27 December 2009

Dinner and Dancing with Waves (Cowells)

I feel sorry for the folks who are still digging out from under the blizzard that hit the interior of the country over the holiday weekend. Here in NorCal, yesterday's rain lightened this morning and then yielded to a sunny warm afternoon.

Seeking stoke in a high wave count, I took the new Magic surfboard out at Cowells for the first time. Luke's right: the long rides at Cowells can help raise surfing skills to a higher level. When rides can be measured in fractions of a minute rather than seconds, you get to know the wave more intimately, like taking it out for dinner and dancing instead of just meeting for coffee. The wave is slowing down here, keep on it... reforming now, turn down the line again. And the dance went on and on, with more waves than I could count. Stoked!
To the kook - er, woman - who tried to drop in on my left when I was already well up and riding left: "Hey!... HEY!!!" perhaps did not adequately convey my message, so let me explain in more detail. When I first saw you, just a few feet away and paddling your Softop mightly, "Hey!" expressed "Excuse me, I'm sure you didn't see me - because you didn't look, though it's basic etiquette, not to mention common sense, to look for traffic before you cross the street or try to catch a wave - but here I am, and I'm riding this wave already, so kindly desist and wait for another one to come along." When you continued splashing, "HEY!!!" meant "Look out, you idiot! If you keep at it, you're going to run your rental plank right into my new custom surfboard. So BACK OFF!" Luckily you fell and I maneuvered around you and your loose board which missed mine by inches, but please, in the future, look both ways before taking off.

24 December 2009

Happy Holidays (HMB Jetty)

Belated Merry Solstice (more daytime for surfing - yay!) and Happy Holidays!

20 December 2009

Christening My New Surfboard (Rachel's Point)

I'm not sure if the break I surfed this afternoon truly deserves the protection of a pseudonym. "Rachel's Point" is certainly known, but it feels like a secret spot: off the beaten path, reached by a sketchy scramble down the face of a sizable cliff, offering empty waves on a weekend afternoon. The clincher is that it's a left point break in a land of rights, so I'm guarding it with goofy-foot jealousy. I should also mention that there are a lot of submerged rocks, and that the place has a rep as sharky.

Even with the buoy reading only 5 feet, there were head-high+ set waves rolling though. But they were mostly mushy, slow and unscary, and there was a nice safe channel for a dry-hair paddle out on my new 8'3" hybrid surfboard, Arrow's clone of Beth's Petty. Luke and I had the spot to ourselves until his friend Peter showed up to make a crowd of three.

The waves were a bit hard to get into; you had to be right on the peak, or catch the whitewater into a reform. It took me a little time to find a good position, but then I caught a few nice rides on the new board. One was exceptionally sweet: the wave jacked up as I popped up, and I thought, "crap, I'm going to eat it now," but like magic the board turned onto the unbroken face and I rode in the pocket until the wave fizzled out over deeper water. Woo hoo!

If I thought it was tricky coming down the cliff, it was physically challenging to get back up while carrying a longboard. Fortunately I'd brought a new white boardbag to protect the new surfboard on the climb. The bag's not white anymore; both it and my wetsuit were muddy by the time we reached the top. But I would have gladly rolled in the mud for that fine surf session. My new surfboard is Magic! So stoked!!

17 December 2009

Shiny! (Cowells)

No, the waves weren't shiny, but my new surfboard is!

And how cool is this?

Surfing was fun too. Steamer Lane was pumping...

...but I took my longboard out for a quick sunset session at Cowells.

It was messier and bigger than last time, but still lots of good rides to be had. The outside peak was crowded with wave hogs, so I sat on the inside and caught reforms, mostly lefts since many people were going right. It made for shorter long rides but I had more waves to myself, and got some nice ones before I headed to Arrow to pick up the new surfboard, a copy of Beth's magic board. They said I could ride it right away, but that it would be stronger in the long run if cured in a warm place for several more days. I guess I can wait until Sunday to take it for a spin.

08 December 2009

"Chasing Waves" Review

Before we left for our southern hemi vacation, I read the first half of Amy Waeschle's book Chasing Waves: A Surfer's Tale of Obsessive Wandering. At home sick today, I finished the rest while half-watching the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau, a big wave surf contest that, like Mavericks, failed to include even one woman competitor.

Amy tells the story of her journey from enthusiastic newbie to confident surfer, painted with rich detail against the backdrops of varied surf spots from Mexico and Costa Rica to the Pacific Northwest and Portugal. Here are a few highlights to give you a taste of the book.

As a frustrated beginner on a trip to Kauai, Amy laments that with all the time she's spending underwater, she should have asked for a surfboard equipped with a snorkel. In Fiji, she's the lone female on the boat, but like me, due to her choice of professions, she's no stranger to being in that minority.

Amy's husband also surfs, and they plan a trip to Costa Rica. She assumes that a "surfing blitz would help calm my obsession," but even without her forewarning, we know that won't be the case. She's surprised when the instructor at Witch's Rock Surf Camp pronounces that she is in no need of further lessons, but instead should just get out there and surf. Then at Ollie's Point, Amy finds her perfect wave and draws the reader into riding it with her:
"When I dream of surfing now, I dream of Ollie's. I didn't just catch one or two perfect rides, I caught dozens and dozens. I'd paddle one-two-three and slide onto the soft, perfectly pitched slope, hopping to my feet to watch the pale blue wall rise up and extend into forever, my fingers raking the warm water at my side, my grin stretching my sunburnt cheeks. And I would fly, fly, fly, riding the wave until I began to wonder if in fact it had no end. When the ride faded, I aimed my body up and out, and as the lip crumbled into foam at my heels I would be prone, paddling with ease for the outside.
Surfing at a lonely spot in the Northwest with her husband and a friend, Amy is jet-propelled from the water by a man on the beach yelling "shark!" As she has herself alluded to the overblown dangers of the Landlord to dissuade others from surfing her cold-water breaks, she deems it "karmic paypack" when the supposed sighting turns out to have been a ruse to allow the man and his son to surf the break alone. In Italy, Amy encounters barely-populated breaks with no localism. She speculates that perhaps the area has been spared surfing's dark side because "big-name professional surfers have never traveled to Sicily, bringing aggression and territorialism with them the way the Pilgrims brought smallpox."

