31 March 2014

Good Clean Fun

The waves were disorganized, my rides were short, I had some spectacular wipeouts and got about a gallon of seawater pushed up my nose. But it was fun!

29 March 2014

Sunny Day

The forecast called for the marine layer to linger through mid-morning, but the sun had just climbed into a cloudless blue sky as I pedaled toward the beach. The swell was down from yesterday and I had an easier time getting to the main peak by the pier, where I wished a cheery good morning to bodyboarder David and shortboarder Roger, who is now sporting a beard.

The tide was rising fast and I chased a few waves to the inside, ending up where I'd seen a shortboarder jumping on waist- to chest-high lefts. I got my best wave there, though it ran out of juice well before the shallows. The crowd rose with the tide and I ended up in a sea of grommets, soon joined by Roger and David, who was cursing the king tide. I caught a wave in with them, although David let it wash him all the way up onto the wet sand in true frog style.

28 March 2014

Buddy Surf

Yesterday Luke texted me that he was in town and wanted to meet up for a sunset surf. Tourmaline did not inspire either of us, so we deferred until this morning for better conditions.
Tourmaline before sunset yesterday
I biked over and met Luke at the Pier just as he finished his walk from the Banana Bungalow hostel. I'd brought my fish since the tide was falling off a 5' high, hoping it would get me into more of the soft waves than my shortboard. The waves were clean and up to head-high. Although Luke was longboarding and had a blast, my sorry streak continued. I caught a few closeouts and one what-the-hell reform (a decent ride almost to the beach), but on the only shoulder I found, the fish slid out from under me on my backside. I'm starting to think I may need a different board for my home break on a higher tide, something that is floaty enough to get me into soft waves but also able to hold a steep face when they start to jack up. At Rincon, Alice was riding a Firewire Sweet Potato and catching as many waves as the longboarders. She says she loves the board and rides it in all sorts of conditions. I'm going to try to demo one, although the longest cheaper Grom size is a 4'10" (eek!).

25 March 2014


The lulls were interminable at Bird Rock and a couple guys were dominating the few-wave sets that came through infrequently. I caught a right but needed another stroke or two to get fully into it on my shortboard.
A third dude in the lineup said it was better earlier and he'd been waiting a really long time for his last wave. Steve lamented that he should've brought a book. Tired of bobbing in the chop, I paddled in after nearly an hour - which of course brought a set on my heels.

24 March 2014

But There Were Dolphins

Lulls punctuated by closeouts on the fast-falling tide - should've been there earlier. I think the lazy river will be more fun later today at Harrah's Rincon (which is actually nowhere near Rincon). But there were dolphins!

23 March 2014

Sharing the Stoke at Rincon

Every year, the San Diego Surf Ladies send a delegation to the Rincon Invitational, a most unusual surf contest held at the famous break just south of Santa Barbara. Last year, I bailed out when I saw the miserable surf forecast, viewing the infamous traffic of Los Angeles as a hurdle 2-foot waves could not induce me to overcome. This year, SDSL allocated the 10 slots based on length of club membership, and I was second on the alternates list. Only a few days before the contest, I got notice that a space was available. The forecast was equally miserable but I'm trying to live by the adage that you will regret more the things you did not do, than the things you did do, so I said yes.

As I traverse Orange County and then LA, the 405 freeway swells at times to 14 lanes wide with random bouts of stop-and-go traffic. I'm traveling not only in space but back in time, past exit signs that conjure memories of jobs including my first after college, lingering shudders over law school, the ghosts of exes and "where are they now" thoughts about friends vanished into the mists of an era before social networking. Only one of my few remaining LA-area friends is free to meet me for lunch, and we catch up over delicious vegan plates at Santa Monica's Native Foods. Then it's back on the road for another hour, up to my hotel in Ventura.

