G. Niblock on the L41 TipSUP Noserider. Photo: J. Chandler

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Road Trip - Cathedral De Las Olas

October 21 & 22, 2009

Last Sunday I sent a heads-up to JC who lives in the Cathedral De Las Olas region down south, about the coming WNW swell. I speculated that it could be good sometime mid-week. As usual he was on it too. Shortly after my email to him I got the call..."feel like comin' down for a two-day trip? We'll surf and camp a couple days." After a quick check with the wife, and one schedule reshuffle I packed up and headed south. I took all three boards and the necessities. The only thing that didn't fit in the car was my stoke which kept bursting out from all seams like sun rays from behind the clouds.

The adventure began early on the 21st. We headed up coast. The weather was almost perfect with a nascent sea surface bump smoothing out the further north we ventured. None of the westerly spots were really working yet because the soon coming WNW wasn't in, but we had some nice south swell that had the south spots firing pretty good.

Default spot number one had a half dozen guys on it at two separate peaks. No one was getting long rides, but all were getting short peaky walls with an occasional barrel on the inside. It wasn't up to the crews standard so we put it in gear and headed north once again to default spot number two, BobbyP's aka BP's.

Upon arrival the early morning sun was perfectly angled for photos. A half dozen guys, including the Sheriff, were out in the crystal green head high waves. This spot hosts a random assortment of surfers ranging in age from young to the "old guys rule" set. To get this deep into the region, one has to have been here before, which begs the question, "which came first, the chicken or the egg." The answer: you need the right kind of chicken to get the egg.

My host JC pretty much knows all the locals, and I was introduced all around. Those JC didn't know he knew within half hour of entering the water. It also helps that he observes protocol always by waiting at least 30 minutes before jumping in for a surf. It also doesn't hurt that he uses his waiting time to take pics of the guys out surfing, which he emails to them after the sessions. This is surf diplomacy and statesmanship that rivals the Duke's worldwide fame.

JC is probably the most patient and generous surfer I know. Sometimes I think he gets a bigger high out of letting other people take waves. I know that one of the hallmarks of his soul that makes his life work so well is sharing his stoke and wave adventures with other like minded surfers. His current craft of choice is the Blue Boy, a custom belly/paipo. And one of his favorite maneuvers is to fade far back under the peak before it slams him and literally explodes him out onto the shoulder. It's a thing of beauty to behold.

Our third fellow traveler on day one was a fellow who all would know if they spend any time at all in the Swaylocks discussion forums. Before today I'd never met John in person, but I've corresponded with him over the forums and in the process learned a lot from this "out of the box" thinker and board crafter. His ride of choice this day was a belly/paipo rocket ship that he designed and built using a "scrap" of EPS that was waste from a SUP cutout. When JM trimmed up on a fast wall, no one, no shortboard, hybrid or longboard could keep up. Talk about the fast track on the high line...he knew where it was, and how to get there.

BP's is a fun and challenging wave. Being the least experienced, I had a tougher time figuring out where to be, and when. I'd surfed it once before, a couple months ago, but today the look was a little different. Last time there was one take-off location, taking the initial drop and riding through the fast and steeper peak, before cutting back at the edge of the reef and going left into the white water before coming around and setting up for the fast and hollow inside race track wall, which eventually expended itself onto the somewhat rocky shore.

Today though there were periodic "swing wide" sets. You'd get the usual take-off spot, followed by a soft spot or "saddle" to use a geographic landmark term, and then another peak and wall. The idea was to back door the swing wide peak going fast and hard before banking off the falling wave crest to swing under and around the fallen lip and whitewater, and then turn back up onto the wave face. From there it was like the single peak waves...cutback hard into rolling edge of the whitewater and work your way inside for the long and fast run across the beach front. The place was just super fun.

I seemed to put in my share of time paddling hard for the first or second wave of the set, missing it, and then getting slammed by the next four or five, for which I was then caught inside. Whaddakook! But on the upside I surfed the GB2 mini-Simmons in fairly demanding conditions and it performed extremely well. The mini is just a rocket in fast walls, barrels and pockets, and is as solid and stable as the Rock of Gibraltar. It handled the offshore wind late takeoffs without incident although I will say that having a little more overall length in windy conditions may have enabled me to catch a few of the ones I missed. But no matter, the maneuverability I have on the mini-sim twin makes it more fun than a 62 year old man should have on a surfboard that's so short. Ron (the other retired fireman) has a Bauguess mini-Simmons on order and he gladly accepted an offer to try mine. In short, he loved it and he absolutely ripped on it. Now he can hardly wait to get his. Truth is, I'm having such a good time on my Freeline GhostBuster2 it's the only board I want to surf these days.

We surfed for three hours before the wind, which had been blowing vigorously offshore all day long, went side shore on us, at what seemed like about a hundred miles an hour. When it was blowing straight offshore every takeoff was accompanied by the proverbial "fire hose in the face" blast of wave spray. But when it went side shore, just paddling back to the line-up could be a painful experience during the gusts when the sea spray coming off the mini-white caps felt like needles in the face. About 3PM we called it a good day, and headed back to camp.

