30 December 2015

Winter is Here

Air 44º and water 59º - brrr! It's winter in San Diego.
Steve wiping out
Mike's cousin Steve dragged us out not long after dawn. Surfline put an orange "good" on today so I thought it would be more crowded, but actually the waves were meh, mixed up and shifty. My best ride was the last, and I got cocky and rode Rocket all the way to the cobblestone beach. Timing and luck weren't with me, and my wave dragged me backward to be slammed by the next one coming in. Fortunately there were no casualties, just a slightly bruised hand.

16 December 2015


Tammy and Kristen wanted to surf at dawn, before they had to go to work. Despite much moaning about the forecast temperature in the 40s, we all turned up before sunrise. The sand was so cold it burned my bare bare feet as I hurried to join my friends in the 63º water. It reminded me of a winter day in Half Moon Bay with Luke years ago.
Carazul, my new Degree33 7'2" egg, really loved to play in the waist-high peelers at Tourmaline. Although we only lasted an hour in the cold, I had many chances to practice carving turns. Next time maybe I can try whitewhiter climbs and floaters. I'm really starting to get the hang of longboarding and it's pretty fun.
Luke on a frosty morning in NorCal several years ago

15 December 2015


There was frost on the ground and the waves were mixed up this morning, but Mike and I had the break to ourselves for a while and I rode a few fun ones.

10 December 2015

The Joy of Surf

Every so often, there is a day when I just need to surf. When onshore stuff in my life is dragging me down, I need to get offshore to lose myself and find myself in the ocean. Today was one of those days.

For me, there's nothing that compares to the feeling of riding a wave born from the interaction of wind and water many miles away. It puts me fully present in the moment; for those scant seconds, there is nothing else but my dance with the sea.
Recently I dipped a toe into the dating pool after a long marriage ended, and my friend Nancy's book has been inspirational. Everything I Know About Dating I Learned Through Surfing has pearls of wisdom like "If it looks good, don't just sit there. Paddle over there, and get it!" and "Have patience. Don't jump on the first wave of a set because you're tired of waiting."

I was thinking about the parallels at Hennemans this morning. Mid-period swell brought shorepound steadily into the cobblestone beach. The waves raised a loud clatter as they hurled stones toward the cliff and I watched the horizon for a break between sets before I plunged into the ocean with my 6'2". "Timing really is everything."

The crowd was moderate and I stayed to the side on the secondary peak. The benefit of the shorter-period swell was that there weren't many lulls; another wave came almost as soon as I paddled back from riding one. It's not in the book, but there will always be another wave.

As the tide dropped, there were boils everywhere, places where the reef was shallow, spots that distorted the waves in unpredictable ways. Several times I pulled back from a wave I'd caught when the face before me mutated into something unrideable. "Trust your gut when it's time to bail." But once when the wave changed its mind about which direction it was breaking as I popped up, I was able to quickly respond and go with it. The functional stance I learned at Surf Simply is becoming habit, and it is much more flexible than my old stance. Like my coach said, it's a matter of being fully in control of the board on the wave, rather than a passenger on it.
"If you're not having any luck, maybe you're at the wrong break."
So far in my nascent dating adventure, I've tried for a few waves that looked promising but never broke. And I've paddled for some and then stopped, thinking, this is not going to happen so why am I wasting my time? But during this morning's oceanic musings, one thing became clear, which is that I need to be looking for a surfer to share my life. Surfing is so important to me that I had a wave tattooed on my shoulder as a permanent marker. It's like oxygen; something I must to have to live. I need a guy who gets that, who feels the same pull of the ocean and has the same compulsion to seek the indescribable joy that comes from riding a wave. Someone who understands the magic of watching the sunrise while floating in a glassy sea, who looks in wonder at a passing seal or dolphin, and who will duck with me when, like this morning, a flock of pelicans flies low over the water straight at us and breaks to the sides at the last moment. I don't think it really matters what he uses to ride waves – as long as it's not a Costco Wavestorm – although it would be nice to find a shortboarder who could push me outside my comfort zone. A regular foot, so we could split A-frames, or a goofy foot, so we could seek out the best lefts together – I'm not particular about that.

