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

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

La Nina Fiesta de las Olas: Swell #5

Friday through Monday January 21-24, 2011

No matter what you call it, a wave fest or wave fiesta, or cornucopia of surf, Swell #5 during this La Nina season produced a monster mash of waves for the masses.

Sacred Spaces
Some say that surfing is like a religion, a spiritual practice. Although I understand the emotion behind that, I can't agree. From this issues TSJ: Surfing..."has a spiritual aura that you can only get once you've experienced it, and it never will lose it's soul and spirit because the magic that envelopes you when surfing, is far too powerful." Substitute physical stimulus for "spiritual aura" and I'm down with it. It is not surfing in and of itself that is imbued with the spiritual dimension, it is rather, the place in which it is practiced. Who can deny the "otherness" of witnessing the sunrise in a wave spackled morning, sitting in a gently rolling sea with the glory of color and shape all around? It is a Cathedral of Waves. There is no specific religious theology, denomination or sect afforded exclusive rights to this witness of creation, nor should there be any power, entity or entitlement that denies anyone the right to witness or even worship there.

While we all complain about crowding and too many people in the water, the fact remains that this ultimate mystery belongs to us all. It is not exclusive or exclusionary. Do what you will, surf where and when you decide is best and at all times surf with appreciation and aloha. Along with "getting out more," this is my second decade of the New Millennium resolution. Join me, will you?

Jeff, Allan and Brad were up from CenCal Thursday night, on a Mission to Mavericks, but that would wait until Saturday. We woke up early and I immediately led us all astray by heading to the beaches for some pre-swell arrival beach bombs. I underestimated the energy of the 21 second swell which was even then on the buoys. While the beaches weren't too big, there just weren't any sand bars to surf. It was all close-outs and no channels. Too bad. So we headed into town to check it out.

Upon our arrival at Sarge's we ran into a couple usual suspects who had been out (alone) in shoulder high surf until the high tide swamped. That was right about the time we arrived. L41 Kirk was getting out of the water too. He surfed Gdubs by himself for an hour and a half in inconsistent (the hallmark of this swell) but fast and fun right hand zippers. We missed it! Oh well, no use crying about it...let's get brekkie.

Our breakfast spot was right next to the pier, and our oceanside view afforded us a good look at the incoming bombs that we would be surfing on the lower tide. Impressive. "Do sand bags come with this order of pancakes?" Next stop...the Arena. Our tour of Surf City (you can't live here unless you surf) spanned all spots from the southside to the northside. Biding our time we took it all in and waited with eager anticipation for the swamp monster to pack it's bags and get out of town.

At 1250 hours we found ourselves on the path down to the beach. The tide was still a tad too high and the spent wave foam was blasting off the rock walls of the pocket beach. Surf was easily overhead. We picked our way out into the line-up and headed up coast, aiming for Middles and Gdubs. There was a lot of backwash bump on the sea surface, and a lot of water moving through the line-up. It would get better as the tide dropped. We had the full fleet of wave riding craft: Two SUPS, a shortboard and bellyboard/paipo.

Halfway to Gdubs I turned into an advancing wave face, second in the set, and pulled hard for the drop in. I instantly felt the power of the 17 second swell under my feet as gravity took over. A fast drop and a bit of a bumpy face ended with an attempt to kick through the pitching lip of the section I wasn't going to make. I threw the board hard up into the wave and knew by the parallel angle it wasn't going to punch through. I felt the tug for a fraction of a second before the leash snapped near the board-side velcro fastener. Six bigger waves were bearing down, I took them all on the head.

Here's what went through my mind: f@#*#@k!, sh#@*#@t, f@#*#@k! (a variation of that repeated itself until I calmed down a bit); high tide + rock cliffs and boulders = badly damaged maybe even broken board; should I try to swim in to get it with no beach present, just cliff and rocks?; or should I just swim over to the stairs and get out, walk back to the car, find, unwrap and eat this shit sandwich? Perish the thought, banish the negativity. Swim for your board!

