30 January 2014

King of Tides

If I was prudent and not such a surf addict, I probably would take some time off from surfing after yesterday's back misery. Instead, since there is a slight chance of rain and a high chance of strong winds in the next couple days, I wanted to get in one more (hopefully redeeming) surf this morning.

It hasn't rained yet, but Tourmo is already posted for contaminated water. I drove on.
Under a new moon, today's king tide was about to top out at 7 feet, so I'd brought my fish. From the bluff at Law Street, I saw an enticing left, soft and fat on the tide. My first attempt at entry was denied so I walked a little farther south. The shorepoundy inside waves reminded me of Dunes in Half Moon Bay. C'mon, get in quick and paddle like hell to get through. Success! There was a lot of water moving around, strong currents, shifty waves, punchy hold-downs.
Fairly soon I caught my wave of the day, a 5-6' left with a smooth ramp. Stoked!

29 January 2014

Not Ready

I was nervous on the way to surf Garbage at Sunset Cliffs this afternoon, and not just because the waves would be overhead. I wasn't sure my back was ready for the long paddle out to the peak, plus the constant repositioning in the lineup and duck-diving of outside set waves. Alas, it was not.
Staying out just long enough to say "hi" and "bye" to Steve, I managed to catch a broken overhead wave partly to the inside, after watching a shortboarder slash and burn it. Now I'm drowning my physical and psychic pains in a big glass of pinot grigio.

I can't go on, I'll go on. -Samuel Beckett

27 January 2014

Kelly Says

There's a dynamic duo in the UK, Hannah Bristow and Dannie MacLellan, who are making a series of surf videos based on doing what Kelly says:
You have to surf all kinds of waves (including the crappy ones) to improve. -Kelly Slater
Although this morning's surf with Ian and Todd didn't start out as a KSS session, it rapidly turned into one. The guys came in and intercepted me on the sand before I paddled out to join them at Scripps, where the closeouts were plentiful and large, and we walked back to La Jolla Shores for less threatening waves.
Within ten minutes the ocean became choppy, and the waves were lumpy, dumpy and bumpy. I caught some on my shortboard but didn't manage any full rides, mostly just drops into closeouts that swept me off my feet, plus assorted other takeoff wipeouts. I saw Todd score a nice right on a wide shortboard he'd borrowed from Ian. "It only takes one to make the session!" he said, smiling. With the wind rising and the chop getting choppier, we decided to catch a wave in. That was my best of the day - a belly ride to the sand.

But you know what Kelly says...

26 January 2014

Father's Day

The surf was big yesterday in San Diego.
Crystal Pier was closed due to high surf yesterday
By this morning the swell had dropped and looked fun at Tourmo, so I planned to meet Kelly in the water. With the chilly ocean tugging at my bare toes as I shuffled out, I was only a little hopeful that I could locate her in the Sunday crowd, but she found me by spotting orange/black/white Nemo.
Despite the weekend throng, we gained some space and a handful of fun waist- to chest-high rides. Heading back out after one of those, I glanced right and saw a wrinkled 70-year-old woman paddling her longboard near a 7-year-old girl stroking back toward her father on her shortboard. That made me smile. There were three fathers coaching their young daughters, so lucky to be learning at that age. They reminded me of my dad, who would have been 84 in a few days. He got me used to being underwater by carrying me on his shoulders in the apartment complex pool, singing "Teddy Bear's Picnic" and dunking me after the last line. Later, the gromette swooped by me on a wave and then asked her dad if he'd seen her awesome ride. He was lukewarm, but "Yeah! It was awesome!" I cheered, and she grinned at me.

The surf looked better toward the Point but also full of longboarders party-waving. And my back wasn't up to the long paddle. It still troubles me but I'm learning to live with the heightened level of pain and do my best to ignore it.

There were definite lulls, one so long that another shortboarder said, in his best announcer voice, "And this concludes this morning's surf session." Kelly and I paddled in nearer the cliffs, and I caught my best ride of the day, a partly broken left that reformed and let me work it way inside, surprisingly far as it lost energy and flattened out only to reform again nearshore. That's one benefit of my nice floaty 3-inch-thick fish.

