Monday, September 19, 2005

Back Off, Ralph

Lots o' waves lately.

Then again, you know what they say about real estate...and swells. Location, location, location.

On Saturday I hooked up with some of the SD boys and we sailed out to Ralph's. For those of you that don't know, Ralph's is an somewhat overrated "secret spot" off the southernmost tip of Point Loma. It's all government land out there, so it's only accessible by boat.

Anyhow, we thought we were brilliant, this being a large south swell and all. We figured the beachbreaks would be closed out, Sunset Cliffs would be small, and Ralph's would be epic and empty.

Instead, most of the beachbreaks I drove by at 6 AM Saturday morning looked epic, and Ralph's was knee to waist high and mushier than my 7 month-old daughter's food. We ended up surfing Dolphin Tanks, which is further out around the point. The biggest sets were maybe shoulder high, with left and right mushburgers. Toss in heaps of kelp, a dozen longboarders, ice cold water, and a whole crew of PWC joyriders criss-crossing up what were already warbly waves, and you have a pretty mediocre session.

Then again, it was sunny, the water was blue and clean, and surfing an inaccessible spot by boat is pretty friggin' cool, no matter how blah the waves are.

Our non-surfing friends might disagree though. As soon as we anchored, the boat started lurching on the swells wrapping around the point. In the 5 minutes it took me to suit up, wax my board, tie on my leash and hurl myself overboard, I was already on the verge of getting seasick.

As we surfed (and sat - it was super inconsistent on top of everything else), my friend Pete and I kept looking back at the boat, watching it rock up and down and back and forth. The thought of getting back on board turned what would probably have been a quick 45 minute surf into a solid 2 hour session.

Pete's friend from Boston spent the entire 2 hours throwing up off the stern.

"Sorry, bro, but the waves were epic!"

We dedicated the rest of the day to sailing, drinking, eating and sleeping...a fairly solid way to spend a beautiful day in late summer. The only drama came when we tried to make it into Mission Bay. Somehow when I lived there I never noticed that, even though it's a huge bay, there are no sail boats. There's a reason. The bridge that separates South Mission from North Mission, and is the entrance to the Bay, only has a 35' clearance. Our boat's mast was 48'. Pete figured this out somewhere between 10 and 8 feet from the bridge. Oops.

All in all it was, and continues to be, a pretty good swell. Not sure it deserved all the hype it got, but that's what happens when you have the shittiest summer in memory.

Today HB was solid head high, although the nearly 6 foot high tide bogged things down pretty good around noon. Of course that's when I surfed, but it was still fun. The red tide looks like it's here to stay. The winds have stayed light. By 1 PM it was still light offshore.

I promise I'll get around to diving into the whole leash thing. Taking the family to Kauai on Thursday for 2 weeks. With a little luck I'll get to it before then.

Speaking of which, the whole airline/board thing never ceases to infuriate me. American Airlines charges $80 per board, EACH WAY. How completely fucked is that? And it's not per bag either, it's per BOARD, which makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

Is a single board in a double board bag any more hassle for them than two boards? The maximum weight per board is 70 pounds, so it's obviously not a weight issue.

In the past I've actually had some semi-cool counter people ask me with a wink, "Just one board in the bag?" I've also had some luck bribing the curbside guys with a few twomps. But once you pack both boards, you need to accept the fact that you might be throwing down $320 to slide down some waves on your own sleds (and for some monkey to huck them around until they look like dimple-bottomed Bonzers from 1989).

The Colonel says, "Fight the power."

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Love's Labor's Found

Great Labor Day weekend for waves in HB.

Saturday through today (Tuesday afternoon), we've had clean, racy, waist to head-high waves. Which is especially impressive when you consider the 5-foot-plus high tides every day.

The water temp has dropped a bit down to the lower 60's, but the weather has been so hot and the water such a beautiful blue, I just can't bring myself to stuff into the comp.

The only real negative I can think of is that it's still pretty crowded. I figured it would be empty out there today, being the day after Labor Day and all, but it was pretty much shoulder to shoulder out there this morning.

That's okay though. Some of the schools still haven't started, especially the universities, and great weather, even in September, still brings out a lot of the flex-schedulers and late vacationers. And after this horrendous summer, I'm more than happy to share some good waves and great conditions.

I'm also excited because I get to roll down to SD this afternoon and pick up the first of my two new boards - a bright blue rocket fish, all shiny glossy with glassed on fins. With any luck I'll get to test drive it afterwards in Carlsbad with my buddy, Kebo.

Kebo is a classic SD guy. Grew up near La Jolla and has been surfing with his same childhood bros for 25 years. He married my wife's best friend from college, and now has her surfing too.

Funny story about the two of them: He's Asian and very dark. She's blonde and very white, but grew up in Kauai. They go to Hawaii to visit her family and paddle out one afternoon. Da boyz paddle up to Kebo and start talking pidgin'. He doesn't understand a word and looks at his wife, who starts going off in Pidgin'.

"Oh what, you tink cuz he's Asian he's local, brah? You doan' even know how haole he is. Talk to da girlfriend instead!"

I'd have paid a hundred bucks to see the looks on their faces. Full alternate universe in Kauai that day.

BTW, in my next post I think it's time we got into the whole leash thing. It's such a trend right now to go leashless, but unlike most surf trends, this one really has fairly serious implications about the way we surf and even the way we approach riding waves in the first place.

