31 October 2014


I surfed this morning in cat ears and made a few people smile. Google Halloweenified the photo and made me smile.
Surfline's Pacific Beach cam is stuck in a weird orientation (and wouldn't show the south side of the pier in any event), but you can see the waves weren't scary. And that they were a little bit fun. Happy Halloween!

27 October 2014

You Deserve a Name

While the swell came up overnight, the period dropped below 10 seconds. Since it was hitting from almost due west, I knew the beach breaks would be closed out, but wasn't really sure what to expect at the La Jolla reefs.

Straight out from Calumet Park, the ocean was churning, mixed up waves sloshing unrideably at my usual spot off the main peak. They lined up a bit better farther south and also at Sewers, which had fewer surfers out. I mentally tossed a coin on swimming vs. surfing and then Hennemans vs. Sewers, and then picked the latters.

There were four guys in the lineup, including a couple I'd seen there several times before. An older longboarder paddled nearby and smiled. "You've been surfing here enough," he said, "you deserve a name. I'm Rick." I told him mine and he pointed to a shortboarder I'd chatted with on Saturday. "That's Mike." He gave me the names of the two longboarders sitting outside, which flew over my head like pelicans and were gone, as always when I'm introduced to too many people at once.
It was nice to be welcomed into the morning surfer circle. That spirit of aloha and sharing waves makes the session so much more enjoyable. We chatted in between attempts to catch the mushy, shifty, backed-off waves. Turns out Rick is a shaper, and Mike and one of the other guys were taking boards he'd made on their maiden surfs, with encouraging results. My own results were less than stellar, with a couple middling rides and one head-high drop Mike called "wicked"- I got the bottom turn in, he saw, but then my board went airborne as I failed to negotiate a big mogul that suddenly appeared in the face.

I stayed out much longer than planned, trying for one good wave (which is one of the 10 Signs You're Addicted to Surfing), and had to nervously negotiate a return to the steep cobblestone beach at a nearly 6' high tide through mid-period swell. Fortunately I timed it right. I'm looking forward to hopefully better waves and the same company tomorrow.

25 October 2014

RIP Seal Bite

Three days ago, a 67-year-old surfer died at my favorite reef break, apparently of natural causes. I've been surfing there a lot over the past couple of months, and wondered if I'd ever seen him. The photos accompanying news reports were either too distant or obscured his features, leaving me in the dark.
This morning I paddled out at 7, the same time he'd arrived on Wednesday. Since the tide was rising fast to a high high, I hurried past the impromptu memorial of flowers, photos and notes on the north side of Calumet Park.

There were a handful of surfers at Hairmos and a couple heading to Sewers, but no one at Hennemans, so you know which spot I chose. The enticing scent of tortillas baking in one of the clifftop mansions floated on the slightest offshore breeze. Solitude didn't last beyond a couple of waves, but the several near-dawn patrollers who joined me were friendly and talkative.
The waves were small and shifty yet fun, and I remembered to smile so I'd surf better. (Really! Read about that here.) I rode my last left nearly to shore, crossed the cobbles, and started up the cliff path. Ever since I slipped soon after I started surfing this break, I've half-run up the steepest park to the top, using momentum to keep me going, and that's worked every time - except today.

Two months ago, I wrote this in my blog:
The dirt trail to the top of the bluff is also a bit tricky. Not only is it steep, but there's a constant trickle of water dribbling down that turns the footing to slippery mud. (Which is odd, because we're in the middle of the drought, and other than a couple of freak thunderstorms a while ago, we haven't had rain in a long time.) Near the top, one of my feet lost purchase and I barely stopped the slide with my free hand. 
"Want to give me your hand?" said a voice from above, and I looked up to see a longboarder offering his. I raised my muddy paw and he hoisted me up the last few steps. The nice dude told me the trail's always been wet, since he was a kid, due to a natural spring. Perhaps that also explains the brownness of the water there. But hey, I'll take muddy reef break over closed-out beach break any day of the week!
This morning I tipped forward into the dirt and came to an abrupt stop. My feet scrambled for an upward toehold but I found none at first on the slippery slope. I glanced up, half hoping to see an extended hand; there was only sky. I tried once more and got a grip, then scurried the last few steps to the top. Back in the park, I took a look at the photos of Stephen Saburo Fujii, nicknamed "Seal Bite" because one nipped him years ago. I can't be certain, but I think he's the guy I met on the trail in August.
RIP, Seal Bite. I hope your last wave was a great one.

