28 May 2011

Riding Waves While Indulging My Inner Shutterbug

As a surfer, I love to ogle the eye-candy produced by professional surf photographers as much as anyone. I also like to take pictures and video myself, of course at an amateur, just-for-fun level. When I'm on the water, I major in surfing and minor in photography/videography. Usually I like to ride at least three waves before my camera comes out, and sometimes it stays sheathed until the end of the session, because I'm there to surf, first and foremost.

I visually record my sessions, as well as blogging them in my wave journal, to remember the day and to share with desk-bound surf buddies and land-lubber family. If I didn't have a camera with me on the water, I wouldn't be able to capture a sunset like this:
or unusual sights like this:
After experimenting over several years with various cameras and different means for carrying them, my current setup is a waterproof Pentax Optio W90 in Golden Hour's Wrist Pod case. The camera requires vigilance in post-surf rinsing and sand removal from the seals, lest I lose some functionality to corrosion (the computer connector port failed soon after purchase) or the entire camera to flooding (like its predecessor, an Optio W80). The Wrist Pod (formerly called Wrist Shot) keeps the camera securely fastened to my arm and protected even in overhead waves, but frees it fast for a shot and then re-wraps quickly if I need to stop playing photographer and turn to catch a wave. It's not a perfect system, but it lets me surf and still take pix when the whim hits.

For all those sweet moments captured on an SD card, there are many more that I miss due to "technical difficulties" or worse, "operator error." I surf in the chilly waters of NorCal, and except on rare summer days, I wear gloves. My 3-mm winter gloves make it especially tricky to push the proper tiny buttons on the camera, and I sometimes embarrassingly tell a buddy I got a video of their ride, only to find I had not in fact hit "record" at the right time. D'oh! And then there is the nature of the on-the-water video itself; water droplets on the lens can obscure the footage, and it's hard to wipe them off with a wet hand.

While occasionally I have captured wildlife images, the seals, sea lions, dolphins, otters and birds that make appearances near the lineup are notoriously hard to record. The marine mammals are typically shy, keeping their distance and diving beneath the sea if I get too close. (And if ever I see a shark, I'm quite sure I won't be thinking about using my camera, unlike that guy last year.) Occasionally I luck into a photo like this:
Like most photographers, I take many, many more shots than I'll ever want to look at again, and I should throw a lot of them away, but instead they live on in digital storage. Within all that chaff, there are a few gems.
Those special photos instantly bring back a memorable moment, like a frosty November dawn patrol at a lonely spot with just my buddy. And I'm glad I had my camera with me.

This post was published on The Inertia on July 25th 2011.

27 May 2011

First In (HMB Jetty)

Another weekday session was called for ahead of this weekend's forecast strong winds. I was the first to paddle out this morning, just before 6 am, but was immediately joined by taciturn Dan. With a mix of swells in the water, the surf was confused, with sectiony waves doubling- and tripling-up, and the larger ones closing out. It took patience to locate a distinct solo wave with a shoulder. I found a few, briefly, with fun head-high drops and a bottom turn before the whitewater exploded. I had an equal number of wipeouts, including one which sent me flying fast head-first into the water, bending my neck painfully on impact. That's going to be sore later. Blowing the drop on another wave, I thought I'd surfaced after a mighty tumble and opened my mouth for a gasp of air, only to find it filled with frothy water since I'd come up in foam instead. I've heard one of the reasons some big wave surfers have drowned is that the foam from giant waves can be feet thick, and they can't get above it to breathe. Now I understand.
A few other surfers showed up, including friendly Vanessa, who I'd met there last time. From the inside, I almost got a video of her making a nice drop and bottom turn, but I tripped backward over a unseen rock in the shallows as I aimed the camera. D'oh! After a bunch of rides early on, I wasn't having much luck for a while and started to paddle closer to the beach exit. Finally I found a chest-high right with a longer shoulder that took me most of the way in, and then caught the next whitewater on my belly to the beach.
Morning glass

Back at my car, an older guy parked next to me asked if I'd had fun out there, to which I answered an enthusiastic "yes!" Charlie, who turned out to be a sponger, said he and his buddies have been meeting in Half Moon Bay to ride waves every Friday for 20 years. What a neat idea.