The Colonel says, "Stay tuned."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

Pretty good week of surf.

On Tuesday the red tide came back with a vengeance in HB. With Zero visibility, it was pure cup-o-tea out there. You couldn't even see your feet. Not that I or anyone else cared. With clean conditions and waist to head high peaks up and down the beach (and not a jellyfish to be found), it was pure fun in the sun. There were even some barrels to be had.

However, by Thursday, the water had gone back to blue/green and the surf was still fun sized. Toss in the warm(er) water and hot sunshine, and HB was somehow resembling paradise.

I surfed not once, not twice, by THREE times yesterday.

(To all my bros in the workplace, all I can say is, "Fuck off, I'm also broke".)

Anyhow, on one of my waves I dropped in with a fucked up stance - feet in the wrong places, pointing the wrong directions, everything just completely mis-aligned. By the time I wiggled my feet into their proper places, the wave had petered out and all I had time to do was snake my way into the inside for a final (and only) turn.

But it got me to thinking about some observations people have made over the years regarding waves and how we ride them.


Once, when I was in high school, my friend Pete and I were surfing a little known beach break somewhere between Big Sur and Pacific Valley. We had spotted a lone guy tackling some rough-looking tubes and we decided to "bomb his zone" (as my old friend Nate used to say).

Not long after we paddled out, both Pete and the other guy paddled in. Not wanting to sit out there by myself with the Big Sur chapter of the Great White Society, I took the first decent looking set wave that came along, hoping to impress my friend and the random stranger sitting on the beach.

I dropped in, feet in the completely wrong spot but firmly glued to the deck of my board, booties and freshly combed wax fused together in a death-embrace worthy of Herbie Fletcher's wet traction dreams.

I had wanted to race ahead of the wave, doing swooping carves and eliciting wild hoots from the boys. Instead I stood hunched over, staring at my feet, trying to will them from their positions as the wave simply ferried me along like pimpled dayglo driftwood.

Bummed and embarrassed I walked up to my friend, smiled and nodded goodbye to the dude on the beach, and we trudged back to our car.

"That guy was impressed," Pete said to me.


"Yeah, he said you surfed close to the pocket."

"Um, really?"

"Yeah, he said most guys don't have the balls to surf like that."

"Cool. I uh, yeah...I, um...yeah, that's just how I surf. In the pocket. Yup."

While I had been completely focused on uprooting my feet, I completely missed the fact that I had been stalling in the pocket of a semi-hollow freight train.

I charged that last wave, in spite of myself.


Maybe a year or two later my Dad came down to the beach to watch me surf.

(BTW, quick digression: I think all of us owe our parents a big thanks for every time they have ever watched, photographed, or videotaped us surfing. Because, while AYSO soccer or pee-wee football might be kind of boring to watch, NOTHING is more boring than watching some 12 year-old paddle out in crowded, waist high slop, and sit through lulls, missed waves, cutoffs, and sneaker sets, only to catch a glimpse of him trimming for 3 seconds, cutting back, and then falling on his ass.)

Anyhow, after my session, the Old Man mentioned that he thought my last wave was great.

"Hey, your last wave was great, you got a really long ride."

I thought my last wave sucked. Weak turns, bad footing - I ended up just making my way to the inside and riding all the way to the shorebreak.

"Did you see the wave before it?"

"Was that the real short ride?"

"Yeah, I did a big turn and then a floater."

"Yeah, it was real short."

"But a great off-the-lip, don't you think?"

"I liked your last wave...real long, nice ride."

My initial thought was, "Old Man doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. This ain't the Endless Summer."

Then again, maybe he did know what the hell he was talking about.


Over time I've thought about that comment a lot. Maybe I'm getting older and a bit slower, maybe spending a bit more time on my log, but I think the Old Man might have been on to something.

I look at the images in the surf mags of the closeups of the guy blasting his fins out the back, or the shot from the Taylor Steele film where all you see is the guy bottom turning and then boosting an air. That's it. Nothing else. Just buh-BAM. Pure money shot.

And when I look at that stuff, it does nothing for me. Nada. I don't feel a thing. No stoke. Not a twinge of excitement. Not even a fleeting desire to paddle out (I mean beyond what desire I might have already felt).

And yet I'll roll down to the beach on my bike and coast down the parking lot driveway at 6th and PCH and get that view of the entire northside of the pier all the way up to The Apartments. And there'll be some random guy on a fat hybrid dropping into a nice left. He'll do a little faded bottom turn, bank off the top, maybe lose his balance a bit and windmill his arms. But he'll recover, trim along the face, do another bottom turn, another top turn, dodge a few kids on the inside, race around a section, and then do an awkward little re-entry onto the sand.

And that, for some reason, THAT gets me stoked. That 40 year-old on the fat board with the long ride will have me thoroughly fired up.

So cheers to the Big Sur solo man who gave me my first lesson in longer, more critical, and less flamboyant waveriding. And cheers to my Old Man, who realized long before I even did, that long rides are one of surfing's sublime pleasures - both for the rider and for the viewer.

And before you accuse me - or them - of romanticizing a more boring style of surfing, a quick quote from bodysurfing legend and Pipe master, Mark Cunningham:

"Waves are a terrible thing to waste. I watch board surfers kick out early with their chest in the air. Waves are a precious resource and that wave will never be then again, so ride it for all it's worth."

In other words, stay in the pocket and ride that wave until there's nothing left.

The Colonel says, "At ease."