28 January 2012

Bye-Bye Bikini, Hello Wetsuit (HMB Jetty)

I loved surfing lefts in a bikini last week in Nicaragua. Today it was back to rights in a wetsuit. Sigh. On the plus side, I didn't have to apply so much sunscreen, and my booties were actually dry when I pulled them on.

While we were far south enjoying the sun, a winter storm hit Nor Cal and tore out a lot of the sand at the Jetty, exposing more clay and rocks than I've ever seen there. But it built some nice sandbars.
Unlike the clean, single-swell waves of Nica, the waves at the Jetty were jumbled and shifty as usual. No matter, it was good to get wet again after a week out of the water.

Paddling out, I felt fat and encumbered by my 4/3 wetsuit after eight sessions in tropical water. There was already a sizable crowd come to play in the warm sunshine on a Saturday. A left was working on the second peak, and I caught a bunch of nice rides there. As a sluggish wave I was on sputtered to an end, I heard "nice one!" and saw Luke paddling up on his Harbour longboard.

We stayed on the left for a little while, but regular-foot Luke wanted to hunt down rights, so we moved over to the main peak, where he found some. We both paddled for one wave, which he caught, and I did my damndest to back off and keep my board from hitting him as it was pulled forward, but I felt the nose contact something. He rode on though, and when I followed him inside, said it had just tapped his shin. Thankfully, Rocket has a nose guard, which lost some of its tip keeping him from greater injury.

If you surf with me as much as Luke, and are very patient, eventually I'll get a good video of you surfing:

Luke says my serial monogamy with surfboards (currently all Rocket, all the time) costs me waves, and indeed he rode more than I (in part because he's also a better surfer). But it's not just about wave count for me; if I get a few decent rides, or on difficult days, maybe just one good one, I'm satisfied. I need to be challenged though, and riding a more technically demanding board like my 6'2" fulfills that. For me, it's more meaningful, more stokeful, to get a good ride on my shortboard than to get several on a board that requires less effort and precision.

On the main peak, I blew a couple of head-high drops and got rolled. The cold water seems to tire me more than the tropics, where I stayed out for three hours (though other surf campers were doing 5-hour marathon sessions). And when I get tired, I make more mistakes. I got another rolly left, staying on the face and negotiating a slew of moguls in to the beach. Then Luke announced he was going in after one more, which brought on a long lull (jinx!) before we caught our last waves. A fun session!

Surfline: WNW swell continues to fade this morning, but solid surf continues at the decent exposures. Expect head high to overhead waves with generally clean conditions thanks to light NE wind. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 7.5 ft at 12.9 s NW 11 / WIND WAVE: 3.0 ft at 5.6 s NW / WVHT: 7.9 ft / APD: 8.0 s / MWD: 318° (Met) WSPD: 16 kts / GST: 17 kts / WVHT: 8.9 ft / DPD: 13.0 s / WDIR: 40° / ATMP: 54.9° F / WTMP: 53.2° F. Tide: 3' rising near 4'.

"Wipeout-Proof" Bikini Review

While we were surfing in Nicaragua, I had the chance to test a couple of bikinis that were designed to stay on in the surf. The first was a new suit from Calavera, purchased especially for this trip. I bought the second over 2 years ago from Ola Chica but never put it through its paces. The waters of Hawaii are just a little too cool for me to surf in only a bikini, and this was my first real tropical trip since I got the swimsuit.

Calavera "is the bikini that stays on - even in tough conditions." I think that may be true. I had no problems with slippage during wipeouts or duck-diving. But I did have issues with fit. Although I'd matched my measurements to the sizes on Calavera's website, and didn't notice on land, the top was too big, and the bottom too small. To draw loosely from Kaylee on Firefly, whilst my surfboard was twixt my nethers, they were touching the board right direct and ain't shoulda been. Back to the beach for boardshorts.

Ola Chica's tagline is “better than surfing naked!” They no longer sell the bikini I tested, and may well have made some improvements in the last couple of years. The top mostly stayed in place, just a little upward movement, but the knot of tied fabric behind my neck was annoying. Although I'd tightly cinched the bottoms, they kept slipping down in the back so I'd have to pull them up while paddling. Return to the beach for boardshorts, again.

My recommendation? Calavera, if you can get a good fit. Unfortunately now I'm stuck with an expensive suit that's not comfortable for surfing, but maybe I can use it in the pool. The same goes for the Ola Chica, although I'd like to give one of their newer models a try.

