30 April 2008

Steamer Lane, 29 April 2008

The tide was too high in the morning, so I planned to head to Santa Cruz, escaping the howling NW winds, in the early afternoon. I always have a bit of a motivation problem with surf sessions later in the day, since I have most of my energy in the morning. After I down a short peppermint soy no-whip mocha (which the Oracle of Starbucks says makes me a hippie), I'm energized and ready to go surf, swim a mile (my usual workout), whatever. But come afternoon, I feel more like laying in the sun on a comfy chair with a good book, lazy and sleepy. This makes post-lunch meetings a challenge, and also sometimes makes it difficult to drive myself to the beach. That's where a surf buddy can be invaluable. Before D moved away, I'd motivate him to get out of bed for dawn patrols, and he'd keep me going for the afternoon sessions. Now I have to dig deep for my own encouragement. But I did it, getting to Steamer Lane after four at a mid rising tide.

The swell was also rising, going up to head high on the Point, but the waves weren't wrapping in far and the lulls were long. About 20 people were out at the Point/Slot, but nobody at Indicators, where the waves were mostly breaking too close to the cliffs. I watched for a few minutes, and some bigger sets came through a bit farther out that looked makeable. Hmm, overcrowded good waves or empty worse ones? Easy choice. I took careful note of the locations of rocks I could see from the cliffs, and headed down the stairs at Indicators. The waves were breaking at the base of the stairs, covering the bottom half dozen steps, which were coated in slimy green algae. I timed my entry well but after two steps on the slime I feel on my butt and slid down the rest, trying (successfully!) to keep my board from bashing on the concrete or rocks.

Soon after I started to paddle out, I thought of something else I should have noted from the cliff: the location of a path through the kelp. As it was, I ended up kelp-crawling for a fair distance. Hard work but least it's good exercise. Eventually I made it to where I thought I should sit for those empty bigger sets, but I never could find them. Maybe because of the rising tide or the lengthening lulls, or more likely because they were breaking more scary-close to the cliffs than I'd thought and I didn't want to go there. A sea lion (or seal; I don't know if she had ear flaps or not) popped up nearby, and looked at me curiously as I looked at her.

It was a gorgeous warm sunny day but the wind was blowing me east, so I had to constantly keep paddling toward the Point. In addition to looking less of a kook, there's a practical reason for keeping a shortboard as flat as possible in the water, since if the nose is sticking up, the wind pushes it. I'm pretty good at keeping my nose down now though.

After a while I decided to join the gang closer to the Point, ending up I believe at the Slot. I saw one longboarder with long curly blond hair and thought, at least I'm not the only girl out here. I took up my usual position on the shoulder, but didn't catch anything. Still, I don't think I'm really at risk of becoming the World's Most Dedicated Poser. I don't just paddle out and sit there looking cute in my skin-tight wetsuit on my pretty red board; at least I try to catch waves. And I almost caught a couple - if only they weren't so mushy, if only I was deeper. At one point the longboarder, paddling back out after a nice little ride, came near and told me "it's pretty mellow over there if you want to try," coaxing me off the shoulder. Imagine that, at Steamer Lane! And I thought people were only that friendly at Capitola. So I thanked him and moved in a bit closer to the peak, thinking, sorry dude, that I thought you were a girl, but you do have such pretty hair. I was the only girl after all.

The upwelling continues with the water temperature near 50 degrees. Quite a change from Hawaii. My feet and hands were going numb despite the neoprene so I began to examine the potential exit points now that the tide had risen more. Right at the point, guys were getting in by making what looked like a vertical descent down the cliff and leaping from ten feet up into the smashing surf. No exit there. Paddling farther east, I saw both the big rocks to the stairs near the Slot and the stairs at Indicators were looking dicey. I put the risk of injury to body or board if I attempted to get out at Indicators at around 25%. But hey, this was my exercise for the day, so why not paddle around the corner and get out by the stairs at Cowells? Turned out it was a longer paddle than I thought, but the scenery was cool, with crashing waves and caves in the cliffs. I concentrated on setting my trim perfectly for maximum speed, felt the burn in my shoulders and the sun and sea spray in my face. Any day surfing is a good day.

