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.