The hotel is divided from the beach by the elevated freeway, and after I check in, I drive under the rushing cars to get a look at the surf. It's as small as I feared, even at C-Street aka Surfers' Point. Rising tide and a breeze have scuttled the conditions so even the longboarders struggle to ride the knee-high waves. 
I decide it's not worth putting on a wetsuit, and instead walk along the paved coastal path, past kiteboarders furling their sails, the loud buzzing of race cars at the adjacent speedway, and a mentally ill woman who is yelling random curses at the kiters and race car drivers in turn.
Lake Ventura
Well before sunset, I drive 20 more minutes north to the Carpinteria State Beach campground where one of the Ladies has pitched a tent and others plan to sleep in their cars. I'm quietly glad I joined too late to get a spot in their campsite, which is completely devoid of privacy and lacks any sense of a wilderness experience or view of the ocean, hidden behind dunes. Team captain Stephanie tells me C-Street was "awesome" a few hours before I arrived, but she's a longboarder, so I take that with a grain of salt. The other campers - Eva, Suzanne, Emy and her boyfriend Jeff - have walked into town and I join them on the patio of a Mexican cafe, drinking wine from a plastic cup while munching tortilla chips and guacamole. As darkness falls, we return to the campsite, where Katie has the fire burning warmly to ward off the evening chill. We chat over snacks and more drinks as Jeff burns sausages and carrots over the firepit. Jeff says, "I'm not very good at finding things. That's why I became an archaeologist." I call it a night and cross the dark campground to my car in the day-use lot, finally finding a bit of wilderness above in the awe-inspiring blanket of stars flung across the night sky.

Driving north again the next morning, I see Rincon from the 101 freeway, a group of contestants bobbing like corks in flat water. Ah, no. Sigh. A few of the Ladies are in the parking lot and we walk down the dirt trail to find the others already on the beach. The surf looks as disappointing as I'd feared. Eva, Suzanne and I suit up and get back to the beach just in time to pull on yellow contest jerseys and paddle out behind the others, taking the long way around per instruction. There are patchy sheens of oil on the water near shore, and a bit father out, Eva holds up her hand, covered in tar that has glommed onto her longboard. I've picked up a little too, on one of Rocket's rails and in the wax on the deck. The latter become unfortunate brown spots on the butt of my wetsuit. Just to the south of Rincon is a pier that leads to a small island. I've heard it's used to offload oil from the platforms that dot the sea in this area, and that palm trees were added after locals complained about the industrial look of the facility.
One-foot Rincon
Our hour of alone time at Rincon has begun. It's just the 10 of us plus Jeff, who's taking photos with a GoPro. There are seven longboarders and two other shortboarders, Suzanne and Alice. 
A few of the Ladies sometimes forget that the waves are meant to be shared, but most happily accommodate drops-ins. I catch a surprising number of waves on my 6'2", often straightening out to let someone else join me. 
The waves are breaking shallow over the cobblestones, and I starfish when I fall, trying not to ding body or board. Lisa and Allison hold hands while they ride side-by-side. Emy tries a headstand; she doesn't make it, but we cheer her anyway. 
My internal frown turns upside down and I'm smiling, surprised at how much fun I'm having on tiny gutless waves because we're all surfing with a true spirit of aloha, sharing and giving. Then the hour is over, and we pick our way back to the beach over rocks and seagrass while the red-jersey team takes the peak.
Me, Michelle, Eva, Alice, Emy, Stephanie, Allison, Lisa, Katie and Suzanne (photo by Jeff)
Still dripping in my wetsuit, I speak with Glenn Hening of the Groundswell Society, who's been organizing this event for 17 years and is also a founder of Surfrider. "We wanted to reverse field on the typical surf contest," he tells me. The contest was originally run like any other and was used as a fundraiser to bring sewer service to the houses fronting the break, but after 10 years it became all about sharing the stoke. And conditions have been better before. A few years ago, Glenn recounts, "Shaun Tomson rode a beautiful 5-footer" all the way down the point, by himself. "That was one point. One surfer, one wave, one point." In the next heat, "we had a whole family sharing a wave. Eight surfers, eight points." It's not about what you do on the wave, he posits, so I ask, "No points for Emy's headstand attempt?" He thinks for a moment and says maybe they'll have to add a rule for next year to acknowledge that. "We want people to have fun!" 

While there wasn't anyone else interested in surfing tiny weak waves at the iconic peak on Sunday, at future Invitationals with better conditions, Glenn envisions sending "playground monitors" out with contestants to make sure everyone is having a good time. And that's partly ensured by the nature of the participants he invites. Everybody wants to surf uncrowded Rincon, Glenn states, but he asks the groups that apply "what have you done for anyone lately?" and rejects those that don't have a recent history of public service. Rincon is the reward for sharing aloha in and out of the water.
Top o' the path, which is much shorter than the one to Trestles
That's some sticker collection
San Diego Surf Ladies and friends
Hey, little doggie! Didn't you read the sign? You're not supposed to be here...
Eva and Suzanne
Sharing Surfers (Total surfers on the shared waves)
1 – Rincon Pit Crew – Team Heeley
2 – Black Surfers Collective
3 – San Diego Surf Ladies

21 March 2014


I've been debating which surfboard to take to Rincon tomorrow. The forecast for the Sharing the Stoke Invitational as grim as last year's, when I decided not to make the long drive.

