I got the call a couple days ago...am I available for an extended road trip/surf trip in the state of California? I'm in. Date of departure 11/2. Even though I've got today forecast as the first day of the first major Winter swell of the season, I'm out the door at 0630, headed south. An uneventful drive puts me in the gravel in front of our staging area at 0930. We load and go and are out of town by noon bound for the open roads and destinations south, knowing a great swell is in the water and the weather is Fall Cali Classic. It really don't get better than this.
Our first surf is at a point named after a crazy bird. The swell angle is really too steep to get into this part of the bight, but what is getting in is putting up 2-4 ft. concave barrel sections ten feet from the sandy shoreline which is peppered with rocks waiting to put holes in heads or boards, whichever comes first. We surf for almost two hours, but the real magic is yet to come.
Wednesday November 3, 2010
17 bucks a night to stay in this upscale beach town where rates are ten times that for a flea bag room that the subsidized homeless usually inhabit is more than a screaming deal. We book two nights and in the dim but brilliantly lighted first morning sunrise after the first night, meet Matt for our journey into the best surfing day of the trip. For me it is the best bigger wave surfing day I've had in two years. Epic and classic are the descriptive words that come to mind. Take your choice, it is both.
I'd surfed this pristine point break once before. It was a dismal failure for me. Instead of going with local knowledge, I'd forged ahead on my own. That was a mistake I corrected today. I was a little apprehensive to be paddling the SIMSUP into 6-12 ft. near perfection with not another SUP in sight. This is a locals heavy spot, so I opted for a strategy that worked out well this time.
I've wanted to get the SIMSUP into bigger waves just to see how well this 8'0" mini-Simmons inspired short SUP would perform. Today was just the kind of day I was looking for. The biggest sets were in the 8-12 ft. (faces) range, with smaller, consistent sets coming in at 6-10 ft. regularly. And in truth, if you can surf, this is a great spot to SUP surf. But if you can't consistently ride, and ride well, then stay away or it won't be pleasant.
My strategy was this...I paddled out slowly from the beach. Watching waves and riders, sussing the line-up, the ability level, the take-off points (there were four), the escape routes, the channel and especially noting the 12 ft. swing wide cleanup waves that were periodically mowing down the field, especially the surfers sitting a bit inside, at the main peak. I stayed well off to the side, taking no waves, just watching before moving cautiously to the inside of the main peak where I was able to grab a couple small head high peelers that were offering up long rides into the shore break. The question was, how could I work my way into the main peak line-up without ruffling any feathers? The answer came in the form of a couple big wave, swing wide channel busters that offered themselves up as I was paddling back out from a smaller wave ride.
I was able to put the paddle to the metal as this giant wall loomed up in front and to the left of me, swinging into the channel and beginning to feather. I bet on the higher tide buying me a little extra time on this one. I chose a track that would give me both speed and a good angle of attack on the steepening mountain of beautifully formed swell energy that was quickly bearing down. As I banked up the face and changed directions to catch it, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it. The top three feet of the crest was almost vertical and one of the biggest questions I had about the wide tail on the SIMSUP was about to be answered. Would it hold in big, steep energy, or would it just be popped out by the push and gravity of a bigger wave?
I had a good witness. El Jefe was just getting ready to duck dive under an eight foot wall of whitewater as he watched me free fall out of the lip and take a relatively controlled drop down the face. After the momentary weightlessness of the free fall tried to unstick me, the rest of the drop felt solid. The rail, tail and quad fin set-up held tight and my question was answered. Yeah, it'll surf bigger waves. The rest of the two and a half hour session was spent taking wave after wave. Apparently, going for the late takeoff and making it on this wave bought me a little respect, and after that, I had no problem surfing wherever I wanted. Actually, the whole place got real friendly and I fielded a lot of questions about the SIMSUP. As the tide dropped the sections became longer and more exciting, and the inside was just a flat out racetrack into the shore pound. The truth is in the outcome. The SIMSUP is the best all-around performance SUP I've ever ridden. I would recommend it to anyone who wants stability and performance in one SUP package. From the little to the large, this SUP rides them all.
The rest of the day was spent basking in the afterglow of a surfing day that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Friday November 5, 2010
The beach at Huntington goes on for a long way. There are miles of beaches, all accessible via State Park parking lots, for which an exorbitant (but understandable) fee is charged to park your car. So when the guy said, "oh, you're just surfing...go on in", we gladly accepted his invitation and pocketed the $15 parking fee. BT had told us to go surfing, it was glassy and warm and barrelish. We were skeptical. He was right.
The walk from the lot to the surf is long. Looking over the flat sandy traverse, we couldn't even see the waves. Would there even be waves? But the surf was 2-3 ft., fast and barreling in the warm weather, warm water, minus low tide late afternoon. It was so nice out I shunned my wetsuit and trunked it with a rashie.