20 October 2014

The Orange Bucket

Today was a rare day when I didn't take the time to check the surf before I grabbed my board and shut my key into the lockbox hanging from my car door handle. The tide was dropping and I didn't want to delay. Nothing was breaking as I picked my way carefully down the steep path to the cobblestone beach, but a couple dudes had just paddle out, one heading to Sewers and the other to Henneman's. Must be something out there to ride, right?
Eh, not so much. The waves were small, soft and breaking shallow. I spotted an orange bucket on the beach at the base of the cliffs, just below where a few-million-dollar La Jolla house had been torn down and workers were busy preparing to erect a many-million-dollar mansion. Surfrider has a plastic art contest going on for Rise Above Plastics Month, and I decided to fetch said bucket to perhaps use in my sculpture. Not that I have much hope of winning the contest, which has a top prize of a Firewire surfboard. After all, this is not my entry:
Fish made from plastic beach trash at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito
This is (so far):
Mostly it's made from trash I collected at Surfrider's cleanup of Goat Canyon in Border Field State Park the weekend before last, with a few additions from Hennemen's: the "scarf" is a plastic bag that tangled around my leash like a strand of immortal seaweed. The border cleanup was a real eye-opener; we were within a mile of the beach, and there was an amazing amount of trash poised to wash into the ocean with the first heavy rains. Because garbage doesn't respect border fences.
Mexico is on the other side of the fence, but the trash is here
But I digress. After chatting a bit with the other dude at the main peak, about how us goofyfooters love it there and the appeal of Garbage (the break) at Sunset Cliffs, I finally caught a stoke-worthy wave and decided to end on a high note. Paying heed to the reef that was nearing the surface on the dropping tide, I made my way to shore, set Rocket gently on the stones, and walked back a bit to get the orange bucket. I picked up a few bits of trash and my board, then painfully stepped toward the cliff path on shifting cobblestones, stopping for more detritus along the way. By the time I reached the ascension point, I'd filled the bucket to almost overflowing, with two balloons, two straws, a potato chip wrapper, a fiberglass strip perhaps from a surfboard deck, a knee pad, one plastic Starbucks cup, a golf ball and odd bits of plastic.
A fitness coach and her charge saw me emptying the lot into a trash can at Calumet Park, and thanked me for doing a little cleanup. They got to talking about the gyres, and I politely corrected their misperception that they're floating islands of recognizable trash, explaining that sunlight photodegrades plastic into smaller and smaller pieces like this:
Photodegraded plastic is hard to clean up on land and impossible in the ocean
but the little bits never go away (at least not for 450-1000 years). I left them on a positive note from a film my Rise Above Plastics committee screened a couple months ago: scientists may have found a bacteria that eats the tiny plastic fragments in the gyre. Maybe they'll save us from ourselves.

17 October 2014

Nice Ending

"How about this? It's October 17th, and we're surfing in board shorts!" - one longboarder to another
"Yeah! Nice." - surfer paddling out as I swished by him on my last and best wave

16 October 2014

Blog Action Day: Inequality

It's Blog Action Day and the topic this year is inequality. I'm being lazy and reposting an article I wrote for Mpora Action Sports Magazine last month.

Second-Class Waves And Sleazy Ads: 

 Why Women Are Still Fighting For Equality 

 In Action Sports

Even in the 21st century, women are still chronically underexposed in the

 worlds of skating and surfing. We investigate why...

Photo: ESPN

Early one morning, a mother brought her three young children to the skatepark where I was riding. Her 7-year-old son strapped on a helmet and pads, picked up his skateboard, and dropped down a ramp. His two sisters, one slightly older and another younger, had to settle for make-believe.
The girls ran around the nearly empty park, carving the bowls on small sneakers instead of wheels, and giggling as they darted out of my way.
They were getting an early schooling in the difference between female and male boardriders, a disparity of opportunity and exposure that impacts all ages.