And I'd be happy to make a return trip to the tropics soon to test out more bikinis!

25 January 2012

And Now for Something Completely Different (Nicaragua)

Scott and I spent a week at Suave Dulce Surf and Yoga Retreat* in northwestern Nicaragua.
Margie on the right, waiting for waves
Cheering Scott on, and trying to keep my board going (photo from video by Holly's guy)

Our cabana at El Coco Loco

Cows and cowboy on their daily beach walk to pasture
Surf instructor Jackie paddling for a mushy wave
Horse with a beach view
A shelly beach on the 15-minute walk to the break
One of their four dogs chilling by El Coco Loco's bar
Me popping up on a little right  (photo by Cydney)
Bikini test over, time to put on a rashguard  (photo by Cydney)
Party wave! (photo from video by Holly's guy)
My fun left, captured in pixels (photo by Cydney)
Post-surf, post-happy hour low tide 
Holly by the truck packed with boards

Awesome sunset swim in the Pacific
*I don't recommend this camp, which was subsequently rebranded by Holly Beck as Surf With Amigas.

08 January 2012

A Cold Splash Before the Heat (Dunes)

Just after noon, I joined J-Bird, Jacob, Luke and Caro in the water at Dunes for one more cold-water surf before we head south to warmer waters. It was a fine summer day in winter, sunny and in the 60s, with a growing offshore wind.
Jacob and Luke sharing a wave
Luke, still riding
The channel gave me a dry-hair paddle out. I had three goals today: don't get hurt, don't get my board dinged, and ride a few waves, with the first two being most important ahead of our imminent surf trip. Since head-high closeouts were rolling through at times, my wave selection was cautious. The longboarders were getting some nice rides but I found it hard to get into the waves, or perhaps I was being too timid. I moved inside and caught a couple of fun left reforms, playing with turns on responsive Rocket, riding in close to the beach. Since my buddies had been quite early and I joined them a little late, I ended up catching a meh ride in after only an hour to join them on the beach. I'm still hungry, but I'll be eating my fill of tropical waves soon enough.
Luke, Caro and J-Bird show off their moves
Caro and J-Bird high-kicking
Caro, Luke, me, Jacob and J-bird
Girls playing in the waves
J-Bird and Caro getting splashed
I was glad I hadn't stayed out longer, since when I got home there was barely enough sun left to melt the wax off of my 6'2" before it dropped below the hill. Now I'll pack up Rocket for the journey to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua on Friday. Scott and I will spend a week at Holly Beck's surf camp, Suave Dulce, and then explore on our own for a few days. I'll be unplugged and offline until we're back home.

If Surfline can be believed, we're in for some fun tropical surf. I can't wait!

Surfline: Old WNW (260-300) energy fades this morning, blending with local NW windswell and some small, building long-period NW swell. Expect less size as the decent breaks see shoulder-head high waves. Standouts go slightly bigger on those top sets. Offshore wind. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 6.2 ft at 12.1 s WNW 02 / WIND WAVE: 1.3 ft at 3.1 s NW / WVHT: 6.2 ft / APD: 7.9 s / MWD: 292° (Met) WSPD: 4 kts / GST: 8 kts / WVHT: 6.2 ft / DPD: 12.0 s / WDIR: 30° / ATMP: 55.9° F / WTMP: 53.4° F. Tide: 2' falling to 1.5'.