I don't know how long it will take to find him, but he's out there, somewhere. I'll keep smiling and chatting in the lineup, and maybe one day we'll bump into each other. One last thought from Nancy's book: "The ocean isn't going anywhere. Tomorrow brings more waves."

07 December 2015

Surf Simply Reunion Numero Dos

This morning Jessica and I met up in Cardiff with Mike from Seattle, planning to find Mike from San Diego (hereinafter Miguel to avoid confusion) in the water. We were all at Surf Simply in Costa Rica in early November.
Jessica, me and Mike from Seattle. If you look closely, you can see the Cardiff Kook in the background.
The surf was overhead and getting to the outside was a challenge. Mike charged out through the dumping and powerful whitewater near shore while Jess and I were tossed around like leaves. Past the shallows, those duck-diving drills at Surf Simply paid off. The maneuver came back to me even after a month – although I need to judge the timing better – and I got my 5'4" to the flat water. Yeah! According to coach Harry's formula (weight divided by 4), my 25.7L Firewire Spitfire is at the upper limit of the volume I should be able to duck dive, so I'm glad I can sink it enough. And that I remember all the moves!
via Surfline
Once we'd regrouped, the three of us set out in search of Miguel. First we paddled south to the next peak, but he wasn't there, nor at the next one. And then we were caught in the current from the river, which pushed us quickly more south. After a long paddle back, we checked a peak to the north. Miguel no esta aquí.

We gave up the quest and tried to catch some waves. I popped up and almost dropped in on a big one, but a mound of water appeared in the face and stopped me going down. Despite the low tide, it seemed the waves that didn't close out were too soft, unless you managed to be at a shifty peak as it broke. None of us got so lucky and we decided lunch would be more fun. I tempted fate by moving farther and farther inside, finally taking a late drop on a head-high right and getting blown off my feet after a second by the turbulence. Mike and Jessica came in on whitewater, prone and standing, respectively. Mike's bravely borrowed an 8' Wavestorm for his visit to SoCal, but it's a bit short for him.
Me and Jessica bookended by Mikes at Swamis
We finally connected with Miguel via text and met him and his friend at Swami's for lunch. They'd been riding waves even farther south of the rivermouth, too far away to see my bright orange hat, apparently.

05 December 2015

Surf Simply Reunion

Lauren and Michael, my friends from Surf Simply who live in Orange County, met up with me and Tammy at San Onofre. It was Lauren's first time back in the cool water (64° per my surfboard thermometer) since Costa Rica (in the 80s, sooo nice). The sun was warm though so we weren't cold in our 3/2s, at least until the wind came up near the end of the session.
There was a strong southward sideshore current and after I caught a couple of meh waves on the inside, I lost sight of the others for quite a while. When I made it out through the mid-period head-high surf, I was much closer to the janitors sweeping Dog Patch than when I'd started. After paddling back north a while to get back to Old Man's, I finally spotted Lauren. She hadn't seen any of our crew since she got to the lineup.
The outside set waves were bigger but very soft and hard to get into on my 6'2" unless I caught them already broken. One of those turned out to be a pretty fun right, and I made it to the face for a carve or two before it flattened out too much for my little board. I jumped on a couple more waves for short rides to get close to the beach, looking for Michael and Tammy. Lauren was on a longer fish and worked a single wave all the way in. We rode a few more on the inside and got out, finding our friends on the beach as we walked north.
Michael and Lauren
Before we pointed the car toward home, Tammy and I drove one exit in the other direction for second breakfast at Pipes in San Clemente, which has to be one of the most environmentally-unconscious restaurants targeting surfers. I felt guilty eating oatmeal from a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon, even if it did really hit the spot after all that splashing about in the ocean. I should probably go back to talk to them about becoming an Ocean Friendly Restaurant, or at least more ocean-friendly.
Nice artwork at Pipes anyway

