26 May 2014

Crossing Under

Determined to beat the holiday crowds this morning, I paddled out before 6 at my home break. Only two guys were in the water, including Jeff, who'd been out since 5:30.
David, the lone sponger of Crystal Pier
There was a lot of loose kelp floating about, and a surprisingly strong current given the small and inconsistent waves. When I wasn't paddling back toward the pier and the beach, I was pulling bits of kelp from my leash and flinging them away. The other dude, a longboarder, hoarded the pole position, but I rode a few waves before the masses started to arrive.
Jeff and David (lower left) and their many "friends" on the north side
As the main peak clotted up with surfers, I eyed empty waves breaking on the south side of Crystal Pier. I've been surfing the north side of the pier for about a year, but had never tried the south. I'm not sure exactly why, but paddle-battling on the north today wasn't appealing. I decided to cross under.
This guy paddled under a bit before I left, ending my solitude
On the other side, there was less current, less kelp, and no people. Although it took me a little while to figure out the peak, I soon got my best ride of the morning so far, an unexpected left that sent "shoot the pier!" flitting through my mind before I turned toward open water.
Wipeout imitates bird
I saw Jeff looking my way occasionally, but he stayed with the crowd. Jeff surfs better than me, catches more waves, and I noted how deep and fast he paddled into them. So on my next wave, I cranked it up a notch and got an ever better ride. I dropped in going right on the chest-high wave and as it seemed to fade, cut back left for the reform and rode it all the way to the beach, watching the bottom come up through translucent water. Stoked!

25 May 2014

Maybe If I'd Brought My Towel...

Today is Towel Day, but I'd forgotten that and was thinking only of beating the Memorial Day weekend crowds when I got to the beach an hour after dawn. Should've been there earlier; the throngs quickly descended despite the early hour on a Sunday. I rode a couple of waves - one a fun and fast shoulder-high left - before being shut out for a while.
A few of the Crystal Pier dawn patrol regulars were out, but the irregulars were clogging our waves. Jeff cussed as one cut him off. "I wish the water was still cold," he groused. Drop the sea temperature 10 degrees, and it would've been just him, Howard and me on the main peak.

I tried farther down the beach but there was a reason the ocean was emptier there; waves weren't breaking as the tide filled in. I jumped on one that mushed out, then joined sponger David as he paddled to the main peak. Briefly the interlopers went elsewhere, and I was able to score another ride.

Tomorrow, I'll be out at actual dawn.
Up the beach at Tourmaline, 2 hours later (via Surfline cam)

23 May 2014

Weakness and Strengths

I got sick yesterday, perhaps from dirty water, but who knows. I'm on antibiotics and still feeling weak, but that didn't stop me from surfing. Of course.

Although the cam and report suggested an easy session, I picked the wrong time to paddle out and had to plow through an incoming set when I had hoped to conserve limited energy. I rode a few waves, saving the best for last, before I tuckered out.

As I left the water, I passed a young teenage girl with a bodyboard standing only knee-deep, and suggested she move away from the trench near the pier, down the beach to where the sand sloped more gradually and the waves were more amenable to her purpose. "Oh, OK," she said, "I don't really know what I'm doing." I offered to give her some tips and she accepted eagerly. Kayla told me she was visiting from Arizona, and that her father (who wasn't around) had just bought her the bodyboard.

Bodyboarding on whitewater seems so intuitively easy to me that it was both hard to explain and perplexing that anyone wouldn't get it right off the bat, but I tried to pass on what I knew. Kayla still struggled for a bit, moving only a couple of feet on a wave I bodysurfed to the shallows. Then she caught a couple to the sand herself - yeah! - and I left her to practice on her own, hoping I'd made her vacation a little more fun and perhaps provided inspiration.

Becoming Inured?

I feel bad. My Mpora listicle, "9 Useful Surf Accessories You Might Not Know About," included the Hot Jugz portable shower, based on recommendations of female friends. I honestly didn't notice the provocative name. And certainly not the logo on the water tank, which appeared prominently in a photo accompanying the piece; I'd suggested a different picture, of a surfer using the shower. Even when a Twitter friend commented, I had to take a closer look; my mind wasn't seeing the buxom babe in a bikini, but rather, at first fleeting glance, a crude map of the world.