Photo: Pink Helmet Posse

Amelia Brodka experienced these differences as a little girl when she wanted to have a go at skateboarding  for the first time. She tried to ride her brother’s board, but he discouraged her by saying she wasn’t doing it right.
Later, when she was twelve, Brodka’s family attended the X-Games in Philadelphia and she saw girls skating the vert ramp. As she explains in her feature-length film, Underexposed: A Women’s Skateboarding Documentary, that was the start of her skateboarding obsession; she wanted to do what those other girls did.
For me, the defining moment came from watching Blue Crush, a thinly-plotted film that revolves around a female surfer striving to win a big wave contest at Pipeline.
Watching the main character Anne-Marie shred on the movie screen is what inspired me to sign up for my first surf lesson. If she could do it, maybe I could too. I’ve now been surfing for more than a decade, still motivated by that example.
There’s no doubt that girls and women have fewer opportunities to see others like them ripping in the skatepark or on the waves.

How many of these magazines show a fair representation of women? Photo: Surf Bang

Pick up any surfing or skateboarding magazine. How many female boardriders do you see? For that matter, how many women do you see who aren’t posing seductively to sell a product?
Many companies that market to female athletes don’t seem to understand that women would rather see their products in action than merely displayed on models.
While making Underexposed, Brodka conducted an informal poll. She took print ads for a shirt and showed them to women on the street – non-skaters who were interested in the culture and fashion. One ad showed the shirt worn by a model, the other by a woman skating. Two-thirds preferred the ad with the skateboarder.

Samarria Brevard with Brodka filming for Underexposed in Arizona. Photo: Underexposed

When I asked Brodka what changes to the skate industry she thought would be most beneficial to encourage girls who want to skate, and to support those who want to make a living at it, she replied via email, “USE SKATEBOARDERS INSTEAD OF MODELS TO PROMOTE YOUR WOMEN’S LINE, PLEASE!”
“I don’t understand why companies don’t see the advantage in using a photo of a girl who is dressed up in their apparel and looks beautiful and powerful in the middle of a smith grind,” said Brodka.
Skate brands would become more authentic, while empowering and inspiring girls and women. “When someone feels inspired by your advertisement, they are more likely to buy your product,” argues Brodka.

The surf world is no different

In the surfing world, Roxy was widely denounced last year for its contest teaser video that lingered on an faceless female surfer’s sexy body without ever showing her riding a wave.

Former world longboard champion Cori Schumacher delivered a petition to Roxy headquarters, signed by over twenty thousand people from around the world, asking the company to stop using sex to market its products.

While Roxy essentially had no comment, it seems to have backed down from that level of overt sexualisation in its advertisements.
The short film Flux: Redefining Women’s Surfing shows Kahanu Delovio, a 15-year-old surfer girl from Hawaii, who wants to focus on her sport but is already feeling pressure from her peers to wear smaller and smaller bikinis while practicing it.
“ONLY 5 PER CENT OF WOMEN HAVE THE BODY TYPE ADVERTISERS SEE AS IDEAL”Only 5 per cent of women have the body type advertisers see as ideal. This leaves female surfers feeling like they have to conform to that image, even when it’s not feasible for their body types and has nothing to do with their skills as surfers.
While the industry often focuses on their sex appeal, women who want to compete in skating and surfing lack sufficient exposure of their athletic prowess in magazines and contests. This means fewer role models for those who want to pick up the sport.
To some extent, this dearth of positive exposure can be attributed to the historical male dominance of the sports. However gender bias does not fully account for the disparate coverage of male and female riders.

 The skills gap

Former professional surfer Holly Beck told me that she prefers to watch the top men surf because their manoeuvres are a level above anything the best women can do. They’re simply more exciting to watch.
In skateboarding as well, Brodka says there truly is a skills gap between the best female and male riders. It’s that gap that made Brodka initially reluctant to have her skating shot by a staff photographer for a legitimate skateboarding company.
“I knew the level at which the rest of the team skated and I knew I was nowhere near that level,” Brodka explains. “The thought of going to shoot with someone who is used to working with guys who are doing much more difficult tricks in difficult spots is nerve-wracking. What if I got to a spot and it took me forever to do something that a guy on the team can do switch third try?”