Having camped beside good surf only to find it vanished overnight, Amy imparts a lesson I've learned but sometimes forget, as does she: "the surf you see in any given moment is just that, a moment. It won't last. It may not be there in the morning. If you see good surf, you forget your plans, you forget your needs... and you surf. Not in an hour, not in the morning, but right then."

Chasing Waves is a short read at only 165 pages, but an entertaining way to pass an afternoon traveling another surfer's path.

07 December 2009

Unusual Signs and Sights from Down Under

Sharks don't like Christmas. (Sky City, Auckland)

But people used to call them? (New Zealand Maritime Museum)

Live long and prosper. (Auckland)

Uh, yeah. Sure. (KMart-ish store in Auckland)

Run for your life! (Whatipu, New Zealand)

Ah, the good old days! (Russell, New Zealand)

We don't need all your stinkin' rules! (Raglan, New Zealand)

Lifesaving brought to you by Boeing and DHL. (Bondi, Australia)

In the days before sunscreen, long dresses at the beach. (Bondi, Australia)

Plastic bottles reincarnated as a Christmas tree. (Sydney)

Oh, no, Mr. Tumnus has turned to stone! (Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney)

Flows to beach. (Manly, Australia)

Surf Camera Case Review

When I bought a full-featured waterproof digital camera, a Pentax Optio W80, to replace my disappointing GoPro Wrist Hero, I needed an on-the-water carrying solution. Googling was complicated by the plethora of plastic waterproof cases, when I was instead looking for someplace to safely stow the impervious camera and keep it attached to my person underwater and in the surf.

My search turned up only the Surf Camera Case, which looks pretty good on paper (or rather, on computer monitor). It mounts to the upper chest area of a wetsuit, secures the camera with both a lanyard and a float, and has an opening for the lens to allow recording of photos or video while surfing on a wave. My early reluctance was that attaching the case would require punching two holes through my wetsuit, but the product's website claimed this would not decrease water-tightness. Lacking other options, I plunked down $40 (rather steep, but at the moment there's no real competition).

Unfortunately, the Surf Camera Case has some big design flaws. Major ones can be seen in the photo. There is a spacer glued onto the front of the mounting plate (perhaps they didn't manufacture the mount to the right thickness) which debonded after I used the case maybe half a dozen times. Luckily the mount broke apart in the parking lot so i didn't lose the camera in the water. Another recurrent issue is that the retractable lanyard is not made for water applications and rusts after a few uses, seizing up and failing to respool into its case, despite post-surf freshwater rinses. To their credit, Surfer Shot quickly sent replacement components, but for the repeatedly rusting lanyards, I would need to be on a monthly re-issue plan. I can report, however, that the lanyard does its job; I once had to duck-dive with the camera out of the case, and the lanyard kept it with me.

But wait, there's more! Although I wear a rashguard underneath, the mounting plate bruises my chest. The orange float gets in the way while paddling. And remember those two holes I had to punch in my wetsuit to attach the case? Despite claims to the contrary, I think they do cause some leakage. Not to mention the mount must remain attached at all times to block the holes, and the case can't be transferred to another wetsuit without a screwdriver. The window is nice but inconveniently there is no access to camera controls such as "record" or "on/off" while it's in the case. And it takes some force to push the camera into the case and to pull it out again, best accomplished as a two-handed operation.

With the surge of affordable waterproof cameras, a well-designed case for surfing and other active water sports is an invention waiting to happen. Still waiting; the Surf Camera Case ain't it.

"Yoga for Surfers" DVD Series Review

Yoga is not a sport.
Yoga is not a competition.
Yoga is not a religion.
Yoga is a tool
To help you live better
And to help you surf better.
- Peggy Hall, Yoga for Surfers Vol. II

Several years ago I started doing yoga, and it has significantly improved my balance and flexibility for surfing. I've collected all three of the DVDs in the Yoga for Surfers series by Peggy Hall.

In each video, Peggy is flanked by pro surfers including Taylor Knox and Rochelle Ballard (who has just released her own DVD, Surf Into Yoga). Demonstrations of the poses, often performed oceanside, are interspersed with surfing footage.

On a recent morning, I awoke achy from the previous day's intense shortboarding session, which had me pushing through a lot of duck-dives using muscles grown lazy on small summer waves. The post-surf segment in YFS V1 was just the ticket to get the kinks out. The DVD also has pre-surf and on-the-water chapters. Peggy and crew demonstrate some warm-up stretches to get you loosened up on the beach before you paddle out. Once in the water, if you can remember them (or have a waterproof case on your iPod), you can practice some yoga moves on your board to stretch and release tired muscles.

YSF V2: Fluid Power Yoga is my favorite of the series, the one I've played so often I almost have it memorized. Chapters include Spinal Warm-Up, Vinyasa Flow, Balancing/Relaxation, and bonus techniques to increase lung capacity. As I'm often pressed for time, I mostly do the first and last segments which clock in under 15 minutes. When I'm less busy and feeling energetic, I'll burn through the Vinyasa Flow segment as well. If you only buy one of the YSF series, get this one.

More advanced yoga practitioners may want to pick up YSF VIII: Unleashed, which features chapters called Fit, Focused and Fearless. While there is just one pose in V2 that's too hard for me, V3 has quite a few contortions that I can't even understand how to do. Maybe I'll get there one day, but for now, I'm happy with V2. Namaste.