Surfline: Mid period NW swell eases through the day as a new SW (200-225) groundswell builds in through the day. Surf for most breaks is in the chest-shoulder-head high+ range, with standout NW exposures running a few feet overhead. Winds are light/variable with fairly clean conditions on offer across the region this morning as the tide builds to a 3'+ high by 8:30am. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 6.2 ft at 12.1 s WNW 42 / WIND WAVE: 1.0 ft at 4.0 s WSW / WVHT: 6.2 ft / APD: 8.3 s / MWD: 301° (Met) WSPD: 4 kts / GST: 6 kts / WVHT: 6.2 ft / DPD: 12.0 s / WDIR: 210° / ATMP: 53.4° F / WTMP: 52.9° F. Tide: 2.5' rising to 3'.

24 May 2011

Welcome Back! Have an Ice Cream Headache (HMB Jetty)

After last week's tropical surf morsels, I was itching to put on my wetsuit and plunge back into the chilly waters of NorCal. Although I was first in the lot at the Jetty shortly past dawn, a longboarder who came rubberized beat me into the water. Luke turned up when I was just about to head out, and we paddled into the 50-degree surf together.
There were lots of fun waves to be had, going up to head-high, although they were a bit jumbled and doubled-up. I let Luke take the longer rights while I rode the quick lefts, and got some nice drops and short but sweet rides. Turtle-rolling was an invitation to an ice-cream headache, and too soon I started to feel the creeping chill numbing my extremities. The crowd was growing on the main peak, and I paddled father from the jetty to have a wave all to myself. I rode one through a little reform in close to the beach, and though I had a bit more time, realized I was just too cold to go back for more. When next I surf, I may have to break out my 5/4 wetsuit for the first time this season - a cold spring indeed, thanks to strong winds pulling icy water from the depths.
There's still no better way to start the day than with a cup of stoke, even if it's icy cold!

Surfline: Mid-period WNW-NW swell-mix holds steady this morning as NW windswell backs down, and South-SSW (195-180) groundswell mixes in at top exposures. Most breaks offer up chest-shoulder-head high+ surf, with standouts offering a few head high to overhead+ sets. Winds are light onshore, but most areas are still pretty jumbled from yesterday's winds. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 7.2 ft at 13.8 s NW 41 / WIND WAVE: 4.3 ft at 6.7 s NW / WVHT: 8.5 ft / APD: 7.2 s / MWD: 317° (Met) WSPD: 14 kts / GST: 17 kts / WVHT: 8.5 ft / DPD: 14.0 s / WDIR: 300° / ATMP: 50.7° F / WTMP: 50.0° F. Tide: 3'+ dropping to 2.5'.

20 May 2011

Fickle (Pinetrees)

The north swell had come up overnight, so I surf-checked from the Hanalei Pier at the near end of the Bay.
Tiny waves near the pier were the province of kooks on softops...
...while the break closer to the point was packed, SUP-infested, and shallow.
Hoping for a repeat of yesterday's fun session, I drove on to Pinetrees. But like a playful kitten who suddenly extends her claws to scratch, the beachbreak had changed overnight into a more threatening beast. The increased swell transformed the break more than I'd expected, producing overhead waves that often closed out, with the occasional shoulder nugget for the lucky. And the offshore/sideshore wind was on it, creating a lot of chop. No longer a stranger to my rented board, I was confident enough to paddle out, but felt some trepidation once I'd ridden a marked ripcurrent out to the lineup. I'd forgotten to wipe the sunscreen from my legs and they were slippery on my board. The waves were heavy, the pitching closeouts a bit scary. Sitting too close to the rip, I found myself pulled too far out, and there was a steady drift to the west as well, so I was paddling constantly to maintain position. I paddled for a few waves, but they were moundy before they jacked up, and I couldn't get into them.

