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

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Some Overhead Surf Plus the GoPro Hero 2 and Canon SX40

January 24, 2012 - I hadn't been surfing for a week, kept out by a nice series of wet, nearshore storms that dumped over four inches of needed rain in our area. The storm swell that pushed in overhead surf was slowly fading, but it was still showing 10 ft. at 12 seconds WNW early this morning. Even though the tide was pushing towards being too high, I could still get a few waves, and finally field test the new GoPro Hero 2 Surf I purchased from Amazon a week ago.

My Olympus Stylus Tough died it's final death and the extended warranty expired. I've had it three years, it's old technology and I planned to replace it as soon as it died anyway. The Kodak Playsport Zx3, which is my front line water camera, may now become my backup water cam if the GoPro camera works out. My biggest concern was whether or not the GoPro could be used like I use my Playsport, i.e. looped around my neck and tucked into my front zip wetsuit. Second biggest concern was field of vision. The GoPro Hero 2 has the capability of videoing with a 127 degree field of view (1080-30 fps setting ONLY) and the 170 degree field. There is no zoom, so 170 degrees is too wide angle to get any kind of a decent look at the surfers surfing. In the video embedded here, the first clip and the water shots are the GoPro, the rest of the video is my land based Canon SX40 (850mm zoom) bridge camera, which shoots still and video images.

I was pleased that the GoPro did in fact tuck into the flap of my front zip wetsuit, exactly like the Kodak Playsport. Even though the GoPro is much thicker, it fits, and it's not terribly uncomfortable. I can pull it out to shoot fairly quickly and even though there is no video screen or viewfinder, results are satisfactory just by pointing it at the subject. Retrieving and stowing either camera is about the same. There is no image stabilization with the GoPro which is too bad. The IS feature of the Zx3 is limited. (The Kodak Zx5, the next generation Playsport has IS, but serious water tight door issues which makes it a no buy.) You can judge for yourself as to image quality and stability by watching the video.

The GoPro Hero 2 is expensive. I paid a little over $300 for the camera. The Kodak Playsport Zx3 is a bargain at a bit more than one-third the GoPro price and is probably my choice for best overall hobbyist waterproof video camera. I've never really like the GoPro wide angle (170 degree) field of vision for most surfing videos except when utilized in the barrel. That is a unique view that only a wide angle can appreciate. But it is a specialty shot for a certain purpose and used indiscriminately is boring and unrealistic. To me, the best surfing films/videos/stills are those that look like what you see with your own eyes. We don't see in wide angle vision. Therefore, the 127 degree field of view is a real plus which does approximate one's natural vision. But is it worth owning (almost) three brand new Playsports?

The Zx3 has a zoom feature, the main drawback of which is the poor focus (especially in low light) when you zoom in on your subject. Secondly, it is often quite difficult to keep the subject in frame while standing on my board when zoomed in from the wider angle start up setting. The GoPro has no zoom, but with the previous statement that may be a moot point for in water shooting.

The GoPro gives me more flexibility in that I can attach it to my board. The GP Surf comes with two adhesive (stick down) camera mounts which could be placed on nose and tail. The camera can be mounted and aimed forwards or backwards, and adjusted up or down as desired on each mount. As previously stated, this camera mount "view" has limited appeal to me. I hesitate to use it becasue if I return the camera I need to send all the parts back and removing a mount from my board would no doubt destroy it. Turning the camera on and off while mounted on the board takes time and can't be done quickly so getting that shot you want would either be impossible or would require you to leave the camera turned on all or most of the time. Therefore spontaneity would be lost and editing a continuous, one-hour long plus video clip is tedious and time consuming.

Quality wise it would seem that the GoPro is far superior. Placing the small camera inside it's own custom made water proof housing seems to me to be nearly bomb proof. I've already had my Playsport in for warranty repair twice and haven't owned it for a year yet. But this was more or less planned. I figured that this inexpensive water proof camera wasn't really going to last long and that I would replace it after the warranty expired. I would then get the benefit of whatever technology upgrade Kodak put into the camera. This still seems like a good idea to me, the wild card now being Kodak's recent declaration of bankruptcy. I don't know how this will play out for this series of cameras, or if they will even continue it.

As you can see, there are pros and cons to each camera. As of this writing, I'm not convinced that the GoPro is worth the price for what I would be getting. If you have a minute, and an opinion, let me know what you think.

Covewater Winter Sale!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cold Weather Skunking

January 17, 2012 - 26 degrees at my house this morning and it wasn't a whole lot warmer at the beach. I waited for some solar gain knowing it would be damn cold anyway. I checked the beaches, drove all the way down to Nomoco's and checked the spots in between. Nothin' shakin' really. Nothin' that could get me into the water this frigid January morning.