30 November 2015

A Pod of Poachers

Jessica, me and Mike
Jessica and I both tried Mike's 6'6" Degree33 Poacher last week at Cardiff, and took advantage of their Black Friday sale to buy our own 7'2" Poachers – so we could #getoutside on other days.
Three Poachers: Jessica's 7'2", my 7'2", Mike's 6'6"... and my weird shadow
I looked at this website, trying to come up with a clever title for our gathering of three Poachers. Some of these are too clever not to share:
  • a pace of donkeys
  • a parade of elephants
  • a pounce of cats
  • a passel of pigs
  • a prickle of porcupines
  • a paddling of ducks
  • a party of jays
  • a parliament of owls
  • a pandemonium of parrots
Whatever you want to call it, our pack had a fun morning surf at Hennemans, despite picking up a few dings (on Mike's body and board and my body). It was unfortunately crowded, except for a few minutes during shift change, as everyone's surf starved in San Diego.
The waves were overhead on sets but I stayed off the main peak, lacking confidence on the new board, which I think I'll call Carazul. (It's a squashing of "blue face" in Spanish, given her Costa Rican roots and since that's where she wants to be.) Although I caught several on the inside from a late takeoff, a strategy that's worked well on my 6'2" in crowds at that break, I got bogged down in whitewater and was only able to get to the shoulder once.
X marks the balance point and defines forward trim and aft carve "buttons" 
The new board won't be muscled through sloppy turns with pressure on what Surf Simply calls the "trim button" – it demands use of the "carve button". Like Mike said, you can't be so sloppy on a longer board. This new 7'2" will be good for my surfing.
New board inspection by Kaylee

23 November 2015

I Surf Gooder Now

After almost two weeks out of the water because of my new tattoo – 13 days was all I could stand – Mike drove me and Jessica to Cardiff in his van to surf San Elijo at the campgrounds. The waves were small, oh so small, only waist high on sets, but I needed to get wet.
It's amazing what an impact a week at Surf Simply had on my surfing skills! I started out on my almost-ex's 8' Costco Wavestorm, which was as much of a piece of shit as I remembered, but still I caught and rode a few waves. That thing is just darn hard to turn, with no proper rails.

Mike was riding his 9' tanker but left his 6'6" Degree 33 egg on the beach and invited us to borrow it. After I swapped boards, there was – of course! – a long lull, and the pack on the peak grew denser. When the few-wave sets came, the longboarders were getting into them early. But I employed my shortboard-in-a-longboard-crowd strategy and sat inside, where I scored a few broken waves. Then I rode several with faces, cutting back, thinking about whitewater climbs, and maybe, just maybe, actually doing one for a brief moment.
There were so many things I learned at surf camp – the proper functional stance, always looking down the line, how to carve – and the drills in whitewater bored them into my muscle memory. I'm still thinking about things, like keeping my front arm behind the back rail, but the hip action feels almost natural, forward for speed and back to turn.

Mike mentioned that Jessica was thinking about buying an egg like his but longer, and I realized I'd been monopolizing the board. Jess and I paddled out to swap but a set came and we both caught waves to the beach, then traded. Her old 7'6" was my third board of the session. In the olden days, pre-SS, I would've had a hard time switching up boards so much. But after wiping out on the first wave because my foot slipped (Jessica hadn't waxed much since she wore booties), I got a few good rides, including a fine one into the beach with a nice cutback.

So, yeah, I surf gooder now. And I'm really stoked about that!
View from the rear-facing seat in Mike's van. I rode all three of the uncovered boards.