06 January 2012

The Maverick's Contest: (Almost) Everything Changes

Watching a surf contest on TV is a far cry from seeing it in person, and the Nor Cal community deserves the opportunity to see with our own eyes the feats of the best male big wave riders in the world. I want to take in the big picture, watch the massive waves approaching, the surfers turning their guns and paddling into them, then the drop and ride, or brutal wipeout. I don't want to listen to nattering commentators and miss details because the webcast has cut away from live action to a commercial, an interview, or a replay of the money shot. I want to see the contest, unfiltered, unfold before my eyes, experiencing the immensity of the monster waves rising from the expansive sea and the skill and fearlessness of the surfers who ride them. But I can't, not this year.
A giant wave at Mavericks during the 2010 contest
The last time the Maverick's big wave surf contest was held, in January '10, the organizers were careless with public safety. People got hurt when waves predictably rolled over the breakwall at high tide and inundated an area where tents had been set up amidst mud puddles left by the previous high tide. And in '06, a woman was hit on the head by a rock falling from the bluff above.
The aftermath of the '10 flood
This time will be different. No one, not even the media, will be allowed to see the contest from the bluff or beach. Instead, tickets may be purchased for $25-40, plus a $10 parking fee, to watch the contest webcast on a big TV at a nearby hotel. Only those with a boat, or willing to pay around $200 to secure a spot on a re-purposed fishing vessel, will be able to watch in person. And the harbormaster is trying to discourage viewing from private boats, which will be kept at a distance.
The little girl wanted to see some dogs, so her parents took her to the dog park and let her wander around unattended. As she stood in the middle of the field, an exuberant Great Dane raced past and knocked her down in the dirt. When she fell, she twisted her ankle and tore her dress. Aghast, her parents decreed that the little girl, and also her teenage sister, must never watch dogs at the dog park again, not even from the sidewalk outside the fence. Instead, they must content themselves with seeing dogs on TV from the safety of the sofa. 
The response to previous carelessness at Maverick's is overcaution now. Jeff Clark, back in charge of the re-christened Mavericks Invitational contest, had this to say about the '10 incident: It wasn't a rogue wave. It was one of those things that needed to be planned for and they didn't have anybody to plan for it. That will never happen again.
The view through a telephoto lens in '10 (by Luke Kilpatrick)
So why not just hire someone to plan for it? There are ways to ensure public safety that fall far short of blocking all access to the shoreline. For starters, no scaffolding on the beach, no tents or people within the high tide line, and no walking out on the breakwall for a better view. A stay-out zone could be established at the edge of the bluff and on the beach below. A ticket system for shore access could be implemented to prevent overcrowding and ensure spectator awareness of the rules. Public access need not be entirely forbidden.

It's hard to conceive of any public safety rationale to justify barring the media from viewing the contest from shore. The press group would be small, willing to abide by reasonable restrictions and easy to to patrol. At the '10 contest, a media area was established at the top of the bluff, with access limited to credentialed members of the press. A similar scheme should have been implemented this time around. Instead, all contest-goers are offered only a sanitized TV show, so near Maverick's and yet so far.

While the contest has changed radically for spectators, one thing sadly remains the same as in prior years: no women have been invited to compete.
She can surf Mavericks, but not in the contest
This post was published on The Inertia.

01 January 2012

Surfing In the New Year (HMB Jetty)

There's no better way to start the day - or the year - than in the ocean. Although fireworks briefly woke me, I skipped the New Year's Eve midnight celebration to be fresh for a morning surf on the first day of 2012. I must be getting old because I'd much rather surf than party and sleep in, hungover or not.
There were only two guys out when I arrived at the Jetty, a longboarder and a shortboarder, but a handful of others of both flavors joined us later.
The waves were jumbled and mostly closed out away from the main peak, and many rides were pretty much just drops.
My best wave was a left stolen from inside of the pack on the main peak, when I found myself lined up at just the right spot and a little voice in my head shouted, "turn and go - now!" A few strokes and I had it, swooping into an almost head-high frontside drop. The wave didn't close out immediately, giving me a quick shoulder before it sectioned and I turned right, riding whitewater away from the exposed rocks and in close to the beach. Woot!
That nice left was soon followed by a right nearly as big that did close out immediately. I made the drop and almost rode it out but my new 6'2" Rocket requires a precision of more subtle movement and finer control that I haven't mastered yet. Fortunately, in less than two weeks, Scott and I - and Rocket, despite the exorbitant airline fees - will be at Holly Beck's surf retreat on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, where I'll have plenty of time to practice in 82°F (28°C) water. Yeah!
Coastside winter flowers
Happy New Year! Wishing you all good waves in 2012.

Surfline: Solid WNW (280-300) swell slowly eases as small SW (190-210) trickles in at exposed areas. Decent-sized head high+ to overhead+ surf continues, while top breaks still hit that double overhead mark on occasion. Smooth, clean conditions thanks to offshore ENE wind. Buoy 46012: (Wave) SWELL: 6.9 ft at 12.9 s WNW 01 / WIND WAVE: 1.6 ft at 3.6 s ENE / WVHT: 7.2 ft / APD: 7.8 s / MWD: 292° (Met) WSPD: 4 kts / GST: 6 kts / WVHT: 7.2 ft / DPD: 13.0 s / WDIR: 140° / ATMP: 54.5° F / WTMP: 53.2° F. Tide: Less than 3' falling to 2'.