That makes me wonder, have I become inured to the sexism around me? Is it so prevalent that sometimes I don't see it anymore? I hope not.

I've contacted the Hot Jugz company, which is based in SoCal, to ask them about the choice of name and logo, and the effects they may have had on sales. We'll see if they're willing to talk about it.

21 May 2014

You Can't Harsh My Mellow

There was a real Cranky Frank in the lineup at Green Pipes this morning. "These waves are really junky," he grumbled. "Even the ones that look decent turn out to be crap."

"It got fun for about 15 minutes earlier... Still better than not surfing," I said perkily. "And at least the water's warm!"

He continued to glower. "I sure hope this sea-sickness clears up soon," he muttered. Even after he rode one of the better waves on offer, with a shoulder that held up for a few seconds - before wiping out a bit close to me - his face didn't show the slightest hint of a smile.

I felt briefly sad for this man who seemed unable to find any joy in being in the warm ocean on a lovely sunny day, with a light crowd and light chop, and riding small waves that were fun with appropriate expectations. But I didn't let him harsh my mellow.

Later, as I walked up the sand, I passed a woman taking pictures of a kelp leaf. Ah, tourists, and the mundane beachy things they find fascinating! But then she pointed to the small crab nestled underneath, looking out at the world from an impromptu leaf-cave. "He's hiding!" she said.

"And probably not happy. They're usually in the rocks," I told her. With no tidepools or jetties anywhere near, I wondered what the little guy or girl was doing so far from home, and what would happen when the tide pulled out even farther. There's probably a life metaphor in there somewhere.

20 May 2014

Wind Plays Nice (Mostly)

For the last few days, the surf's been suffering ill effects of southerly wind. SSW groundswell and now WNW windswell are providing waves, but they're choppy at best, and hacked up and blown out at worst. On top of that, the tide's been drained out in the morning when winds are most likely to be lightest. So when I woke at dawn and saw only a whispering breeze, I ate a bowl of oatmeal in a hurry and got to the beach before the tide bottomed out.
The warm sun broke through clouds to softly warm my back as the ocean lapped at my ankles. I used my toes to feel along the edge of a sandbar, shuffling to notify any nearby stingrays of my approach. When I stepped into slightly deeper water, my foot came down on something slimy that swiftly slithered away. Toes up! Onto the board now.
One thing I like about surfing at Tourmaline is that most everyone is so gosh-darn friendly, always ready with a smile and a little chit-chat. When I returned to the parking lot, I had to agree with the dude changing out of his wetsuit two cars over: "Pretty fun, huh? But a lot of work getting back out."

17 May 2014

Evening Glass Off

Unfortunately the wind rose faster than the tide today, but patience paid off with evening glass and the swell had come up by then too. It was a lot of work paddling through the windswell to the outside, but I was rewarded with a long fast head-high left that reformed a bit smaller. Woot!
This morning. Not enough water before the wind came up.
I would've gone back for more, if only there'd been a jet ski to tow me back to the lineup.

15 May 2014

Smoke on the Water

San Diego is burning.
The fires - nine now - are to the north, but the smoke is making me cough. That's nothing compared to what others are going through, with thousands having to evacuate and a handful losing their homes.
Caught on cam: Me and Steve getting ready to paddle out
There's a south swell in the water now and not much else, so I met up with Steve at IB pier, which can catch that direction. We paddled out on the north side, then under the pier, carefully timing the waves to avoid being pushed into the close-set pilings which were coated in sharp barnacles. 
That's not smog on the horizon; it's smoke.
Steve's surfed IB the last few days, and wanted to get to the second peak south, which was less crowded. On the way over there, I caught a right near the pier. A bit father south, I paddled into a really fun right that, with the proper turns, reformed as a left with a second drop and took me all the way in to the beach. Yeah!
The hot, dry Santa Ana winds stirred up my heretofore unknown allergies, but the smoke added in bouts of coughing and a headache that put an early end to my session. What I wouldn't give right now for some cool, clammy fog!
Back at the car, I had an email from the editor of Mpora.com saying my article, the first on surfing for which I'm being paid - was "exactly what [they] were looking for" and "really well written." Double Yeah! Here it is: Why Aren't There More Openly Gay Surfers?

