Thursday May 24, 2012 - Three days of 30-40 mph northwest winds conspired to build a solid near shore windswell and fetch. Thursday was the third and what looked like the best of the three days, if the wind was going to hold up. It did.
I put the word out on the fb paddlers and email lists but most either had to work or were not available for the run. Leave it to John, the firefighter, to step up and join me. Firefighters. Always there when you need 'em. We met at one of the usual spots, Manor Ave and West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz to plan the run and work out the logistics. The Angulo Boyz have given me carte blanche on borrowing the Shaka 14 when it's available (until my own Shaka arrives sometimes mid-June) so I was paddling it. John had just come off two full Davy runs and a 72-hour shift at the fire house so we were both looking forward to riding the best bumps we could find. Distance wasn't as much a factor as really good wind and open ocean waves.
The wind jumped from nearly non-existent out of the south to mackin' NW in the space of an hour which eased our Wind Alert watching concerns. We didn't really want to do the seven mile run from Davy to Four Mile, but FM to Natural Bridges was too short. So John hit on the idea of paddling in another half mile down at Mitchells Cove. Brilliant. It fit the bill for our wave jones and our physical status.
We motored up to Four Mile and partner carried our boards and gear down to the beach. The wind was lifting the sand off the soft surface a foot into the air. We hustled over to the cliff and took shelter from the blast. Since the wind was just as strong as the last time I launched from here I was excited about how the Shaka would paddle in a vigorous crosswind compared to the Naish Glide. I decided at the last second to go for it and stood up to paddle from the beach launch. (This proved to be impossible on the Glide as the more square rails catch the wind. I had to knee paddle it out to the wind line.) Much to my surprise I paddle the Shaka straight out past the surfers and into the crosswind. I was able to hold my own and even paddled upwind for a while until I got out into the real wind line. But my forward progress was more than enough to put me on a good line to be well outside the down coast reefs and to get though the kelp beds and into the good stuff without incident. The custom designed (by Ed) Sea Shaka fin worked perfectly in the kelp, never catching and always releasing after a little tug in the thickest masses. Then the fun began.
This run was without a doubt the best downwind run I've ever had. I chalk that up to great wind and swell conditions and the Angulo Shaka 14. The board is in one word, "magic". The Shaka is stable, forgiving, fast, and easy to paddle. You know you're on good equipment when it improves your skill level without additional practice and experience needed. I'm going to write a separate blog post reviewing the Shaka so I won't go on about it here. Suffice it to say that I'm glad I will soon be the owner of what just may be the best all-around SUP on the market today. (I'll explain that in the forthcoming post.)
Water temps on the north coast and in the Monterey Bay are averaging 51-52 degrees so I'm in my full O'Neill's 4/3 mutant and ankle top booties. Usually when paddling in flat water I just wear a t-shirt and board shorts, but these downwind runs are what I consider open ocean surfing so I'm dressed to surf, and until I get a lot better at it, fall in. On this run I only fell in three times, a record. Once when I lost control of the board and the tail came around and twice when I stepped on the Shaka's sweet spot while riding a bump and she just trimmed up and took off like a shot. I wasn't ready for the rapid acceleration so I just walked right off the back of the board. The Shaka's just a lot better at surfing the bumps than I am. When you get good at this it's almost like riding a longboard. You walk the board, turning, trimming, finding the speed and energy of the waves and bumps you're on. This video featuring Jeremy Riggs is a great illustration of what I'm talking about. (NOTE: Jeremy's got a rudder installed on his board so some of those turns are definitely rudder assisted.)
John and I caught bump after bump and I was astonished to see Longs Marine Labs come up so quickly after we left the beach almost four miles behind. The wind was good even close to shore so we could have stayed out further and paddled in at Cowells. We just didn't know how fast this run was going to be. John turned in to the beach before me and I should have followed him immediately. Instead I stayed outside too long, not wanting the run to end. I overshot the beach at Mitchells by enough to where I had to paddle back upwind for a couple hundred yards. The Shaka handled this very well to my relief. I was pretty tired by then from paddling a couple thousand strokes on the lee side of the board to get in to the beach. I was actually surprised at how quickly I made it into the cove and onto the sand.
I wasn't the only one impressed by the Shaka. John was also. He rides a high tech, super light C4 downwind racing board and for most of the paddle I was able to stay near him. John's wife Earlene wants to get into downwind paddling, but paddling his 26 3/4" board is not going to cut it. The Shaka might be the solution.
Downwind paddling in Santa Cruz is about to explode in popularity. We are in a nearly perfect place, with great conditions and easy access to some of the best runs in Cali, maybe even the world. When the surf is small or even non-existent, and the wind is blowing there are waves to be ridden on the open ocean. Crowds? You could paddle out with a hundred people and still be surfing your own waves. What are we waiting for?