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

04 November 2015

Surf Simply: Miercoles (Wednesday)

Today was our hard-earned and much-needed day off from surf coaching. Surf Simply offered a variety of other activities, including a trip to a monkey sanctuary that looked interesting. But my friend Jon was just over 30 miles north in Playa Negra and he'd invited me to come up to surf his local reef break. Last night I rented a small SUV, a gray Daihatsu Terios Bego. Before I started down the Monkey Trail, which one of the staff told me is what they call the sometimes-impassable dirt road that runs near the coast, I had breakfast with monkeys. Well, not exactly with them, but they were leaping around in the trees nearby.
The first stream crossing
I loaded the 6'2" in the back of the SUV and set off. There are no street signs in this part of the country, and even with an offline maps program linked to sometimes-laggy GPS, I still made a few wrong turns before I got to the Trail. Coach Asher told me I'd have to ford two streams, but since they were not far away, I'd know soon enough if the recent rains meant I'd have to turn back and go the long way around. Just short of the first crossing, I pulled to the side of the road and debated whether to wait for another vehicle to drive through. Minutes passed as I watched the flowing water. It didn't look that deep. Impatient, I got a running start and drove through the stream, which turned out to be a bit deeper than I thought. Water sprayed up toward the side windows as I pressed my foot on the gas. Keep going, I willed the SUV when it seemed to hesitate. Then we were through and on the other side. One down, one to go. The second ford came about 10 minutes later, and this time another SUV plowed through it ahead of me.
A lovely lonely beach along the Monkey Trail
The road was graded dirt, but at the end of the rainy season, it wasn't in good shape. There was an infinity of potholes and a multitude of irregular ditches carved by runoff. Driving it felt a bit like a video game with the object of avoiding those obstacles. A few times I hit an unexpected pothole a little too fast and crossed my fingers I hadn't done anything to require the flat-tire kit provided by Alamo. There was little traffic on the Trail and I might be on my own for a while if the SUV broke down. Thankfully, it got me all the way to Playa Negra after two bumpy hours on the road.
Please keep your horns to yourself while I drive by slowly.
According to Google Translate, the sign says "Her house is not dirty." Huh?
With a partner, Jon is building a cafe/coffee-roasting business with living space above the shop. He wasn't kidding when he said construction is still in the fetal stage; they don't have all the walls up yet, much less screens on the window openings. He had three guests, and they were all sleeping on mattresses on the floor. The girl was covered in mosquito bites and so grateful when I gave her a half-empty can of DEET spray I'd brought with me.
Jon's directions said, "It's on the right next to the big painted bull."
With our boards under our arms, Jon led me down a jungle path which was a shortcut to the beach at Negra. In several places, we carefully ducked under or through barbed wire, and we crossed a dry stream bed Jon said was sometimes waist-deep during rainy season. We popped out of the forest and onto a road, where he greeted several friends in fluent Spanish and I understood only a few words. At the end of the road was lovely Playa Negra, a small, rocky beach. Given the name ("black beach" in Spanish), I expected the sand to be dark, but it wasn't. Jon showed me where to paddle out in the channel, and my shoulder muscles initially protested that they weren't getting the day off. It was a reef break, mostly rights, with the waves a overhead and a few guys out in the lineup.

Jon rode several waves between lulls but I had no joy. Finally he said, "Come on, we're gonna get you a wave," and I followed him to the takeoff zone where I caught a big one. Although I made the drop, I forgot to stay high and was knocked off at the bottom by breaking whitewater. Sometime later, as the tide dropped and the waves steepened, I caught another on my own. It was my best wave of the trip so far, a long right all the way in with cutbacks on the open face. Woot!
Jon's place and my mighty Terios
I didn't figure I'd top that wave and I was hungry for lunch, so I got out and looked for interesting shells on the beach while Jon waited for his last wave. Back at his place, I chatted with Jon's cousin Ryan while Jon made us oatmeal with plantains. It was a simple lunch but surprisingly tasty.
By early afternoon, I was on the road again. Near the end of the journey, raindrops fell occasionally and I worried that the streams would become impassible, leaving me stuck on the wrong side of them with night falling. The storm held off, though, and the streams looked no deeper than the first time I'd crossed. At the first ford, the mud was mounded on this side of the bank, and my running start launched the SUV up and then into a shallow nose-dive mid-stream. Uh oh. I gunned the protesting engine and the Terios responded, driving safely up the opposite side. The last crossing was uneventful, but the storm clouds were growing darker, ready to drop heavy rain.
I arrived at the Rancho to find several of my friends watching a troop of howler monkeys in the tall trees opposite the gate. They were noisy and active, and some carried babies on their backs. Oddly, I'd seen no monkeys on the Monkey Trail. Too busy watching out for potholes, I guess.
The storm let loose soon after I got back. As torrential rain fell, fireflies glowed over the couches in the Rancho's living space. Dinner was on our own, so we all took a taxi to an Italian restaurant called il Basilico – all except Lauren, who had become violently ill. Miguel, our resident doctor, took care of her, as well as letting those of us with injuries know about an NSAID cream available at the Nosara pharmacy but not in the U.S. Having a doctor on a foreign surf trip comes in handy.

Over a tasty meal, we shared stories of the day's activities, from zip-lining (Kim and Ted) to mountain biking (Jessica) to just lazing around (Ian). When we returned to the resort, rain was still coming down. Most of us gathered at the big round table to play Cards Against Humanity. Surprisingly, I won. It was a fun end to an adventurous day.