13 May 2014


There's something magical about being in the ocean in the early morning.
If in-eye cameras had been invented, I would have snapped a photo of a glassy translucent wave, about to break in front of me, studded with silvery fish illuminated by the low morning sun. And the pair of seals sinuously breaking the calm surface of the sea and then sliding back underneath. And most especially, the dolphin who surfed a clear unbroken wave about 30 feet away. Magical!

I'm still amazed that I can surf in the city of San Diego entirely alone (except for a dolphin). The waves were small and soft but still fun, and after Howard and a couple other guys left, I enjoyed the solitude of the sea.

11 May 2014

Flux and Inspiration

Cori Schumacher hosted a special screening Saturday of the new short film FLUX: Redefining Women's Surfing. It was like Miss Representation but focused on surfing. Sadly, the teen surfer featured in the film lost her Roxy sponsorship after appearing in it.

Cori also unveiled The Inspire Initiative.
The Inspire Initiative is a non-profit that seeks to enrich and empower women of all ages through participation in surfing while emphasizing education, media literacy and building a core community of leaders that will effect positive change in the world.
A big part of the Inspire Initiative will launch in November: a comprehensive history of women's surfing. I'm looking forward to seeing it, and the other initiatives ii has in store.

10 May 2014

Breath of Life

This morning I gave back by serving as a "catcher" at the Mauli Ola Foundation's Hans Hagen Surf Experience Day in Del Mar.
"Mauli Ola" means breath of life in Hawaiian (and I think it's interesting that "ola" means wave in Spanish). The MOF takes kids with cystic fibrosis surfing because the salt air provides natural therapy for their often-congested lungs. I didn't know any of that before last week, when San Diego Surf Lady Gina posted the volunteer opportunity on Facebook.
This little girl went for tandem rides on a bodyboard.
Each kid was paired with an instructor in a blue rashguard, and I was one of the wetsuited volunteers standing in the warm shallows to catch wayward soft-top longboards and help the children get back out through the first lines of whitewater.
My other duty was cheering - lots and lots of cheering.
Blue lips but he kept going back for more (photo from Mauli Ola)
The kids were so stoked! One little boy was reluctant to come in, even though his lips were turning blue.
I think this is Lola, getting some pre-surf instruction.
Me and Gina
Little Lola was about 6 or 7 years old with black-polished fingernails, and she was having a blast. I cheered her ride as I caught her surfboard. She hopped atop it again and I pushed her back out, but she'd ridden south, away from her instructor, who was too far away to call and not paying attention as he chatted with another. So I nervously turned the big board around - the windswell didn't leave much time and I didn't want to get her caught broadside and dumped - said "Ready... Set... Go!" and pushed her toward shore ahead of a little broken wave. She popped up and rode until the whitewater faded over a trench, then I fetched her back again, still waiting for her instructor to notice us. He seemed to have forgotten her entirely. When I saw him leave the water and with no other instructors in the near vicinity, I pushed Lola into one more wave and then took her in to the beach. She said she was not done surfing; she wanted to go back out for more! Her first instructor by then had left the beach, so I enlisted another blue shirt, who took Lola into the water for more surfing and smiles. What a great morning!
P.S. I didn't find out until later, but (in)famous Hawaiian surfers Sunny Garcia and Kala Alexander were there too. Gina even got a photo of me with the "Toughest Fucking Man in Surfing" just after he launched a quadcopter.

09 May 2014

San Diego Surf Film Festival 2014

Front row two nights in a row, for a couple of movies that were great for entirely different reasons.
I'm glad I went, although it was hard to stay up till midnight when my internal alarm clock is stubbornly set to 6 am for dawn patrol.
Someone in the audience asked Switchfoot, "If you had to choose between surfing and music, which would you pick?" Lead singer Jon Foreman had an intriguing and mildly profound answer ready. I can't remember his exact words, but it was along the lines of: In surfing, you have to ride finite, existing waves, but in music, you create the waves, which makes music a much broader experience.
Switchfoot answers questions after the Fading West screening
I'm writing an article entitled, "Why Aren't There More Surf Gay Surfers Out in the Lineup?" Stand by for that.
Out In The Lineup producer Thomas Castets and world champion surfer Cori Schumacher
Sold-out show