Amelia Brodka pushing boundaries for women's skateboarding. Photo: ESPN

Skate magazines are looking for the next new thing, a fresh trick for their photo spread, typically something that has never been done before. But since most of the girls haven’t caught up to that level, explains Brodka, where do we draw the line between publishable and not good enough to print?
So, what accounts for the skills gap? It partly circles back to lack of exposure and opportunity.
Ever since she was inspired to pick up a skateboard aged 12, Brodka skated and trained hard, culminating in preparations for her first major competition at the X-Games in 2011. But then the women’s vert event was cancelled by the organisers.
That setback helped to spark her journey to document the place of women in the skateboarding world by filming Underexposed.
Being shut out of the X-Games deprived female skaters of their key event, one many were counting on to get noticed and find sponsors.
“For some women, that contest made or broke their entire year,” Lyn-Z Adams Hawkins says in the film. If men are good enough, they can make a living without competing but that isn’t the case for women.

Sponsorship isn’t easy to come by

Paige Hareb started her own crowdfunding campaign to support her Photo: Photosport

Women struggle financially in pro surfing too. Since ZoSea took over the Association of Surfing Professionals in 2012, the huge prize money gap between male and female surfers on the World Tour has narrowed, although it still has a long way to go to achieve parity.
Additionally, women have a more difficult time than men in securing sponsorships. Last year, one of the top-ranked female surfers resorted to crowdfunding to be able to afford a shot at the world title.
New Zealander Paige Hareb finished the previous year in tenth place, yet she had trouble lining up sponsors to cover her travel and living expenses. Using a Kickstarter variant called Sportfunder, she asked for donations from her fans.
“It worked well,” said Hareb. “I got a lot of support from so many people around the world, and of course it helped me get from event to event and re-qualify for this year with a lot less stress and worry about financial support.”
Hareb agrees that women who surf professionally face greater challenges in obtaining sponsorships. “Men can mainly worry about how good they surf and/or their contest results, but I think a lot of female sponsorships are based on looks, personalities and how many followers you have on your social media.” She continued, “It’s definitely harder for women and more cutthroat. We almost have to be and do more for less.”

“We need more women-only contests”

It doesn’t help that women in both sports have fewer contests than men, and thus fewer opportunities to display their skills. Hareb laments that “when we have events with the men, they get first priority with the best waves so we never really get to show our true potential in the same waves.”
Some of the women’s tour locations also fail to provide quality surf on which to demonstrate their abilities. That’s why there was much excitement when Trestles was recently added as a women’s venue, alongside the existing men’s event.
Still, Hareb believes there’s room for improvement. “I would love to see J-Bay on the tour and I would probably take off the Brazil event – we’ve never had good waves there for the event.”

Paige Hareb in the Roxy Pro Gold Coast 2009. Photo: surf.co.nz

She’d also like more women-only competitions, “only because if the waves are really good then we know we would actually get to compete in them!”
On the skateboarding side, Brodka has seen progress since her contest at the X-Games was cancelled. “I am very grateful that we are now a part of more events, [but] I wouldn’t say that things are equal yet”, she says.
“I think that as we continue to show that women’s skateboarding is growing in terms of participants, value and the level of skateboarding, we will start to get more practice time and a prize purse that is at least slightly comparable to the guys.”

Getting people talking

The goal of Underexposed was “to get more people talking and thinking about women’s skateboarding”. That’s happened.
It’s also enabled Brodka to create a women’s skateboarding event called EXPOSURE, now in its third year, that provides a showcase for female skaters while raising funds for survivors of domestic violence.
“A lot of growth has happened in the past few years, and it is really inspiring!” Brodka said. There’s now a new generation of 7 to 16 year old girls who are pushing the level of female skateboarding around the globe.
As a result, more companies, non profit organisations and governments are now supportive of women’s skateboarding.

While there is still a long way to go before women are on a near-equal footing with men, opportunities and exposure for female boardriders have come far since trailblazers like Marge Calhoun and Elissa Steamer took to the waves and the ramps. The future is looking brighter for the women of surf and skate.
If you’re in the California area, get on down to the EXPOSURE women’s skate event on Saturday 8 November 2014 at the Encinitas YMCA in San Diego, California. There’s going to be free skate clinics, yoga sessions, amateur and pro vert and bowl events plus pro skater signings.

