21 June 2015

Surfing with Sharks

Last night, after I'd loaded my Mazda 3 for an early departure to (almost) dawn patrol at San Onofre with Tracey and Chris, I saw this on my Twitter feed:
JonXtensen: In the water at San-o w/ @traceykthompson and @greacen and a helicopter flies over and on the loud speaker: "MULTIPLE GREAT WHITE SHARKS" 
youlooksofine: @JonXtensen @traceykthompson @greacen Everyone safe on dry land??? not to imply dry land is actually safer
JonXtensen: @traceykthompson @greacen yeah. I caught a wave out immediately while they risked life and limb another 5 minutes. 
traceykthompson: @JonXtensen @youlooksofine @greacen a piece of kelp bumped my leg and I totally screamed ;) 
So I said:
surfergrrrl: @traceykthompson @JonXtensen @youlooksofine @greacen I'm sure they'll all be gone by the time I get there tomorrow. 
traceykthompson: @surfergrrrl @JonXtensen @youlooksofine @greacen I bet the helicopter scared them off 
surfergrrrl: @traceykthompson Or your scream.
Coincidentally, I'd made another infrequent perusal of Pacific Coast Shark News earlier in the day and it seems the Men in Gray Suits like to hang out near Trail #1 at San O. But my friends from NorCal, who I hadn't seen in a few years, were camping near Trail #6. And anyway, there are always sharks in the ocean, right? Besides, I'd already packed the car.

After driving nearly an hour north, I paid $15 (!) to park at the campground in a day use lot that was deserted – except for a bunny!
I hadn't seen a bush rabbit in a while either. It made me miss surfing at the state beaches in Half Moon Bay, especially Dunes, which I'd nicknamed Bunnies.

Chris filled me in on the shark story. Yesterday afternoon at "shark o'clock" several surfers reported seeing fins in the water – although he noted there were a lot of dolphins around – and then the helicopter spotted them too. We decided to say no more about that, picked up our boards and hiked down the goat trail to the beach.
I'd never surfed Trails before and was surprised that the break was uncrowded, almost completely empty, on a summer weekend. The waves were closing out a fair bit on the very low tide, but they were bigger and better that the past week at my home break. It was nice to catch up with my friends as we waited for sets. Although Tracey and Chris caught more waves on their longboards than I did on my 6'2", I rode a bunch of fun and long chest-high rights and lefts. Woot!
Between sets, I caught a whiff of the gist of a conversation between Chris and one of the few other guys near us, sensed it had something to do with sharks, and deliberately tuned them out.

After almost two hours, Tracey rode a wave in, soon followed by Chris, and I made sure I wasn't far behind. I didn't want to be the straggler that got culled from the herd. Back on the beach, Chris related that the other guy had seen a fin heading quickly out to sea. Yeah, for sure I did not want to know that.

Post-surf Twitter convo:
@surfergrrrl: Fun surf with @traceykthompson and @greacen. And no one got eaten! #sharks #SanO 
@traceykthompson: Down to one fin sighting per session! :) 

20 June 2015


Happy International Surfing Day! Caught a few fun little waves in Pacific Beach well south of the pier, then watched a bit of the US Open of Flowboarding at the Wavehouse in Belmont Park. 
So glad the sunshine is back.

18 June 2015

Review: The 5-in-1 Chawel

When the company sent me a Chawel Sport HD to review, I wondered if the product tried to do too much. It's a changing room! It's a towel! It's a neck pillow and a blanket and a sleeping bag!
My primary uses would be only as a towel and as a changing room. Could it perform those functions well enough, or did it sacrifice utility in order to provide additional features? Here's my take after using it half a dozen times post-surf.

The Chawel is the smallest and lightest changing towel I've ever used. As a towel, it works better than expected. The fabric is fairly thin, not the usual fluffy towel material, but it is absorbent. It also dries quickly, unlike similar products such as the Roomel.

While the Chawel arrived without armholes, the instructions said they could be created by sniping the single-stitch seam on the upper sides. I initially used the Chawel without armholes and quickly realized I needed them. It was easy enough to modify as directed.

