Season Ripe With Skunkings

We’re into Fall, Autumn, and West Coast surfers expect… yeah, waves, northwest swells. It’s a little different on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It always is. Planning a trip out here based on forecasts showing the numbers that should mean waves will find their way to some beach that might still be accessible might just get you skunked.

It’s frustrating for me; and I have to guess, the farther one goes with visions of lined-up peelers floating in one’s head, the more irritating and frustrating it must be discovering beautiful conditions, everything perfect except the lack of waves.

Hang around, just in case? Talk with the other skunkees about times when the same numbers, swell size and period and direction and tide and wind and all, meant, like, waves? Paddle out and hope a big boat goes by, maybe score a weak dribbler or two?

But, now, Westport, pretty much always, has waves. Here’s the Westport advantage for a ripper from, say, Fremont. No ferry waits (or expenses), no getting stuck on the Hood Canal Bridge, no traffic detours (that I know of); and waves, with plenty of like-minded folks to hang out with. Sounds fun.

Quite recently I was working with Reggie down Surf Route 101, and the numbers (see above) started looking good, tantalizingly, must-be-going-off kind of good. We fast-tracked the work, and, a couple of hours later, there we were (Reggie, froth almost visible when we split up, didn’t meet me there, he beat me there), perfect conditions and no waves.

Oh, there were rumors. There are always rumors.

And we were not alone. Concrete Pete was talking to some kid with New Mexico plates and a tiny short board on his pickup. Nam had been there since noon. No waves. Omar cruised in with multiple boards to not ride; not on this day.

Concrete Pete starts talking about how some kook was talking, at some earlier time, about how “there’s this one guy, kinda, uh, chunky; and he rides a stand up, only…” “Yeah.” “And there’s this other guy; even bigger; no paddle.” “Yeah.” “And then there’s a guy who uses a broken paddle.” At this point Pete points to his rig, containing, I guessed, a broken paddle. “Wait; you mean… you?” “Yeah; and the kook says these surfers are legends, and…”

At this moment another vehicle pulls in. “Raja,” I say. “Now, here’s a legend. Raja, the guy who stuck my paddle in the pilings at an unnamed spot (the one with pilings).” “Yeah,” Reggie says, “heard about that.”

Raja had already ventured much farther out the peninsula in search of waves, and, since he couldn’t surf the next day, he was fairly certain that was when waves would show up.

Then Omar pulls in; multiple boards on his vehicle. Then Sean and Cathy (and, possibly, their son, somewhere between 8 and 12 years old, who is becoming quite the little ripper). “Hey,” Reggie says, “there might be waves back at… (different spot, no pilings) You going?”


I was still hoping the waves would show up before dark, hoping enough that I started putting on my wetsuit, very slowly, believing that, if I gave up and went home, it would turn on before I got to Port Angeles. Worse than a skunking is a near-miss skunking you get to hear about later. “Dude, you would have loved it.”

About this time Sean and Cathy drove by, stopped.

Somewhere in here a car load of four or five young surf enthusiasts showed up; quite excited to be somewhere where waves allegedly broke; running around the beach, taking videos of each other. Tugboat Bill parked his truck at about the same time. I pointed to the stoked surf buddies, said, “Yeah, Bill; it’s like, this one time, me and Phil and Bucky and Ray showed up at San Onofre. It wasn’t anything special, but then these Orange County guys show up, and they’re all, ‘Cowabunga,’ and ‘whoa,’ and, and it’s like they’re extras in a ‘Gidget’ movie; big arm movements and all, and…”

“You going out?” “Yeah, Bill; figure I might practice standing up on my SUP; see how that goes.” “Three to the beach is a session.” “Right.” “Yeah, three standups.” “Okay; we’ll see.”

This was when Longshoreman Jeff Vaughn showed up, parked his Mad Max van next to my work van. Jeff was recently in a motorcycle accident (he was on the motorcycle), and was still recovering. I have witnessed him hang out at length, waiting, sometimes scoring. “Everything’s here except the waves.” Tugboat Bill and I both agreed.

So, somewhere waves were breaking. Canada, maybe. Raja and Bill and I and two guys trying to learn went out. Beautiful conditions. I did catch three, standing up, practiced my paddling. Bill had already caught his three before I left; one in front of me. “Payback,” he’d, no doubt, say. “Got wet,” I might have said, as others have, about the session; as if that’s even enough. No real surfer has ever caught too many waves.

Hate getting skunked? Westport. If someone asks me why I’m surfing small and weak waves, my answer is always that I’m practicing. “For Westport; next time I go down there.”

“So, um, Concrete Pete says this kook says, you’re, like, a legend, and… wait; is that a wave?