15 October 2014

On Fire and On Camera

Yesterday's session was one of my best ever. I was in sync with the sea and surfing well, from the moment I paddled out and a SUPer who'd just ended his ride in the water said "Hi." No dude, I'm not looking at you; I'm looking at that wave that's swinging right to me, and with a few strokes, I was in and riding. My hair didn't even get wet until I'd surfed four fine lefts with lots of turns. The waves were smaller than Monday, only about shoulder high, but so much fun!

After countless rides, I dashed up the cobblestone beach ahead of the shorepound and found a photographer waiting. Marc Eyherabide said he'd taken some shots of me. I was almost afraid to look lest they show I was only ripping in my mind and not in reality, but they're not half bad.

13 October 2014

Feeling Alive

This morning's session in 6-8 foot surf on a solid northwest swell had me feeling by turns annoyed (at the size of the crowd), happy (catching some smaller waves on the inside), scared (drilled deep into darkness by a set wave that broke in front of me), seriously stoked (riding a long 7-foot left with room on the face for more maneuvers than I could think of), lucky (pushed up the cobblestones by shorebreak but escaping unscathed), and surprised (that I'd stayed out well over two hours). Woot!

07 October 2014

03 October 2014

And Then I Lost My Hat

Wow, that was fun! The southern hemi delivered a nice swell, served in a warm sea under a sunny sky with just a breath of wind.

A lot of folks must have off on Fridays - or they're playing hooky - because there were already half a dozen surfers at Hennemans when I arrived mid-morning. I eyed empty Sewers to the north, but hesitated to try it for the first time given the falling tide. Perhaps no one was out because it got too shallow?
Unfortunately the crowd kept growing at Hennemans, and though I rode a couple of lefts that had just broken, I had to back off frequently for traffic. Now there were a couple people out at Sewers - a little company but not too much - so I rode left and paddled the rest of the way over.

From Sewers, I could set bigger waves rolling through at Bird Rock. The lucky few from the thick crowd were splitting A-frames that broke a foot or so overhead. On my peaks, the waves were closer to head-high, but still a lot of fun. It reminded me of Santa Cruz, sitting at Indicators or 38th Ave while watching the show over at the main peak at Steamer Lane or Pleasure Point.
I rode my first wave, a right, through two reforms and close to shore. Too close - the reef came up under my board suddenly, just a foot below, and I quickly ended the ride. The water was shallow, with boils all around. I'd have to kick out earlier next time.

More surfers kept coming, and soon there were four others at Sewers. Still I got my share of tasty waves, riding with my back to smooth green faces. Woot!

After a particularly fine wave with a sizable drop, I bobbed next to my 6'2" on the inside while the rest of the set rolled through, ducking under whitewater, before paddling back out. It was only then that I noticed my surf hat was gone. I moved toward the beach, scanning the surface, but didn't see it floating anywhere. Back in the lineup, I said, "Hey, everybody! If you happen to see a blue hat in there," pointing toward shore, "please grab it for me. I lost mine." It's telling that the three guys ignored me completely, while the girl smiled and replied, "Sure thing."

Alas, no one found it. After a while, I rode a wave straight in, searching, and walked painfully across the boulders and cobblestones that underlined the cliffs, hoping it had washed up. No luck. Ah, well, small price to pay for such a fine surf session!

02 October 2014

Summer's Not Over

Another southwest groundswell began filling in overnight. I'm fighting off a virus that's made my throat so sore I'm usually talking in whispers, but I wanted some of those waves at my neighborhood reef break. Although Hairmos actually looked better than Hennemans, I didn't have the energy to paddle all the way over there.
The water has warmed up again and my 3/2 full suit was too much, even with a light breeze. Until another dude came out to my peak, I was alone, shifting about to find position for the shifty, lully waves. I scored some soft chest-high lefts and rights that felt as sluggish as me.
The swell is still building. Tomorrow I expect the waves and I will be more energetic, and I'm looking forward to one more session in my 2mil short jane.