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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Davenport To Natural Bridges Downwind Run

Thursday May 17, 2012 - I thought our first Four Mile to Cowells run in 25-35 mph winds was mackin' but this run in 30-40 mph winds gusting to 44 was "nucular" in comparison. I put out the message on the soon to be worlds richest man's social networking site and within a few hours there were seven of us intrepid trippers ready to rumble. The wind looked good but we had no idea it was going to bump up to the kind of chaotic energy we eventually paddled into.

I am definitely the old man of the group and kept reminding my paddling brethren (I hesitate to use the word children) to keep their eye in the rear view mirror for the fossil bringing up the back end. It actually worked out OK even though the lifeguard/fireman and most experienced, avid wind surfer of our bunch paddled off into the distance as if they were shot out of a cannon. But Kyle, Jens, Russ and I pretty much stayed together, keeping tabs on each other and even trading around boards. So I had the pleasure and safety of their company and got a chance to paddle the Angulo Shaka 14 in demanding conditions and good wind.

John kept telling me that the launch from Davenport was much less windy and safer than the 4-Mile launch. That's what I get for listening to a fireman. Just another adrenalin junkie. About half way out to where I wanted to be the wind was howling and pushing the high, square rail of the Naish Glide 14 downwind, straight towards the outside breaking reef that puts up a fun left hander when it isn't blown to smithereens like it was today. At a 155 pounds there is no way I can paddle the Glide into or across the wind. So I prone paddled like a mad man to miss the surf and get a better line around the coming headlands. The good thing about Davenport is the lack of kelp that plagues 4-Mile. Finally, after I got tired of feeling like I was losing the battle prone, I just stood up and headed out to sea, diagonally to the shore, trying to angle across the coming wind swells as best I could while utilizing whatever energy I could catch from these wind blown combers. This actually worked although I never did get out as far as I really wanted to be. But I was in the wind line...for better or for worse.

In reality I'm not really sure why I want to do this downwind thing. It's a lot of hard work. But it's also part challenge, part adrenalin rush, part zen focus (like surfing, it's so easy to lose yourself in the moment), and part being in nature in a seemingly impossible situation. And it's all wrapped up in this gleaming newness which gives it the blush of first love that never loses it's attraction, or fails to fill your heart with joy when it happens. That particular aspect of the experience occurs after you've finished falling into 52 degree water numerous times while grabbing for your board (as it blows over on your head) and the paddle which wants to flee your grasp and sail off into the distance; then actually jumping up to your feet in a rolling sea that would make lots of folks hurl the contents of their innards seaward, again and again....over the course of 11 miles. But for whatever logical, illogical or idealogical reasons, I am compelled to continue. In other words, I'm hooked. Great. Another expensive, time consuming addiction. At least it isn't golf.

What's the point? Well, the point is to surf open ocean waves. Catch the bumps and get good glides. My friend Butch, long time paddler and Maliko veteran, tells me that it takes three to six months to get any kind of a handle on this aspect of stand up paddleboarding. This is actually good news and I can confirm from first hand experience that the learning curve is long and steep. The few bumps, glides and waves I have ridden have been, I think, mostly by accident. I find I have more success turning off my mind to the logic of 1) see the wave 2) paddle for the wave 3) miss the wave and adopting a more intuitive approach to let go and feel the rhythms under your feet and all around you. Of course this from someone who knows nothing's a start.

One thing that is more familiar is the board. Essentially we're on a big surfboard designed specifically to catch open ocean, very short period swells and breaking waves efficiently. This is a whole new area of board design and thinking for me and I love learning about it. I've paddled three boards of different design (Naish Glide 14; Angulo Shaka 14, SIC custom Bullet 17) and have developed preferences already. I want my own board which makes it much more convenient and spontaneous when it comes to planning or just going on a run at the spur of the moment. These things are expensive so price is also a consideration. Basically I can't afford the SIC and the Naish Glide is really not the board that the Angulo Shaka is in design, paddle-ability and ease of catching the bumps. So, I ordered one. These are the new models which are hot off the press. So new I have to wait a couple of weeks for the Angulo shipment to arrive at Andy's (head Angulonian in NorCal) place in my hometown. More on the Angulo Shaka 14 later, except to say for now that after paddling for only a couple minutes on the Shaka I knew I wanted one. (This isn't my first Angulo. It's my fourth from master shaper Ed Angulo. But you can read more about that here.)

I had to give it back sooner than I wanted, but hey, Kyle wanted to paddle his own board. What was I gonna do, paddle past him? (Like I could.) Back on the Glide the wind picked up from Four Mile to Longs Marine Lab just before Natural Bridges. It also seemed to shift a bit and instead of blowing at a slight angle towards the beach at NB's, it was huffing at a slight angle away from the beach. Again, I found it almost impossible to paddle the board standing up against the cross wind. So I dropped to my knees and paddled about 5,000 strokes on the right to get into the nub of a point that provided enough leeward protection to make it into the surf line and onto the beach. It was probably windier at NB's than I've ever seen it, and the first thing I saw was another Angulo (super light carbon race board) go flipping across the beach when it's owner put it down to help me out of the water in the high wind. Definitely a two man per board operation.

Surprisingly I was less tired than I thought I would be and it wasn't long before I was packed up, board secure and heading home, thinking about the day and looking forward to the next downwind run. You'll be hearing about it.

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