25 April 2008

The Man in the Gray Suit

A swimmer in San Diego was killed by a shark this morning. What a horrible way to die, and something I try hard not to think about while I'm out on the water. From The Man in the Pale Gray Suit by Kalikiano Kalei:

...What are the chances that my dangling arms and splayed out legs
Will end up as a side dish for some ancient, primordial behemoth
That nature has spent 500,000 years quietly perfecting, evolving
The most perfect killing machine ever to swim the shadowed deep?
I am no gambler by inclination, least of all to wager with the sea....

I know quite well it is not a wise idea to be by myself out here,
And yet the sublime beauty of the endless, crashing, coursing waves
Forces me to relax my guard, allay my unreasoned anxieties…until I see
The fin that is 50 yards from me, in a trough between the waves,
Its black scalpel of remorseless precision slicing a fluidic groove....

Update: It just amazes me to read that some San Diego beaches are still closed and a surf competition miles north was "canceled because of safety concerns." Hello, people, there are always sharks in the ocean. They live there. This particular one could be well on her way to Santa Cruz by now. Or maybe her big brother is lurking about, ready to snatch another triathlete, or surfer, or kayaker, next week, or next month. Who knows? The risk remains, forever. If you can't deal with it, don't go in the water. Ever.

22 April 2008

Chun's Reef (Oahu North Shore), 21 April 2008

The swell had dropped substantially by the morning of our last day, so I grabbed my board and dashed down the short path from our rented beach house to the sand. (Nothing beats being that close to surf! Wish it was always that quick and easy.) I walked a short way southwest to a point break off of a public park, and picked my way carefully into the water through a minefield of spiny black sea urchins. I was wearing booties, but was surprisingly alone in that, given the sharpness of the reef and its inhabitants.

Although the break didn't look too crowded from the shore, after a few minutes it began to remind me of Pleasure Point. Several good people were taking most of the waves so I'd have to back off, or else there'd be people in my way and I'd have to bail for fear of hitting them. It was more frustrating than fun, especially as the waves were just about perfect for me, shoulder-high and definitely catchable. I did manage to snag one brief ride, but decided to get out and look for a less popular spot.

In front of the beach house there was an empty break that looked doable although mushy and short, but I was nervous about being all alone out there. Sometimes I think fear is my biggest challenge in surfing: fear of getting pounded, fear of sharks, fear of hitting the reef, fear of being alone in a vast ocean, etc. But I thought about the Litany Against Fear from Dune, which I memorized when I read the book:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

And so I walked into the water and rode the rip current out. I had a brief scare - Don't Panic! - when a creature suddenly popped to the surface about 15 feet away and then disappeared for a few seconds, but it turned out to be a large sea turtle. Cool.

When I got to where I thought I'd seen the breaking waves from the beach, I recalled one of the advantages of surfing with others, which is that they help me to know where to sit. With significant lulls between sets, I paddled around a while before another rolled in and I realized that I needed to be farther out and farther east. By then I was unfortunately getting tired it and was getting late, but I got in a couple short and unmemorable rides before I had to leave the warm Hawaiian waters behind and head in to pack up the Xanadu for the flight home to NorCal.

Photos by guest photographer S. I stayed out too long (!) and didn't have time to take any pix myself before we had to leave the beach.

Surfline's Alternate Universe

Our rental house on Oahu's famed North Shore was near Chun's Reef, which Surfline reported was 2-3' on Sunday morning. As I've griped before, Surfline's given some crappy info in the past, but that report was so far off that I now suspect the Surfline folks inhabit some parallel universe with an alternate reality disconnected from that of our known Earth. On their North Shore, the surf was 2-3'; on the North Shore in my reality, it was 2-3' overhead. At first I thought maybe they were reporting in Hawaiian surf heights, which are about half actual, but the report also said knee-waist high. I've seen some Hawaiians who are much wider than average, but none who are twice as tall, so the report was just totally bogus.