Sum-mer-time… Skunked on the Strait, 66 degrees at Swamis, 1967…

The surf report and forecast for the Northwest portion of the contiguous U-nited States of A-merica (dashes added to more closely reflect prideful way we pro-nounce stuff) is pretty bleak. You’d have to believe the Pacific Ocean could churn up something more than a two foot swell.

Hey, it’s summertime. Painting season. Hydrosexual Stephen Davis and I, both of us drinking coffee, were each sitting in doorways of our vans, paint gear spread around. I asked him about water temperatures in Baja (last fall) and Hawaii (this last winter). “Oh,” he said, “Baja was right between trunking-it and wetsuit temperature; probably 66 degrees or so.”

“Oh,” I said. Pause, both of us nodding our heads. “You know, back when I was a teenager…” Now Steve was trying to avoid rolling his eyes. “…when the water temperature got up to 58 degrees, somewhere around Easter; if you were still wearing a wetsuit… and bear in mind we only had shortjohn wetsuits… you were a pussy.”

“Uh huh. Pussy.” “Really. And you couldn’t put one on until it got back down to 58, somewhere around December; before Christmas, anyway.” “Uh huh.”

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What I didn’t bother to tell him, but probably drifted off into remembering, was an early summer morning when Phillip Harper, Ray Hicks, possibly Mark Metzger and Billy McLain, and I; no doubt in two cars from Fallbrook, all hit Swamis at about the same time.  I was first down the stairs.

I surfed Swamis enough from 1965 to see the basic reef, sort of fanned, overlapping shelves, hold up while the shoreline would change more dramatically; erosion, refill. Seasonal. The wave conditions went from one high tide peak too close to the bigger rocks; to mid-tide and two distinct peaks; to ultra low tide, one running crazy and almost hollow wave; from the December ’69 swell; through dawn patrol, after school, between classes-at- Palomar and work-in-Oceanside sessions (pre-1971); to the times I lived in Encinitas (’74-’76) and could sneak in a few; to New Years day ventures while working in San Diego because I didn’t have work in the Northwest (1991,’92); everything from Santa Ana mornings to south wind chop, onshore, glassy; overhead to flat; overcrowded to almost empty; with so many memories… they’re all memories now; haven’t surfed there in twenty-five years.

On the particular morning I was remembering while talking with Steve, shadows of the bluff extending into the water, there was a chalk board on the still-empty lifeguard station. “Surf 2-3, water temp- 66.” Whoa! Warming up! We would probably end up surfing what we referred to as Swamis Beachbreak, the quarter mile or so between Swamis proper, and Pipes, pretending there was a better lineup off this rock than off that. “Hey, I WAS on the nose!” “Hey, did you see that rollercoaster?” “Hey!”

I hit the water straight out in front of the stairs, caught a left just as my friends hit the sand. “Hey!”

Not that Stephen would be all that impressed. “Uh huh. Do you have any more coffee?”

self realization

“Uh. Um. Yeah.” I’m certain many of us will look back on the times we went searching for waves on the Strait. Sometimes it can be… “Waves?” “Waves? No, I got skunked.” “Then why are you smiling?”



Happy Thanksgiving Shoulder Hoppers and…A Few Comments

…Set Wave Droppers, hope you got some, or are getting some waves today. I did. Thanks, to those souls who braved cold winds and rain to slide a few… and, yeah; it isn’t easy not going for a set wave; but it is great watching friends tuck in; and it even feels nice to throw the occasional (only if deserved) compliment.

Something about waves: More will be coming. I’m thankful I can still slide a few.

Surfing To You

Maybe it’s because I suffered the triple skunking the other day… a trip to a spot on the Strait that should have been, according to the buoys, working, but wasn’t. At all. Then a backtrack to a backup spot that also wasn’t working; but, while in cell phone territory, I discovered the buoy readings were even better. With various theories of tidal influences, ebb, flow, playing in my head, and not wanting to miss it (never wanting to miss the small windows) I headed back out.

That’s the double; didn’t have the triple until I got a report that several surfers near where I would have been if I hadn’t driven out, got a session (as in, after the session). This probably, with nothing showing in the forecast, bothered me more than it should. It’s only surfing, after all; not like it’s critical.

So I resumed my occasional contemplation of what surfing means. Fifty plus years of some participation in this; I still don’t have it figured out.

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This (below) is an edited version of something I wrote the day after I was triple-skunked.

When you finally, having, perhaps, exhausted all the cheap and easy options, admitting that being among the waves fills some void in your heart, and, possibly unaware of how brave and foolish and true this confession is; it’s impossible to do anything else but agree.

Still, this is not an empty heart; it is a heart; and as long as it’s beating, as long as the liquid flows…

I'm considering putting together a coloring book (all the rage I hear) of black and white drawings. It's not like you can't color them in as well as I do. I always feel like I need more colors.