From the beach I'd seen a smaller left farther west near a creek mouth, but there'd been no one out so I'd picked the safety of numbers instead. Now I saw a couple people in the water there, so I decided to head in that direction. Partway, the water changed from blue-green to murky brown, and I could taste the mud as the the breeze blew spray in my face. I was far from anyone else, thinking the S-word: They attack in murky water. And wasn't Bethany Hamilton hit near here? (It was at Tunnels, up the road.) I turned my board around and paddled back to the first spot.
I was determined to get a ride, and forced myself to move in to be in position instead of a bit outside and safer from those overhead closeout bombs. A big left started to rise behind me and I committed to it, felt the wave catch me and popped up - only to be blown off the back by a gust of offshore wind. Damn. I thought then to try for some of the smaller inside waves, anything, but only managed to rise from the whitewater for some short and bumpy rides. Paddling back out for another attempt, a 7-foot closeout detonated in front of me. No one was near so I ditched my board and dove deep under it, but the infernal leash wrapped around my leg like a noose. When the wave caught my board and pulled it sharply shoreward, the leash tightened painfully around my calf. raising a large bruise. I called it a day and caught a belly-ride in. Standing in the shallows, I watched a hot-shot shortboarder on a fast right. He launched above the lip, grabbed his board, flipped upside down, and landed in boiling whitewater. Wow.

Kauai Ocean Explorer: North shores topping the surf heights in the 4-8' range. Easterly tradewinds have returned - expect choppy conditions at all East-exposed locations on N, E & S shores. Small S swell. Hanalei 3-6 ft. 10-20 kt. Surfline: SSE-SSW Southern Hemi swell mix set up knee-waist-chest high surf for the better south exposures. More NNW swell fill in with waist-shoulder-head high waves at north exposed breaks in the morning. Buoy 51201: (Wave) SWELL: 3.0 ft at 11.1 s NNW 40 / WIND WAVE: 3.3 ft at 7.7 s NNW / WVHT: 4.6 ft / APD: 7.0 s / MWD: 339° (Met) WVHT: 4.6 ft / DPD: 11.0 s / WTMP: 77.9° F. Tide: 0' rising slowly.

19 May 2011

Beachbreak Fun (Pinetrees)

Disillusioned with the south shore of Kauai, as crowded as Santa Cruz and not half as pretty, I decided to try the north coast since small swells were running toward both the top and the bottom of the island. Hanalei Bay, aka Bali Hai, is one of the most beautiful curves of coastline in the world. The swell was small, but at Pinetrees it was forming into some fun-sized waves, and there were plenty of the aforementioned pine trees to shade Scott as he read a novel on the beach while I surfed.
I'd stopped by Tamba Surf Company for a new leash on the way north, since the ankle strap on the one the 6'10" came with was dangerously frayed and close to breaking. The new leash was seriously kinked, wrapping around my leg, getting underfoot and snagging between my toes at inopportune times. Note to self: If I can't bring my own board, at least bring my own leash. Nevertheless, I had a blast on the 2-4' waves rolling through at Pinetrees.
There was a bit of a crowd, but enough kooks catching nothing and enough space to spread out that I got my fair share. Surfing in warm water was heaven, even if the break didn't offer a floor show as there was no fish-filled reef below, just clear blue-green water over sand. I wore a 1 mil rashguard to protect against rib bruising, and it did the trick. The Tamba board proved a close cousin of Emm, and I dialed into it for many good rides, mostly lefts. Surfing nearshore in the shallows reminded me of days at the Jetty without the inherent chill. And as it's Spring in NorCal, it was one of my better sessions in quite a while.

