Mid-Winter Strait Session Report

You might notice the snow, the hat, the lack of any waves actually showing; you might wonder what that is in the background. A chunk of land? No, it’s a board.

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I got to this spot at 8am, trying to beat the wave-killing high tide, surprised (and a bit worried) at the treacherous conditions (the parking area, not the waves); this, in my front wheel drive car (rather than the all wheel drive work van), and after driving good (not icy, not compact snow) conditions on surf route 101.

I was too late. Or too early. High tide was at eleven. Tim had been out since seven (first light), picking off set waves, sliding across the outside sections, easing out when each wave mushed-out.  It wasn’t exactly barreling, but Mr. Nolan was getting the most out of each ride. Gliding. Cruising.

So, I was hanging out.  On my way west, I had followed a woman (I think her name is Hannah) from Joyce (one of only a small group of true locals) in her full-sized SUV, at about 60 mph; slower, much slower when negotiating highway 112s downhill slalom course.  Once I turned into and over the remnants of the snow-plowed curb and onto the pullout road, I was committed, wheels in the deep ruts, plowing  through the iced-over snow between the ruts. Ahhhhh!

Hannah (possible Hannah) pulled perpendicular to the beach, and soon joined Tim in the water. Meanwhile, I tried to find a less-snow-choked area to park, way too worried to pull out of the ruts. I finally backed into a position under a tree and behind one of those Sprinter vans, the ruts deep and muddy.

NOW, I have to give Hannah a lot of credit for her commitment.  A mother of two kids, she was surfing when (apparently- one doesn’t ask) seven or so months pregnant, and then (evidently) only several weeks after delivering her third child.  When she did get out of the water, I went over to tell her I thought she might have been speeding (again, I was keeping up), she told me she got the short straw, and her husband (Dave, I’m pretty sure) would get to surf when it (hopefully) got better.

Meanwhile, the tide still rising, me still waiting, a guy who delivers mail to Neah Bay wheeled his (classic, short wheel base) big-tired Jeep into the parking area, straight into a divet, jumped out, lit up a smoke, walked over toward me.  “I have to admire your confidence,” I said. “Oh, I can get out,” he said.  “I’m not a surfer,” he said, using his cigarette to draw a line across the horizon, “this any good?”

“If the swell doesn’t fall off or the angle doesn’t change, or…” He wasn’t really interested. He wasn’t a surfer. He probably did burn out half of his clutch trying to rock back and forth (forward and back, I guess), before ‘locking-in’ his lugs (I hope that’s the term for putting it in four wheel drive), and getting out; no doubt lighting up another smoke.

About this time a small-sized pickup with (only) two boards in the back makes the turn and slides through the ruts, pulls up and cranks a left, straight toward the water. “Four wheel drive?”  “No, it’s rear wheel drive.” “Oh.”

I recommended another (not secret) spot he might try with the high tide. Somewhere in here he (John, from Auburn) bought an Original Erwin t-shirt from those I still have (all now large or extra-large) in the Toyota.  When John couldn’t get out, he tried to put chains on the back tires. Not so easy.

A guy who had, evidently, walked in from the highway, helped me push John’s rig back into the ruts. When the pickup made it to the blacktop the guy said we’d met before (“Oh, okay,”) and introduced himself with, “Luke (I hope that’s right). No one knows who I am, but everyone knows my girlfriend.” “Who’s your girlfriend?” “Kim, Kim with the VW bug.” “Yeah. Kim. I think I was out the first time she surfed at ________ ______.” As Luke walked away, evidently going to look elsewhere for waves, I said, “Luke. Yeah. I’ll remember you the next time.” “Sure. That’s what you said the last time.”

Meanwhile, the guy from the Sprinter suits up, goes out on a Lib-tech (small, short) board, and a guy with two longboards on his all-wheel-drive pickup, who watched but didn’t help push John’s truck, suits up, says he thinks the east wind will blow it out by the time the tide drops, and besides, “It’s not crowded.”

Longboard Guy (didn’t get or don’t remember his name) grabs a really long board, makes a negative comment on SUPs. “You know, at San Onofre, they have to go to one end of the beach.” “Fine. I do say anyone under 60 who rides one is a _______.”  Now, I only decided to blank out the word I always use here is it might be considered sexist. So, maybe I should replace pussy with whimp. Not sexist.

About this time, a regular-sized SUV pulls in.  It’s Cole, a guy I’ve seen quite a few times out on the Strait, and a friend.

Somewhere in here, knowing I couldn’t concentrate on surfing if I didn’t think I could get out of the parking lot, I side-slipped and rut-rode my way out to the highway, considered parking on the side of the road, but, with the snow piled on the fogline, decided the odds of someone (like a log truck or an RV) side-swiping my vehicle were pretty high, and counting on my ability to get out twice, I pulled back in; still parallel to the beach.

Somewhere around 10am, Tim Nolan gets out of the water. Since I’d spent quite a bit of time leaning against his all wheel drive (says it right on the car) Suburu, I give him a hand with his board.

“Are you catching up to me yet?”  He meant in age. “Yeah, I think so. You were working it, man.” “Thanks.”