Back home, I said goodbye to my 8'3" Magic, selling her to an Arrow fan from Santa Cruz named Corey. My 7'0" Emm went to a new owner last summer for less than I think she was worth, but there are a lot of surfboards for sale in San Diego, and the estimable Ward Coffey isn't as well known as in NorCal. Corey usually surfs at Tourmaline, so maybe I'll see Magic again sometime. My quiver is now down to three shortboards: 5'4" Firewire Spitfire "Kat", 5'4" 9:Fish Clownfish "Nemo", and 6'2" Ward Coffey "Rocket".
Magic at Tres Rocas

24 January 2014

Sneaker Sesh

When I woke up this morning and saw that the swell at the Mission Bay buoy had only recently jumped up to 4.6 ft at 22s, I didn't dally over breakfast and made it to the beach to sneak in another surf before the swell fills in and it gets too crazy.
There were looong lulls between sets of waves up to head high. My best ride was a chest-high right. It didn't hold a face for long but partly reformed and I had fun turning off the sections. Score!
When I left the water, an old longboarder pointed to my Timbertek Firewire and asked "Did you find that piece of wood on the beach?" Ha ha.

23 January 2014

A Break in the Crazy

Winter came into California with a roar. We're having a little break of fun-size surf today before it jacks up again to possibly double-overhead. The Maverick's contest will run tomorrow, and I may head down to Tijuana Sloughs to watch big-wave surfing.
Kelly was already in the water when I paddled out but she had to leave soon after. I rode a few fun little waves on my shortboard north of the pumphouse before belly-boarding in to where Steve was warming up on the sand next to his yum-yum yellow longboard. That's surfing in shifts.

21 January 2014

Soft Sand

The best thing I can say about today's surf is that the freshly-raked sand felt soft and floury on my bare feet. But I did get some decent on-the-water shots for an article I'm submitting to a local free paper. So, the morning in pictures:
I wanted to surf Calumet, but it was too big and burly
Tourmaline looked more my size

19 January 2014

House of Cards

Surf's rising up! This morning was probably the last time with any waves under head-high in San Diego for the next week or so. My back continues to trouble me, not just with pain but with weakness. It feels like a house of cards that could collapse if I push it too hard. So I won't be charging any of those well-overhead waves that are forecast. While I could talk myself through my normal trepidation, right now I lack the confidence that my body is physically up to the challenge.
From my pre-parking surf check, I thought the corner right next to the pier might be a good spot for fun-size waves, but as I started down the stairs, a 6-foot closeout set rolled through and I wanted no part of that action. I walked north a bit and found an easier paddle-out between the pier's left and the next sandbar's right. It seems that maybe, just maybe, my duck-dives are getting better. I didn't have any disaster dives today.

The bigger waves were mostly closed out, and the smaller ones hard to get into on the rising tide. I didn't fight the northward drift long and the current finally let me go almost at Law Street, about 4 blocks away. An older dude and I exchanged pleasantries until his buddy called from the inside, and we saw him waving the nose of his broken longboard, still attached by the deck. Oh, no!
I was cautious in my wave choice, riding only three in less than a hour. Two closed out immediately while the third, a fast shoulder-high left, gave me a flash of facetime before sectioning. I'll take that stoke!

On my long walk back, I saw a couple guys get almost barreled. The big surf and the skilled surfers riding it will be fun to watch this week, even though I'll have to find smaller waves for myself somewhere else.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life? Well, in regards to surfing, I’ve learned that there is always another wave coming. Translated that means there is always tomorrow. (Gerry Lopez on Liquid Salt)

17 January 2014

Summer in January

The weather continues warm, sunny and dry; it feels more like July than January. Unfortunately California's had so little rain this winter that the governor just declared a drought emergency and is asking everyone to try to cut back water use by 20%. Here's last year's snowpack compared to now:
It's a good excuse to not wash the car. And perhaps means more surfing, fewer showers?

There isn't much going on swell-wise right now, though bigger surf is forecast next week. I waited until the tide started to fall from its morning high before heading to my local beach. The peak against the pier wasn't working at all, though sets broke occasionally up the beach. Dolphins cruised by on the outside.
A better sandbar was working just south of the building with the Surfline cam. A small pack of longboarders were dominating but I snagged some waves that were out of their reach. They were a friendly bunch, and one of the three dudes pointed out that there were five women in the lineup. "Yeah, that's why there's such a nice, mellow vibe," said a woman on a floaty Firewire, "There's none of that aggro stuff you get with a bunch of guys."
I scored a few fun rides, including one where I forced Nemo down a couple feet of roiling closeout to get to the bottom, and another that held up for a swish. I'm liking the original fin setup on the fish better than the Pro Tecks; it's got two bigger outside fins and a small center one. Hard to describe exactly why it's different, but it's just better somehow. 