When the rest of the set passed over me and the lull set in, I was able to look for my board. You know how it is, tough to see a board from the sea surface. So I swam towards the land, tossing my paddle like a spear ahead of me as I swam. Praying seemed appropriate so I did. Then I saw Dave laying prone on his Angulo SUP, babysitting my board in the doldrums in from of the rip-rap cliff. It hadn't gone in and there was most likely no damage. just got better!

Dave pushed my board towards me and I crawled aboard. "I owe you a surfboard," I said. Dave is cool. I spent the next 40 minutes paddling in and then chasing down another leash which I found in Allan's little black bag. I had an extra leash...a teeny little competition surfboard leash. Doh! But no matter, I was back in business. Thanks in absentia Allan.

By the time I paddled back out, Jeff, Allan and Brad were long gone (actually they were surfing their brains out at Gdubs). My trajectory out through the surf line took me downcoast of Sarges and into the faces of an overhead incoming set. I picked off the third one which put me at the YH. From there I paddled back up to Brown House and surfed in the best waves I've had there in over a year. The take off is steep and fast and immediately sets up into a long section that feeds into the main peak at YH. When it's big and lined up like it was, the rider is in for a fast ride full of steep sections and makeable walls. Scott was out on his PSH SUP, taking down some good ones.

I surfed up and down that whole section of reef, from Brown House, to YH to Apt. House Point. It was all good. The surf today was a bit smaller than last Tuesday, but much cleaner. The weather was perfect. Sunny with calm wind, temps in the low 70's. Literally perfect Winter NorCal weather.

The crowd was moderately light considering the quality of the waves and how much this swell had been tracked and hyped over the last week. That would all change Saturday/Sunday morning when the line-ups became clogged by the infestation of black, rubber clad ants that had descended on the wave picnic.

Miraculously, we all got out of the water after our three-hour surf at about the same time and met back at the truck. Lot's of good wave story talk as we changed back into our dry clothes. While peeling off my wetsuit I saw a three-inch, stitchable laceration on my left foreleg. Funny with some stuff like that, we get jostled around all the time and don't think much of it...until we view the carnage later. No time to go to the doctor, I could fix this myself. A good butterfly, waterproof bandaid and gobs of Neosporin (generic if you like) and I was back in business. I learned the hard way from a previous deep abrasion that your wetsuit on an open wound is not your friend. It'll keep you warm, yes; it is also a bacterial sponge that would love to infect any open wound. So, keep it gooped up with anti-bacterial over the counter ointment and covered until the wound scabs up at least. (I keep 'em covered whenever I'm wearing my wetsuit until the skin is healed complete.)

Sausage Festival
Jeff, Allan and Brad are three very interesting suspects. Jeff knows all thing nautical and is in fact the Big Kahuna. He won't take credit for that, but we who know him, know he is. Also...he literally knows everyone worth knowing in the surfing community, and if he doesn't he makes the effort to do so. As my wife says, all you have to do is look at Jeff and you like him. Allan is a professional surfboard shaper who was one of the stalwarts in the shaping bays of a very well known surfboard manufacturer for many years. He's probably got close to 50k surfboards sculpted. He's also an accomplished and creative artist. Our conversation about surfboard design was priceless and viewing the custom shortboard he had with him was an eyeopener. When you work on the cutting edge as he does one often dispenses with trivia. Therefore his radically conceived and applied surfboard had penciled in numbers and data on it instead of stickers. Very trippy. At dinner Thursday night Brad talked for an hour about exactly what he does in the entertainment industry, and I still don't know what he does. He makes movies, commercials, music videos, the whole enchilada. The way they do things in order to achieve perfection is not like anything I imagined. Like, ya know the guy who focuses the camera to make sure the image is just right? He never looks at what he's focusing on! It went on from there and now you know why I'm kinda lost on this one. Maybe you just have to be there. But his story of gaining entry into the industry is classic. Sometimes you just gotta take the bull by the horns and never give up. That, and a lot of intelligence is the key to Brad's success.

