Sunday, June 26, 2016

Summer Swelter Summer Swell

You know that summer has arrived when...
... a large, south swell pounds Southern California beaches
... inland temperatures soar daily into the upper 90's
... fires burn across the state
... water temperatures approach 70
... and it's time to hit the Newport peninsula.

Weekend parking is hard enough to find in the Newport jetties in winter.  Summer is more difficult; add a swell, bringing in surf crowds, and it becomes almost impossible.  Our initial call was along the peninsula at 15th Street, hoping that the south-facing beach would be angled enough not to be closed out.  

Even before I could see the waves, I suspected that hope was to be dashed: walking across the lot at 15th, I couldn't see the water but had no problem seeing the whitewater leaping high above the sand horizon as a set came in.  I watched for a while, but, as I said to Mark when he arrived a few minutes later, "it just looks big and mean."

The regular sets, overhead in height, were heavy and closed out.  Just didn't look like fun.

 We watched for a while longer and decided to check Blackies, up at the pier, which generally is much smaller but peaky.  There's a large lot on the north/west side of the pier, but the dory boat fish market combined with a farmers market and sizzling inland heat to bring in an early crowd.  It was backed up just entering the lot.  Amazingly, though, a car pulled out just as I inched my way into the lot. I went to check Blackies, but it was not only breaking small - maybe waist high - but was nearly as crowded as the parking lot - long boarders, soft-toppers and sponges galore!  Basically a beginner's beach, it was probably the only spot within miles that most of them were proficient enough to surf.

However, looking back south/east, beyond the pier, The Point - 19th Street - seemed to hold promise and was uncrowded. 

More important, the uneven, shallow shelf that juts out at the point was creating some nice little peaks.  Though much smaller than 15th street, the shoulder-high corners looked promising.

Mark went off to find a parking spot around 19th and I added a couple of hours to my parking and suited up in my spring "shortie" for the first time this year.  For a little over an hour, we fought a steady current to maintain position around the 19th street lifeguard stand and shared some fun, hollow, Newport waves with a couple of knee-boarders and an occasional stick.  

As Mark had to leave, I was tiring of the constant swim and had noticed that somewhere around 18th Street, those closed-out lines from 15th appeared to bend into big, fast lefts.  

For my final half-hour, I decided to walk up the beach, nearly to 17th, and drift into a few of those.  I got several of those larger lefts, then allowed the current to carry me up to 19th and close the session out with several final waves at the point.

First taste of summer surf...not bad.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cool and Closed Out in the Park

It's been two months since I was last out in the Park.  Of course, in between was a week of intensive bodysurfing in Nicaragua.  In the several weeks since return, the stars haven't aligned, until this week.  

Forecasts held a lot of promise - maybe 4 - 6 feet, at least 3 - 4, with a moderate high tide and soft, even offshore, breeze.  The weekend was shaping up hot and sultry, at least inland.  Cool water and good waves beckoned.  

While it was good to get back in the water - that's true, without fail - what we found Saturday morning was not at all as expected.  Thick overcast, sometimes dropping to fog, overlay the coast.  A fairly stiff onshore breeze ruffled the surface and crumbled the crests of the waves.  Wind and moisture in the air, combined, made it even a bit chilly, making the water temp, in the low 60's, seem even colder.  The swell was there - sometimes up to head-high - but wasn't really catching the sandbars that often bring that peakiness to the park.  Instead, sets tended to be beach-break close outs.  

Of course, one benefit of marginal surf and cooler conditions is the lack of crowds.  The five guys above were the only guys in the water north of the rocks.  Further south, there were maybe 10 or so out, below the campgrounds - most likely early summer visitors to the campground.  Through most of a 90-minute session, Mark Ghattas and I were sharing waves with only a couple of local sticks, and the vibe in the water was relaxed and fun.

The wind came and went, sometimes getting a bit glassy, and there were occasional peaks on even set waves, for the patient. 

But it was highly inconsistent and the middle of our session was marked by an extended lull as the tide peaked.  And the higher tide gutted most of the inside break.  I did have one, well-formed left that allowed for a moderately long slide, along with several faster, steeper right, but those were short.  Over the session, I doubt I caught 10 waves.

However, after adapting to the cool water - initially a shock after the bathtub temperatures of Nicaragua - it was nice to float, paddle against the current, and catch an occasional wave.  Near the end of the session, I got a double calf cramp, aggravated no doubt by the cooler water, and concluded it was time to catch a shoreboat wave and head up to Adele's.