I know my limitations, and the real surf exceeded them. After being spun ass-over-teakettle by a powerful overhead wave I couldn't duck-dive the day before, I didn't want to put myself in the way of even bigger monsters, and I couldn't go searching the coast for a better spot. So I kicked back on the beach with S and his parents, a couple bottles of wine and a good book. After baking for a bit in the hot sun, S suggested a dip in the ocean to cool off. While I was picking up wine and snacks at the grocery store in Haleiwa, he'd been on the beach for an hour and had been in the water already, so I just followed him in, leaving my common sense on the shore and failing to check out the sea scene as I normally would before entering the water to surf. We were both a little drunk, and the bottom dropped off to deep water near shore. After a minute S pointed out that we were very far from the beach - we'd been sucked out by a rip current and were still moving away at a good clip. A little voice in my head calmly said, Swim parallel to shore to escape a rip current. I turned left toward the only surfer in sight, figuring at least he had a floatation device and might help if we really got in trouble. But after swimming for several minutes and starting to tire in the choppy water, we still seemed to be going nowhere, and S suggested reversing course because earlier he had noticed other surfers drifting rightward. So not only had we been fighting to swim against the rip, we'd been going against a sideshore current too. To make matters worse, my arms were already fatigued from all the paddling that morning and the day before. And I was wearing boardshorts that extended below my knees, board crop pants really, which made swimming more difficult; I was contemplating whether it might not be better to take them off. We swam on, and after what felt like ages, with the subtle fear of drowning knawing on the edges of my mind, we finally broke free of the currents and gasped onto dry land. Looking back at the ocean, I could clearly see the current, angling outwards and down the coast toward town. Stupid, stupid me.

Later S and I walked east to another break, perhaps Leftovers, where there were some pro surfers showing their stuff on waves that sounded from the beach like a roaring freight train. At least I'm guessing they were pros, since they were very very good, and there was a guy on the beach training a fancy camera on the action. We sat on a rock and watched them for a while. It looked like they were having a blast, and I hope one day to be a tenth as good as that.

Canoes (Oahu South Shore), 19 April 2008

Before we left for the North Shore on Saturday morning, I headed to the beach for one more sesh at Waikiki. This time I wanted a shorter paddle since my ribs were painfully bruised from laying on my board without the padding of a wetsuit. (See, there is one good thing about wearing a wetsuit!) S and I walked down the beach and I spent just 5 minutes getting out in the vicinity of Canoes. There at the central town beach, even early in the day, it was ridiculously crowded; I'm guessing well over 100 people. Miraculously, though the swell had dropped some from the day before and many of the waves were too mushy, I managed to catch a few and had one decent ride, nothing fancy but it got me stoked! One factor was the relative skill level was much lower than in front of the condo, with many kooks on Soft-tops clueless about where to sit or how to catch waves. Although on the flip side, there were some very good surfers there too, and I'd see the same people taking many of the waves repeatedly from the peak. The lineup was rather a zoo, with snorkelers, SUPers, a couple riding a single long longboard together, and a catamaran cutting through to pick up booze cruisers on the beach. So the people-watching was fun on the lulls, and it was a nice sunny day in paradise.
This statue on Waikiki Beach is based on a children's story about a surfer boy named Mauka and his friend Kila, a monk seal who helps him line up the best waves.

Fours (Oahu South Shore), 18 April 2008

Happily, the Xanadu arrived in Honolulu safe and sound. United didn't even charge me an oversize bag fee, although TSA opened the lock and rifled through the board bag, failing to replace my booties which were to serve as extra padding on the points of the half-moon tail. At the car rental lot we discovered some intermediate American cars are foolishly built with rear seats that don't fold down (a necessity for stowing the board when leaving it with the car unattended), but eventually we pulled away in a Nissan with the surfboard atop on soft roof racks.