05 December 2009

And the Stoke Goes On (HMB Jetty)

I was getting the shivers just thinking about how cold the air and water would be at the Jetty this morning, both near 50 degrees (10 C). But it wasn't so bad in my 5/4 wetsuit with integral hood, new gloves and thick booties.

Good rides were had by all, including Manabu on his quad, Luke on his Harbour, and me on Beth's magic board (hopefully for the last time; my copy should be ready next week). After some initial flopping about and one spectacular pearl, I got several nice rides, including one that lasted from around the sewer pipes almost to the log. I even made a challenging drop, described by Luke as epic for its late takeoff. Fun!

A really, really huge swell is forecast for next week; there's talk of possibly holding the Mavericks big wave contest on Tuesday. We'll see if this swell lives up to the hype, but there may be no water-time for the rest of us ordinary surfers until next weekend.

01 December 2009

Surfing by Moonlight (Cowells)

After the Southern Hemi wave drought, I was sorely in need of a stoke restoration session. So I headed to Cowells with my big blue longboard for a sunset surf on a negative low tide.

I caught too many waves to count. Many good rides. Loooong rides. Mostly frontside lefts. Woo-hoo! The vibe at Cowells was friendly and lots of people were smiling at me. I thought, gee that's nice, but then realized I had a stoke smile stuck to my face!

The Surf Camera Case (a product I do not recommend) mounts to a wetsuit on the upper chest and has an opening to allow video/photo recording while surfing. I played around with that for the first time today:
There's another video here. These weren't my best rides, but it's a fun perspective. (Hmm, maybe it's time for some clean new wax?)

I stayed out until the near-full moon was shining bright along with a few early stars in the deep twilight sky. The shot below was taken with the Pentax in night-photo mode, for which it suggests a tripod. Since instead I was being knocked in the knees by waves, it's blurry in an artsy way.

28 November 2009

Barefoot Surfing (North and South Steyne)

We had planned two nights in Australia's Blue Mountains but bailed a day early to get back to the beach. Although Coastalwatch claimed the surf was only 0.5m, a morning walk in Manly toward the south end of the beach brought the eye candy of guys getting barreled in translucent green-blue water. (Sad to say, operator error botched the videos.)
Don, Australia's Mr. Realsurf and a transplanted Santa Barbaran, joined me mid-morning for a surf at North Steyne where the waves were a bit smaller and more suited to my skill level. It was a glorious warm sunny day, and a treat to surf without gloves, hood or booties. Unfortunately, aside from the unaccustomed 70-degree water, the break reminded me of Linda Mar on a typical day. It was crowded, with many waves that either looked promising but turned into moundy mush, or sucked up sand and closed out with a crash. Alas, I caught nada. But tomorrow is another day, and there's time for one last surf before we fly home to SFO.
I did get to try out the Ola Chica "wipeout-proof" bikini while bodysurfing, and can report that it passed that test with no wardrobe malfunctions. The real trial will have to be on a tropical surf vacation, perhaps in Hawaii.

To beat the crowds, Don agreed to meet me for a 5:30 am dawn patrol and showed up on the dot. The swell had dropped considerably but still offered up waist- to shoulder-high waves. At that early hour on a Saturday, the crowd was much lighter, and we picked an empty peak at South Steyne for ourselves. It didn't have a catchable shoulder and we had to paddle constantly against a south drift to stay right on the peak where it was makeable. Oz showed me a little love on my last day; I got a couple decent though short rides, pulling off one turn and then two.

In front of the camera: above with Don by Scott, below by Don with his waterproof Panasonic Lumix.
Bare feet on the board was a pleasure, and I've become quite spoiled on warm-water surfing. But all good things (and vacations) must come to an end, and now it's back to cold autumn in NorCal. There was a picture in the Sydney newspaper this morning of supposedly 9m waves at Ocean Beach, so surf's up, waaay up. Crossing the International Date Line makes me live Saturday twice, just like Groundhog Day. So in theory, having surfed Australia Saturday morning, I could surf Santa Cruz Saturday afternoon - both Hemis in one day. But I'll have to see how I feel after 13 hours trapped in a flying tin can.

Much to my dismay, when it came time to pack up my surfboard for the flight home, the fitted foam rail guards (pipe insulation) and giant bubble wrap bag were nowhere to be found. I must have left them behind at the hotel in Bondi. D'oh! All of our t-shirts and other soft clothes pulled from the dirty laundry will hopefully provide enough protection within the travel board bag.

I'd like to go back to Oz again sometime, but not until the exchange rate improves considerably. Since our visit last year, the Aussie dollar rose 40% against US currency. We had to pay nearly US$2 for a single banana! One thing for sure, I'm not eager to fly Qantas again. Not only did they temporarily lose our checked bags, the in-flight entertainment systems malfunctioned on both trans-Pacific flights, partially on the way there and nearly completely on the way back. Fortunately I've learned to bring my own entertainment as well as food and water as the airlines can't be relied upon anymore for even the basics. On the plus side, Qantas never charged me a surfboard fee, and mostly forgot to have me sign the damage waiver as well.

Update: Nemo made it home on time and in good health. The wax didn't even melt, so it's on with some cold water Matunas and back into the chilly NorCal surf for the both of us.

23 November 2009

Warm-Water Wash (Bondi)

We arrived in Sydney at the end of a heat wave, the hottest temperature recorded on that date in 30 years. The city is less than half an hour from Bondi Beach, and it seemed most of its inhabitants had fled there to escape the blistering heat on a Sunday afternoon. The ocean was smooth but the waves were small and mushy. Still I would have paddled out, had the lineup not been as crowded as the sand. I decided to wait for Monday's dawn patrol when the teeming masses had returned to their jobs.