Surfing With Unicorns

In Out in the Lineup, Cori Schumacher says that male gay surfers are mythical beasts like unicorns. You hear about them, but no one's ever seen one. That was the case for me until this morning, when I met up for a surf with the film's producer, Thomas Castets, and his friend Steve from Florida.
When I moved to the Bay Area and began surfing in earnest eight years ago, it seemed for a time that all of the women I met in the water were gay. I didn't think much of it, since it was San Francisco, after all. But the guys? None of them were gay - as far as I knew.
Now at Avalanche in Ocean Beach, I was out in the lineup with two guys who were out in the lineup, and they were both pretty good surfers. When I asked Thomas what inspired him to make the film, he told me to watch it and see. Although I did once get stuck inside for a grueling while and had to return to the rip to get back out, I held my own on the chest-high waves and pulled some fun lefts from the crowd as we all drifted south toward the pier.

05 May 2014

Gray with a Splash of Color

The water temperature has been all over the place lately as upwellings come and go in Pacific Beach. Four days ago I wore my 4/3 wetsuit and wished for booties and a hood as sequential duck-dives gave fleeting ice-cream headaches. By yesterday the ocean had warmed so that I was comfortable in just a 3/2. And then this morning I was glad to be wearing a new Billabong Salty Dayz chest-zip 4/3.

My sleeveless Billabong Salty Jane long john fits well and has nice colored panels (so nice to not look entirely like a black seal!) but I don't get to wear it often in San Diego. I took a chance that Billabong's 4/3 would also fit and ordered the same size online from Swell.com, using a $50 gift card reward for participation in the Surfer Health Study. Unfortunately the only difference between the two wetsuits - sleeves - really is different. I've got tiny wrists, only 5" in circumference; I have a hard time finding bracelets because the standard is 7" long. But Aussie girls must have even skinnier arms because the wrists of the 4/3 are tight on me. I made the mistake of putting the wetsuit on for the first time during the Santa Ana heat wave before an afternoon surf, and thought my difficulties in pulling up the sleeves were due to sunscreen and sweat. But as I found this cooler morning, they're just small. Bearable, but definitely tight. No flushing there, for sure!
As the chilly ocean lapped at my feet soon after dawn, I was glad of the new 4/3. A storm front's heading our way, and twilight calm at my house seven blocks from the beach yielded to a light south breeze that quickly grew stronger and chopped the sea surface. On the plus side, the crowd was light and the waves were a decent size, bigger than the last few days. Short- to mid-period windswell meant many wet slaps in the face but it wasn't too hard getting out on my trusty 6'2" Rocket.
After a few short whitewatery rides on the north end, I left the growing pack of longboarders there and moved south to the Pumphouse peak which held just two shortboarders. I ate it a few times but also found joy on a couple of shoulder-high plus lefts with fast fun rampy drops and a little bit of face-time. Confidence is building!
I found this little guy below the high-tide line and moved him up to the dune.

01 May 2014

Hot Air and Cold Water

My old surf buddy Luke came down from NorCal and we had a fun late afternoon surf yesterday at Tourmo, after he fixed a couple of broken things on my new freelance writing website (check it out here). Yesterday was crazy windy, with a maximum gust of 39 mph recorded at my home break, Crystal Pier. The Santa Anas have been blowing strong, hot and dry, and the normal afternoon onshore seabreeze couldn't counter them until partway through our session, which thankfully was after the worst of the wind.

The swell dropped overnight and the day started calm, but the hot offshore breeze turned on before we met up for another surf mid-morning. I checked breaks from Bird Rock to Reed Avenue south of Crystal Pier.
I was stopped in a red zone at the end of Reed and had texted Luke to meet me at Law Street when a tourist asked if he could take a picture of my MINI Cooper at the beach, for his wife. I stepped out of frame to let him snap it, then got back in the car in time to see a nice set roll through with peeling lefts and rights. "Changed my mind," I texted, "Come here instead." I'm glad I said yes to that picture.

Under a hot sun with the air temperature already over 85°, I sweated in my 4/3 wetsuit while I waited for Luke. He'd gotten cold in his sleeveless long john yesterday and donned a 4/3 himself. I wished for booties and a hood too once we paddled out; an upwelling has dropped the ocean temperature to 55°, which brought on short ice-cream headaches after a few duck-dives.

The waves were up to shoulder high and held open by strong offshores that made paddling into them challenging. I didn't get into any green until my last wave. I had to hold the nose down hard against the wind as I popped up and then rode left as my buddy watched from the beach. Stoked!