But gettin' out has it's upsides. The good weather is soon to be a notation in the history books as rain is finally on it's way. Might as well enjoy what's left of it. Driving through the ag fields yielded a surprise when I came upon the flower growers frozen flower and heather beds. Sprinklers and icy coats on overnight. Keepin' it alive in the south county.

Bob was out with a couple other surfers down south. I watched for a fairly long while. He picked up one wave and came in. That definitely wasn't enough motivation. A few upcoast barrels tried to lure me out and if it wasn't so cold I might have taken the bait. But not today.

Swell could pick up some tomorrow. Maybe I'll try again before the rain and wind starts.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Friday Jan. 14 Just Another Winter Day

Friday January 14, 2012 - The new WNW swell was starting to fill in but not fast enough for the dawn patrol. Town was small and soft so I headed to the beaches. But there the tide was too low, so I made the rounds, snapped some shots and decided to go home to wait for a higher tide as the morning aged.

Weather around here has been remarkable, spectacular, rare, even unprecedented. There are not enough superlatives to adequately describe our "Winter". Clear, bright, offshore mornings followed by light winds all day, leading into magnificent sunsets. Even if I hadn't surfed yet, it felt good to be out and about. A few hours later the tide was right and like MacArthur, I returned.

From the overlook it seemed make-able, all I had to do was get out through a building swell that was very consistent. The first bar I chose was wrong. But I soldiered on, waiting in the shore pound (it felt like forever) for a break in the incoming lines of waves and foam before I finally sprinted out the back, prone style laying on my paddle. There was a lot of water moving around and the sea surface was chaotic with motion. Cautiously assessing the line-up and my position in it, I paddled for two smaller waves that didn't break. Not cautious enough, for I was impossibly too far inside to make it over the first of sixteen close-outs that essentially washed me back up on shore only slightly humiliated. There weren't a lot of surfers out, and there were plenty who didn't want any of this today.

Not wanting to indulge in the insanity of repeating this first mistake, I got out and walked down to a bar Ron mentioned in a conversation last week. I talked myself into thinking it was smaller there and that a channel existed. Again, I waited in the nearshore white water until a break in the action let me paddle out untouched and into a peaceful deep green sea that was mirror smooth. No rough water here. From the land I had watched a small right hander break cleanly into a deep spot where the wave shoulder flattened. A rider could ease out over that section without getting pummeled. Again I cautiously assessed my position in the line-up, trying to avoid my first mistake. So far I had no waves ridden in this session but a lot of board handling in turbulent white water. Experience is good.

I clearly heard the pod of four dolphins before I saw them. They approached from the east as I was paddling hard for the horizon which had suddenly blossomed into a bolt of corduroy. It is always startling to hear their distinct, loud and somehow out of place exhalations which one almost always experiences before the sighting. I remember thinking that I'd rather not hit one while paddling, which would surely knock me off my board and put me way behind where I needed to be to avoid the wrath of the much more menacing incoming entities which I now faced. (A flash of hubris probably not altogether uncommon for a land based mammal.) I noted how large these particular animals were as I paddled up and over the first wave, butt low and knees bent pushing through the nearly cascading crest of the already formed lip. I pressed on more vigorously, heading for the next two of eight which looked bigger than the one I had just barely crossed over. These large sets were immensely delivered closeouts, too big and unrideable. But the smaller sets that threaded their way in between the larger, were just right.

Waiting, assessing and dodging, I picked up a half dozen screamingly fast right-handers sporting quick pitching lips with steep faces. The SIMSUP OSX3 gets up to speed in a flash and with Controllers humming adjacent to that first acceleration, I was able to make the drops, where fins and edges securely sped me into a soft spot on the wave down the line. From there a quick glance out the back for more of Poseidon's parallel arrows, then either turn up and over the slumping shoulder and paddle hard out the back, or turn down face for more. The best waves would allow you to slide down the smaller portion of the wave where it would then break. Riding the tumbling white water shoreward put you into the reform and a decent left that gave way to a deep spot prior to the nearshore and explosive final moments of that solely unique and particular wave's life. Here, ten yards offshore, there was a hole in the sand bottom which was for all intents and purposes, tranquil and safe. Wait it out and paddle back out for the next one.

Two hours later I found myself padding back upcoast, looking for a peak that would place me just where I wanted to be to get out of the water. I took the first (and smallest) overhead wave of the set and rode in towards the beach, but not nearly as far as I'd hoped. I took the next five on the head which washed me like a ship wrecked sailor up on the sand.