Incidentally, Tim is 71, I’m 67, and his continued commitment to surfing continues to be an inspiration to me.  When I first met him, probably 16 years ago, he told me some of my best surfing days were still to come. And he was right.

If you surf on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, you probably recognize Mr. Nolan. A boat designer in Port Townsend, Tim participates in flat water SUP races, has paddled every bit of the Strait (on purpose), and helps out in some community support activities that I only heard about from others.  That says something about his character.

So, Cole and his buddy came over to Tim’s car. He showed us the results from his Apple watch. He had travelled 3.9 miles during his session, with red lines (a lot of them) showing each ride. “About half of that (somewhere around two miles) is surfing.”

Very impressive.  I kind of thought I was getting a contact high from my proximity to the two younger surfers. Legal, of course. Just to make sure, I touched Cole. “Yep; now it’s a contact high.”

I went out at mean high tide. The wind changed to west rather than east; more people came out, including, surprise, Adam Wipeout (who showed up when I had told myself I was going to catch five more waves and was down to one); so I kept surfing.

On the way back, after I had to back up, gun it, probably damage my transmission to power through the pile at the highway, I figured out the whole experience- three hours of driving (there and back), three hours of waiting, and three hours of surfing.

No Apple watch, lost track of number of waves. And, if I factor in the wetsuit donning and un-donning, and the stops at Costco, Walmart, the DISCO BAY OUTDOOR EXCHANGE; yeah, 12 hours or so. SO, GOOD.

 

How I Managed to Invest *$3OO on a $35 surf rack

EMERGENCY UPDATE- I have to add this because sometimes what’s in my head isn’t on the page. SO, if my car had gutters, like the old days, I could use Aloha racks, again, like the old days. AND, if the car had those front-to-back rails on the roof, the racks I purchased from Amazon (I’m a first time buyer- Trish isn’t) would have worked.

Well, I vowed to make them work.

*The $300 is just an estimate based on the money I didn’t make working, so… asterisk.  I just wanted something to replace the soft racks I’ve been using for long enough to be on the second set. The springs on the buckle/tighteners wear out, you can back up and catch the loose straps under a tire and… rip. Yeah, both at once.

And there’s the bonus feature of rain running down from the board, down the straps, and drip, drip, drip, directly on the seat.

Or the person seated in the seat.

Actually I got the second set from my friend, Archie Endo. Thanks, Archie. And, then, because I’m cruising down the road in a 1985 Toyota Camry wagon with the straps about, max, four feet apart. Fine if you’re packing a six foot board, but, with a ten-sixer, it’s wise (and this seems even wiser when you’re facing log trucks and semis on two lane roads) to add a third tie-down.

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OH, if you just can’t help but notice the bent antenna; um, yeah; bent that with the big-ass board. Radio didn’t work anyway. It did, then it didn’t want to change channels, then; and this is most likely related to when mice got into the dash board… eerkkk.

SURE, once in a while there’s an odd whine from the back speakers, once in a while some Christian channel comes out of nowhere.

Not really, kind of a variation on my belief that, if nothing else comes in on radios that otherwise work, on the way, say, in the seemingly endless boonies, heading down toward Seaside; you can always get preaching or country western.

Your choice. Now, all I have to do is cover up the bolt ends that are on the ceiling. Not a problem unless, say, a deer or cow is in the road and I hit it and/or the ditch, and then hit the overhead.  I only mention it because, well, this has happened. Different rig. Years ago, no actual bolts coming through the ceiling panels.

THEN AGAIN, that car had rain gutters.

Meanwhile, there continues to be flaaaaaaaat conditions on the Strait of Juan de Fuca; but, when a swell heads this way; I’ll be styling.

Straps. Now I’m thinking about straps.

AND, if you notice the paint cans in the driveway. Sorry; it’s painting season.

Surf Session Highlights, Full Mooned, Updated Illustrations from the Last Century

In no particular order, I thought I’d give some highlights from some recent surf sessions. Bear in mind I have a certain obligation, not merely imagined, to never ever mention anything that comes close to confirming there are ever good waves on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

This isn’t difficult. The predominant swell condition is flat. This is undeniable. When waves do show up, the winds that blow into or out of the rather narrow passageway can, east or west, seriously scallop the faces. Rapid tidal shifts and the very angle of wave-to-coast can add to rip/drag conditions; and, since we all check out the same forecasts, and because semi-optimal conditions are sort of rare (rare-ish), and each of us has our own formula of size/angle/tide/period/wind, even the slight chance of waves over a foot high brings, yes, crowds; frustrated, desperate surfers of all ages and abilities ready to head out into…

…waves surfers on most coasts would pass on, or wait out, hoping for something a bit cleaner, bigger, better.  There have been major skunkings; lines of Westfalias, camper-laden trucks, SUVs with tiny boards stuffed inside, RVs, work rigs, Mad Max vehicles with stacks of various-sized equipment; families, church groups, surfers on dates, power couples, buddy-groups of four or five; beginners and rippers, lone wolf dudes in guaranteed cool surf wear; all cooking up breakfast on little burners, or chatting with someone they know from the Udub, or looking for a (better) place to park; all asking about other spots, all looking out at the water; too many people bobbing around and too few waves. Or none. Or sub-epic.