Unfortunately the weather changed dramatically in the night, bringing stiff onshores, light rain, and cool temperatures. I awoke to bigger waves that were blown out and unsurfable. One Aussie website claimed the surf was only 2-3 feet but my observation was head-high; they must measure waves from the back or like in Hawaii, at half their face height.

Later in the day it looked a bit cleaner and some surfers were out getting waves. Jonesing, I suited up, leaving gloves and hood behind. It was odd to paddle without gloves; my hands felt small and underpowered. On top of the short-period swell, the chop from the storm front was substantial, tossing me about on little Nemo, and this time Dramamine was not up to the task. I soon made my queasy way back to the beach, having accomplished nothing but some warm-water duck-diving practice.

By morning, the wind had dropped substantially, though it still blew onshore. The whitewater cauldron had quieted and I decided to give Bondi another go. From our 5th floor balcony, I could still see the rip I'd used the day before to get out. It was a little harder to spot from down on the beach, but a "Dangerous Currents, No Swimming" sign marked the surfers' entrance to the Tasman sea.
Once out, I found the chop was about 2-3 feet on top of shoulder- to head-high mushy waves. This not only made it hard to pick the shifty waves out of the slop, but I was bobbing around like a rubber duck in a candy-hyped toddler's bath. The Dramamine held, but I wasn't getting anything, just watching other people ride. It was discouraging, but then I remembered that a substantial percentage of Australians surf, many from the time they can walk. They have the skill to make a pleather purse from a dish rag, whereas I... am not so capable.

Little consolation though really; I would have liked to ride at least one wave at Bondi. So far the Southern Hemi has pretty much skunked me while there's been good surf at home, and I'm getting hungry for a serving of cold Nor Cal waves.

20 November 2009

Going Right at a Famous Left (Raglan)

While I'd been warned that spring is the wrong time of year for surfing Raglan, I couldn't visit New Zealand without at least seeing one of the world's longest left point breaks. And who knows, I might get lucky with a freak out-of-season swell.

But I didn't get lucky. Farthest from town, Whale Bay had no one out and was barely breaking, although I could see its potential.

Manu Bay had a competitive little pack on the single peak, a small but fun-looking left perhaps better sampled in the relative solitude of dawn patrol the next day.

So I returned to the dumping, windblown beach break of Ngarunui. The water was colder than I expected and I had to hike back up the hill to add gloves and a hood to my 3/2 wetsuit with booties.

Aside from the breeze, that afternoon the break was a beginner's paradise, with walls of short-period whitewater ambling toward a wide and gently-sloped dark gray beach. Farther out, there was a more promising peak suitable for the fish. Duck-diving my way to it was tiring, though good practice in somewhat warmer water.

This being New Zealand, it soon started to rain. I got one short ride - ha, it was a right - so at least I can say I've surfed Raglan.

In the morning, looking forward to having the Manu Bay peak more to myself, we headed out to the beach under clouds again threatening rain. I had to shoo a flock of half-grown ducklings out of the driveway so our car could leave the grounds of the eco-lodge. Alas, the swell had dropped some and dawn patrol coincided with low tide, which was not at all right for the left point breaks. In a place where high tide is 10 feet, the drop to 2 feet makes a big difference. Manu Bay would have been perfect, with overhead peeling barrels, had I been a mouse. There was even less going on at Whale Bay than the previous afternoon, and the Ngarunui beach break wasn't working either. Sigh. I hope Oz brings me more surf joy.

18 November 2009

Not Surfing in New Zealand (Whatipu)

The flight to Auckland via Sydney seemed endless, but I did get a chance to watch The Cove (an excellent movie which I'll review later). Qantas codeshare LAN Airline from Oz to NZ served the most bizarre vegan sandwich ever: margarine, peppers, green onions, tomatoes, lettuce and cukes. While Scott and I had made our mid-morning connection to Auckland with time to spare, my surfboard and his suitcase stayed behind in Sydney for an unscheduled layover, leading to an anxious time of "Where's Nemo?" Qantas promised that, having missed our flight, the bags would be on the following one soon after. But they weren't delivered until 9 am the next day, postponing plans for a morning surf with locals Geer, his son and a friend, until we'd had a chance to explore the city and have another good night's rest.

Driving carefully from the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road, I followed Geer's crew in their SUV from Auckland on the east side of New Zealand to Whatipu on the wild west side. As we got farther from the city, the road grew narrower and narrower, and 9 km from the break it gave up any pretense of having two lanes. We forded a shallow stream and turned uphill into a dripping rainforest studded with ferns. With 5 km to go, the road gave up being paved and became a gravel track. Have to hand to the Kiwis though: there was a welcome toilet at the end of the road.
Unfortunately it seems the weather conditions may have been more favorable the day before, when Qantas was still shuffling my surfboard and other gear around the southern hemisphere. Despite a driving rain and fierce wind, the Kiwis suited up and were on it without looking, like thirsty men on a desert puddle. As he jogged past me on the beach trail in the pouring rain, Geer's mate said cheerily, "Welcome to New Zealand!"

Heavy rain flew so thickly that for a moment, with the large droplets falling from my rain jacket white in the light, I thought perhaps it might be snowing. Not that any amount of rain would discourage me from surfing (hey, you're wet anyway, right?), but at the ocean, the offshore wind nearly blew me off my feet, and it sent low-flying clouds of powdery black sand scouring the beach. I had some difficulty getting back to the trail with the strong headwind, and doubt I could have held on to my surfboard; the wind would have torn Nemo from my grasp and thrown it down the beach toward the choppy sea. Regaining the gravel car park, I ended up wet, bedraggled and dusted with fine sand, coating even my ears. Ah, well, still days to go in New Zealand.

