30 April 2009

GoPro HERO 5 Wrist Camera Review

I've been using my GoPro Digital HERO 5 "Wrist HERO" for about 6 weeks now, and am glad that I upgraded from the first generation of this waterproof surf camera. The major flaw in the earlier version was that it failed badly at its primary function; it took lousy pictures, as I ranted here. The 5 megapixel Wrist HERO makes a big leap forward in picture quality, and also adds numerous features, including video.

The new HERO 5 continues to suffer from a few of the earlier flaws, such as washout when shooting in the general direction of the sun or an area of water reflecting sunlight. So far I haven't noticed the HERO 5 draining power as quickly as the first gen, but I took the company's advice to use lithium batteries in the cold NorCal water. There is still a lag time, both in starting up and in activating the shutter, which has led me to take accidental videos (by pressing the "on/mode" button twice because it didn't appear to be on but was, thus switching to video mode), and to miss shots or capture my face against the sky, looking at the camera. Although the features, quality and capability have expanded, the external design remains the same. The tiny black icons on the low-contrast screen are hard to make out and the controls and strap can be a bit difficult to use while wearing 2-3mm gloves.

The HERO 5's built-in memory needs to be supplemented for video use or heavy photography, and the upper limit is a low 2 GB, although GoPro's website promises more in the future. Movement of the camera can cause interesting distortion of the subject matter, like this:
Another drawback is that all photos transfer over to a computer with a hardcoded date of January 1, 1970 - what is that, the birthday of GoPro's founder?

All of these are relatively minor concerns, and hopefully GoPro will remedy them in the next release. For its main purpose, taking on-the-water photos and video, the HERO 5 does a pretty good job. Right now I've got the default setting on 3-shot photo burst, but since I've recently added an SD memory card, I'll be taking more video soon. Here's an early attempt, and my first upload to Vimeo:

Can you match the photo with the camera?Taken with GoPro HERO, GoPro HERO 5, and Canon PowerShot SD1000.

29 April 2009

Matunas Surf Wax Review

Matunas surf wax is "the only non-toxic, biodegradable, petroleum-free, eco-friendly surf wax." It's made without synthetic chemicals, pleasantly scented with organic berries and jasmine, and comes from a farm near Santa Cruz.

I've been using the cold-water wax on my boards for several months, and it works just as well as Sticky Bumps, though I do prefer the smell of the latter. But what can I say? Good for the earth, good for you - go buy some!

24 April 2009

The Hook, 23 April 2009

There was only one wave that was all mine tonight at the packed Hook, and I didn't make the 4' drop. Damn.

22 April 2009

MINI Cooper Clubman: A More Practical Surfmobile

While our 2008 MINI Cooper S is in for servicing, the dealer loaned us a Chili Red Cooper Clubman, and since they never bother to order parts ahead of time, we've had to bring it home for the night. Within 5 minutes of pulling it into the garage, I gave in to the urge to satisfy my curiosity.

So yes, an 8' longboard does fit entirely inside, with the front seat folded down and with room for one passenger in back. This obviates the need for a roof rack, or at least provides a safe place to stow a LB during an apr├Ęs surf dinner or hike. And a shortboard plus all my gear fit neatly in the back, with both forward seats up and no infringement into the front passenger space. Almost makes me wish we'd bought one instead.

Except, of course, for the very unfortunate name.

20 April 2009

Destination: Australasia!

Jumping on some low airfares - about half the cost of our trip last year - S and I have booked a week each in New Zealand and Australia during the second half of November. This trip, we'll spend less time flying around, with stops in just Auckland and one of our favorite cities, Sydney. We spent only 4 jet-lagged days in Sydney last November so we're looking forward to deeper exploration of the area.

It will be our first time in New Zealand, and I'm all goofy-foot excited about the long left called Raglan that's not far from Auckland on the North Island. My Down Under surf buddy Matt just posted this enticing description - can't wait to be there in person!

19 April 2009

"In Search of Captain Zero" Review

This book came out much earlier in the decade - before I started surfing - but I've just gotten around to reading it. And in fact, I had one false start a few months ago when I first picked up In Search of Captain Zero: A Surfer's Road Trip Beyond the End of the Road by Alan Weisbecker. A perceived tendency toward flowery phrase and convoluted metaphor led me to put the book down after a dozen or so pages and move on to something else (No Kidding, a fun read by my friend Wendy Tokunaga, who has a new book coming out this fall). But unless it's really awful, I have a rule that I always give a book 100 pages to engage me before deciding if it's not worth my time to continue. So I gave Captain Zero another chance, soon finding it hard to put down. And going back, I can't see what put me off initially.

The story follows Weisbecker as he travels south from California to Costa Rica in a camper with his dog Shiner and his surfboards, in search of his disappeared former surfing buddy, friend and partner in crime, Chris a.k.a. Captain Zero. The statute of limitations having past, Weisbecker is free to tell tales from their colorful drug-running past. One escapade involved running a pot-filled ship aground in the waterfront backyard of a Grateful Dead fan, who after getting a slice of the cargo for the inconvenience and damage, offered to build them a dock so they could come back any time.