After a tasty lunch at the Mediterranean Gourmet, Scott and I returned to Pinetrees and went sponging, waiting for waves by standing almost in the surfing lineup. We got a lot of fun rides though I'd rather have been on my feet. I caught one sectiony wave with a surfer but I went left and she went right on a collision course, so I straightened out and ended the ride in the shallows simultaneously. I also had some success at body surfing, to my surprise. We returned to the condo waterlogged, saltwater-encrusted, sandy and content.

Kauai Ocean Explorer: North shore surf increased Wed & is currently in the 3-5' range. East winds becoming stronger into this weekend, with associated choppy wind-swell at all East-exposed areas. Hanalei 1-3 ft. 5-10 kt. Surfline: SSE Southern Hemi swell set up waist-shoulder high surf and some better sets for the good south exposures. A new NW swell fill in with waist-shoulder high waves at top north exposed spots. Buoy 51201: (Wave) SWELL: 1.6 ft at 12.5 s NW 39 / WIND WAVE: 2.0 ft at 9.9 s NNW / WVHT: 2.6 ft / APD: 6.3 s / MWD: 319° (Met) WVHT: 2.6 ft / DPD: 13.0 s / WTMP: 78.6° F. Tide: 0' rising slightly.

17 May 2011

One (Poipu)

Ah, Kauai! Warm azure waves kissing hot sand as palm trees sway in the tropical breeze. Such a change from Spring in NorCal. My first surf opportunity came on Sunday afternoon, but the precursive challenge was to find a suitable rental board. With United Airlines extorting $200 roundtrip to transport a surfboard, I was forced to leave mine at home. Steve recommended Tamba Surf Company, just up the road from our rented condo on the east side of the island. Bizarrely, Tamba did not list its open hours on its website, on its voicemail message, or even on its front door, but in any event, it was decidedly and inexplicably closed on the second day of the weekend. We made our way to Poipu, where a surf shop also proved elusive, but on a brief surf check walk I saw that the Marriott had a rental booth just off the beach. Alas, they stopped issuing surfboards at 4 pm (WTF?!), and it was past 4:30. A nearby stand on the beach had only Softops (no friggin' way!). I watched surfers enjoying the sweet south swell, and silently cursed the airline. A Sunday surf was not to be.
Dolphins on the Na Pali Coast
Monday was nearly windless, and we headed out on a catamaran sailboat that didn't sail for a pre-booked tour of the lovely Na Pali coast. The return to port was choppy, and I stood in the bow, "surfing" down the oncoming swell. It was just a bit like making the drop on a overhead wave, and left me smiling and soaked from the spray.
Tamba's rental quiver

In the late afternoon, I found Tamba was open and secured a surfboard that at 6'10" x 19 7/8" x 2 3/4" was a little shorter, a little narrower, and a teensy bit thicker than Emm. I hoped I hadn't made a mistake, but the next alternative was a big step up to a longboard, which would've felt like a step backward, and posed transportation issues as well. As at other surf shops I stumbled upon during our stay, there was a gap in their rental quiver where Emm would go. The Tamba board fit comfortably inside our whiny Ford Focus, where it could live for the rest of the week, available for surf where I found it. Having finally secured a wave riding device, I felt better, and was cheered further when I got carded buying a bottle of wine at Safeway. Do I really look that young in a bikini top and boardshorts?!