Sessions like this one feel more like a workout than a surf, mentally and physically. Vigilance is as important as surfing well, especially when one is SUP surfing. There is no duck diving a SUP, even a lightweight 15 pound, eight foot SUP like the OSX3. And in tricky surf, like today, how you approach the ocean is much like playing a game of chess. Forethought, planning, knowledge and experience are important. The consequences of laziness in thought or activity are not guaranteed to be profound or enjoyable. But heightened awareness leads to an extra jolt of adrenalin and mental focus that always, ultimately, adds to the experience of losing yourself in the moment. And that simple, usually fleeting experience, is what keeps surfers coming back for more.

It is a feeling of satisfaction, exhilaration and peace that saturates my soul and being after a day like today which is alive with true natural power and energy. Only a few can really enjoy it in this way. Lucky and blessed am I, are we who surf, love and respect the ocean.

EPIC! One-Day WNW Swell

Monday January 9, 2012 - This was by far the biggest, the best and least crowded swell of the 2011/12 season. None of the forecasters got this one right so there was very little hype and publicity. At least half of the sparse crowd out in the water had no clue. The best waves were easy pickin's and no hassle. Most of the surfers in the line-up were sitting too far outside and were just as glad to let the big ones go by anyway. It was a field day for those who knew what they were doing. Conditions were perfect. Clear, glassy and warm with light offshores. 

When I was out (3:30 - 5:30P) the biggest waves were not necessarily the longest rides but there were many solid 350 yard, 6-8 ft. waves in the mix. The best strategy was to post up at the Yellow House Point take-off and wait. Taking an early wave usually meant getting caught in the white water (whether you kicked out or bailed) no matter where you ended up on the playing field. That location would vary depending upon where the wave closed out or sectioned out. But if you made it into or close to the pier (a 600 yard ride!) your best bet was to get out, walk to the down-current side of the wharf and wait for a lull. Then paddle back out along and around the end of the pier making sure to clear all the monofilament in the water from the fisherpeeps on the wharf. 

How easy was it to get side-tracked on your way out the back to Yellow House by an incoming set? Real easy, but you'd only get a 350 yard ride.....awwww, poor baby. This is what happened to me near dark. I ended up getting one of my best waves of the day just as it got too dark for me to see any longer. I turned off the wave face and slid the whitewash into Pooper's as the pier loomed up in front of me. It was too dark to paddle back so I climbed the stairs and walked back to my car at Sarges. Got dressed and arrived at one of the overlooks just as this gigantic full moon was peeking above the mountain horizon. Just an incredible weather and surf day. Video is using my backup waterproof cam which has some severe limitations compared to the Kodak. Still shots are from my Canon SX40 bridge camera.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Two New Year's WNW Swells

Tuesday January 3, 2012 - First swell of the new year, and the first of two back-to-back WNW "larger" swells. The hallmark of both these swell events was not wave quality, but crowd quantity. I've never surfed with so many people in the L. It was, in fact, what everyone was talking about. Perhaps it was the "perfect storm" of school holiday, decent waves, unemployment, furlough days and early retirement. At any rate, things may never be the way they were. That said, I surfed a full 2.5 hour session at Tweeners and Sarges, taking down quite a few waves for how crowded it was.

Friday, January 6, 2012 - This was the second of the two, much over-hyped and under delivered BIG swells that slowly made landfall on the 5th. It was a bigger swell and it's saving grace was a lot of west in the swell. While it was bigger, it was far from big. Surf was consistently in the chest/head range with overhead waves in many of the sets. With all the west in the swell Yellow House and Poopers opened up and while it was small there, it was way less crowded than the spots up-coast. I surfed Apartment House Point for about half of my 3.5 hour session and got a lot of waves, all in the waist/chest range with maybe a very occasional head high peeler. While the rides were relatively short, there were open faces and whackable lips which made for energetic, roller coaster surfing, which I like. Near evening the surf dropped off with the incoming tide and I paddled back up to Sarges to take one in. I ended up staying there for an hour as the surf had really picked up in quality. In a word, it was firing. Clean, fast, chest/head spinners from the point to the nudie beach and beyond. It was probably the best I've surfed there this season. My Kodak Playsport Zx3 screen went black though. Same problem I had fixed under warranty last April. It's still under warranty and it's off to United Camera repair on Monday. Can't complain, it's the best and cheapest little waterproof video cam I've tried and they've backed it up twice now. I'll just replace it after the warranty expires, which I had planned to do anyway. The short vid is what I got before the screen went out.