Eventually Weisbecker does find his friend, but no spoilers here. Something I really enjoyed about the book is his ability to capture the surfer mindset, all the ways our brains work differently from those who never ride the waves. For instance, after noting that Eskimos have many words for snow, which some experts believe means they perceive snow in a different way from a person raised in the tropics, he observes that:
"As a surfer, I don't merely notice more about the sea's condition than a hayseed from Nebraska upon his first viewing; it's an altogether different world out there that I'm perceiving.... The surfer analyzes the sea's finish to gauge how it will hold the edge of his planing surfstick. This perceptual phenomenon is automatic and so deeply ingrained as to be beyond volition. And it can be a distraction. When a movie cuts to a beach shot with waves breaking in the background, it matters not how dramatic the cinematic moment, how drastic and ingenious the plot turn - my mind is immediately absent from the narrative proceedings, I'm off on an imaginary surf check, assessing the size and the health of the swell up there on the silver screen, noting the wind direction and state of the tide, maybe muttering for the actors to please step aside for a moment so I can see if that boomer behind them holds its shape through the inside section."
So true. I can't go for a walk on the beach anymore without constantly checking the waves. And more truisms:
"Only one thing better than a solo session... and that's a session with a good friend."

"Sizable though that wave was, I wasn't going to drown from a hold-down and I wasn't going to get impaled on the reef. Absent these two dangers, there is nothing... real... to fear out there."

On going back out after a bad wipeout on a heavy reef wave: "I've been told that skydiving is scarier the second time than the first, the reason being that the second time you know from experience what a ridiculous, stupid act jumping out of an airplane really is. It's not just ridiculous and stupid in theory. You've done it, so you know. And you also know just how fearful you're going to be when you get up there and you're in the open door looking down. Your fear is now a fear of fear."
On the difference between long- and short-boards, Weisbecker says:
"One result of the move to the shortboard was to put the surfer in more intimate touch with the wave by melding the surfer with his equipment, the overall idea being to make the surfboard 'disappear.' For the highly evolved surfer, the surfboard goes where he projects it with no thought of the board itself; and the rider's feet, once planted, rarely shift more than a few inches during various turning and trimming maneuvers. In contrast, the longboard is turned from the back and trimmed for speed from the front, making movement along the board sine qua non to that approach. The end result is that the wave-riding vehicle becomes much more of an active psychological factor in the surfer/wave equation. In other words, the longboarder is much more aware of his equipment. On the face of it, the Zen factor would seem to give an edge to the shortboard approach, with its theoretically 'purer' relationship with the wave. In practice..."
Well, I've typed enough. Pick up the book if you want to read more.

18 April 2009

HMB @ Jetty, 18 April 2009

Very cold water...
A pair of seals swimming north...
Elusive fun waves amidst many that wouldn't hold shape...
Four short rides on the fish with forward commitment...
Crowds drawn by bad forecast for good conditions...
Successful duck-dives...
Good to get wet...

13 April 2009

The Hook, 13 April 2009

The last few days I've really been jonesing for surf, and I finally got my gills wet at the Hook this afternoon. With Surfline calling conditions good, I wasn't surprised that there was a crowd in the water. Still, I managed to find a little clearish space mostly to myself, and got some good secondhand advice from a nearby shortboarder who was teaching his girlfriend on a longboard. He said she was holding back on the board when she popped up, and "you have to have that forward committment."

Since I hadn't been on the 5'8" Xanadu Rocky in a while, it took a few waves to kick the rust off, more than the crowd allowed me to actually get in a ride. My session went something like this (interspersed with lots of missed waves that were already taken, or I thought would be taken, or was just too timid to claim):
  1. Paddle for but miss a wave.
  2. Catch a wave but blow the pop up.
  3. Catch a wave and pop up but, lacking forward commitment, slide off the backside.
  4. Catch a wave and pop up, then make the drop, but bail because the girlfriend dropped in on me. Damn! Rust gone, I would've ridden that one. At least she fell too.
Still it was a decent sesh for me, and I left feeling stoked and refreshed. Nonsurfers just can't understand the restorative effect of being in the ocean, moved by its varying moods like an intelligently-directed piece of flotsam, sometimes harnessing a little of its power beneath your feet.

05 April 2009

HMB @ Jetty, 5 April 2009

Since for now I can't live at the beach, the next best thing is having surf buddies who do. Thanks to L for the live report on the Jetty this morning, including the advice to bring my longboard since the waves lacked sufficient shape for a fish.

He was dead on; many of the waves were moundiferous and I was having a little trouble getting into them even on the LB. Pushing my weight forward enough to stay with the swell led to inevitable and dreaded pearling. But I practiced pulling out of pearls with some success, although I need to remember not to overcompensate and stall the board once the nose has lifted.

I caught a batch of nice rides, including the grand finale, a long, smooth ride down the line, staying on the face and ahead of the whitewater until I was nearly at the beach. In sum, an awesome Sunday sesh - woo hoo!
Board's eye view of Pillar Point.

04 April 2009

Fort Point

S and I planned an adventure in San Francisco around my participation in SurfAid's Swim 4 Life. We took our bikes on the train, and after my 30-minute swim, we kicked back with a bottle of Riesling and some good Italian food in North Beach.

Then it was back on the bike path along the Bay, all the way to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. I've been to Fort Point half a dozen times, but this was the first I've seen anyone surfing there. More pix here. It's 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 bridge and many partially submerged rocks in the takeoff zone. One day....

SurfAid Swim 4 Life

Update, 4 April: I swam 30 laps under sunny skies, but it was cooler than last year, only in the 60s. My sponsors have donated almost $700 to SurfAid - wow! Swim 4 Life West Coast '09 raised nearly $60,000 for SurfAid's health programs so far (there's still time to donate). 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 4th.

I know times are tighter for everyone now, but it only takes $10 to purchase and deliver a mosquito net to help protect a family from malaria for 5 years. Even a small donation can have a big impact. Follow this link to make a donation to support SurfAid International USA or to sign up to swim at one of the three West Coast venues. Thank you in advance on behalf of the 100,000 beneficiaries of SurfAid's health programs!