Contrary to the popular opinion that SoCal is crowded (it don't hold a candle to my northern home breaks on the weekends) we found a super fun little A-frame peak and proceeded to catch wave after wave. There were small groups of shortboarders all up and down the beach who were also having a blast in the low tide lefts and rights, each enjoying their own sand bar. My buddy was ripping on his belly board and seemed to enter into another level of tube riding. On a belly board you can get into a lot more tubes than on a stand up board of any kind. He was tucking into a lot of one footers that stand up folks can only dream about. Paipos and belly's have a lot in common and paipos just may be the original wave riding craft.
In aggregate it would have been crowded if everyone was on one or two peaks. But there were dozens of peaks to be had. So there's the answer Norcalians, move to SoCal.
Tuesday November 9, 2010
Our mode of transportation allowed us to access some places that a walk-in surfer could never go. Unless of course he had a shaved head and was carrying an M16 or some other form of military grade weaponry. It's much harder to tell wave heights from the back, but after a while you get good at it. Especially if the raging offshores are blowing the tops back 20-30 yards. We picked a likely looking sand bar and paddled for it. Unlike Huntington the surf was a solid 3-4 ft. and dredging on the inside. No channels for the SIMSUP to glide through so the paddles out the back and into the line-up were good exercise if I didn't make the kick outs.
Here's what made today special. The surf was generated by a passing cold front that had dropped a bit of rain on us last night. The offshores were generated by the passed front. The waves were generated by the same small storm, northwest winds, along with some smaller southerly, and genuine ground swell. Waves in the sets were close together and to get them you needed to be further in than out. This put us right where the south swell sneaker swells wanted us and we got creamed by a couple outside set waves during the course of our surf. The alternative was to wait forever outside for the bigger waves. That probably would have been a reasonable choice but I never said I was reasonable. My buddy was on his smaller board so it was no big deal. Duck diving saves a lot of wear and tear. But on a SUP there is no duck diving. It worked out OK though. Lot's of waves ridden even though I almost got my head taken off by my SIMSUP getting in my face when I tried to punch through four feet of foam and the board came at me like a striking rattlesnake on meth.
But it was a fun surf with speedy waves and no bullets flying. It's always nice when you don't get arrested after a good surf.
Thursday November 11, 2010
On this last day of our road trip we hooked up with Alan in Cardiff to surf a well known beach break near his home. Again, contrary to SoCal myth, we had a two hour surf in uncrowded 2-4 ft. clean beach break with the offshores howling. Alan has been surfing there for years and knows everyone so it was a friendly, small band of surfers who enjoyed a morning in the perfect light and fast peeling beachies.
Alan is an artist who works in water colors, producing very cool slices of beach life that to me, characterize the ideal surf ethos of relaxed fun in special places. Check out his website (http://bongobaystudios.com/index.htm) and I've posted a link to the right...see Bongo Bay Studios.
On the last day of surfing, as I was getting out of the water for the last time on this trip, the first disaster struck. I have no idea how it happened but it did. One of the leading quad fin boxes broke out. This was a first for me. I've broken off fins, but never has the box failed. It didn't make much sense to me and still doesn't. The shore pound was light, I never felt anything like hitting bottom, I didn't hit anything in the water or anyone's board, there was a side shore channel in the sandy bottom that nullified any heavy whitewater at the shore, the board didn't get flipped over and smashed into the sand, and the rocks on shore were small...skipping size. It either hit just right (or wrong in this case) to force a break, or perhaps I somehow cracked it earlier in the trip? No se. We deliberately glassed the board heavy to compensate for paddle smashes (of which there are none) so I don't think the glassing is at fault. Just one of those things I guess.
The good news is that I had a regular surfboard backup, and this was our swan song anyway. So...life is good. After a great surf we had breakfast at one of Alan's favorite little spots on the PCH, checked out his work in one of the local galleries, and had a jacuzzi at the community center where we met more of Alan's surfer buddies. Then it was time to hook up and hit the road. We made it back to the beginning just after dark.
First thing next morning we tidied up a bit and I hit the road for home. The Fall colors were in full effect and driving through the hundreds of acres of grape vines, slowly turning towards Winter was a visual feast. I only stopped once to pee under a railroad bridge which was book ended between a brussel sprouts field and a 70's style residential housing development. I'm thinking the whole time about getting mugged by trolls. (Nothing like getting hit upside the head while you're holding your stuff...or even when you're not.) But while my imagination ran wild, the road trip luck held and I was soon pulling into the little road that leads to mi casa and mi familia buena.
People will drive, fly or sail thousands of miles in search of good surfing and the ultimate surfing experience. I've found that often those things are right in our own backyard. This trip was like that. We had great to good surfing in excellent conditions and met so many kind, generous and hospitable people who helped us have a fun adventure. While not exactly in my backyard, it was in my home state, and Cali really does have so much to offer. While the Hawaiians rightly say "Lucky we live Hawaii," so we Californios can also boast, "Lucky we live in California."