There is no guaranteed formula. Really. If there was… shit, it’d be worse.

STILL, stories persist of persistent surfers waiting, waiting, and scoring; OR, better, getting somewhere just before it goes off. WHAT? Where? When?

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HEART ATTACK: If I suffer one, it’ll be when I do see what passes for great surf in these parts. I have, in the fairly recent past, in my haste to partake, left my shirts (we layer ’round here) on the hood of my car (and/or a window or door open) in a downpour (forcing me to shop on the way home wearing a pervy barn coat), yelled out exclamations that would make an Australian blush (sorry kids, sorry Mrs. Nolan, sorry church groups) and, partially because I am notoriously slow getting into my wetsuit (doubles as stretching/warmup), urinated way before I reached the water.

And, even when I tell myself (and others in the water) that I’m going to “be casual,” I rarely am.

BAD ASSES AND SURF ASSESSMENT: We all have stories of past glories. I quit telling some of mine because, yeah, if I surfed (un or less crowded) Swamis in the 60s, Trestles (parking at Lowers) in the 70s, big days at Windansea and Sunset Cliffs, shouldn’t I surf, um, uh, better?

Doesn’t seem to matter. It might just be, in each of our minds, with one or more asterisks next to our mental wikipedia page,  we rip. This is fine. That is, I won’t call you out if you don’t call me out.

Recently, trying to time my arrival after the overnight-and-hanging west wind died down, I got to a not-secret spot with the tide way too low, waves at the indicators, the wind still howling, and twelve surfers in the lineup. Picture a line of black marker buoys, like those for crab pots, left to right. Because I know some of the folks hanging out or waiting around, I took my time, chatted it up. By the time I paddled out there were nine surfers, then seven. When I moved over from the rights, I was the only one out.  I found a few good ones in the mix, did a lot of paddling, got out of the water. So, no one was surfing.

There was a group of about five surfers hanging out kind of close to my car as I limped up the beach. “Everyone’s a badass on the beach,” I said. “How come you badasses aren’t out there?” “Good on you,” one of them said, “you got some waves.” “Uh huh.” “We were waiting for one more badass.”

NOTE: This didn’t actually translate into them wanting to hang with me, artifact from a century these dudes barely remember.

I took a break, talked to some other surfers I know, met Jeff’s son. And, though there were many coolly-decked-out surfers on the beach, no one was out. Because, partially, I had to pee and didn’t want to take off my wetsuit (okay, mostly because I couldn’t get my wetsuit off without peeing) and I wanted a few more waves, I went back out. I surfed alone for about twenty minutes. The wind had calmed down. It was better.

Then Jeff came out, and his son. Then, suddenly, it seemed, there were, again, twelve (different) surfers in the lineup. Then the wind came back up. One more ride to the fence. And another last ride. Limp up the beach. I had a little discussion with Darrin and Melissa on how good it got the last time I saw him at this spot, AFTER I left; about the time Adam Wipeout and Chimacum Cam (as opposed to Timacum Chimacum) showed up.   I hit the road for Costco and home. I passed at least four surf rigs on the way; more surfers hoping to be there when it got good. The wind, as far as I know, kept blowing as the swell dropped.

STILL, I don’t know what happened the next day. Might’ve been epic. Someone will have a story. UPDATE- Yeah, better, allegedly.

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TUGBOAT BILL: I’ve run into him often through the years. He introduces me to others as someone who is “Absolutely ruthless in the water.” “No, no,” I insist, checking out the stranger. Most recently he had Mr. Smythe (sp?) with him, and asked if I knew what surfer would be pulling onto 104 from Center Road in a gray pickup. I didn’t know. It turns out the very pickup was in the parking area. “Let’s go see who the hell he is,” I said. It turns out he’s a fisherman, formerly from Maine (as I remember) wondered how he could keep from getting skunked coming to the Strait. “Can’t help you, kid,” Bill said. “Do you check the buoys?” “Buoys?” “Hmm. Can’t help you, kid.” All I said is, “Buoys.”

CONCRETE PETE: Another old guy, though not as old as me. On the day from the previous story, after the three surfers who dawn-patrolled got out of the water in, pretty-much, defeat (including Bruce, the ‘Mayor of Hobuck’, according to Adam Wipeout, some guy White Reggie identified as the owner of several pot shops in P.A., and some guy Reggie said was known to be confrontational in the water) I ended up (because I hate getting skunked) surfing alone on some one footers.

Thinking this was it, and because it didn’t seem to be raining, I got out, got dressed, was ready to go to work. Then the waves got a bit bigger. I put on my other wetsuit (Yes, I do own two- so worth it), went back out. Again, people who were waiting (including Tugboat Bill and Mr. Smythe and the fisherman) also went into the water. Double session.

