in.  Between, though, it was pretty minimal.

Mark Ghattas joined me, and we watched while a few smaller, but still ridable sets came in: enough to conclude getting in was better than not.

In the one-hour session at Schoolyards - 14th Street - that ensued, we had some remarkably good waves.  Little lefts, ranging from waist to shoulder height, were peaking on a sand bar at the north corner of the playground, presenting a nice corner that would slow as it hit some deeper inside water then pop up, with surprising energy, as it approached the shallows, ending up far inside.  The rights, from the same peak, were faster and shorter, but sometimes hollow enough for a little tube time.  Occasionally, a two-wave set would arrive "outside" - everything is relative! - that hinted at the power that's the signature of Newport peninsula on a South swell.

Needless to say, we had no competition for the waves.  A bodysurfer and sponge were surfing a block south of us, and a stick or two were testing it around 18th Street.  Occasionally, the wind would pick up from the east, ruffling the surface but doing no harm.  Otherwise, it was a smooth, glassy day, in cool but not frigid water under an uneven, gray sky.

What I needed.

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