I’m considering putting together a coloring book (all the rage I hear) of black and white drawings. It’s not like you can’t color them in as well as I do. I always feel like I need more colors in my quiver.  Three sizes of ink pens does fine, but color, color… imagine the possibilities.

All TIme (So Far) Strait Skunking

“Everyone gets the same forecasts,” I am quite fond of saying, and, indeed, probably just did say to one or more of the accumulated surfers, one of whom said he didn’t self-identify as a hipster. “You could shave the beard,” I offered, if he didn’t want to look like a surf hipster. Or he could have gotten in the water if he wanted to look like a, you know, surfer. This was all taken after I got out of the water after two and a half hours of cruising on little waves, mostly alone. This sort of de facto crew was mostly there at dawn, with an incredible number of other rigs pulling in, checking it out, discussing the fact that there should have been bigger waves, better waves. “The buoys, the forecast, the…”

Yeah, well. It’s the Strait. I actually sort of set up this shot, calling for one of the VWs to tighten up so I another could fit in. And there was another one back by the main road, evidently broken down. And there’s one up on the road; maybe you can see it over the top of the others. I did, at one point, say, “Why don’t you all do a VolkswagenTrain to Hobuck.”


Maybe it’s because it’s an El Nino (gee, where’s the key for that curly thing that should go over the n?) year, maybe it’s because the Seahawks have a bye week; maybe the fact that the road closer to Neah Bay was washed out during the previous day’s rain; maybe, maybe there’s a great explanation for why a record number of surf enthusiasts, surf yuppies, some hipsters, and pretty much everyone who ever surfs in the northwest, was out. As for why the surf chose to not come down, who knows. It’s the Strait.


Different angle, same group of woulda-been surfers had there just been waves. The two folks in the nearly-but-not-quite (because they’re not like couples with matching windbreakers) matching sweaters and the city-sized dog, were probably also planning on surfing. Behind me, and I now wish I’d taken a few more photos, was a nice setup of beach-made coffee, some boutique snacks, a bottle of sparkling Pellegrino water, which, later in the afternoon, could be replaced, perhaps, with an appropriate wine. The vehicle was there at dawn when I arrived; and, when the guy sleeping inside got up, and I said the waves were big enough for an old guy like me, and wondered why all the younger folks didn’t go to the coast and take on overhead, long period swells, he… well he rolled out his yoga mat and started doing, I guess, yoga.

“Getting into my wetsuit is enough of a warm up for me,” I said. As what turned out to be a set rolled in from the darkness, I added, “It’s big enough for me.” What I didn’t say is I should have listened to Keith. He figured, and now I just knew, correctly, that the swell wouldn’t hit where I was. Yeah, I should have waited for Monday.

Oh, I should mention that behind my birdshit-splattered rig were groups of surf power couples, chatting, with new personnel being added, others giving up and trying to beat the rush for the ferries. It’s not like one can really tell a real surfer just by looking at a crowd. A Patagonia cap might not mean the person wearing it rips. However, I might offer that guys who pile out of a rig with four boards in bags on the rack, each one looking all impressed by the number of people hanging out (three surfers bobbing in the actual water at this time), and then each give a nod to the only guy, and an oldie at that, in a wetsuit… those guys might be wannabes.

Let me reiterate that I did catch a lot of waves. The couple who live down by Crescent came out on SUPs, rode quite a few; Big Dave, now again employed (which explains why he was there then on Sunday), paddled out. When the tide was about to do in what waves there were, one other guy on a long longboard came out, caught a wave. “That’s one,” I said, being friendly. What I did notice from the water was the sort of slow motion movement of surf rigs into and out of the area.  I asked Mr. Yoga before I left, “Since you never did surf, maybe you kept count of how many vehicles came and went.” “About 80, I’d guess,” he said. “So crowded,” I offered. “You’re looking at the future,” he said, “word’s out. Maybe you heard of a place called Malibu.”

I did look at the future. Gathered at the water’s edge, chatting in groups like it was a Ballard block party. I’m not hating, here; maybe it’s just my image of surfers hasn’t been properly shifted from the illusion of blue collar rebels to, to… Anyway, Keith did get surf, and Adam Wipeout and his friend Nate got surf. They drove past the scene I was involved in, made it past the now-partially opened road, checked out the coast, managed to score somewhere in between. I passed at least ten vehicles still headed out when I was cruising back down Surf Route 101. When Adam and Nate drove back past this spot, it was dead, dead flat.

“Epic Skunking,” Adam said. “Well,” I said, “I got more waves than anyone on the beach.”

Today it may be firing. NOTE: Again, I’m not hating; we all just want to have fun. Next time I’ll bring some Pellegrino water, though I’m not fond of the sparkling kind. “Maybe Wednesday” (a holiday for many) I heard a woman in the parking lot say. “What does the forecast say?” “Iffy.” Iffy for sure. Always iffy.