10 November 2009

Birthday Waves (HMB Jetty)

Sincere thanks to King Neptune for serving up some tasty waves at the Jetty on my birthday. (And thanks to Scott for baking me an exceptionally tasty chocolate cake.) Just when I thought I was going to take away nothing from the surf session but duck-diving practice, I rode a really nice right on my fish, followed soon by another that wasn't too shabby. Stoked!
That's Jeff Clark, Mavericks big wave pioneer, cleaning up on his SUP (near the end).

I have a rule that I never work on my birthday, so I took a vacation day, gathered a couple buddies with flexible schedules, and headed to the coast for a rare midday surf on a weekday. It was nice to be able to check the surf/wind forecast and tides and then pick, to the best of my ability, the most optimal time/place to surf, without having to bookend it around the corporate schedule. There were a dozen or so people out (perhaps the recession is to blame?), but it wasn't crowded. Surfline had under-reported the surf height, which was up to shoulder to head-high, and it was a bit more breezy than forecast, with a fair number of closeouts, but I ain't complaining. And now I'm dialed back into the fish, ready to strip off the wax and pack Nemo up for our trip to New Zealand and Australia.

08 November 2009

Bye-Bye Summer, Hello Fall (Capitola)

It's no use pretending anymore; summer has gone. Surf heights have risen as the air and water temperatures have fallen. A big swell hit northern California this weekend, large enough that there was briefly talk of holding the Mavericks surf contest. At midnight on Friday, the Half Moon Bay buoy read 27.6 ft @ 16.7 sec, the largest waves in the country at the time. I saw an outer reef breaking in Half Moon Bay that I've never seen before. Most of the coast was unsurfable for "the rest of us," as Manabu would say. So along with many others, I sought shelter and a size knock-down in Monterey Bay.

 Montara (video); south of the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay (photo)

Capitola looked nice on the cams yesterday, up to head high on sets, but crowded. I got there not too far past dawn, but soon thereafter counted 50 people out. Sigh.

The waves were slow and moundy, but I parked the fish next to the jetty proper where they had a bit more shape and push. I caught a handful, most seconds before they closed out, always a challenge, and got one tiny ride. It was a chilly morning, with the sun promising to emerge from the clouds but not fully doing so, and there were long cold lulls between sets. I managed to stay out for almost an hour and a half until I had to leave, but by then I was shivering and the bottoms of my feet were frozen popsicles, too numb to feel. It's time to break out thicker rubber and a thermal rashie.

Apologies for the inconvenient water droplet. I remembered to clean the lens, after I shot this. D'oh!

After surfing, I met up with Luke and Beth, and, more importantly, Beth's magic surfboard, at the Arrow Surf Shop factory to order my new board, a clone of Beth's which has brought me oodles of fun when I borrowed it. Bob the shaper asked many questions, trying to nail down what I really wanted, which boiled down to: exactly the same board, but in epoxy and with Future fins, the later based on input from some more experienced surfers. When I mentioned epoxy, as opposed to fiberglass in the lay meaning of the words, he launched into a detailed explanation of the correct technical distinctions. But in the end, we still settled on epoxy, which will be lighter and more durable than the original, although he cautioned me repeatedly about its sensitivity to heat. Contrary to my belief that Beth's board is something unusual, Bob told me it's a pretty standard hybrid, except for an inch or so more rocker. He offered to reduce that back to typical but said it would offer minimal benefit, so I told him to stick with the original design as it works so well for me. I still need to close with him on the aesthetics, what airbrushing I want to pretty-up the deck. Best part? It will be done in 3-4 weeks. Soon after I get back from the Land Down Under, I'll have a new surfboard!

03 November 2009

Surfing from Moonset into Sunrise (HMB Jetty)

I've sorely missed dawn patrol and now that annoying Daylight Savings Time has ended, it was nice to greet the rising sun from the water again this morning. Though the ocean was bracing cold, the air was summery warm. It was a glorious morning to be alive and in the surf.

I took the shortboard out for a change and caught a couple waves, but sadly blew the landings on the drops. One more and I know I would've nailed it, but the break crowded up fast and I had to back off a lot of makeable waves for traffic. Should've been there even earlier, especially since the full moon was bright enough for pre-dawn surfing.

Lucky Luke scored his best wave ever, but I'm not complaining; any day surfing is a good day.

01 November 2009

Surfing from Fog into Sunshine (HMB Jetty)

From the early reports, it didn't look like the swell had come up as much as forecast, so I brought my longboard to the Jetty and then wished I had my fish. Far from being tiny, the waves were shoulder-high+ with some punchy steep ones on the sets. Luckily Luke had Beth's Petty surfboard available, and he didn't have to twist my arm to take it instead of Big Blue. On the high high tide, the waves may have been mostly too mushy for the fish anyway. I caught one quite good one and got a couple more decent rides on Beth's purple board, and had a decidedly easier time getting it to the outside than if I'd been on the longboard. We started out surfing in the fog, but within an hour the day was sparkling and sunny. Manabu joined us in the c-c-cold water, and I'm not certain, but I think the video above shows the Stokemaster himself riding the second wave.

29 October 2009

Surfing from Sunset into Moonlight (The Hook)

Thanks once again to Beth for the use of her purple Petty surfboard (I gave it a fresh coat of wax, least I could do), and thanks also to Surfline for all the negative reports. Luke, Tracy and I had the Hook all to ourselves with a choice of two peaks. We had a little fun on some little waves, and were bathed in colors as the sunset was mirrored in the glassy sea. I stayed out until the moon cast a shadow, just to catch one last wave in. 

23 October 2009


After checking out the Hook, which was packed and going decidedly overhead on the bigger set waves

and 38th Ave, which was more manageably-sized but also crowded (of course)

Luke and I met up at Capitola jetty where I borrowed his wife's surfboard again. (Speakers on; this video has an accidental soundtrack by an unknown singer/guitarist.)