Friday night the boyz left for Mavs (not to surf but to observe via the nifty Radon they had brought with them).

Saturday morning I was at the beach and paddling out in the inky darkness. My goal is to paddle out early enough so I can see to paddle, but not see to surf. That way I'm waiting for that first surfable wave in the light my eyes can function in. The low morning tide and the light of the full moon conspired to add to the perfect storm of impeccable conditions and solid waves for this swell.

The swell was about the same size, slightly bigger and would peak today. The crowds were beyond imagination, beyond what anyone has ever witnessed before. Was this some Tokyo wave pool? Disneyland's Thunder Lagoon transplanted to NorCal? At 0645 there were twelve people on the main peak at Gdubs. But even with the crowd, I was able to get a lot of good waves on both Saturday and Sunday morning early. Usually I don't surf on the weekends because the weekdays are available. It makes it less crowded for me, and it also takes one guy (me) out of the water on the weekends. But since the swell was targeting the weekend with such goodness I finally got a chance to surf with my weekend warrior brethren Andy, Sam and Dana. Andy was out on his trusty 10' Angulo, continuing his practice of becoming the Cecile B. DeMille of the surf movie world. Quick behind his heels and separated only by the insanely spectacular Apple computer and movie software Andy has, are Sam and Dana with their Go-Pros. I linked one of Dana's Facebook vids here of me on a fun one. Thanks Dana! (Click here to check it out.)

So far the swell was performing as forecast. Sets were full of waves, anywhere from six to 20. And it was inconsistent. That's what happens when you get long period swell that travels from the West Pacific to our shores. I surfed for two hours each day before the crowds drove me out. Sunday I got out after a sweet, long ride from Middles through Sarges. I played hooky from Sunday school but church was a different matter. Better to square things away with the Almighty first.

By now I'm tired. Four days of hard surfing in waves of substance tends to take a little out of you at my age, but I couldn't keep myself out of the water for the rest of the swell which was dropping fast. Again I paddled out at Sarges in the dark. This time just me and Greg and a guy on a Vernor mini-Simmons. Each day has delivered a beautiful, cathedral-esque sunrise and this morning was no different. We shared waves at Sarge's for an hour, then I paddled up to Middles for another hour. I joined two longboarders and we split up the smaller but well shaped waves until my back reminded me that the rest of me had had enough. It's time to get out, reflect, appreciate with thanksgiving, recover and prepare for the next swell!

Up until last Tuesday, it had been a very puny Winter for waves. We got rain and cold, but no swells. That turned around dramatically over the last four days. Viva La Nina Wave Fiesta!

Note: Thanks to Jeff for the SUP surfer sequence at Mavs and various other images.

2nd Note: I picked up a Kodak Play Sport Zx3 waterproof camera at Best Buy. They have a 14-day return policy with no restocking fee so I'm trying it out. So far I like the way it fits into my wetsuit, and the way it feels in my hand. It is much more comfortable to lay on when paddling, and it deploys easily. It boots up relatively quickly and while the zoom is slow, it's manageable. I'm running it at 720p, the recommended setting. It shoots stills but has no continuous frame shooting mode. A major defect which may make the camera unsuitable. The software that comes with it, and which you can use for editing is insanely slow and glitchy. I had to install the program twice before it would work. And it still doesn't make movies like it's supposed to. Just an FYI to those who might be interested.

I added a short movie I shot with my Oly on Friday for comparison. I used Windows Movie Maker software to string the sequences together. Much easier and quicker to use than the Kodak program. I've got some other thoughts which I'll post in a separate entry later.


  1. Good stuff Gary, and thanks for the compliments on my movies...I'm having fun with it. Now that you are in full on film mode, we'll have to collaborate on a project. Have your people call my people and we'll do a lunch.

    Glad your board survived, a broken leash in those conditions is a big bummer. It's one reason I like a lot of color on my boards...easier to see in the foam!

  2. Ha! I should be so creative! There isn't a camera out there yet that does it all. I might end up having two and swapping back and forth. More later...