Lisa, SDSL's President, says "bring a longboard." Since I sold Magic and Emm, my longest board is Rocket, a 6'2" custom Ward Coffey that I'm loathe to use because it feels like going backward. My 5'4" shortboard is out of the question. Yesterday on little waves was a trial run for my 5'4" fish, and I didn't ride a lot of waves. Since the goal of the unusual competition is to get as many of your team sharing waves as possible, it seems I should bring my "longboard." My buddy Steve also suggested to me that longboarding is a great confidence rebuilder.
I took my "longboard" for a spin at Tourmaline on a breezy afternoon. The choppy waves were waist high and the crowd expectedly light. I forgot the longer nose on my first takeoff and pearled, hanging onto the board and cartwheeling as the wave pitched. But I compensated on the second wave and got the feel of the board again. It's much more stable and forgiving than my 5'4"s, and also slower to turn. And it's a relative wave-catching machine. Although conditions were poor+, I rode a lot of waves in an hour and left smiling. Yes, Rocket is going to Rincon!
Beach art

20 March 2014


I love the way the water sparkles like diamonds in the sunshine at the top of a glassy wave that's about to break. Of course I only get that view when I'm about to duck-dive the ensuing whitewater, but that's not a big deal when the waves are only waist-high. The small waves south of the pier were slow, like the pod of dolphins moving languidly through the sea just outside the lineup. I grew bolder and paddled nearer to the peak to catch the soft waves on my fish, and had a handful of wipeouts but a few nice rides too. Slow down, take it easy.

19 March 2014

A Better Day

It's a good thing that I just got a Carver bike rack, since one of my MINI Cooper's runflats went flat thanks to a San Diego pothole and the car is out of commission for a few days. Here's the new setup:
Unfortunately the bike wants to tip over onto the surfboard so I have to be careful while loading/unloading, but it's solid when I'm riding. I also got a couple of solid rides on my shortboard this morning at the pier. The surf height is down to fun-size and less punishing, so I was less intimidated to take off at the peak. I'm getting my mojo back, slowly. No surf photo since I was on the bike, but here are some lovely cherry trees blooming at the Japanese Freindship Garden in Balboa Park yesterday:
I also found out yesterday that I'm going to surf with nine other San Diego Surf Ladies at the Rincon Invitational this weekend. It's not a typical surf contest; the emphasis is on "Sharing the Stoke." Each team gets Rincon to itself for an hour, and earns points for most waves caught, most waves shared, and most surfers sharing waves. It should be fun! The bad news is that the forecast is knee- to thigh-high and our time slot is at low tide. Since I've never surfed Rincon before I plan to make the most of whatever is on offer.

16 March 2014


Ashley and I set up a San Diego Surf Ladies Team Carnage session for Blacks mid-morning, but there were no other takers. (I think perhaps the team name scares them off.) Which was fine, because it was good to surf with just Ashley and her friend Todd.
We walked down from the Torrey Pines gliderport on a steep, sometimes stair-stepped dirt trail that was new to me since I've always hiked in farther south along the private road. The north end of Blacks beach is clothing optional, and when we reached the sand, sure enough, between us and the waves was a chubby guy letting it all hang out.

Todd was the best shortboarder of the three of us, easily reaching the outside while Ashley and I struggled through walls of punchy whitewater. When we attained the lineup - empty but for Todd - of course there followed a noticeable lull in the waves. Ashley shared stories of her El Salvador surf trip with Fulcrum Surf. She's a goofyfoot too, and sought out lesser lefts in that land of renowned rights. One of the Spanish words she brought back was "cerrado" - closed - and many of today's waves were, especially as the tide dropped.
My performance continues to disappoint, as I scored only half a wave, a head-high right. Todd saw me and said I'd been in exactly the right spot, and just needed to weight my front foot to set my rail and speed along the face. Instead, I fell off the back. Lately, I've been feeling like I suck at surfing - I used to be better, I used to charge. Somehow, over the long small-surf summer and fall, through my doctor-induced back reinjury and general lack of fitness also due to laziness, I lost faith in my abilities and the fear of bigger waves crept back in. I hesitate when I should commit, back off instead of going for it, and fall more than I ride. Ashley said she's also struggled with commitment issues. "Sometimes just have to go for it, eat shit, and then realize you're ok, to get past it." Good advice.

