Sunday, October 16, 2016

Gettin' It Good in Newport

For 90 minutes Saturday morning, Mark Ghattas and I feasted on a steady diet of chest-, shoulder- and head-high peaky tubes and long slides.  

This was, easily, my best session since Nicaragua, but came on a day of modest expectations.  A big high tide crested over 6 feet shortly after 10am, which assuredly would swamp out San Clemente, along with most other places.  The beach break at Newport, though, is relatively impervious to the high tide.  Instead of depending on the sand bars, like most other beach breaks, the shape and energy on the Newport Peninsula are created by a steep drop off relatively close to shore.  The tide may rise, but a reasonable swell still hits that ledge, pops up and breaks.

However, the Peninsula bends to face nearly due south, and the swell for today was primarily from the northwest, albeit with a small south swell mixed it.  

Between the tide and the swell direction, we really didn't expect much. What happened, though, was a pleasant surprise.  Some of that northwest swell was clearly bending around, then mixing with the smaller south swell to present a semi-consistent flow of unusually peaky crests.  

From the Point, where the peninsula bends at 19th Street, down to "Schoolyards" at 13th, there were two or three peaks within every block where every three to five minutes a set of two to four waves would pop up, at least chest high and often chin to head high.  Most of the rights began fast and hollow, often offering a two or three second barrel ride before close out, but some would open up and peel far inside.  The lefts were softer, and generally longer, but also slower.  

Conditions were ideal: a mild offshore, combing only a mild spray off the lips, helped to hold open the wave faces while still leaving a glassy, unruffled surface.  The deep overcast present when we arrived thinned, and patches of blue appeared overhead while the ocean surface took on a silvery sheen.  The water temperature has cooled to the mid-to-low 60's, but with air temperature around 70 and insignificant wind, it felt perfect in the 3/2 full wetsuit.

Because there were so many peaks, the 20 - 30 surfers out this morning were scattered over the four blocks from 19th to 15th, where we went out.   Hanging between 15th & 16th, we had pretty much any wave we wanted, only occasionally crossing paths with a small group to the south of us and a revolving couple of sticks to the north.  We each got probably about 20 good rides over a 90 minute session.

One will stick out, though.  Perhaps the best wave I've seen Mark Ghattas ride, I had caught the previous wave and was standing in the shallows inside as I watched him take of on a nice, steep right with a 6 foot face.  Mark quickly got slotted and went into his old trademark, spread-eagle layout with both arms flung wide.  Like a cross he slid across the vertical face, while lip starting pitching and catching up to him.  It got as far as engulfing all but his head, and threatened to overtake him, then backed off as he accelerated and cleared the tube, emerging fully.  The face softened slightly and Mark adjusted into a more conventional, "chcken wing," postion, with his lower arm extended but upper arm cocked and trailing back.  Still moving fast, he shot past my inside position and continued in, far into the shallows.  Unfortunately, I had made the (wrong) decision to leave my GoPro in the car today and just concentrate on surfing, as I was in perfect position to have captured the entire ride.

Summer may have been a bust, at least for me, but it looks like (fingers crossed) fall surf is here!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Desperate Measures

How to write about what was basically a poor session, yet convey why I was glad that I drove an hour this morning for an hour session in the Park, during which I caught a total of five waves, all more or less average at best?

I guess I start by noting I haven't been in the water since August 21 - six weeks - and only about 30 minutes of that session was any good (though, for that half hour, it was very good).  Add that, three weeks ago, I trekked South with pretty high expectations - a moderate tide and decent swell forecast - only to watch the Park for nearly an hour without seeing anything to persuade me to get in.

The fact is, a surf session - virtually any session - is rewarding and therapeutic.  But some come with an edge.  Most often, that happens when it's too crowded or there's a bad vibe in the water.  Or, maybe, the timing's just off and you're missing, or failing to execute on, some great waves coming through.  There's the frustration of a grueling swim out, as with my Fourth of July weekend session in Oceanside.  These can turn what could have been a great session into something less.  

Saturday, the tide, rising toward a near six foot high at 10:00, was causing problems.  But it was compounded, as was the disappointing surf three weeks ago (I suspect), by recent sculpting of the beach at the Park.  Again, the swell was there, but, again, it was struggling to break.  I did see a couple of shoulder-high peaks, though, down in the Main Peak area, that looked pretty fun...and I was desperate for water time!

As I walked the 100 yards down to the Main Peak swim out in my shortie wetsuit - water temp reported at 68 - even three foot waves were breaking on shore.  White water would surge up the beach and withdraw to a loud clatter of loose rocks being rolled up and down the sand.  Wicked currents were clashing right at the low water line.

Finned up, as I reached the low water line, I found that the flat slope of the sand dropped precipitously; kind of a submerged cliff that went from ankle deep to deeper than I could touch.

It seems that sometime in September, most of the sand was carved away at the low tide line, leaving behind a submerged flat that stretches out maybe 25 yards.  Shallow in low tide, it's at least 4 feet deep even in mid-tides, so that any swell under about 3 feet will simply surge unbreaking up to the wall, then jack up and crash.  Underneath, loose rocks bared as the sand had been dredged away accumulated at the base of the underwater sand cliff, creating a polishing turbine, tossing the rocks like clothes in a dryer.  

A lone surfer was out at the Peak, a couple more were trying to work the shorebreak further south at LG1.  He greeted me with a nod and we waited for a set large enough to break in deep water.  A deep fog engulfed the ocean offshore and throughout the wait sun battled fog for turf along the edge of the cliffs.

It wasn't until about 15 minutes into the session that some energy arrived, and over the next 15 minutes I caught four shoulder to head-high waves.  Three were rights, fast and steep, but also short, as I had to pull out on each before reaching the maelstrom created by the submerged cliff.  The left was strange, crumbly and bumpy, but longer.  Then, another 15 minute lull ensued.

50 minutes into the session, I found one more of those rights, pulled up before hitting the no return spot that would leave me smashed upon the exposed sand, and then struggled to surmount the ledge onto the shallow sand.  

Five waves.  One hour.  Warm water but an unsettled surface.  Not even three stars on the SwellWatch five star system, but I was surprisingly satiated as I navigated the freeway on ramp to commence the return trek home.