photo by Steve Kohr, stevekohr.com
12/28/14- FORMERLY SEMI-SECRET SPOT- STRAITS OF JUAN DE FUCA.
It would be half an hour before the winter sun would rise, and even then it would be blocked for hours by the Olympic Mountains, then the nearer tree lines. In fact, at this time of year, on the north shore of the west coast, the sun merely hugs the mountains like an all-day dawn. At 7:30 am, what could be seen was grainy, almost colorless; headlights in the parking area, semi-clear sky, the water was the color of drowning, of death at sea.
And I was in it trying to swim, side-stroke, one hand on my paddle; and I hadn’t even caught a wave yet.
Yeah, it’s over-dramatic; but I was the one caught in it, swimming because I had tried to cut across the usually waveless channel, the deep spot between two reefs; so confident; thinking I could snag an inside left on my way out to a lineup in which the first members of the dawn patrollers were trying to find the perfect place to take off in a crazy sea.
Sure, I’d seen, even in the dim light, the sets breaking on the outlside indicators, the roll-throughs, the waves that closed out the channel and the ones that could provide those storied rides that start on the outside reef and end up past the parking area, past the fence.
“I ended up way past the fence, man.” “Whoa.” Meaningful.
But this is my favorite spot on the Straits of Juan de Fuca; I’ve surfed here (first time, 1979, next time 2005, if this means anything) in every condition, from low tide rights you couldn’t catch with a regular board, fin clicking across rocks; to those just-mentioned left peelers; to bouncy just-after-a-storm surf, waves blown by winds from sideshore squalls, rain or sleet, cold offshores from fresh mountain snow; fun, user-friendly conditions- but I’ve also surfed days with these outside roll-throughs, almost out of control, where the hard part was not panicking, holding my position, waiting for the reef to catch the bottom of the swell, to shape it properly.
Big Dave had been on the wave, dealing with an inside close out, almost directly in front of me; the wave that ripped the leash that, evidently, hadn’t had enough Velcro ‘bite.’ It wasn’t a big pull; my board was just gone.
Oh, I could see it, tantalizingly close, just out of reach; then, another wave, and it popped up again, farther away.
I was only yards from the beach, but I knew the waves wouldn’t help push me to shore. The tide was too high, washing up on the river-rock bank; pushing up and rolling rocks and foam uphill. Then there were clackity-thunk sounds as the energy tumbled back down, crashing into the next surge. I knew there would be no bottom to put my feet on to take a last leap forward.
still, not panicking.
DECEMBER OF 1969- SWAMI’S-
It was the second day of the famous swell. I had survived the first, seriously undergunned with my regular short board (probably around 6’6”) in well-overhead waves with an unusually strong Santa Ana offshore. Yes, I was one of those guys hanging on the shoulder. In my memory bank’s version (probably in a Super 8 format- still), I was out very early and the tide was at that height where there is no inside and outside; merely a long wall that required a crazy-late takeoff, offered a crazy-long barrel past the shoulder-hoppers, and rewarded the best surfers with the best rides Swami’s could possibly offer.
I know I didn’t do a ‘paddle (in) of shame,’ but I couldn’t say I caught anything but a few insiders.
But, on the second day, the waves only a bit smaller, on a different, longer (still round-nosed- hate a pointy nose) board, the weather was stormier, the tide lower, the waves more broken up, and I was attacking the inside lineup, lined up on the palm tree on the cliff, that below the solid line of onlookers at the edge of the parking lot; scratching into waves that ‘went wide’ and peaked on the inside lineup or had closed out on the guy riding from the outside peak.
Still, I was looking for the smaller waves. I caught a few, but it was rough. I did keep getting caught inside, part of the crowd the riders had to navigate. The thrashing-to-riding ratio wasn’t really going my way, and too many waves I wanted went to others. “One more wave” I told myself.
And I caught it. If you know Swami’s, particularly the inside section, you know there’s a drop and a wall, then an area to cut back, cruise back and forth, and then, over the grassy finger slabs inside, often there’s another little section. Maybe I was too far outside. I made the drop and was totally in position for the wall. Too far back.
