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.