15 January 2014

Fun Waves and Free Wax

The San Diego Surf Ladies Wednesday Wahines met up at Tourmaline early this morning so I had no excuse not to join them, although I thought the high tide might swamp out the surf too much for even my fish. Happily there was enough swell left to keep lots of fun waves rolling in anyway. The Point was head-high but oh-so-far away.
While the rest of the group suited up, I hit the water with Ashley and Eva, who were on longboards like most everyone else. They paddled farther toward the Point than my back would allow, so I found a nearly-empty peak just in front of the cliff and caught a wave immediately. Yay Nemo! The waves on that peak were rarely chest-high, but plentiful. My best ride was a bigger right with a shoulder that held up for some of that swish-swish Nemo does so well. Stoked!

As I walked up the beach, a blue-jacketed woman with an iPad and a clipboard intercepted me to ask if I'd participate in a Surfer Health Study. Their brochure explains:
State, local and federal regulatory agencies are interested in determining if there are any links between marine water exposure during the winter, infectious illness, and beach water quality. They are also interested in finding ways to more quickly and accurately determine if there is a health risk to
beachgoers due to pathogens in the water... This will be the
first prospective study to measure the health risks (if any) associated with surfing on the California coast.
I think we all know there are health risks from surfing, especially after rain, so I was happy to answer her questions about my surfing habits and recent health. She gave me a bar of wax for my trouble, and said I'll be entered in a prize drawing if I complete the rest of the weekly surveys online. If you're interested in participating in this worthwhile study, find one of the blue jackets at Tourmaline or Ocean Beach (chosen because they're popular and have storm water discharge into the surf zone), or go here: http://sccwrp.org/shs. Now we just need some rain.

14 January 2014

Mission Accomplished

Distant photo from last summer
I surfed Mission Jetty for the first time today. There was a sweet overhead left peaking up fast off of the riprap wall. A pack of pretty good surfer dudes were all over it and fun to watch, but I wasn't about to get in that mix. At negative low tide, the leftovers off the main peak were mostly closed out. I took off on a head-high left that slammed shut before I reached the bottom and spun me ass-over-teakettle, with my leash pulled taut over my neck at one point. Whoa. Then I got caught in a rip current, sucked beyond the farthest guy before the choppy water registered the threat. It took what seemed like too much paddling (parallel to shore, of course) to get back to stiller waters. By then I'd had enough and dodged closeouts while looking in vain for a hint of a shoulder until I was far enough in to belly-ride the whitewater back to the wide beach. While the surf brought me little joy (although it certainly makes me feel alive to finally surface after a pummeling), the sun was shining and the air was warm, like July in January. I can't complain.

13 January 2014

My Backyard

Today there are waves! This video shows Pacific Beach, from Tourmaline Surfing Park nestled next to La Jolla all the way down to Crystal Pier at the center of town. I took it while standing on the grassy bluff near Law Street.
I waited for the tide to drop from high before paddling out at Tourmaline, this time with a more appropriate fish. Sad to say, I'm not fit to charge the bigger breaks at the moment* and had to turn down a tempting offer of Swami's from Ian. Serendipitously, Allison texted that she would be at Tourmo a bit later, riding her 10-foot "beluga" longboard. The breaks were packed despite it being the middle of a workday (don't these people have jobs?!) and we never did find each other, a task made more difficult by a strong current sucking south. Back issues kept my session under an hour, but I got into a few fun waves. The last was best, with a fast shoulder-high drop and short left shoulder before I turned against the section and rode the whitewater in. Stoked!

*Long-time readers will remember that I hurt my back in a bad wipeout in July '06, and have never fully recovered. After yet another futile round of physical therapy, I put my trust in one more specialist last month. He injected cortisone into my facet joints which, contrary to expectations, made my back pain worse. Fortunately, the effects are temporary, and - fingers crossed - I'll return to my old normal within a few months. For now, my back feels weak at times, and I can't endure paddling for long. I overdid it last week at Del Mar with a 2-hour session and have been paying the price.

10 January 2014

Soft Shoulders

Surfline's Pacific Beach cam showed the best shape at Tourmaline this morning, so I went there instead of Crystal Pier, my usual local break. When we arrived in San Diego a year ago, Tourmo was initially my go-to spot, until I got over my unfounded fears of being too incompetent or unwelcome to surf with the shortboarders at the pier.
Besides the constant crowd, there's another good reason why I moved on from Tourmo: the wave is soft, a point I'd momentarily forgotten. It wasn't as closed out as the rest of the beach, sure, and there were shoulders aplenty, but the waves were challenging to get into on my shortboard. Longboarders were snagging them on the outside, and the lucky stayed on past a flat section till they reformed. Still, I was able to play on a handful on the inside, and enjoyed watching a shortboarder more skilled than I work them for all they were worth. Someday that'll be me.