Beth's board is a narrow, pointy-nosed, odd sort of longboard. It paddles like a longboard, but carves like a shorter board. And I was carving with it! It was perfect for the somewhat mushy shoulder-high waves at Capitola. I could've made a go with the fish had I brought it instead of my shortboard, but given the crowd due to the swell-hype, the purple board got me a lot more waves. And they were some of my best rides ever. I took several great long fast rights and, for the grand finale, made the drop and worked a left nearly to the beach where Luke was standing in the shallows. He said, "Now that's the way to end a session!" Stoke 10!

I must confess, however, that now I have been infected with board envy; I am in love with my buddy's wife's surfboard. Anyone know where I can find a similar Petty? It's of obscure Oregon origins. In any case, I think it's time to get myself a higher-performance longboard. This one is just so much more fun than my Cobalt.

18 October 2009

Seal Beach

Seal Beach was a good spot to be this morning, with south and west swells groomed into shifty peaks and the wind blowing mostly offshore.

It was another gorgeous sunny morning on the coast that would have served as a fine backdrop for pix and video. Sadly, the Surf Camera Case, which I've been using for a little while to secure my waterproof Pentax to my wetsuit, broke apart in the parking lot. (It's a bad design, but more on that later.) Better to fail there than in the water, but the camera had to sit out the session.

Luke and I made the hike into Seal Beach with our shortboards, and I was looking forward to getting back on my 5'8" Xanadu Rocky after too many recent longboarding sessions, fun as they were. The waves were mostly under head high, but some larger ones were coming through at times. Ideally we would have hit the break more on a mid-tide, instead of almost dead-on a high high that was swamping many of the waves into amorphous mounds while others retained steep drops. There was a small but manageable crowd on the three peaks, with some fun-to-watch good shortboarders in the mix, including a couple other surfer girls for a change.

I sat on the left shoulder of the middle peak and caught a couple of waves, but got blown off the backside by the wind. Offshores are esteemed but I failed to account for them properly; probably I needed to paddle another one or two strokes and force the board more downward. It's always a learning experience, so next time. Luke got one nice ride and I keep trying to get mine. A curly-haired young shortboarder apparently decided that he didn't want me to have any waves, as he twice moved directly into my take-off zone. The first time I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but when he later saw me paddling for a wave, then took himself directly into my path, stopped and sat there, not even trying for it himself, I got a bit peeved and said "Dude, you keep paddling right in front of me!" He just looked at me, then looked away, saying nothing. The guy did it to Luke once too. Seriously uncool.

When the overhead closeouts rolled in periodically from the outside, it was time for duck-diving practice. I was doing well until I hit one right in the pocket, not pushing deep enough, and got sent through the spin cycle, pulling up my leash to get back to the surface. Another followed on its heels and tumbled me again, this time holding me down for an uncomfortable couple of needing-air seconds. In a perverse way I kind of enjoy little hold-downs, as it makes me feel more alive, and glad to be so, when I finally take a breath again. Later another bomb came at me and this time I pushed the nose as deep as I could, coming out cleanly on the other side, followed quickly by a second success. Yay! But had a third duck dive been required just then, I think I would have blown it because I was getting fatigued.

Since my little-better than weekend-warrior muscles sometimes get tired before I tire of surfing, I read with interest this article in the NY Times about quercetin, "a flavonoid found naturally in apple skins, berries, red wine, black tea and some leafy vegetables," that some studies have shown to be a performance enhancer. It gave mice substantially more endurance when they were forced to run on tiny treadmills. Alas, studies in people showed it didn't do a damn thing, leading the researcher to say that “you can’t generalize from mouse studies to humans.” Hmm, but that's how all of our drugs are tested for safety and efficacy...

15 October 2009

Beach Water Quality Information

Everybody poops. And in California, when it rains hard, the poop too often ends up in ocean where we surf. After the first storm of the rainy season deluged the area on Tuesday, there were several sewer overflows in San Francisco, which lead to the posting of Ocean Beach as unsafe for water contact due to contamination. The standard caution applied elsewhere along the coast: stay out of the water until 72 hours after a rain, due to likely high bacteria levels. Indeed, the water looked dirty brown, some said "poopy," as evidenced by SurfingStokes's photo below.

Of course it shouldn't be this way. Our infrastructure should contain all our waste from both the sewers and the streets. But sadly, this hasn't been enough of a priority, and the oceans continue to serve as our toilet and our trash can. So what's a surfer to do, especially since it seems good waves often follow on the heels of polluted runoff producing storms?

The 72-hour rule seems to me to be arbitrary. As an engineer, I just know the officials issuing that caution are adding a safety factor, probably a large one, onto the actually requisite time. Perhaps 24-48 hours is sufficient in the usual case. But also unfortunately, water testing is not as frequent as an ocean-user would like. Sampling, and reporting, are spotty.

But limited as it is, here's where to check the water quality at NorCal beaches:

San Francisco. Shoreline bacteria are routinely monitored by the Public Utilities Commission at 14 stations around the perimeter of San Francisco where water contact recreation may occur.

San Mateo County
. Beach Water Quality provides reports for a handful of coastal states. SurfriderSMC test local breaks and occasionally tweets results.

Santa Cruz
. The County of Santa Cruz Environmental Health Service provides water quality information to concerned swimmers/surfers to alert them to areas that may be contaminated by fecal indicator bacteria.

Remember that the reports at all these sites are often out-of-date and may not reflect current water quality. Ultimately, you have to be the judge, and if it smells or looks like your toilet bowl, best to stay on the sand. If you do go in when the water's sketchy, try not to swallow, and take a shower as soon as you're done. Just don't get yourself sick surfing sick waves.

11 October 2009

NorCal Surf Spots: San Francisco and San Mateo Counties

My coastal playground for surfing runs alongside a peninsula stretching from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. From north to south, here's a tour.