At long last, Tuesday was surf day. The tides were negative low in the morning, so we drove south again in the afternoon. Scott had agreed to join me in the warm water, and I'd seen a good beginner spot near the Waiohai Marriott on my Sunday surf check. We picked up a longboard for him at the hotel booth and walked the short distance to what the guides said was a south shore beginner's break. Unfortunately the swell had dropped and the inner peak that had been serving gentle waves near the beach was no longer working well. We paddled out anyway, but the water was shallow over the reef. One of two body-boarders on the inside warned us off of surfing there due to the lack of depth, but the cynic in me wondered if he just didn't want the company. 
The outside was packed, and the left was breaking like at Rachel's Point: a quick jack-up folding back on itself, and no possibility of taking off on the shoulder away from the peak. With conditions not really suitable for a beginner and Scott's ribs already bruising despite a 2 mil rashie, we decided to bag the session.
Party wave
As we paddled back in, watching the reef close below through crystal-clear water, I felt a wave lift past on the inner peak. I sat up and waited for the next. Foolish perhaps, but I just had to get one! I paddled as a thigh-high wave approached, and popped up over water maybe that deep. The board was similar enough to Emm that I nailed it and rode the little wave, hooting as fat fish darted in all directions underneath me. 
A rare Hawaiian monk seal dozes by snorkelers
Kauai Ocean Explorer: More beautiful beach weather today. Surf around Kauai is generally small with South shores topping surf heights as a new swell builds. East winds decreasing, then building again into this weekend. Poipu 2-4+ ft. 5-15 kt. Surfline: 1-2 ft. Very Small short period wind waves from the south-southeast. Light and variable east winds with smooth seas.  Easing Southern Hemi swell mix set up knee-waist high zone waves for south exposures, as top spots saw plus sets. Buoy 51204: (Wave) SWELL: 1.6 ft at 10.5 s SSW 38 / WIND WAVE: 3.3 ft at 7.7 s SSE / WVHT: 3.6 ft / APD: 6.5 s / MWD: 212° (Met) WVHT: 3.6 ft / DPD: 11.0 s / WTMP: 78.8° F. Tide: 1' rising slowly.

10 May 2011

Short and Cold (HMB Jetty)

The surf wasn't half bad for a dawn desperation session following Sunday's skunking, although I think I ended up doing more rolling than riding. I made a near head-high drop on one wave but tripped over the nose at the bottom. The ride down was fun but the crash-landing stung a bit. Luke joined me for about 20 minutes along with a curious seal and a pelican, then I surfed alone, getting more rides as I dialed in to the conditions, until another guy paddled out farther down the beach.
With the air only 45 degrees and the ocean maybe 50, I was driven from the water in an hour, shivering uncontrollably and with numb lower arms and legs. Maybe Mark Twain was talking about surfing NorCal when he said the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. (I know, it's still spring, but brrr!)
Surfline: Mostly easing NW windswell combines with some small SSW groundswell. Surf is in the waist-chest zone at good spots with standout windswell exposed breaks up to shoulder high+ early in the day. Winds are lightest early but with some surface lump and bump likely. Surf is on the mixed up/disorganized side overall. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 6.6 ft at 10.0 s NW 37 / WIND WAVE: 5.9 ft at 7.1 s NW / WVHT: 8.9 ft / APD: 6.7 s / MWD: 318° (Met) WSPD: 16 kts / GST: 19 kts / WVHT: 8.9 ft / DPD: 10.0 s / WDIR: 310° / ATMP: 50.5° F / WTMP: 51.1° F. Tide: 3.5' falling to 2.5'.

08 May 2011

Flat Stanley Goes Surfing

Hi, I'm Flat Stanley. My young friend Kerra sent me all the way from Missouri to visit Aunt Cynthia near San Francisco. She surfs, and I've been excited to take a lesson since I got here. Aunt Cynthia made me a wetsuit because the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Northern California is cold, only in the low 50s. Unfortunately the surf conditions haven't been very nice since I got here: too windy, too messy, or too big for a little beginner like me. But I have to fly back home on USPS on Tuesday, so this weekend was my last chance to try surfing.
I like that surfboard!
We left the house really early, before dawn, and ended up on a surf safari looking for a place that had good waves without too much wind ruining them. Aunt Cynthia's home break, the Jetty in Half Moon Bay, was mostly clean (that means that water was pretty smooth, not too choppy from the wind), but the waves were tiny. I thought they looked just my size and they would have been perfect if I'd had the little surfboard that Cynthia's friend J-Bird made for their buddy Luke's funny birthday hat.