19 November 2015

Read Me on Drift

Drift Surfing has published my articles on surfing in New York and Cornwall:

A Californian in Cornwall

A few years ago, I stumbled across a photo of a lovely beach on Twitter. I was surprised to learn that the turquoise water, golden sand, and immense cliff were in Cornwall – I had no idea England was so beautiful. Now I stood beside the woman who took that picture, seeing the view with my own eyes. Read more.

In the Footsteps of a City Surfer

It all went wrong on the first wave I caught at Rockaway Beach 90th. The thick rounded rail of my rented fish failed to grip the steep face of the chest-high wave. The surfboard was pulled up and over the falls just after I got to my feet. Read more.

10 November 2015

Tribal Wave

Winter arrived in San Diego while I was away. Before my trip, the ocean was 73 degrees; Monday morning it was only 68. Brr (compared to 80 degrees in Costa Rica).
There were two other San Diegans at Surf Simply with me, and we arranged to meet up mid-morning at Hennemans. I paddled out with Jessica to the empty peak, where the waves were sluggish and lully on the just-past high tide.
Me and Jessica waiting for waves (photo by Mike)
I rode a couple short ones but after Mike joined us in the water, we headed over to Hairmos, which looked like more fun. My new friends caught some good waves but I was always in the wrong place. On my way back through Hennemans, I rode a fun carvey long left all the way to the beach.

A storm blew through overnight and ravaged the surf for my birthday. Although I couldn't get on the waves, I put a wave on me. I'm going to have Ronan add some "water" under the curl because it looks rather like shorepound.

07 November 2015

Surf Simply: La Salida (The Departure)

Five of us who weren't leaving early in the morning (like Miguel at 4 a.m., ugh) made time for a surf. We loaded up surfboards on bicycles and pedaled to the beach. The ocean would have none of me, though. To no avail, I tried to get out for 20 minutes (literally; I had a watch), although the others made it to the lineup. My right shoulder was hurting from overuse so I gave up and rode whitewater. There will be another time – I'll be back, hopefully in a year.

Mike and Eric joined me on the beach and we walked through the short stretch of jungle one last time. With my surfboard in the bike rack, I tried to be smart and steady myself against a truck in the parking lot, but as soon as I let go of it, I tumbled over on top of bike and board, scraping my hand in the gravel. Ouch. Mike helped me get going and I made it back to the resort. I hope that by the next time, Surf Simply has some bikes for shorter people.
My nemeses
The day was hot and humid, so we holed up in our respective air-conditioned rooms until the taxi came. We said goodbye to Ian, who was staying another week, and to Lauren and Michael. But I didn't get to pet the cat again. She left our porch a couple days ago to hang out at Ian and Miguel's bungalow – and they weren't even feeding her.

Mike, Eric and I rode together in the back of the taxi van, then hung out in the Liberia airport until our flight to Houston. I picked up a few things in the gift shop, including six bags of my favorite chips which seemingly are only available in the airports in Costa Rica. I shared a bag with the guys, who bought a bunch of their own.

I had a window seat on the plane and watched with a tinge of sadness as Costa Rica faded away below the clouds, although frankly my body couldn't take any more surfing and needed a rest. After clearing immigration (so easy with Global Entry), I said goodbye to Mike and Eric, who were headed home to Seattle. Then I met up with Miguel (now Mike, since we're back in the States and there's only one of them) and Jessica for our flight to San Diego. I sat directly behind Mike and shook his seat hard, to the shock of the woman sitting beside me; he slammed it back all the way back in response. It was all in good fun.
We'll surf together in San Diego, Mike, Jessica and I, and remind each other about what we learned at Surf Simply, which is simply the best surf camp.

