Friday, December 29, 2006

Windows of opportunity........

Part of the joys and frustrations of north west surfing are the quick changes in weather and tides that change the lineup. When it works for you it's a joy and the frustration can come in the form of a lowering tide that will transform that slow, fat peak into a zipper of glass........about an hour after sunset. Winters' hours take all the give out of deciding if there is a possible late evening sesh.

Weeks of storms have us reeling now, little protection from southerlies here, maybe a trip north is in order. To the one place where protection is guaranteed against the assault of my senses if I go out.

Then a break comes a day after 40knot winds (at least!) from the north. The ocean is for the first time in 21 days groomed by an east wind, no warble in the swell, which is half the size it has been. A discernible order out of weeks of chaos..............

A phone call from Ding, he wants to head to the cove he's heard "it's doing it's thing!", no I'm looking at it and that is a misrepresentation I dolefully explain. Another phone call a minute later and the low tide at mid-day points to Suckouts as worthy of a check.

Gear loaded and off we go past a few good peaks on our way to Suckouts, it's a mission and the weather as good as it is, points to another all day trip. Those peaks we pass have no channel to access them and we pass on a futile paddle, we have been there, done that.

Our walk comes to an end, at this corner of the coast. A hard left and the cape juts out into the Pacific, high and sheer the walls take everything the storms throw into them. It seems invincible, but the slides at her base are evidence of a toll that will eventually lead to her demise.

The offshore is cleaner here for some reason and the lefts today peel off into the channel. It's deceptive and while we talk of waist high waves they are more likely head high. Ding is on it and leashless he paddles out to confirm the size. A bit behind him I do the dry hair paddle out, a hundred yards later I am heading west as directly across from me in knee deep water, Ding is slapping water pissed at having to do the long swim in this early in the session.

For some reason the rip is pulling me off the take off spot and leaving me behind the sweet spot. God it's frustrating!! The rights for some reason are not doing a damn thing except closeou,t so it's a paddle battle to stay on the left peak and dodging the ever present outside sets. This spot keeps you honest that way.

What a day though, sunny and bright and every time I paddle back, fast sweet looking lefts. Deceptive because the flawless walls give no hint of their difficulty. Neither the paddle nor the late drops that today are the norm, not the exception to the rule, are displayed across their green and blue faces.

The slack of dead low hits and the waves temporarily go to shit, we take a food break and start a fire to warm up. Andy shows up with his kid and dog, further proof that the cove is not "doing it's thing", even now. Soon enough and the lefts start firing again, and as the tide rises on this portion of it's cycle, they seem to be more forgiving. Late drops now end up with fatter walls and my frustrations evaporate with each section made. A few rights start to peel and the wind backs off till it's pure glass.

Four hours have passed and exhausted muscles along with the sun dipping into the horizon set me next to the fire, there are six of us talking surf as the sky darkens into night sky. The moon has risen and a large ring encircles, tomorrow's weather hinted at. This window is quickly being shuttered...........

Friday, December 22, 2006

Called out.................

What the hell? Where did that hay-maker come from?

Ding and I had pulled in from our check of Suckups and parked in the newly mowed parking lot. Pulled up and parked alongside a mini-van from California according to the plates and I used "mowed" facetiously, to describe the four feet of sand that was bull dozed back onto the beach. Sure as grass to return in the coming months it sits smoothed by the machine, awaiting the next storm's request to move inland.

The waves are still disorganised and missing the sandbar that two weeks ago had us hooting each other and doing laps around the peak. Even the wind had held off and allowed the double overhead sets to save their shape for the take off. A thick Aleutian swell had emerged from the north stretched out in 16 second intervals, punchy and intimidating. Picking off the insiders and dodging the outsiders became the afternoon's activity, with predictable results. And that evening I felt solidly worked over as if somehow a Mack truck had been gently rolling back and forth over my back.

Today we are spectators and taking in the lot as it's daily visitors disgorge from their rides. This sideshow is a never ending display of humanity and we lean back in the seats to take in a group of people as they line up for the family shot in front of the monolith. There is an attractive woman in the midst of them and she breaks off to come back to the car alongside us and she then cajoles the remaining passenger within to join them on the beach for a few minutes. He resists mostly but finally her remonstrations convince him to leave the comfort of the car for the sand and freezing temperatures.

Silently Ding and I follow this small commotion making comments under our breath as a lumbering hulk climbs out, red haired and solid he has trouble walking smoothly in the sand as it moves underfoot. He has some genetic issues against him and she helps him down the beach. After a couple of minutes he returns on his own, back to the protection between our vehicles.

Our eyes catch and he takes the opportunity to start a conversation. He's at a loss as to why the waves are breaking further out than the last time he was at the beach and our explanations do not impress him. It soon becomes obvious he has no interest in what we have to say just passing time in his own world. He talks a bunch but a speech impediment slurs his words badly and the conversation becomes stilted on our end but he sails forth with or without us.

He turns to look at us and tells us without any segue that his brother has a Ukranian wife but his eyes have that sparkle of enticement that those wanting to share a sweet secret have. Further knowledge is given that there are some in the group of his, who have never seen the ocean. Ding asks him where he lives, Portland? No, is the response he lives ninety miles from here, we name other towns all come back negative, finally he gets it and blurts out "Oregon City!". Christ that is Portland to the rest of us, but he isn't claiming it.

Ding and I lose interest in the red behemoth as we placed bets as to who the Ukrainian wife could be and settle on the attractive woman we had seen earlier. Red asks us what we do, I respond without really thinking that we surf and hang out here. There is a lot more truth to it than I want to admit, but figure it's lost on him anyway. His eyes pop open as if he has heard a horrible thing and he repeats it word for word, his gaze is now fixed on us and the look of disdain is clear " You come here every day?"