With the hood and a small neck opening, there's no good way to slip out of a bikini top and put on a shirt while wearing the Chawel. For changing from a bikini bottom to pants, it works well – no chance of a wardrobe malfunction. I didn't miss pockets with through-slits, since the fabric is thin enough to manipulate clothing from the outside. On chilly mornings, I was glad of the attached hood, which provides a little warmth and wind protection for a wet head.

The Chawel has an attached elastic strap to secure it in a tidy bundle before it's stowed in the included carry bag. I was never able to re-wrap it as neatly as it arrived, but then I don't have the patience to fold my sheets either, preferring to wad them up in a pillow case. It's also easier to just stuff the unfolded Chawel into its stretchy bag.

On the second use, the pull tab on the carry bag fell off and the bag could no longer be closed with the drawstring, but this was no big loss. I do wonder why the company didn't make the Chawel's zippered pocket a little bigger so it could stow inside that instead of needing a separate bag.

While I didn't test the travel features, I think the Chawel would make a nice liner if you were sleeping in your board bag or at a hostel. It would only be useful as a blanket in a warm climate and won't cover a taller person fully, but would be fine to sit on at the beach. As a neck pillow – well, it takes patience to fold and roll it so it isn't too lumpy, but if I was stuck on a plane with plenty of time, I'm sure I'd manage it.

Bottom line, if you're traveling light or just don't have much room in your gear bag, the Chawel offers a nice 5-in-1 package. It does nothing perfectly, but it handles its multiple functions well with exceptional portability.

14 June 2015

Pacific Beach Wildlife

Drunks: Two guys sitting on the seawall where my street intersects the paved beach path. They were already – or still – drunk at 7:30 in the morning. The one with the most bloodshot eyes said he liked my clownfish surfboard, which was strapped into the side rack on my blue Electra Townie. "An' not many people know thiss," he slurred, "but I can sleep wi' th' anemones. Lay right down on 'em an' they don' sting me." I gave a polite nod as I tried to check the surf behind him. "There's a good wave on th' other side-a th' pier," he told me. "That's where I'm going," I replied as I pedaled away north.

Tuna crabs: Ev-er-y-where. Dead ones smashed into the dry sand by human feet. Some feeding near the waterline, moving tiny claws into tiny mouths amidst piles of their dead and dying kin. Others swimming in the shallows, past a few floating belly-up. I moved quickly to get through the gauntlet of beady-eyed crustaceans.
Frog: David the sponger, out with Brian next to the pier. They're both always ready with a cheery smile.

Whale? Maybe .... I caught a glimpse of a large creature outside of the lineup. David saw something big out there too. Then it was gone.

Snake: That dude who takes every wave he wants. He'd cut his hair shorter, like I just did, but it was definitely him. I let myself drift north because he sucks all the joy from the peak, which was getting crowded with strangers anyway. Later I saw him blatantly drop in on a guy who was up and riding. What a dick.

Dolphins! Second-row seat for a great show. A pod of five or six swam through the lineup chasing fish. They were leaping out of the water, twisting and spinning. One dove right under the board of the guy closest to me. I thought hard at them, Come over here! One passed by about 20 feet away as they settled down to glide pierwards, pffting as they surfaced for air.

Fish: Nemo, of course. The waves were bigger than Surfline reported and a little more closed out and steep than I'd have liked, but I rode a few funish ones.

12 June 2015

Fishing in the Drizzle

Nemo and Rocket
I decided to mix it up today and take Nemo for a spin in meh waist-high waves under skies that leaked misty drizzle. Brian and David, along with a couple other familiar faces, were holding down the main peak at the pier. There were even two women out. Yes, it was a bit crowded. And to think I surfed alone at Hennemans yesterday. Sigh.

David yelped when something under the water pinched him, prompting a discussion of the tuna crabs on the beach.
"Didn't you see those red things all over the beach?" he asked me.
"Uh... no, I was looking at the waves," I said.
"Yes, we surfers are easily distracted by shiny things," he joked.

It took a while to get into my first wave, which I ended up sharing with sponger David. No flailing about this time for the first few waves as I readjusted to a different board – I popped up and rode. Yeah! 

David took his next wave in and for a little while it was just me and the two blond girls on their longboards right next to the pier, before the dudes started to take over. I rode a few more waves, and a couple even had shoulders to play on, albeit briefly. Many of the waves were doubled up and in general they were mixed up, so it was challenging to be in the right place. It was also challenging to get into the small weak waves on my 5'4" fish. I saw one shortboarder catch a wave by paddling with his face almost touching the board. Somehow it's been hard for me to remember to dip my head like that, but I tried it on the next little wave and it worked.

