09 September 2008

The Hook, 9 September 2008

I had to get in one last surf just in case the world ends at half past midnight when they fire up the Large Hadron Collider. After all, you never know what might happen when you create a black hole or some stranglet particles. My original plan was to head to one of the Peninsula spots, followed by dinner at our favorite coastside restaurant, the Kitchen & Cocktails at HMB Inn, and a sunset walk on the beach. But the wind forecast changed from calm to breezy, and the restaurant closed abruptly a couple weeks ago after a bitter legal dispute with the Inn. So S and I headed down south instead, escaping our cubicles in the mid-afternoon.

Driving by Cowells, I saw one of the few surfers out catch a good ride on a chest-high wave. Farther west, Steamer Lane was firing and loaded with experts, way out of my league, but nothing was happening at Indicators. Perhaps it was the very high tide and/or the fairly southerly swell angle, but the waves weren't breaking until just before they smashed into the cliff. I decided on Cowells and suited up, but when I walked back within view I realized the folly of making a decision based on a two-second glimpse from a moving car. I'd seen a 3-sigma set wave, and what was rolling through the rest of the time was bowly longboard waves. No wonder there were only 3 Soft-toppers out. I got back in the car in my wetsuit, drove into town to collect S from his ramble, and made the slow rush-hour crawl to the Eastside.

Claiming the wave at Steamer Lane.

By the time we parked at the Hook, it was nearly 6 pm and the after-work crew was already out in force. I really should listen to myself; it was insanely, ridiculously crowded. And the near 6' high tide was making access look tricky everywhere. At 38th, I saw guys jumping off the rocks to get in. OK...but then how do you get out? Still, no way was I taking off my wetsuit without first getting it wet.

From the Hook stairs, I watched a guy heading out, trying to pick his way through the large rocks in the tiny strip of wet sand that was regularly inundated with whitewater. Watched him trying to keep his balance as the waves hit, watched him fall, watched him checking his dropped board for damage. Ugh. But I was going in, dammit! I timed it just right and got into deep enough water before I needed to duck-dive (which went better since I stopped thinking about it), and paddled hard to the outside. Then I made my way east from the peak, where the rockstars were clustered, looking for a little space to call my own. No such luck. Did I mention the huge crowd? I caught a few waves, but had to back off 'cause they were already taken, often by more than one person. There was a lot of yelling going on, a lot of angry testosterone in the water, with too many people and too few fine waves to go around. I felt like a kid who's not invited to the party, peering in the window at all the happy faces munching fresh-baked cookies, smelling the gooey chocloate but denied even one bite. And seeing the waves breaking against the base of the cliff, there was the constant trepidation, How am I going to get out the water intact? It was, in short, not fun, though I'm glad I faced my fears and went out.

I asked the one friendly face I saw nearby if the stairs was the best exit point, and he suggested that instead I paddle east to the next beach, which I believe would have been Privates. It's hard to believe you'd need a key to get out as well as to get in, but it would totally suck to paddle at that way and hike up the stairs only to find a locked gate a street level. I didn't find out though, as a minute later he pointed to a small strip of sand almost directly in from us. I headed for it, not factoring in the sideshore current, and found myself barely inside the impact zone, being swept close to a beachless cliff face. I couldn't get to the beach against the current, so I made my way back to the lineup and set up an approach that would let the current take me to the strip of sand. This time I caught some helpful whitewater that pushed me right to my destination - the ocean was spitting me out, gently. Once I reached land, a scramble over slimy sandstone was required to get back to the stairs. Just as sea urchins over time bore holes into rock faces with their spiny bodies, decades of surfers making the same trek has worn a path of footholds. Still, I had to time my advances with the waves, which were breaking across the path. In one section, a couple guys were using the slimy green algae-coated boulders as a natural water slide. It looked fun and they invited me to join them, but I was just looking forward to a nice dinner and a glass of wine to salvage the evening. As the sun had declined to appear, we contented ourselves with sitting by a warm fire at Paradise Beach Grill, watching birds bathing in the overfull high-tide lagoon at the mouth of Soquel Creek.

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