Sunday, July 30, 2017

Shapin' Up to be the Summer of Smallies

I only got five surf sessions in, the first half of 2017.  In July, I nearly matched that.  Four sessions, and would have been a fifth - I was at Sunset Beach last weekend, but it was virtually flat.  

Like the first three July sessions, yesterday was again small surf but well-formed.  This time, it was somewhat disappointing, since earlier in the week there were projections that hurricanes Hilary and Irwin were likely to throw a significant, combined swell our way.  Unfortunately, it was not only weaker than expected but also late in arriving.  By Friday evening, our expectations had been reduced significantly.

On arrival, we found a nearly placid Pacific.  A small pod of five surfers lurked at the Main Peak, with another, slightly larger, group out at Riviera to the north.  Apparently attracted by the earlier forecasts, in the distance beyond Main Peak, there appeared to be at least 50 surfers vying for meager pickings at Cotton's Point.  Closer to us, a lone, unknown, bodysurfer was catching some smallies between peaks.

Count over 40 heads out at Cotton's in the background
Heavy overcast made a warm day - sizzling inland - seem cool, and the 70 degree water felt good.  Mark and I elected to head down to the LG1 stand, below the campground, where there appeared to be some nice peaks in the chest-high range.  Throughout the scattered peaks from Riviera to Cottons, the surf, while small, was clean and peaky.  

We got in shortly after the low tide had bottomed out, with hopes that the increasing swell and tidal push would boost the wave energy.  For the first 30 - 40 minutes, it appeared that our expectations were sound as what started as solo, rogue forerunners in the chest - shoulder high range started to become more consistent, two to four wave sets.  The wind was mild, a bit off-shore, leaving a smooth surface.  However, after a five-minute stretch where several sets had rolled in back-to-back, just as the wind picked up a bit and started to swing onshore, the bottom seemed to fall out.  Long lulls were interrupted by only a couple of moderate breakers then would return.  In the last 20 minutes I had maybe four waves.  Ultimately, it left us with the feeling that the session, while fun, was somewhat disappointing.  The upside, though, was that we had the stretch in front of LG1 totally to ourselves throughout the 90 minute session.

Through the session, the overcast had thinned but not entirely burned off, but the shoreline had filled with a summer crowd seeking to escape the inland heat.  The gaggle of boards at Main Peak had been replaced by a line of groms on soft tops, longboarders and spongers (body boarders) that stretched from not far above where Mark & I had been surfing all the way up to, and past, the steps back to the parking lot.  One thing I couldn't figure out - there were kids donning full wetsuits to go play in the surf on a warm sunny day with water temperatures over 70 degrees.  We'd just spent a comfortable 90 minutes continuously immersed in just trunks.

Ah, to breakfast at Adele's!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Typical Newport Summer at Schoolyards

The morning Newport Lifeguard report claimed water temperature of 72.  I was surprised as it's normally a few degrees cooler than San Clemente, which was reporting 67.  The drive is shorter than San Clemente and the size looked about comparable at both places.  With relatively small surf - 2-4 feet - the greater energy that a south swell brings to Newport was an additional draw.

Arriving at 15th Street for a rare solo session, I brought a towel & sandals onto the beach, which I rarely do.  Even at 8:00, a few families had set up their tents and umbrellas.  I dropped my towel just south/east of the lifeguard stand in a small stretch between two early beach set ups and checked out the surf. 

The waves appeared small and inconsistent as the tide bottomed out but the surface was glassy and there appeared to be some peaky corners a block down at Schoolyards.  Fingers of brown water stretched to the outside every block or so, evidencing active rip currents.   Between, there were some early beachgoers wading out while to the north/west there were some surfers spread out around 17th - 19th streets.  None were in full wetsuits.

It was a surprise to walk down to Schoolyards then wade out, in my trunks, into water that could not have been more than 67.  Ten minutes into the session, I'd caught a few small, fairly closed out waves and endured a lull.  I began wondering whether I'd last a half hour in the chill water without much activity.  

The recent Orange County shark activity lingers in mind, but shortly after I swam out, a dolphin breached with a burst through its blow hole about 20 feet outside of me.  Throughout the session, a half-dozen trolled the lineup, passing every 20 minutes or so.  I don't know if its only legend, but surfers believe when there are dolphin around they drive off the sharks.