When I was getting out, I saw a truck backed up to the berm, some guy, struggling to get into his wetsuit, yelling at me. By name. Unable to determine who it was in the glare, I decided I should approach. It was Concrete Pete, and, perhaps thinking it was 1964 and he was Miki Dora, he shot me a B.A. All in good fun. “And that’s my best side,” he said as I turned away. NOTE: Bare ass; variously described as mooning. Full mooning.

“Did you see anything you didn’t want to see?” Trish asked when I told her the story. “I didn’t want to see any of it.”

TOM BURNS: Tom is very close to my age, a lifelong surfer, and he’s on my short list of people to call to discuss the latest session and/or skunking. The last time I called he was on I-5, en route to Dana Point, hoping to score some pre-dawn sessions down that way. If you think I’m a name dropper, you should talk to Tom.  if you think I have stories… again, Tom. If you do, he’ll probably remember your name.

THIS is way too long. I want to write about how someone accused me of being a ‘surf whore.’ No, I’m not sure what it means, either. I do admit to being a ‘paint-whore,’ and, if this means I’ve somehow sold out, no, sorry; haven’t had any real offers. If it means I’m selling out local spots; no; not really. Oh, except Westport. Go there. Go there now.

I ALSO want to write about surf thieves. Someone broke into Stephen Davis’s storage unit, stole his tools, his kite surfing equipment. AND, evidently, someone had a board stolen while (from what I’ve heard) parked on one of those side roads leading to a remote surf spot. LATER on that subject, but, if there is any Surfer’s Code, it definitely doesn’t include stealing. The occasional mooning? Up for debate.

I’m adding to some of the drawings from the 1980s I recently found in my attic. More coming. Yeah, kind of like waves.

 

 

Story Somewhat Related to Bruce Brown…

Phillip Harper, Trish Harper, Ray Hicks, Bucky Davis, My Sister Suellen, My Mom, Bob Dylan, and The Endless Summer

Posted on February 16, 2014 by Erwin A. Dence Jr. under Uncategorized

“First of all,” I said, standing in the kitchen of Phillip Harper’s parents’ house, two bars of paraffin wax melting in a soup can on the stove, Phillip’s (second-ever, and not sun-browned like the first one) surf board, stripped and ready for a ‘pre-coat’, floating between two chairs and across the dining room table, “the theater was in no way ‘underground.’ Disappointing.”

Phillip and Ray Hicks seemed to be properly impressed that I, more country kid than either of them, had gone into the city for some other reason than to ride the escalators at Sears with my many brothers and sisters while my parents shopped.

It was at about this moment that Phillip’s sister, Trish (not my Trish- hadn’t met her yet), came in from the pantry (no one ever seemed to use the formal front door). She appeared noticeably disappointed that her brother and at least one of his geeky friends were there. Trish was followed in by her boyfriend, Bucky Davis. He was, perhaps, a bit less disappointed; a nod for Phillip, smaller one for Ray, even smaller one for me (standard cool reaction to over-amped groms). Bucky took a moment to check out the board (approvingly), then the wax melting on the stove.

“You have to be careful,” he said, both hands simulating an explosion. “A candle might be a better idea.” A single hand tipping an imaginary candle illustrated the point.

“Erwin went to see ‘The Endless Summer’ in San Diego,” Phillip said. “At an underground theater,” Ray added.

“The thing is,” I said, trying to be informative, and trying to be as cool as Phil and Ray “kind of disappointing; it wasn’t at all underground. Just a regular, um, theater. And…”

Phillip and Ray appeared less impressed than the first time they heard this. Of course; though they did seem to be checking Bucky’s reactions.

“On University Avenue?” Trish asked. I shrugged. I hadn’t driven. We’d gone down 395. It was somewhere near the Zoo.  “Well,” she said, “I saw it at State.” She paused, possibly to see if she had to add ‘San Diego State.’

No, I knew she had been spending some time down there, preparing to attend ‘State’ in the fall of 1967. Bucky would not be attending.  He was planning on going to Palomar Junior College; he’d have to go somewhere to stay out of the draft.

“When I saw it,” she continued, “Bruce Brown narrated it… himself. He was behind this curtain and…” She stopped because Bucky seemed a bit surprised at the news. At least that is what I thought, at the time, as if she had seen it without him. That would be sad, her and her new, big-city life and Bucky…

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[Let me add here, fifty years after this incident, three years after originally writing this piece, that, among my first surfing friends, Trish and Bucky were the perfect surfing couple.  That they didn’t remain a couple was, bits and pieces of the disconnection playing out over, and just beyond, my high school years, tragic; tragic in that teenager’s romanticized, love-lost way.

Part of the reason I started this blog was to record how I changed from total kook, over-stoked beginner, with Bucky one of my early surf heroes, to… I don’t know… over-stoked surfer out past high school, past the inside break; my friends scattered.

My opinion of surf heroes, with Bucky the best illustration, went, along with my connection to surfing, from a sort of ‘this is magic’ awe, to a more realistic view.  Bucky had some serious life challenges. He was a real person.

Still, what I loved about Phillip’s sister, that seeming-self confidence, that willingness to stand up as an equal, is part of what attracted me to my Trish.