The temperature had climbed to 80 degrees by the time we started our hike back along the beach and up the steep trail. Nude men - except for their hats - were everywhere admist more typical clothed beachgoers. Todd was surprised to see a couple of rare naked women. One brave (or foolish) nude dude was paddling out for a surf. I stopped a few times on the way up, partly to rest and partly to see him on a wave, but he didn't catch any.

The swell is coming up and will be overhead tomorrow. I need to get out of my head and just surf.

15 March 2014

One-Hit Wonder

I got one good wave today. One. It was a shoulder-high rampy right with a cutback to the peak to keep the ride going longer. But I guess I should consider myself lucky since the tide was peaking high and the waves were weak, soft and scattered, and quite hard to get into on my little fish.
Still, it was nice to be out at Del Mar on a glassy, sunny morning with eight other San Diego Surf Ladies - Laura, Allison, Lisa, Minette, Katie, Eva, Michelle and latecomer Andrea - for Team Shortboard Shredders (where "shortboard" was very loosely defined as 8 feet (!) and under).

13 March 2014

Bike to Surf

Mmm, I dunno... (old rack)
No surf photo today because I road my bike to the beach, carrying my fish side-saddle in my new Carver rack. It's a lot less sketch than my old Huntington surf rack (now for sale on Craiglist) so I have no excuse not to be a good little enviro and use pedal-power whenever I surf in Pacific Beach. After all, it's less than a mile, straight shot, to the coast.

Surfline accurately called the waves poor-fair with "texture" (a polite term for chop) from the southerly breeze, but undercalled the size a bit. Since it was mostly head-high + closeouts at the pier, I rode on to Law Street and paddled out south of the Pumphouse.

My inner critic was in full swing. You should've gone for that one! Pop up faster! Turn quicker! Commit! Sometimes I wish I could just turn off the part of me that's focused on getting better, and just have fun.

The best wave was my last, a shoulder-high left on which I redeemed myself against the critic. Even tried a fancy off-the-lip that I didn't complete, but it's a learning process, and maybe next time I will.

11 March 2014


Believe it or not, I didn't want to surf today. I just haven't been feeling it lately and wanted to swim instead. But with the Plunge at my health club closed for two months, swimming options are limited. So I had to surf. Semi-ironic sigh.
A large part of my surfing malaise I'm sure is due to my lackluster performance of late. That streak didn't break this morning at Tourmaline, although I think I got a bit better at duck-diving my shortboard and nagged myself into going for more waves without "putting on the brakes" as surf coach Dan has faulted. One right in particular left me feeling like I can, indeed, actually surf.

10 March 2014

Alone in a Sea of Weeds

Or, I Should've Been Here Earlier

I lingered over breakfast and yesterday's Sunday NY Times, arriving at the beach later than I should have. The waves near the pier were mostly thumping closeouts, but there were a few shoulders a bit farther north. I made the drop on a head-high left but my pleasure in that didn't last long as the wave detonated. I had to straighten out and bailed backward into the whitewater, which surely would've given me a wedgie if I hadn't been wearing a wetsuit. There were a few more drop-'n'-smashes as I scoured the horizon for one of those elusive faces and enjoyed the warm sunshine on another summery day.
Rare shoulders became fewer and fewer as the tide dropped out without me attaining any. The half dozen surfers in my vicinity left one by one, until I was alone in a sea filled with little pieces of seaweed.

09 March 2014

Surfing in Seaweed Soup

There's an amazing amount of seaweed on and just off the beach at Crystal Pier. It was literally a foot thick in thigh-deep water, which made getting out difficult. Howard the old longboarder and David the sponger were the only ones out on a lovely warm morning. David had bits of seaweed all over his face and bald head, which Howard had neglected to tell him (but I did).
I had a lot of fast drops, some successful before the wave closed out. My most interesting wave had a large mogul in the face; I didn't make it over. There was plenty of energy in the water, and on one unsuccessful duck-dive, a 6-foot set wave drilled me to the bottom as I instinctively grabbed hold of a thick stalk of kelp which failed to save me from rolling against the sand.
Kelp islands on the sand south of the pier

07 March 2014

A Fistful of Seaweed

Since the storms last week, the ocean off Pacific Beach has been brown in large patches. Today I paddled out into it and learned why. The brown comes from many tiny bits of broken seaweed, masticated by big waves. After each windswell-induced duck-dive, I'd raise my hand to wipe the water from my eyes, only to find I was pulling strands of seaweed across my face.
The surf at the Pumphouse was on the fast rise, with shifty head-high+ sets rolling through regularly and breaking farther from the beach as the session wore on. For a time it seemed I was never out far enough to avoid being on the breaking side of the bigger ones, and was again, frustratingly, washed in. Aside from a few whitewatery rides, I did score one green wave, a fun smaller right that had a bit of shoulder before sectioning.