Our oceanfront Waikiki condo fronted the channel between Fours and Threes, and Friday morning I made the long paddle to the lineup where the surf was up to head high with lulls. Being Waikiki, it was crowded, and hard to find a spot somewhat to myself. After sitting on the right shoulder at Fours for a while, I tried the left, where a caught one or two but blew the pop-ups. Then a bigger outside set came through, and an overhead wave closed out with me just inside of it. I'm thinking, I can duck-dive this, I can do it - ah, sadly, no. Holy fuck! I have never been tumbled so hard as that before; the wave was waaay more powerful than I'm used to. And my spankin' new SeaSpecs, red ones to match my board, that I'd put on for the first time only 30 minutes before - gone, lost to the deep, swimming with the fishes. Damn. I stayed out a while longer but wasn't getting any waves, and since I was getting cold (yes, cold in Hawaii!), I made the long paddle back to the beach.

Friday afternoon, with the slightest encouragement from S, I paddled out again. This time I took my watch to verify that it was actually a 10-minute paddle to the reef break. The water was shallow all the way out, less than 3-4 feet, with a mostly rocky bottom that I know from painful previous experience is inhabited by spiky sea urchins. Unfortunately I again forgot my seasickness wristbands, and with the Xanadu responding to every messy wavelet in the choppy channel, by the time I reached the lineup I felt awful. An big outside set rolled through just then bringing waveriders to my previously quiescent spot, and I had a couple of near-collisions in rapid succession combined with stomach-churning whitewash. I turned around and made a miserable 10-minute paddle in.

The other side of the condo faced Surfline's South Shore cam location.

13 April 2008

Packing a Surfboard for Air Travel

After Googling "how to pack a surfboard" and consulting with well-traveled D, I armed myself with pipe insulation and 3 rolls of bubble wrap and got to work. This is my first time taking my board on an airplane, so we'll see in a few days how well I did.

First, remove all the wax from the surfboard. If you happen to be in possession of a warm sunny day, put the board outside deck up for a bit and let the sun do the work. It's easy then to take off the melty wax with a plastic scraper-thingy. Also remove the fins. Next, apply pipe insulation around the rails and on the nose and tail:Then wrap, and wrap, and wrap some more, with bubble wrap, securing the ends with tape:
Be sure to use a lot for extra protection. Next, try to slide the board into your heavyweight travel bag. When that proves impossible due to the thick layers of bubble wrap, but you've managed to push the board in so far that you can't pull it out again, call someone for assistance. Now strip everything off and start over.

This time, wind plastic wrap (bubble-free) around the board to hold the pipe insulation on the rails:
Then try a test insertion to see if it will fit in the board bag. Yes? Place a few sections of bubble wrap flat on the deck and bottom, taking care not to cover the rails, and secure them with more plastic wrap. (OK, so this is not very environmentally-friendly packaging, but at least most of it's reusable.) Slide/shove/swear the board into the bag, adding extra padding (more pipe insulation, rashguards, etc) in any empty spaces, and zip the bag shut.Lastly, cross your fingers, and get ready to smile sweetly and hand over $$ at the airport check-in counter!

Making the Go/No-Go Decision

Living on the Peninsula, my one-way journey to the closest breaks (HMB Jetty, Linda Mar) takes at least half an hour; the farthest (Davenport, Waddell) are more than an hour's drive. The substantial time commitment, combined with family and work responsibilities and expectations, often cloud the call on a potential surfing session.

"To surf or not to surf: that is the
question." The answer arises from checking the surf, weather and wind forecasts; and surf cams and reports if available and timely (i.e., it's not a pre-dawn departure). See Links at left. Especially valuable are any tips from surfer friends who live closer to the coast. Then it's a judgment call if the potential payoff is worth the drive, and if this is the best time when the balancing of other responsibilities is factored in.