Fort Point is a punchy left, the only left point break I know of in the Bay Area, so being a goofy-foot I'd love to try it someday. But right now it's above my skill level, what with the extreme currents under the Golden Gate bridge and many partially submerged rocks in the takeoff zone. Sadly, it also has a rep for being competitive with lots of aggro locals in the lineup.

Ocean Beach runs for about four miles beside the City of San Francisco. I've surfed it just a few times, and only on smaller days. Since it's near the mouth of San Francisco Bay, there are always strong sideshore currents. On bigger days, the waves can be board-breaking heavy; only strong, advanced surfers need apply, and even they may be denied. Summer days often serve up small waves more friendly for the average surfer, but it's an urban beach, with graffiti on the walls and trash on the sand. Surfers who live in the City find it in easy reach, but I'd rather surf one of the many beautiful spots to the south.

Linda Mar, a.k.a. Pacifica State Beach, is probably the most popular surfing beach in the area. It's typically crowded, almost no matter the conditions, which are often less than ideal. But many of the surfers are beginners, and Linda Mar usually has some nice runs of whitewater to play in over a mostly sand bottom. And it has a full suite of amenities, including a paved parking lot, beachside Taco Bell, showers, restrooms and a women's changing area. Unfortunately it's often closed out in my experience, and I've had many days where I caught nada there. Lindy can be rough too, especially on the inexperienced who don't know their limits and underestimate the ocean's power. A surfing buddy once opined that there are three types of surfers at Linda Mar: those who have been injured, those who will be injured, and those who move on to another break. Full disclosure: as a member of the first and last groups, I may be a bit negatively biased.

Montara is one of the loveliest beaches in the area, with crumbling cliffs bordering golden sand and a view of nearby Montara Mountain. On small days, this is the break I choose over Ocean Beach, hands down. But that beauty also holds danger: the shorebreak can be tricky to negotiate, and the ripcurrents recently proved deadly to a couple of non-surfers.

The Jetty is more formally known as Surfer's Beach, but I don't know anyone who calls it that. Located at the north end of Half Moon Bay, just around the corner from big-wave magnet Mavericks, it's protected from the northwest winds that often blow out the other breaks in the area. With its gradually-sloped, mostly sand bottom, the Jetty is popular with surf schools and beginners.

The Half Moon Bay State Beaches stretch for four miles along the curve of the Bay and feature several breaks including Dunes and Kelly Ave (officially Francis State Beach). Often waves that are tiny at the Jetty increase in size the farther south you travel, but the State Beaches are also more exposed to the wind. Wildlife abounds on this scenic stretch of coastline, and crowds are somewhat reduced by the $10 daily parking fee.

The Lonely Coast is my name for the remote-feeling, rugged region between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, where the ocean is bordered by farms and open land. There are many surf spots along the coast road, some guarded by State Park booths demanding money to park, others known only to locals and accessed by steep dirt paths. I've only recently begun to explore it, and have scored some great empty waves.

Father south are the well-known breaks of Santa Cruz. So many choices for surf and such beautiful coastline; I'm truly lucky to live in NorCal.

This post first appeared on The Surfing Blog.

08 October 2009

Kelly Ave

The waves have been small this week but fairly clean. Big Blue's seen a lot of action recently, and while I'm eager to get back to shortboards, conditions today cleared called something long and floaty. My plan was to check Kelly first and drive on if it wasn't happening. Fortunately there were some waist-chest+ shoulders making an appearance from time to time, so I suited up and waded through a crowd of kids (some sort of matching t-shirt club gathering) to get to the water. The sun was shining, winds were light from the southwest, and best of all, there was no one out.

The peaks were shifty and the northward drift kept pushing me out of the zone, so I spent a good deal of time chasing the waves around. But I caught two fine lefts, nice rides, though not as long at the rights at the Hook last weekend. I wanted just one more good ride but it was elusive, so I got out when I became too tired and sloppy.

As I walked back up the beach, I was greeted by my adoring and adorable fans, four girls on the underside of 10, all grinning and telling me how much they liked my surfing. They thought I was a-MAZ-ing. Ha!

Heavy rain and winds are forecast starting Monday, remnants of a storm that hit Japan a few days ago. Typhoon Melor is about to plant a big wet sloppy kiss on us.

30 September 2009

Quick Wetsuit Changes

The ocean here in NorCal is always cold. While the water temperature at Santa Cruz breaks may warm to around 60ยบ F in summer, winter temps can fall below 50 degrees at my usual spots in San Mateo County south of San Francisco. Although a hardy few drop the rubber for boardshorts on hot sunny days, a 4/3 or 5/4 wetsuit is obligatory year-round for the rest of us, especially shortboarders who spend more time partially submerged.

Wetsuits keep a surfer warm by minimizing flushing, the flow of new cold water into the suit. When you first enter the ocean, the initial inrush of chilly seawater is soon warmed by your body, and a good-fitting wetsuit will prevent more from entering during your session. That means the neoprene must be form-fitting and fairly tight. And that makes changing into and out of a wetsuit a time-consuming chore.

When I'm squeezing in dawn patrol before work, less prep and cleanup time means more surf time. Not to mention that when the air temperature is in the 40s on those cold days in January, I don't want to linger outside post-surf, shivering and dripping. So I've learned a few tricks to speed up the process of changing. It would be great if surfing wetsuit manufacturers lined their products with a slick fabric, but since they somehow haven't thought of that, I provide my own. Under my wetsuit, I wear a workout bikini, long-sleeved rashguard and black tights. Neoprene slides off of these fabrics instead of sticking stubbornly to uncovered damp skin. (Most guys may not consider the last item an option, but my brother is a diver who has taken to buying queen-size pantyhose "for his wife" after I gave him this tip.)