The waves at the Jetty were too small for Aunt Cynthia so we drove farther south to check another spot that is more exposed to the open ocean swell. Dunes Beach is a California State Park and I thought it was really neat. There were spring flowers blooming all around, and we saw a bunch of brush rabbits! But the waves were no good there either.
Can you spot the rabbit in this photo?
Pretty flowers but ugly waves
Driving north, we passed the Jetty again (still tiny) and Montara State Beach (bigger and messier waves), then stopped at Linda Mar. Aunt Cynthia said that's a good place to learn to surf, because the beach slopes gradually. While the waves still looked too poor for an experienced surfer, there was some fun little whitewater (broken waves) for me to play in. First we practiced "popping up", which is when a surfer jumps from lying down to standing up in one fluid motion. It's harder than it looks!
Then we went out into the waves close to shore. Wheee! Look at me, I'm surfing!
I'm sorry that Aunt Cynthia didn't get to surf this morning too. She called that "getting skunked". But I had a great time and can't wait go surfing again!

04 May 2011

Hot and Cold (HMB Jetty)

Heather and I found some fun little waves at the Jetty after work. We were joined by a seal, a flock of pelicans, and a handful of other surfers that swelled to a crowd for a time with a school surf team in the water. We had a peak well off the main one to ourselves except for a janitor who occasionally paddled in from far outside. The wind was blowing steadily out of the north at less than the average of the speeds reported by WeatherBug (22 mph) and WeatherUnderground (5 mph).
Two take-away bullet points from today's surf: First, Dress for the water, not the air. We're having a heat wave now, with air temperatures at the beach in the upper 70s under clear sunny skies. But the water is very cold, barely 50 degrees. I wore my lightweight hood and gloves, and after an hour, I was shivering in the breeze, with numb hands and feet. Second, Don't be too hungry. Several times when Heather was quite sensibly paddling toward the horizon as a likely-to-closeout outside wave approached, I threw caution to the wind and attempted a quite late takeoff, leading to some impressive wipeouts. I need to let those waves go, and remember that another wave will be along in a few minutes for which I'm better positioned.

Surfline: This afternoon there's a decent size NW (290-305+) swell mix along with a combo of some S/SSW (180-200) Southern Hemi. Surf is mainly waist-chest-shoulder high zone, as top breaks see plus sets. Light+/moderate WNW winds in the early afternoon for semi-clean conditions to some bump. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 6.6 ft at 10.8 s NW 36 / WIND WAVE: 3.3 ft at 5.6 s WNW / WVHT: 7.2 ft / APD: 6.9 s / MWD: 322° (Met) WSPD: 16 kts / GST: 19 kts / WVHT: 7.2 ft / DPD: 11.0 s / WDIR: 320° / ATMP: 52.7° F / WTMP: 51.1° F. Tide: Around 3' rising slightly.

01 May 2011

Airshow (HMB Jetty)

The waves were small and inconsistent at the Jetty, but I got some fun rides and waited out the lulls watching a fly-by of antique planes headed to Dream Machines at the HMB airport.
J-Bird and Jacob, with their buddy Chris (who needed a spot suitable for a 6'4") and his friend, had declined the Jetty and went on a mini surf safari I didn't have time to join. They reported that Dunes was closed out but they found clean overhead right shoulders at Kelly.

Surfline: WNW-NW (275-300+) swell fades today as small SSW (180-200) Southern Hemi energy mixes in. The better NW exposures see waist-chest-head high waves initially, but size dwindles through the day. Light wind early for generally clean conditions overall, although a 4'+ high tide slows things down later this morning. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 6.2 ft at 10.0 s NW 36 / WIND WAVE: 2.0 ft at 3.1 s NW / WVHT: 6.6 ft / APD: 6.5 s / MWD: 314° (Met) WSPD: 10 kts / GST: 12 kts / WVHT: 6.6 ft / DPD: 10.0 s / WDIR: 300° / ATMP: 50.2° F / WTMP: 50.4° F. Tide: 2' rising to 3'.