Still… still an over-stoked surfer, awed by the magic… still I, somewhere in the part of me that never got past adolescent romantic, I’ve held out a notion that Bucky and Trish could… yeah, maybe I just hope they, and all my scattered surf heroes and friends, including Phillip and Ray… have been, mostly, happy.

And, I am grateful, while I’m anxiously awaiting my next surf adventure, that I have such great memories of interesting, and real, people. And someone to share current adventures with.]

I’m sure I was mostly trying to hide being impressed. And out-cooled. Again. Always by her.

“Bruce Brown? In person? That’s… cool.”

After all, it had been impossible for me to be really, even passably, cool, at the above-ground theater, hanging with my older sister, Suellen, AND my mother.

Still, hoping to in some way to compete with Trish Harper, I said, “Yeah, well; they had these previews for a movie with Bob Dylan, and…”

“’Don’t Look Back’,” Trish said.

“Huh?” Phillip and Bucky and Ray asked, pretty much at the same time.

“Uh huh,” I said; “and Bob Dylan’s, like… he’s holding up these…”

“Cue cards,” Trish said.

“I guess. Yeah. And my mom starts laughing.”

“Laughing?” Phillip and Trish and Bucky and Ray all asked.

“Yeah, laughing; and… I mean, not even Suellen is laughing. No one’s laughing.”

“Because it’s Dylan,” Trish said, serious and almost indignant.

“Yeah, Dylan; Bob Dylan. But, pretty soon, someone else starts laughing. And then more people are laughing; and then everyone’s laughing. And Bob Dyl… Dylan, he just keeps dropping the cards. And…”

By this time, in the kitchen, I was also laughing. Phillip started to laugh. Ray, studying Bucky’s face,  allowed himself to join in the laughter. Then Bucky looked over at his girlfriend (not laughing), maybe thought for a moment about how he didn’t see “The Endless Summer” at ‘State’ with her, with Bruce Brown personally narrating; and he laughed.

And then the wax exploded.

Bruce Brown, revealing the stoke and the magic and the awe to a larger world, stepping behind another curtain. Rest In Peace. And thank you.

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?”

 

 

With Apologies For Burning the *(Now) Unnamed Longboard Local,

…the LONGBOARDING LOCAL, who, after a tough week (evidently), paddled out at a spot, a fickle point break, where he considers himself a local, with a fairly obvious and focused attitude that he was there to surf.  I saw him paddle past me, mustache waxed, ready to rip, crowd be damned (okay, this is a judgement call by me, a guy whose motto is, ‘I’m here to surf.’)

DEFINITION- A Sociopath is someone who knows something he or she does is wrong, yet continues to do it. I’ve often thought all good surfers are sociopaths. This probably isn’t totally true, but what it takes to be good at anything is a certain competitive drive. To be good at surfing, an, admittedly, self-centered sport, increasingly, with more crowded conditions, takes a certain amount of aggressiveness. If I can stop just sort of confessing to being a sociopath, I will admit to being, at least in the water, aggressive.

John Peck, a legendary surfer, somewhat older than Erwin Dence, doing (and obviously enjoying) a bit of kneeboarding. Photo by Nathan Oldfields. Find it, if nowhere else, at mollusksurfshopscom

DISCLAIMER (Or maybe it’s a ‘claimer’) ONE- a) If you can’t walk to a spot in less than, say, forty-five minutes from your home, you’re not a local. b) If you pay to park, you’re not a local.  c) Mitt Romney is a local at Windansea, Bob Dylan at Malibu. Or would be if they surfed.  d) The guy who lives in his van is probably More Local than you.                 SO, we go to ever-expanding circles of Local-ness; the above-mentioned Longboarder Local being Local-er than I am, with me being Local-er than, well, lots of people.  AND I have been a TRUE LOCAL several times; Pacific Beach, Encinitas; AND, some credit must be given for working in close proximity to surf. ADD Oceanside Pier to my local history; I worked two blocks and some railroad tracks away for over two years. OHHH, and add Lower Trestles; I worked up the hill, with a view of the place, and drove out on the beach every working day for ten months (an hour and a half lunchbreak, a third of it legal)  in 1975.

SETTING THE SCENE- I was actually, after getting skunked (or unwilling to wait for a possible properly-aligned swell/tide/wind/crowd combination), the first one in the water on this particular afternoon. And it was working. So, yeah, hurry, gorge it up.  BUT, too soon, others showed up. First it was two guys, friendly nods followed by the guy on the bigger board totally taking off in front of me. I didn’t freak out. I did, somewhat later, return the favor. SO, Even. THEN, more surfers showed up. ONE goofy-footer was totally ripping; down the line, under the lip, a few controlled freefalls. Everyone else was surfing. I, 65 year old guy with pretty screwed-up knees, was (and maybe this seems counter-intuitive) kneeboarding, taking off farther up the line, driving across. I was totally enjoying it. A longtime local, and the best kneeboarder on the Strait of Juan de Fuca who wears fins, someone who I first surfed this spot with (with as in, he was also out) in 1979, was catching some waves, always in the barrel. Hey, he was kneeboarding.

