Saturday, September 23, 2017

Newport, Then & Again

No, I have not quit surfing. No, I have not quit blogging, either. 

My last post, July 30, reflected on the four sessions I'd gotten in during July after having surfed only five times in the preceding six months.  August was blessed with even more water time, on eight separate days.

What's kept me from blogging is the quandry over what to write about, when my surfing consists of the repetition of something I've done, so many summer days, year after year.  How to convey what is new and fresh, even though every session is exactly that?

I first bodysurfed the Newport Peninsula as a pre-teenager.  Every summer in the half-century since, I've sojourned there to surf.  Daily throughout the summer, 1965 would find the 11-year-old Hank, slowly wading out into what seemed too-chilly water with a single, stiff, all-blue Duck Feet fin in hand, nervously scanning the break at 13th Street for outside sets.  Even a four-foot breaker in that heavy shore-pound was seen as a serious threat.  

In 2017, the entry is a quick duck-dive, the insulation brought with age converting upper-60's water from chill to refreshment.  The fin choice is still Duck Feet, but now there are two, colored a swirl of blue & green with black around the heel, composed of a much softer, flexible rubber composite developed specifically for bodysurfing by Dr. Greg Deets. The fins are donned on the beach, over 1mm, H2Odyssey fin socks.  A four-footer now is a delight; a six-footer perfection.  The Newport shore-pound remains heavy, but it has to get overhead to get the nerves jangling and heart pumping.

AM surf, viewed from bedroom balcony
For six days in late August, I followed the same daily routine: Rise, grab a cup of coffee, take a seat on the balcony off our second-floor, bedroom, beachfront between 17th and 18th streets, which commanded an unimpeded view of the surf.  Invariably, in my mind's eye, I would see the Pipeline-worthy, 20-footers that had attacked this beach three years ago during the swell spawned by Hurricane Marie.  

18th Street, 2014 Hurricane Marie

Instead, though, what I actually would see daily was a steady flow of nicely formed, waist to shoulder high peaks (2 to 4 foot).  Through the week, conditions varied: some days tainted with "morning sickness," a lumpy condition wrought by overnight winds, while on other days the peaks were clean and smooth, the surface glassy.  By 8:00, I'd be in the water.

 The second and third mornings were the best, coming in clean, glassy and head-high.  Even though day two was a Sunday, there were few surfers in the water and a good vibe permeated.  With lots of waves over a three-hour session, clean conditions, many barrel rides and a few long slides, it was my best session of 2017, so far.  Monday was a little smaller, but even less crowded.  Making it unique was the rare solar eclipse that day, observable while lolling in the lineup between waves, using disintegrating paper & plastic "eclipse glasses" that Michael Schwimer kept tucked into his board shorts.

Joseph - evening session
  Each afternoon, a reprise session would follow, but generally in smaller surf now choppy with afternoon winds.

Midweek sessions were enhanced by the company of Mike "Sully" Sullivan and his two kids, Brenna and Conner, down from NorCal, along with Stan and Michael Schwimer.  Perhaps most memorable, though, was Wednesday morning, when, coxed by the irrepressible Michael Schwimer, Heather came out for her second surf lesson.  A smooth, glassy morning, with waist to chest high sets, Heather took another step toward confronting her lifelong fear of surf, as she recounts in her blog: White Water

By Thursday, the surf was down to barely over waist high, while, strangely, more surfers started appearing in the lineup.  By Friday morning, departure day, it was just dribbles insufficiently compelling to demand getting in.  

Writing now, in late September, the surf this weekend matches that of most since late August, as well as the foreseeable forecast: under waist high.  So, I reflect on this summer in Newport and the summers that preceded it.