Although the guys were crowding closer to the pier, I held my ground. Then I took off on a left and one of them dropped in on me on takeoff. He forced me to straighten out instead of turning onto the face and I fell. When I resurfaced, I saw him on the inside, checking his board for dings.
"Everything OK?" I called.
"Yeah, my board's OK. How's yours?"
I looked Nemo over, but didn't see any damage. "It's fine," I said, and then, as is my way no matter who's at fault, "Sorry about that."
"It's all right. Not like it's barreling out here or anything. More like 2-foot," he said as he paddled past.
I returned to the lineup, and the more I thought about the encounter, the more I got cheesed up – as Ronan, the Irish selkie in my YA novel, would say. While I was sorry that our boards had hit, I wasn't sorry that I'd been on the wave – his wave, he assumed by his response. After all, he'd dropped in on me. Grrr.

Regardless, I didn't want to be surfing near that guy any more. I left myself drift north, caught another wave with my head down, and called it a day with a lackluster belly ride that refused to take me all the way in. Usually I like to end on a better note but I was well enough satisfied with my earlier fun rides on a shortboard I hadn't ridden in a while.

On my way to the showers, I did see one of the googly-eyed red beasties belly up in the sand.

11 June 2015

Distractingly Sexy

You've probably seen the sciency women of Twitter responding to Tim Hunt, but here's a pic of me a few years ago trying not to cry in front of my colleagues at the spacecraft factory.
Hard not to be too #distractinglysexy in that bouffant cap and lab coat.

Quiet Solitude

In retrospect, I should've gone home yesterday to get a warmer wetsuit and come back to Hennemans for more fun surf. The swell faded a lot by this morning and the forecast for the next week is not promising. When I joined Rick and his dogs at the park, he told me I'd already gotten the best of it. No one was out, and only a few sad little waves rolled in not very far offshore.

"There's something at south Bird," he said, pointing north to where six surfers sat in small pack, "but I'm not going to hassle with the guys there."

I found that interesting – a respected shaper and good surfer, a kapuna of the Calumet Park breaks, did not want to compete for waves with the sometimes aggro surfers at Birdrock. My choice of surf spots follows a similar philosophy, but that's in part because I don't think I surf well enough to compete. The other part is that I much prefer an aloha vibe; for him, that must be most of the reason.
Did I mention no one was out? There were waves. And I'd get my fill of beach breaks in the coming week.

I paddled out in water slightly warmer than yesterday's and a set came through soon after. The first wave I caught didn't have a lot of push but I made it work. It's challenging in conditions like that to stay close enough to the (weak) power to keep moving but still spend time on the smooth face and not get bogged down in whitewater.

Two other sets followed after short lulls and I rode the first decent wave of each, even managing to jump on near the middle the last wave of the second set on my way back out. Then I sat like a buoy for what felt like half an hour as the ocean went quiet. I paddled for promising bumps that ultimately didn't form up, until at last one did. I rode it happily toward shore until it slipped away.

10 June 2015

Well, My Watch Says Summer

That's what Rick told me in Calumet Park after my short session when I reported how cold the ocean felt - biting cold. It was only last week that I made the switch from a 4/3 wetsuit to a 3/2, but the thinner suit wasn't up to today's upwelling. As soon as I started paddling out to the empty peak just after dawn, the water stung my hands and began to trickle in through the leaky spots in my well-used wetsuit.
I rode a fun long wave as soon as I got out, and then was joined in the lineup by Misa and a couple of guys on longboards. The waves were less consistent than during yesterday's solo dawn patrol, which was ruined by wind after only two good rides.
Following a lull, I caught another left and warmed up slightly paddling back out. But my shivers grew during the next wait between sets, so I rode the next wave in, wishing I had a hot tub. Still stoked!

01 June 2015

Female Majority

For a while this morning, there were more women than men surfing at Crystal Pier. That's rarer than sunshine at the beach lately. Much rarer –  in fact, I can't remember it ever happening before.
Nice to not be the only girl in the lineup. And there were some fun waves too.