DISCLAIMER TWO- RELATIVE AGE OR LONGEVITY in the sport aren’t valid arguments for any kind of preferential treatment. They never have been.  Having said that…                                                                                                                       DISCLAIMER THREE- THE DISPARITY in surfing equipment is an issue that contributes to tension in the surf zone. I have felt the frustration when I’m on a longboard and three A-holes on SUPs show up, their training in lakes and at Yoga Camp obvious.      ADDENDUM to the disclaimer- I started on longboards in 1965, made the switch to shortboards; never rode another longboard until 1989, never rode an SUP until I was 60.

SO, on the first wave I saw ridden by Longboarding Local, he was driving, hit a section, lost his board. Leashless, Longboard Local’s loose board came perilously close to hitting (she would later say ‘decapitating’) a woman who would, a little later, catch one of the waves of the day. Longboarding Local seemed angry that he had to rock dance his way in.  OKAY, so it’s sort of badass to not wear a leash, but, in crowded conditions, PERHAPS sort of irresponsible.

NOW, I had actually gotten out of the water after two and a half hours or so, AND the surf had dropped, the crowd increased. BUT, my friend, who I’ve advised to deny any friendship, after surfing elsewhere, had moved to this spot, and claimed more sets were coming.  I went back out.  HE WAS RIGHT; after what was probably a 45 minute lull, a set approached, and I, inside, was paddling out. As were others. As was Longboarding Local.  The woman Longboarding Local’s loose board had nearly decapitated took the first one. Someone else, possibly her boyfriend, was on the second. I turned for the third. Longboarding Local was, I swear (judge or judges), still paddling out when I turned and committed. BUT, deeper than I was, he turned and took off.  I COULD HEAR YELLING (despite wearing earplugs and my right ear pretty much plugged, again, from the narrowing of the ear canals, that caused by bone growth, that exacerbated by surfing in cold water, that condition first diagnosed when I was 20) behind me, I could feel Longboarding Local’s presence. I pulled out as quickly as I could. These weren’t two person (or PARTY) waves. MAYBE Mr. Local would have made the wave. I’m certain he thought so. I caught the next one (yeah, guess there was another), cruised out of the possible-confrontation zone.

PADDLING back up the point, I couldn’t hear anything, but could see big arm gestures; L.L. making his case to my (although he doesn’t, as I’ve said, have to claim it) friend. WHEN I got even with my friend ______, he wasn’t entirely sympathetic to my explanation.

PRIORITY RULES (historically)- There was no ‘taking turns’ back when I, still thirteen years old, was learning to surf. A wave belonged to the surfer farthest out, closest to the peak. That was it. This was enforced through  peer pressure and intimidation, real or imagined. IF YOU wanted to challenge the big dog, you moved closer to the peak, farther out. IF YOU waited for your turn, you got one, occasionally. IF YOU wanted all the waves to yourself, you pretty much weren’t out on a great day at a great spot.  A LOT of surfing at a good spot (picture Swamis, late 1960s) consisted mostly of moving around, sharking the  inside, waiting for a wave everyone missed of someone fell on. SCRAPPING. IT IS a classic situation where someone sits too far over, can’t make the first section. OR, someone goes for a wave, you don’t, and that person does not catch the wave. AGAIN, differences in equipment have made this more of an issue than in the past; THOUGH, not actually catching or blowing a wave that then goes unridden, particularly if done several times, will not make anyone popular.

PRIORITY RULES (current)- No matter how many times I’ve had this explained to me, I still don’t get it. If I get a set wave and you don’t; and you’re waiting on the shoulder; I shouldn’t paddle out past you, looking for the next set wave? I should allow you to opportunity to go for it, unchallenged? It’s your turn. MAYBE these new rules are the work of surfers who… okay, I’m not going on about ‘participation’ awards and such things… these rules are, at least partially, the result of increasingly crowded conditions. AND they’re really more a WISH LIST than something adhered to.

OKAY, I have tried going by the new priority etiquette. Really. I know how painful it is to not go for the one wave in a one wave set. I had a brief version of this discussion with _____, acknowledging I’d done L.L. wrong. “Well, you could apologize.” “I could.” I paddled up the point, got even with Local Longboarder, apologized. “I come here to get away from this shit,” he said, his arm gestures a bit refrained in comparison to earlier. “We all do,” I said. Not sure if L.L. heard me as I paddled away, but I did say I was leaving,  he could have all my waves. I heard he settled down after I left. Great. Sorry, Longboarder Local. I owe you one.

ONE.

*I’ve actually had a bit of discussion about this incident; the kind of thing that happens, one would guess, thousands of times a day around the world. But, I chose to write about it. If part of my point is that Longboarding Local overreacted, it’s easy to say I have also. “Okay.” AND, some have told me my apology doesn’t seem truly sincere; AND, in fact, almost seems like I’m burning the guy again. “What?” Anyway, I have decided to delete his name. If you just loved the pre-redacted version so much you printed up a copy, please burn that. Really. I’m sincere, here. Truly.