08 January 2014

Meet Kat

In late summer, after a six-week wait, I picked up my first real shortboard from Clairemont Surf Shop. It's a 5'4" Firewire Spitfire. One of the benefits of being a small person is that I can stand up under most airliner's overhead bins. Another is that I'm suited to a grom-size Firewire board with special grom pricing, so it didn't set me back nearly as much as a bigger Firewire. (Think about that the next time you actually get to watch a parade, tall people!)

My purchase subjected all of southern California to the worst new board curse in the history of surfing. (Seriously, I could count the fall sessions with surf over shoulder-high on one hand, and so far the winter hasn't been much better.)

Although there have been few days big enough to see what the new board can do, those brief windows have been fun and intriguing. It's fast, and turns with a thought. Zoom. Whoosh. Swish. I've named the board Kat, as the catalyst for taking me to the next level of surfing.
Surfing at Scripps (Photo by Sergio Martinez)
Happily, at last I have a board I can decently duck-dive (at least some of the time). I realize now that all the others had too much volume for me to sink adequately.

The new Spitfire is a Timbertek, one of the most eco-friendly boards currently available. That fact netted me a place in an article by Todd Woody called "Toward Conscious Surfing" in Surfer's Journal 22.6:
Though I debated which of my 5'4"s to take for my first surf after casting off the cubicle chains Monday, Kat ended up in the car, as she usually does. The report for Del Mar was only poor 1-2', but Surfline undercalled it. I met up mid-morning with San Diego Surf Ladies Ashley and, briefly, Jill and Jen. Ashley and I walked south on the beach to around 13th Street, where we had a peak to ourselves. I rode a few fun waves, and it was so nice for a change to have room on the shoulder to do turns, instead of just landing the drop on closeouts. As the tide bottomed out I had more trouble getting into any waves and they seemed to have less push. I guess "drained out" also means drained of energy.
While the rest of the country is freezing under a polar vortex, it's sunny and warm in San Diego. Schools of skinny silver fish darted through clear green water beneath my bare feet while I waited in the lineup, chatting with friends. Life is good.

05 January 2014

Not Last at Church

On the way to Church on a Sunday morning
The waves were indeed small at Church for my heat in the Gathering of the Tribes contest. Plus the Coalition of Surf Clubs bizarrely deems a shortboard to be 7'6" and under, so a woman on a mini-longboard was catching many of the biggest waves before a true shortboarder could get into them. And then I was disappointingly too far inside for the best set that rolled through in our 15 minutes.

Yet while the two waves I caught didn't offer me much, I managed a couple turns on my 5'4" fish. That was good enough to place fourth, ahead of the woman in red. Score!
SDSL Team Captain Jen was in the shortboard heat after mine. With dolphins.
Jen on a tiny left

A 7'6" "shortboard"

04 January 2014

Contest Prep

This afternoon I got reacquainted with my fish. My 3rd surf contest* is tomorrow, and much as I'd like to ride my new 5'4" Firewire Timbertek Spitfire, the forecast for Church is only 1-2 feet. I swapped out the twin-fin Proteck setup for the original tri-fins to gain more drive and hold, then took Nemo for a spin at mediocre waist-high Law Street. With a few solid although not spectacular rides under my belt, I guess I'm ready as I'll ever be for the morning heat. My modest goal is to not come in last.
*My second contest was in June at Tamarack State Beach in Carlsbad. Although I got a few decent waves on my 6'2" Rocket, the competition was two girls who were so young they had to be driven to the beach by their parents. They surfed circles around me, but it wasn't a fair fight. Tomorrow I'm part of Team San Diego Surf Ladies in a Coalition of Surf Clubs contest, which has separate heats for grown-ups. 

03 January 2014

Kind of Like Christmas

Fog made it hard to see much beyond the beach, so the surf was a mystery when I paddled out at Crystal Pier just after dawn. The local sponger kept me company while I searched mostly in vain for a fleeting shoulder amidst the waist-high+ closeouts. As fog filled in thicker, we couldn't see the waves until they were nearly on top of us. 
It was kind of like Christmas, when you unwrap a colorful package tied with a shiny bow, only to find… socks.