Fortunately, as the tide started rising, so, too did the wave energy.  Fairly hollow sets ranging waist- to chest- to chin-high, with force belied by their size, started showing regularly.  From that point, I didn't go more than three or four minutes without a wave.  Meanwhile, with the incoming tide and rising air temperature, the water slowly warmed.  Over the next hour, the water became increasingly comfortable while the wave energy continued to rise.  The latter part of the session, the sets - shoulder high and up - were pretty regular.  Throughout, I was the only surfer of any sort - no sticks, no sponges, no bodysurfers - within three or four blocks.  

The usual surfers were out around 19th, and after I got out, a solo short-boarder was messing around where I'd been.

A little over an hour in, repeating, intense calf cramps drove me to shore, satiated by the juice of the hollow Newport waves, happy to recall what a bit of summer South swell can do on the Newport peninsula.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Scads of Summer Smallies

It was smaller than the 3-4 foot swell (about head-high) that had been forecast.  However, there was a growing south swell nonetheless, the water temperature was approaching 70, the surface was glassy, the skies were sunny, the waves were peaky and plentiful, and the respite from triple-digit inland heat most welcome!

Even small rights were hollow
Although there wasn't much in evidence when Mark and I arrived at the Park, we were surprised by the pack of a dozen surfers clumped right in the main peak area.

Further to the south, at LG1, directly below the Park, there appeared to be more consistency, better peaks, and no competition for waves.

Empty peaks at LG1.  Note the crowd at Cottons in upper left.

So we headed down there for nearly two hours of nearly uncontested waves.  The biggest may have gotten to chin-high height, but they were fun, peaky waves, with few lulls and gradually growing size.  Half-way through, Craig Thompson joined us, along with his daughter, and shortly after, another, unknown, bodysurfer swam out as well.  Spread over about 100 yards, no one had any problem getting his share of rides.

Skinning it for the first time since last summer was a luxury, and the GoPro gave me something to tinker with between waves.

Mark tucked under a right lip
The smooth surface persisted as the beach gradually filled in with beach-goers seeking relief from the inland heat.

View on take off of LG1 and the Park campsite above
Mark in a tiny right
By the time we were wrapping up, there were a few more sizeable waves coming in.  Late in the session, I spotted something outside and stroked out to greet a perfectly shaped left corner that might have approached head-high size.  It was great to be reminded of the forgotten sensation of actually sliding down a face before trimming up into the curl under the lip!

A few got some bigger waves
As we left, despite the fact that the surf was much better, and the wind had yet to mess it up at all, there was nearly no one at the Main Peak.  A small group of groms, messing around with soft-tops, had it all to themselves.

Sharing a wave
Different styling

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Sure Beats Not Surfing

I'd been standing on the Del Mar Lifeguard HQ deck for maybe 15 minutes, watching small, generally crumbly surf roll in under a heavy cloud cover; waiting for some of the Del Mar crew from our Nicaraguan trip to show.

A surfer that had been standing beside me, checking it out, greeted a buddy exiting the water: "Is it as bad as it looks?'

"Had some fun," came the reply, "sure beats not surfing!"

Shortly thereafter, I saw the guy, now suited up with board under arm, heading out, wearing a smile.

"Persuaded you?" I asked.

"Shamed me into it," he responded with a grin.

Shortly, Chris Lafferty and Jodi Hubbard had arrived and we were suiting up ourselves.  Cool air and heavy overcast notwithstanding, some of the early crew of surfers had persuaded me that the water had warmed sufficiently that even a shorty wetsuit was plenty.  I took their word for it and was pleased to feel the cool but comfortable water as I waded out.

Waist high rollers were plentiful, occasionally larger.  Though most were pretty crumbly, a few had cleaner faces and, for a while, there was a surprising number of fun little waves.  Froggy joined us shortly, so four of the Nica dozen enjoyed a stretch of Del Mar to ourselves, hemmed north and south by a surprising crowd of surfers.  

Unfortunately, the wind was rising and the burst of energy we'd found upon first getting in faded, so we called it after about an hour.  As we exited, the Del Mar Bodysurfing Club regulars were starting to congregate on the shore.  It was great to see Meredith (also from the Nica trip), along with DMBC doyen Vince Askey as well as John Hughes and Ray Sullivan.

Yeah, gotta agree, it sure beats not surfing!