It wasn’t like the worst wipeout/holddown of my career, another wave at Swamis where I fell from the top (of note: On a turn, not dropping-in), to the trough, had the wind knocked out of me, came up seriously out of breath, sucked in part of twelve inches of foam. This was more a whacking, a full-body punch, the energy as much out as down.
I wasn’t panicking. I was swimming. “Fine,” I thought,” I’m done for the day.”
STRAITS- After a couple of shorepound knockdowns I found footing, slogged up the steep beach, my paddle in my hand; breathing in deeply, coughing out. The water, probably 45 degrees or so at the nearest buoy, is so much colder when you’re between two streams coming off fresh mountain snow; and seems even colder when you’re swimming.
My board was not on shore, however. It had drifted down past the fence and was headed out. I hurried down the beach until I was even with it. In that time it had moved farther out, headed toward the other reef. Tim Nolan, who, for once, I had beaten to the beach, was ready to paddle out. I was too far away to yell at him to help me and a bit too shaken up to swim, my board now a hundred yards out. I threw the paddle up onto the higher beach and thought, “Maybe it’s just not my day.”
FATE AND KARMA- Each of these seems to be about things in life kind of evening-out. My own philosophy is somewhere in there.
Maybe it was because I had thought it amusing when I saw someone in a car with a longboard getting a ticket over by Discovery Bay when I was on my way home from working in Port Townsend that, earlier this very morning, I had gotten a speeding ticket near Port Angeles. Maybe it was fitting that several of the folks in the rigs in the parking area had passed by us (Stephen Davis, Keith Darrock also in my car) in front of the car with the flashing lights, maybe it was only right other surfers should mention it, chuckling as they did.
Maybe there’s some wicked form of Fate/Karma in that, cruising up Surf Route 101, we chanced to be behind someone either sleepy or drunk, weaving across the center line, then across the fog line; and Steve called 911, and we gave them the license number; and I had Steve tell them the car would be behind a white car with several boards on top; and, when the officer returned with our tickets (Keith got one for no seatbelt- also, really my fault), the drunk-or-sleepy guy drove right past.
“I hope he gets home all right,” the State Patrolman said.
That karma’s on him. Maybe. Oh, and maybe it’s this: The last time I was out in similar conditions in the Straits, the first (and only) guy out that morning tried desperately to catch an inside wave, caught the third he tried for, came in, ran up the beach, and, wide-eyed, asked, “Is it always like this?” “It’s never like this.” Another surfer and I, both on longboards, started paddling out, he a bit closer to the reef. A wave closed out immediately in front of us. I turned turtle. When I came up, he had lost his board. I kept paddling.
At least he was close to the reef.
another retro shot; I’d be further to the left.
IN 1969, not finding my board on the rocks or beach, members of collective crowd on the bluff were pointing and yelling, “It’s in the rip!” It was. I looked up, looked out, swam almost to the inside lineup, climbed on my board, caught one more wave. A good one according to my Super 8 file; and went in, did better the next day.
THE OTHER DAY I almost thought I’d lost my board forever, thought I’d be watching Keith and Stephen deal with the Dawn Patrol Syndrome, watching the waves get more and more crowded. But, Big Dave left the lineup, paddled over, grabbed a hold of my board, started paddling it in. Push, paddle, push. When he got close to the inside waves, I swam out. I still had a bit of trouble getting it and me in. When I did, I dragged it (by the leash) up the beach, took a break, reclaimed some (not quite all) of my usual confidence. Four hours after Keith was the first one in the water, the day now sunny, the tide more normal, the waves more in control, way too many people in the water, we all agreed it had been, ON BALANCE, a great session. Each of us had a few good ones, a few ‘past the fence.’
Maybe not for everyone (there were some words exchanged among others, at volume, in the water), but for each of us.
THANKS, Big Dave; I owe you (another) one.