I had hoped to surf today, but a forecast swell apparently was delayed in arriving. The best Surfline suggested was weak 2-3' at Ocean Beach, and the cams showed not much happening even there. But on the first summery weekend of the year, all the fair-weather surfers had pulled their cobwebbed Soft-tops from their attics and garages and headed to the coast. At Cowells, where S and I walked on the beach before lunch, there were easily close to 100 people in the water. Right on the point at Steamer Lane, the waves were of a more adequate size, but there was a grom longboard contest dominating the break.

Am I sorry I didn't go out someplace? Not really. I think I made the right call, but that didn't keep me from having a heavy heart as I watched eight kooks sharing a knee-high mushy wave at Cowells. Sadly, the cool air and wind return tonight, so my next sesh may not be until Waikiki on Thursday afternoon. But - oh joy! - warm water then, and the forecast for the south shore is fair-good 3-5' - yeah!

P.S. Bad call - T says Ocean Beach was shoulder-high on the set waves, not mushy, and the good surfers were getting barreled. All right, that's it, next time I'm going regardless!

11 April 2008

Montara, 11 April 2008

There comes a time when the desire to surf becomes akin to a physical need, like hunger. After being shut out of the water for a while, it gets to be an insistent craving, and last night I started needing a fix real bad. For too long we've had strong winds in San Mateo county blowing out the surf, with not enough swell to go around making it into the sheltered areas of Santa Cruz (meaning big crowds on small waves at the points).

So today I just had to get wet. Especially as I'm seriously in need of some stress relief, and being in the ocean always soothes my soul. There's an issue at work that will result in heavy shit hitting the fan down the road if it doesn't get resolved soon, and I'm in a position where much of it would end up on me. I've come up with a good plan to keep the brown stuff from ever flying in the first place, but the higher powers don't want to implement it. Office politics have always mystified me; people so intent on defending their turf that they become impediments and even harmful in the grand scheme of things. I've just gotta stop caring so much, remind myself it's only a job and a means to pay for wetsuits, surfboards and trips to warmer surf spots.

Really I should have headed to the coast this morning, but I talked myself out of it for a couple reasons. First, the water now is hovering around - omg! - 49 degrees, and when it's that cold, 70-degree air sounds much more enticing than 50-degree air. Second, after a frustrating day at work, I had a jumbo glass of Viognier last night with dinner. I'll always suspect that being hungover may have contributed to my back injury from going over the falls at Linda Mar two summers ago, so I try to avoid that now. If I'm planning to surf early I don't drink the night before, but I didn't see surfing today as a possibility until well after dinner last night.

So I decided to go after work, but as happens too often lately, I got stuck in a meeting and left later than I wanted to. By the time we reached Linda Mar, there were 50 million people in the water, and no parking spaces. And by no parking spaces, I don't mean just no ding-free spaces suitable for my new car, but literally no empty spaces. Of course, not all of those people were in the water, but it was super crowded, with not much wave action going on, and that at best chest high. So we kept on drivin' south.

What a difference a few miles makes. While there may have been a light, unnoticed breeze at Lindamar, there was a strong onshore/slightly sideshore wind blowing at Montara, whitecaping the ocean almost to the inside. A few guys were out, with some wave kayakers and bodyboarders, but they were getting infrequent micro-waves.

This leads me to create a second exception to the Tyrfing rule (that my surfboard must get wet whenever it leaves the house). The first exception, let's call it the Temporal Pleasure Index or TPI, allows for canceling surfing plans when time in the water would be exceeded by time getting into and out of the wetsuit, if the chance of catching a wave is slight. Now I realize there must be a second exception, let's say it's the Pleasure Potential Index or PPI, which allows for canceling a session when the likelihood of enjoyment is very, very slim. (OK, so I'm an engineer and I work with numbers a lot. Maybe sometime when I'm really bored and have a lot of free time, I'll quantify these parameters. Or not.)