 

 

 

NO SURF… No, there’s always surf…

…somewhere. Usually somewhere else. I’m, luckily, pretty busy painting, today being the only day lately where rain isn’t threatening or falling. Since there are no swell forecasts that predict anything close, and I don’t have time to go to the coast, I googled/yahooed ‘no surf,’ got this image.

Luscombs

The cove is, evidently, now called ‘No Surf Beach,’ along Sunset Cliffs. I actually have a couple of stories about the spot. The first involves Stephen Penn and I, both twenty years old, freshly married and living in San Diego. Steve, formerly of Marin County, and his wife, formerly Dru Urner, formerly of Fallbrook, were living in Ocean Beach; Trish and I in Pacific Beach. Our daughter, Drucilla (born on earth day, April 22, 1980, before it was Earth Day- and, oddly enough, as I edit this, it’s again Earth Day- Happy Birthday), is actually named after Dru, a promise Trish made to Drucilla Urner, evidently in typing class back in high school.

It was 1972, and Steve and I went looking for waves. I had surfed Sunset Cliffs before, but at Luscombs, the point in the distance, and once at New Break (with Bucky Davis and Phillip Harper, walking in back in 1967- we had no problems with locals). When Steve and I arrived at the little parking area in the foreground, there were four or five surfers at the little peak. The tide was lower and the peak was closer to the foreground point. I thought these other surfers were less a problem than Steve did. “They’ll leave,” I said. “Just start catching waves.”

Now, I don’t want to sound all aggro about this, though I may have been a little more exuberant while trying to convince Stephen to go out. It was either here or Ocean Beach jetty. Surfing mostly Crystal Pier, mostly after work and on weekends, with strangers, since Trish and I got married in November 1971 had pushed me toward a sort of ghetto mentality. It wasn’t surfing Swamis beachbreak with friends. This was city surfing. No eye contact.

Yeah, still dealing with my wave lust, bad manners. I wasn’t, I insist, pushy, merely persistent, going for position when possible, always ready for waves someone missed or fell on.

Three hours or so later, with three or four different surfers sharing the lineup, with the tide filling in and the waves ending on the mossy ledge beyond the pinnacle rock, Steve and I were climbing back up the cliff. With almost all of my surfing done between/before/after school/work/other-seemingly-or-actually important-stuff, forty-five minutes to an hour an a half, with me mentally breaking it into fifteen minute ‘heats,’ this was one of the longest sessions I had surfed. I was exhausted.

Maybe it was the competition. I couldn’t get out of the water before Steve; and the waves kept coming. I have more to say on the whole waves vs. life subject, but … Oh, gotta get to some actually important stuff. If I get some work done, and the waves… you know… I’ll be ready.

Later. WAIT! Since there’s no waves in the local forecast, and not mentioning how Adam Wipeout scored, Mike could have but didn’t, and that I ran into Darrin, who scored on the coast, at Wal-Mart, and because I’m planning on going down to my Dad’s house (now my brother’s house) in Chinook, Washington, here’s a shot I stole from a forecast site.

 

Thrashed, Trashed, Clipped, Rocked and Rolled at (naming names) Seaside

If you roll up to the parking area at Seaside Cove and notice the wind isn’t howling, the sun is out, full force, the waves are… well, it’s a little hard to judge because no one is out, and you… stop. No one is out; take that as a hint. It isn’t a secret spot, and, a couple of days after Labor Day, there still should be some long weekenders hitting it; and it was just about time for after-workers, locals, soft top renters, someone.

Rather than heading out from the sand-bottom of the Cove, I was going to save myself the paddle out through a hundred yards or so of waves, wavelets, chop from previous winds, a northwest swell mixed and comboed with the chop, sidechop bouncing off the rocks… yeah, the rocks; I would pass the confusion, slip down the dry rocks to the slippery ones and ease in, past the confusion, straight out to the lineup.

Such as there is a lineup. I would pick off a few lefts, maybe, close to the rocks, some of those rights that peak, offer a drop, and an exit; staying away from the lefts that drop you off in the impact zone. Yeah, and maybe I’d head up toward the Point; I mean, like, this time there weren’t any Locals out to be irritated, and, from the still-dry rocks, it did look like there might be a few zingers out there.

NOW, let me explain the rocks. Boulders, really, each one seemingly planted erect, like an obelisk, few lying sideways, as one would think they should; rather like a field of boulders, not dropping off quickly into deeper water, but more rocks farther out; and, with one foot wedged between this monument and another, my leash wrapped around another, somewhere behind me, I discover I’m nowhere near a place where the waves aren’t hitting.

seasiderocksjustrocfksseaside

Fifteen minutes, or so, later, I had moved my van over across from the bathrooms/shower, changed to my shorter-but-stronger leash, one that probably wouldn’t rip loose from my ankle like the other one did, and was back out, through the wavelets and waves and cross-chop. Somewhere in the time I was regrouping, deciding whether to go back out or go back to my Dad’s house in Chinook, two other surfers had come out.

I caught a wave, nice peak, dropped in, didn’t make my decision on which way to go in time. Bloop. Regroup; paddle back out, just in time to be just inside of one of the two surfers to drop into a head high wall just in front of me. BLOOP! “Sorry, man.”