06 March 2014

Washed In

Christina didn't tell me whether she was paddling out at North or South Garbage, but I correctly guessed that she and Steve would be at North. A friendly SUPer offered to share his waves with anyone, saying "just go if you see me on one!" and I saw Christina get some nice slightly overhead rides. I, however, couldn't find the right position. I'd brought my floaty Ward Coffey 6'2" to help me into the soft waves, but found no joy on the far outside where my friends were sitting. As soon as I'd been lured farther in, I'd get pummeled by an outside set and washed way inside. I can't duckdive Rocket, and get dragged by the bigger board much more than my 5'4"s. Still I caught a few from whitewater on the inside, just to get the feel of my "longboard" under my feet again.
South and North Garbage
When I saw Christina heading for the stairs, I working my way back to the main peak at North Garbage, and saw it had gotten quite crowded. South had only a handful of surfers, so I cut across the channel to join them. A friendly red-headed shortboarder turned out to be Scott from Outdoor Outreach, where I'd volunteered a couple of times last year. Although there were fewer surfers at South, they were all much better than me, and I found no joy on the waves there either. More often I was in the wrong place to catch unbroken waves but the right one to take a beating and be washed in again. On the only green wave I felt I'd solidly caught, I had to back off for Scott who was closer to the peak, and he had to back off because an old longboard guy who was way too deep took off behind the peak and immediately got smacked down by the lip. Dang.

I must admit, I'm fighting some of the old big-wave fear again. I'd worked my way up to riding overhead waves last winter and had some of my best ever at Garbage on my 6'2", long rides that kept me stoked for days. But the waves have been small in San Diego for so long that I guess I've forgotten that I can ride them, and fear of the big drop has built up again. I think I could get past it, if only I had an empty break to practice on - every surfer's dream! It would also help if I had a surf buddy to encourage and push me; I miss my NorCal friends. But I'll get my big-wave mojo back again, eventually.
South Garbage
No one was surfing the Boil inside South Garbage, so finally I tried my luck there, and Sunset Cliffs offered up a consolation prize of a long left. I caught it from a reform so missed out on the initial drop, but it did reform a couple more times with smaller drops and also allowed for turns when I made it over to the face. Another lesser ride followed, and I found myself far inside, bailing as I approached shallow reef. Instead of paddling back out and over to the the stairs, I walked across the reef to a strip of low-tide beach and then along the boulder-strewn base of the cliff. At one point I had to traverse through piles of kelp washed up by last week's storms. Did you ever play this game at Halloween when you were a kid? Walking on gushy strands of kelp (thankfully in booties) felt like stepping on cold thick spaghetti.

The day ended on a good note, with publication of my second story in the San Diego Reader: Major projects at Mission Beach's Plunge. Yay!

04 March 2014

Waiting to Commit

I shouldn't have let that one go, I thought, as the wave formed into a nice head-high left and peeled on without me.

Back in the lineup, Steve said, "Man, that was the wave."

I shrugged. "I have commitment issues."

"I can see that."
Steve and I were surfing between Scripps and La Jolla Shores, at a spot I think is called Green Wall because it's walled up most of the time. It also seemed to be somewhat of a wave desert; I could see waves breaking to the north and south, but few came through where we were. And that's probably why it was less crowded, less clogged with UCSD students getting in a session before school.
Post-surf view from Mt. Soledad. Scripps pier is on the right.
The wait for any wave was long, and even longer for a wave that didn't close out. I was determined to commit, to just go for it, on the next one. That wave was similar to the lost left but breaking right, and this time I went, no holds barred. Woot! It was the biggest drop I've made in a while, with a short but sweet shoulder. I split the peak with Steve, and we were both smiling broadly as we aimed our boards back toward the horizon, paddling out with (unfulfilled) hope for more.