Today, with the water below 50 degrees and a stiffy breeze mostly blowing out the surf at Montara, or a hike from distant parking to surf within touching distance of six people at Linda Mar, I invoked newly-minted exception #2. And I'm not happy about it. S and I did go for a walk along the beach at Montara, which is my favorite local beach, winning the distinction for being prettiest, with gold sand bordered by cliffs and as much solitude as one can expect near San Francisco. Just walking on the beach has restorative properties, but to a substantially lesser degree than being in the water. I still need to surf, and hope things work out better Sunday when I plan to meet up with new surfing buddy T. And in the meanwhile, at least there was a big glass (or two) of Hey Mambo White waiting for me at the Half Moon Bay Inn.

P.S. Apparently the winds calmed an hour or so later. Crap.

05 April 2008

SurfAid Swim 4 Life

Update, 12 April: I swam 30 laps under sunny skies with the temperature pleasantly and surprisingly in the 80s. In less than a week, my sponsors donated over $700 to SurfAid - wow! Swim 4 Life West Coast '08 raised more than $50,000 for SurfAid's health programs. Since a mere $10 will get a mosquito net to a poor family to help protect them from malaria for 5 years, that's a lot of improved lives (and mosquitoes going hungry).
~ ~ ~

Worldwide, 10 million children die each year from preventable diseases. I'm participating in Swim 4 Life to raise money and awareness for SurfAid International's life-saving programs, by swimming laps for 30 minutes at Golden Gateway Tennis & Swim Club in San Francisco on April 12th.

Follow this link to make a donation to support SurfAid International. Thanks in advance from the 100,000 beneficiaries of SurfAid's health programs!

03 April 2008

Montara, 3 April 2008

Today’s excitement began with an email from ATA saying that, as it had gone out of business, we needed to find another way to get to Honolulu in two weeks. Luckily we were up early and beat the rush to book on other airlines; by the afternoon, flights for those dates cost over $900! Nevertheless, we had to pay about $50 more for each ticket, plus United charges $85 for surfboards (soon going up to $100), which is $35 more than defunct ATA. (Ah, maybe that’s why they went bankrupt!) Also we have to take a red-eye back – ugh, but on the plus side, we get even more time on the island that way.

I planned to leave work early to surf, but I'm so friggin' important now that I had to stick around to approve something. (I don't want to be that important! Work should never interfere with play). By the time I reached Montara, I had less than an hour before I needed to leave for a Surfrider meeting at the nearby scenic Lighthouse. There were a handful of guys out, not a crowd but enough to dispel the spookiness, though it was windchoppy and mostly closing out 4-footers. Some backwash going on too; I even saw one guy surfing a reflected wave back out towards the lineup. Legitimately, I could have invoked the Tyrfing exception, but I just had to get in the water because it'd been waaay too long.

The first wave I tried to catch closed out as I started to pop up, and in the ensuing wipeout two bad things happened, only one which I can explain. First, as I raised my arms to protect my head, I pushed my SeaSpecs sunglasses up and off – the first time in nearly 5 years of wearing them on sunny days that I’ve lost a pair. Second, my leash got wrapped around my front leg two or three times – that’s never happened before and I’m not sure how it did. I was trying to untangle myself when another wave closed out with me on the inside, and it didn’t seem like there was much I could do with my legs effectively tied together. I ditched the board as best I could and dove under, but got dragged with the leash tightening even more around my leg, leaving marked indentations in my wetsuit and skin. It was a really short sesh but I decided to call it a day after that. Still I’m glad I went out and washed some of the stress out of my soul.

01 April 2008

Book Deal!!!

And I thought hardly anyone read this blog. Just a few days ago, I saw this article in the NYT, about a guy who started a blog in January and by March got a book offer for $300,000. I'm thinking, wow, that's amazing, some luck. Then it happens to me!!! Somebody at Harper Entertainment, the folks who published Kelly Slater's book, has been checking out my blog and liked it - they want me to turn it into a book. Nowhere near $300K, but some decent money nonetheless. Unbelievable...!!!
Check out these flying penguins.
P.S. It's totally off topic, but Gmail just added this great feature, Custom Time, that lets you send messages from the past. Cool!
P.P.S. Even better - you can search the web of the future!
P.P.P.S. And fly Virgin to colonize Mars!