JC had made all the preparations for an overnight stay in a private campground nearby. It seemed to me that the phrase "luxury campground" was kind of an oxymoron, but this campground was in fact, luxurious. First off, no one was there. We had the place to ourselves with no freak shows blasting high velocity heave inducing rap at us. Campsites were squeaky clean and without a scrap of trash. But the coup de grace was the warm pool, jacuzzi and brand new shower facilities.

Before we broke into the rum and coke (for JC) and Coppola chardonnay (pour moi) I set up my little Sierra Designs three season tent in the warm offshores and fading daylight. I figured after my first glass of wine imbibed in the jacuzzi I might have a hard time walking back to camp much less setting up my tent which I hadn't done in a couple years. But no worries, after an hour in ultra-relaxation mode we returned to our site for bbq chicken, garlic bread, Greek salad and our ongoing conversations about everything surfing, and how to fix the world by ignoring it and going surfing. After polishing a bottle of wine and putting a dent in the rum bottle it all made perfect sense to us. Time for bed.

Nine hours later, we were up early. While JC prepped for the new day's adventure, I volunteered to help by taking another jacuzzi. Amazingly enough this seemed to be a satisfactory division of labor, so I headed up for a soak while JC did all the work. I did however return and take down my tent which in my physically gelatinous state was a world class achievement. "Old Guys Rule!" indeed....more like, old guys drool.

This morning, Thursday, was kind of a repeat of Wednesday except the weather was warmer and it was glassier, and the WNW was showing which was lighting up a lot more spots than yesterday. On the way upcoast we stopped at a lot more places to check it out. Experiencing the waves and the environment in person makes the regional title, "Cathedral De Las Olas" obviously appropriate. This place manifests the blending of the physical and spiritual before the human eye, hinting at the holiness that lies beneath the surface for the open hearted observer. Like church, when one enters this sanctuary, no one should do so with animosity or unforgiveness in their heart, mind or soul. To do so is the definition of what the Christians call "sin,"...missing the mark. Or in this case, missing the point of where you are, and what you are blessed to have before you, surfing here with the few others who have received the gift. Besides, it's just so damn much FUN! Why ruin it with a stink-eye attitude? Yeah, life IS short, and then you're gone. Somebody say "Amen." Thus endeth the sermon.

Once again, BP's was the call, and today Ricky filled out the trio. No stranger to this surf spot, Rick's orange longboard was a common sight making late drops and hard cutties into the inside section where his line morphed into an orange blur of speed and spray. Less people out today than yesterday. The "crowd" never exceeded seven in the water at any one time. Waves were about the same size, consistency perhaps a bit better, but there was plenty of fun and long rides to go around. Again, another three hour surf tired me out, bringing on that feeling of fatigue and satisfaction. The post-stoke glow.

Two days of hard core surfing, camping and experiencing were enough to tire an old fart like me right out. We got back to JC's house and I packed the vee-dub up, ready to head back to my usual reality of EMT class and the midterm...full days on Friday and Saturday. Believe me, I'd rather be napping.

One of the great things about keeping this blog/journal is that I get to re-live my surfing experiences as I journal them. I am still basking in the post-stoke glow of this very special trip into what is unarguably, "Gods' country." Thanks JC for making it happen!


  1. Nice trip and nice post. Photos look great too.

  2. Thanks was really a fun trip and great to meet so many people who really enjoy the place and take care of it, both in and out of the water. It's humbling really to be around those kind of people who charge hard, but have perspective too. You gotta work for what you get, but no one takes it away from you either. All the stuff you hear about respect and positive attitude...they got 'em. They don't necessarily talk about those values all the time, they just live them. And that is very cool to be around.

  3. You should be a travel writer. Your descriptions put me right in the water and made me wish I was there.
    Keep up the good blogs. Michael

  4. Thanks Michael. You are more than kind and I appreciate your comments.

  5. Someone directed me to your blog and I must say, I don't think it's appropriate to surf someone else's backyard, document it, then post it on the net for all to see.

    Sure, you didn't name any spots, but you may have planted the seed for others that may not know any better, with a little initiative and a click of the mouse, whamO, they've got it. It's crowded enough without your blog advertisement.

    In consideration of others that surf it much more often then your tour guide, please remove this blog entry.

    Thank you in advance.

    Donny Holmes

  6. Hey Donny,

    In deference to your concerns I have removed any photos that might possibly reveal the true location of the Cathedral to the unbaptized. I will not, however, remove the post in deference to my First Amendment right to freedom of speech and of the press. I appreciate the civility of your comment and do not fully disagree with your perspective. I would look forward to discussing the issue (privacy/conservation vs. freedom of expression) further if you’d like. If so, please send an email to