It's always nice to have a jug of fresh water, especially hot, available for rinsing off after a session. And water can also help you to get out of a wetsuit faster. Something akin to a vacuum appears to form in booties while surfing, but a little water poured into the top breaks the seal so the booties pull off more easily. Water dumped into the neck opening of the wetsuit loosens it up as well.

A key point to remember is to keep the wetsuit from bunching up as you remove it. Although it may seem obvious to the more experienced, don't try to take both arms out of the sleeves at the same time; free one first, then help the other. And remember that booties, hood and gloves are last on, first off.

If you use a changing robe instead of tasking one hand with holding up a towel, that speeds the process as well, so you can get quickly out of that cold wetsuit and on with the rest of your day.

This post first appeared on The Surfing Blog.

08 September 2009

Let's Just Get Lost (Bag of Toys)

No, I'm not lost. I haven't chucked the cubicle life and the weekly paycheck for carefree surf and sun on some remote tropical coast. Rather, I've stepped offline to take care of some real-world responsibilities. I'll be posting from time to time as a guest writer on The Surfing Blog and uploading the occasional video to Vimeo. And still surfing, of course. Maybe I'll see you in the water.

Really makes me miss Costa Rica. And wish I could ditch it all, move down there, and just surf.

Why Weren't Women Invited to Mavericks?

The Mavericks Surf Contest recently announced the 2009 invitees, and all 26 are men. WTF?! Sarah Gerhardt, the focus of One Winter Story, has been surfing the big waves of Mavericks for more than 10 years. She was invited to the contest in 2001, but only as an alternate. Jenny Useldinger and Jamilah Star are also Mavs regulars.

The Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards aren't so sexist. Maya Gabeira, who charges with the guys on massive waves, is up for Biggest Wave and Monster Paddle for riding Dungeons (photo), and for Ride of the Year and Monster Tube at Teahupoo. Women's surfing icon Layne Beachley is in the running for Ride of the Year for taking on a big one at Ours. Mercedes Maidana has entries for Monster Paddle at Waimea Bay and Biggest Wave at El Buey. And Jamilah is up for Ride of the Year at Puerto Escondido and Monster Paddle at Mavericks itself.

I asked Keir Beadling, Mavericks CEO, why no women are on the invitee list. His answer? "Hmm..." C'mon, we want to know why the contest is ignoring half the population. Are you afraid a woman might win?

05 September 2009

Kelly Ave, 5 September 2009

With just a little lingering NW swell, I expected the waves to be small this morning and drove to Half Moon Bay with 8' Big Blue strapped to the roof. There was no one in the water at Kelly but one peak was working, offering up some waist-high rights and lefts. T was late so I headed out alone. It was cool to be the only human in the water, with pelicans splashing down around me and sea lions cruising by as they breakfasted. One curious sea lion surfaced about 15 feet away and checked me out a couple times before getting back to her meal. Wish I could have gotten her on video, but since I forgot to charge my camera battery, today was all about the surfing.

The only thing better than surfing a break alone is surfing it with just a friend. When T paddled out to join me, she told me Linda Mar was already looking crowded, with nothing much happening wave-wise. Yet here we were, alone on our own peak. I'll take an empty break with lower-quality waves over a crowded epic one any day. And the waves weren't bad. With patience, there were shoulders to be had, and I needed to rely entirely on myself to be in the right spot to catch them. No looking at where other surfers were lining up, as is often my lazy habit; just drawing on my many hours (days? weeks?) of water time to get it right. After a few pearls on the slightly steep waves, I got plugged into the longboard again for some nice rides both front- and back-side. The best was a sweeet left: nice bottom turn, right in the pocket, and up and out the back at the end of the ride. Stoked!

04 September 2009

Surf Flick Reviews

I've just indulged in a mini surf film fest, watching four surf movies in less than a week. The first was Newcastle, a recent Australian movie. I wasted 40 minutes of my life on it, before I couldn't take another second of unlikeable aggro teenagers who surf.

Next I watched One Winter Story, about Sarah Gerhardt, the first woman to surf Mavericks. I've long admired her, and this was a short but interesting story set on our local big-wave break with some Hawaii North Shore and central California thrown in. Unfortunately, the artsy cinematography was distracting. The coastline in the Bay Area is, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful in the world, and to turn the blues and greens of sky and sea and the tans and blacks of sand and rock into a pallete of grays is a great disservice. Worse were the attempts at making the video look old by peppering it with speckles and graininess. I like to see the world not as it might have been recorded in my grandparents' time, but as it is, in all its gorgeous color and clarity (or famous fog). But the true story kept me watching. Although I don't aspire to take on big waves like Sarah, she echoed my thoughts as she described the freedom surfing brings, how it focuses the mind, troubles melt away and one lives in the moment on the waves.

The best movie of the lot was Siestas & Olas (naps and waves), recommended by S2. It logs the surf safari of Tom Wegener and a few buddies as they surf and camp down the coast of Mexico. The narrator has a wry sense of humor and keeps the story rolling along with the old truck that carries the surfers on their journey of exploration. They happen upon many deliciously empty waves spotted from the rutted roads. It almost made me want to go on a Mexico surf safari myself... almost. But the comments about constant mosquito bites, accommodations without beds, not showering for weeks - well, I guess I'm just soft, but that doesn't sound like all that much fun. Fly me to a remote but comfortable resort fronting a warm left point break instead.

As I write this, I'm less than half watching My Eyes Won't Dry, basic wordless surf porn set to so-so tunes. The inside-the-tube footage initially made me catch my breath, thinking what it will be like to someday experience that for myself. But with no story to hold my interest, my mind soon drifted away. There's a lot of footage from boardcams, but that too gets old after a while. And now I see that it's over. Oh well, time to watch CSI on Netflix Instant. Or better yet, to check the surf forecast for tomorrow one more time. I'm looking forward to a mellow longboard session to melt away the stress of the workweek.