“No problem,” he said.  A few moments later he said, “I have to give you credit. I was watching, through the binocs; you took a thrashing; didn’t give up.” Self-identified as a 25 year local, Jason (this is after I explained I only surf Seaside when I’m visiting my Dad, and usually surf the way-more-in-control waves in the Strait) gave me a few tips on clearing the rocks, like, maybe, wait for a lull. “Lull, yeah. Thanks.” “You know,” he said, “all my friends have surfed in the Strait; I’ve never been.” “Well; maybe when you get, you know, older.”

Mostly I was grateful to get some kind of props for trying to recover from the worst thing on a real surfer’s worry list, looking awkward/gooney/kookish/out of control; way worse than wiping out, blowing a takeoff on the wave of the day (no, that’s worse, if only slightly). Adding witness to either of the above-mentioned terrors compounds the event.

So, I caught another left, with Jason inside to witness something less kook-like; dropped while driving, got into a great position on the wall, then got clipped, just barely, by the lip, and… BLOOP! Roll. Regroup. Blow more water out of my sinuses. A few more waves, a couple of closeouts, a right that hit deep water and vanished; and a long wave, made the drop, drove through a tube, hit the open face, slid into a turn, went for another… BLOOP!

Now I was caught inside, well into the miles of beachbreak between the Cove and the Columbia. It was enough. When I got back to my van, there were two people fooling around in the near-shore reforms, and, squinting toward the horizon, fields of rocks and Jason was nowhere to be seen.

ADDENDUM- When you have a tough session, all one wants to do is make up for it the next time. I was planning on going the next day, maybe somewhere else, but was actually in the area to paint my Dad’s addition; and I had to get back home. My friend, Hydrosexual Stephen Davis, and his son Emmett, came down during the night, checked out Seaside the next morning. Overhead, waves breaking on the horizon, northwest wind. “You aren’t missing anything,” Steve said on the phone. Later he and Emmett hiked down to one of the secluded coves, paddled out to some low tide closeouts. “Worth it, Steve?” “Yeah.” That’s when, in retrospect, one decides a couple of nearly-made tubes might be counted as a success. But, next time…

Illustration for “Fortune Point”

Trish thought the drawing looked like a “young kid, kind of chunky, maybe.” Yeah, fine; let’s say that’s what I was… you know what? I’ll just post the drawing, also added to the story by Rico Moore, next down, for your scrolling and reading pleasure.

Image (86)Thanks, Rico.

Swell of the Summer on the Last Coast

PART ONE- On Friday, seeing something, or sensing something, or just hoping for something, I found some fun waves and no one out; no one to fight for position against, no one to compare rides with, no one to, um, hang out with;  not that I mind; I was there to surf, surf rather than continuing to try, harder and harder, to catch up on high-season, mid-summer painting projects.

I had missed the best of the low tide rights, rights so rare on the Last Coast, the swell angle necessary to penetrate sliding sideways against the hooks and points and rivermouths and crannies of the Strait creating lefts where a straight-on swell wouldn’t; still, there were some sets hitting the indicators on the rights side, and rideable waves following the outline of the green-slimed rocks creating some punchy little rides. And no one out, maybe only one rig pulling through the turnout, briefly. It can’t be good, there’s only one old guy out. Move on.

Oh, there was Kyle, reading a book, on the beach slightly around the corner, shaded by the trees that mark a certain lineup.  I parked, putting off going back to work just a bit longer so I could find out where this guy was going. The coast? Neah Bay? La Push?  I had seen him from the water. He was sitting ashore of the lefts, an hour and a half after I arrived, ten minutes or so after the rights were high-tided-out, and the energy just not making the transfer to the next river rock point. “Kyle” he said, when I asked him. “You’re Erwin; right?” “Um? Uh; how do  you know that?”

IMG_0140 Another high-season job keeping me out of the water. You?

No, I’m not that notorious. I probably mean ‘infamous.’ But, Kyle explained, he’d been coming out from P.A. all week, went out once (too small, too much wind); but he had seen me here before, and had been there when my now-friend (friend being a broad term including pretty much any real surfer out of the water) Raja had, to general acclaim, taken my lost paddle, inserted it… yeah, maybe you know the story. It seems like everyone I run into was there for the paddle incident. “Well, Kyle; it’s supposed to get bigger; I’m surprised there aren’t more surfers cruising through.”

“Oh; they’ll be coming,” Kyle said. Now, I did, specifically, ask him if he knows Adam Wipeout; as everyone seems to. He said he didn’t. “Good luck, Kyle.”

Back in cell phone range, I spoke to Keith and Adam on the phone, just to gloat, a bit (they would, and have done the same) on my way back, passing the oncoming surfers Kyle had predicted. “Hey,” Keith said while I was getting a ‘topup’ on my oil at the Jiffy Lube, “it’s coming up. Maybe you should go back.”

“Tomorrow,” I said as an SUV with three boards and a luggage carrier passed by. To be continued (the tomorrow part)