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.