06 November 2015

Surf Simply: Viernes (Friday)

This morning the waves were bigger, but oddly enough, I had the easiest paddle-out of the week. Kim, the other half of Team Orange, reached the lineup just before me. But our coach, Fran, didn't join us for a long time; she said been caught in a current and swept down the beach.
I rode two rights on the 7'6". The first was a bomb at least 3 feet overhead. I didn't realize how big it was until I saw the video afterwards. Wow. I should've stay higher on the wave though – might've gotten barreled!
The second wave was long. I cut back and rode it all the way in.
Back at the Rancho, the leaky-toilet problems that had plagued me and Jessica all week came to a head (pun intended). This was the fourth repair over a few days, and workers were in full dismantle mode, tying up our bungalow most of the day.
Harry says the stars on MagicSeaweed are only an indication of how crowded it will be.
After a surf forecasting lecture and lunch, I did yoga and then watched a duck-diving lesson in the pool.
Three Michaels being taught to duck-dive by Jessie as Lauren watches in amusement
The final session of the camp was a free surf at dusk. Ru, the founder of Surf Simply, joined us, swimming with a Go-Pro. The sunset was obscured by clouds, and hard rain fell briefly while we waited for waves. I got a couple of rides, one long. Although I didn't get an epic last wave to close out the week, I smiled on my belly ride to the beach when coach Jessie formed a barrel with her arms and called me under it. So pitted!

On the beach, the coaches opened a cooler full of beer and sodas. As the mosquitoes descended with the sun, I dashed to the truck for the can of repellant I'd brought, getting back to the beach just in time to turn around and leave with the others. I passed the can around, relenting on my earlier joke that sprays would be $5 each.

The last night was an excuse for a mixer with coaches and staff, a chance to see them with their hair dry and wearing nice clothes. The big screen TV showed highlights from our week, and we admired good surfing and laughed at wipeouts. The skies let loose with more torrential rain. I had my back turned, talking to Ru, when what sounded like a bomb exploded behind the pool. Lightning had struck very nearby, the flash and boom near simultaneous.
Rain on the pool
After drinks and appetizers, we guests were left alone for dinner. Then everyone stayed for another fun round of Cards Against Humanity. Miguel, Kim and Ted were leaving early in the morning, so we said our goodbyes, although I'd see Miguel on my flight from Houston to San Diego.

The leak from the toilet in our bungalow seemed to have stopped, but another leak sprang up in Jessica's room from the heavy showers, wetting the bottom of her duffle bag on the floor. I feel asleep to the sound of rain on the roof.
I kind of like the Spanish spelling of my name. And – surprise! – I'm shopping for a longboard. For training.

05 November 2015

Surf Simply: Jueves (Thursday)

My 6'2" Al Merrick Flyer
All week, the ten of us have been asking the staff, "Where's Thyago?" (Or sometimes, "Where's Iago? No, wait, that's the Shakespeare character.") The camp hosts up to 12 guests at a time, and one had cancelled before the week began. The mysterious Thyago, however, was supposed to arrive Sunday after missing his flight the day before. Then we heard that he was in the country, but two more days passed and still no Thyago. He missed his scheduled massage. Finally we learned that Thyago had arrived at the airport in Costa Rica, only to be refused entry because he traveled from Brazil without proof of yellow fever vaccination. He paid for two weeks of camp but would never join us, poor guy.
The swell picked up again, bringing the waves back overhead. I got several so-so rides in the morning, which was when they videotaped us.
Bah! Didn't you learn anything yet?! Feet, hips, hands, head – all wrong.
There were usually smoothies waiting after morning surf, mmm.
In the afternoon, Kim and I worked on carving turns in the whitewater. Fran noticed I had trouble carving backside, so she made me practice that more.
Post-surf dip in the pool. Mike, Lauren, Miguel, and Jessica
We ate dinner at the Harmony Hotel, which had been pumped up in advance by the staff and repeat guests. It was a hotel restaurant with slow service and a lot of children running around. 'Nuf said. But they were very environmentally-conscious; the straws were bamboo, so good on them.
Back row: Jessica, me, Mike, Eric, Ian, Lauren, Michael, Mike (Miguel), Ted, Kim