He seems to totter on his feet as he tries to digest this fact, but he asks no questions, just repeats my reply. For some reason his hair grows out of his head wildly, short and cropped it nonetheless spikes in random directions, in combination with the beady eyes it is a disconcerting face. "Well we surf here." I try to explain, but he just smirks and says "All the time!" It's not a question he is grilling me as if I've just admitted to taking something that doesn't belong to me. It's all of a sudden uncomfortable, Ding and I are at a loss for words. It's apparent that he is not impressed with us, surfing just has no allure to him.

We have nothing now, there isn't the subtle shift of acknowledgment that people who don't surf will often give to those who do. The conversation dribbles away and Ding and I are returned to dissecting the rest of the returning group. We spot the grandfather who has never seen the ocean before and are correct with the Ukrainian bride choice. She stands out because of her fashion sense more than anything else, too glossy for Oregon City, but not quite Paris either. She is slightly coquettish with none of the reservedness of a western European and quite at home amongst this American family as her husband hovers near her.

Big Red loudly but to no one in particular says, "They come here every day!" The mini-van fills up again and backs out. Ding and I look out over the grey ocean a half hour is left to days end....... well, there will be another surf check tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

FIFTY............what the hell??

Some time has passed since my Dad shot this photo, I think I was 9 and had been surfing a few months. Taken on South Beach in Durban, South Africa.

Maybe in retrospect it was the ugliest board in history. The top was a white deck with orange cloth spots, the bottom a white and green resin swirl. A large hatchet fin anchored the tail. It's width forced me to carry it with two arms wrapped around it, or on top of my head, "Endless Summer" style. It was shaped for kneeboarding (4'10") but it was considered perfect for a kid my size to be a stand up board.

"WaveMaster by Baron Stander" read the label and those boardshorts came from the small cramped shop he ran just off Point Road. That place smelled as cool and as exotic as the freshly glassed boards standing against the walls, shiny and sleek like blades.

I remember vaguely the first attempts I made at surfing. The time spent in crumbly beach break, the pearling and going over the falls, the swim in. Soon enough these memories seem to have gone from the chaos that crappy surf represents to the glassier and windless days with their more defined peaks and walls. In the months ahead I moved north along the Golden Mile as the beach front is known as. The south end of town is often the last to get swell and as you cruise up to the north, the waves get bigger and more challenging.

I ended up surfing at North Beach and after the swimmers took over I surfed the next beach to the south, Dairy. North belonged to swimmers after 8a.m. and then surfers could return after 5p.m., every day we got boosted grudgingly from the water. Often in primo conditions. Like lemmings we congregated on the rock jetty in the late afternoon, in anticipation of the flags being dropped on the lifegaurd towers, signalling the end of the lifies shift. In a reversal of fortunes we now became the invaders of the lineup and the bodysurfers left the waves less than happy with our presence.

For 41 years now I have been following this path of paddling out and turning, trying to catch a band of energy that breaks briefly and then dissipates, vanishing from sight but it's watery remains joining remnants of other waves, to carry me back out to the line up I have just left. Besides the sheer joy of good waves, it has been the constant uplifting of my spirits through any conditions where I have found surfing's true value in my life. That kid in the picture started doing something that through all the shifts in his life he managed to stay with.

Tonight I had the last surf of my 40's, it was a fun peaky evening sessions with head high rights. Way speedy with a minus tide approaching, the fish responded by leaping sections and on a bigger set wave I managed to slam the brakes on the board and get covered up before releasing again and sliding over the back of the wave.

My last ride in the darkening also threw a lip over my head and then a slap on the shoulder to tilt me gracelessly off the board, leaving me swimming in the water, as if I was 9 and just learning how to ride a wave.......................

Monday, November 27, 2006


Nine months of living here.........3 good sessions...............on a lark the last one, the 4th. Crossed up wind a side/off combo, with a double overhead swell, probably close to maxed out
here, except those rare swells.

Lefts draining into the rip, beautiful lips throwing flawlessly, walls standing upright. The wind turned against the cliff somehow offshore and opening up the barrel, while on the reef it crumbles the weak right that has no form.

Tico, myself and one other on it......soon to be just the 2 of us as the taciturn one leaves early. "Get as many of these as you can.", I tell Tico as I expect the hordes to descend at any moment. A Saturday after 3 weeks of storms should have all comers scouring the corners of the coast for just these gems.

The wave is deceptively easy as you gauge the approaching lip and spin one or two strokes into the wall as it builds ahead of you and you drop into space, fin free until mid-face where they find themselves. Don't spend too much time finding a line, just aim high. Try to find that band at the top of the wave and feed off it, then after building speed I look for a bottom turn to make it into the inside meat. By the time I kick out and look back to the take off zone it's a 100 yards away and there are more empty waves pouring through.

Time after time we do this rarely getting time to rest, God how I wish there had been more than one go out in the previous 3 weeks. My timing is off and as a result my feet seem out of place, these waves are flawless.

After an hour I tell Tico that we may be the only ones to surf here today, it's been years since he last surfed this place and it's better than he's ever had it. He's completely stoked, but not 10 minutes later 2 figures come into view along the same route we used to get here. One carries a familiar board and waves it in the air, like some totem taunting me. Ding has made the trek despite my thoughts that he was sleeping off the previous night's activities. I have a short pang of conscience for not calling him before leaving, but ignore it.

The 4 of us split the peak, all taking lumps beween these magazine like walls. A few rights are picked off but there is no channel to sweep you back out to the line up. The two I manage to paddle into are like their sisters to the left, lovely shoulders to drape some spray over and zippery throwing lips onto the flats allowing a coverup before fading away. I drift in the slack inside current to the rip at the north end, but it feels uncomfortable and I prefer the lefts for the quick returns.

As the low tide pulled the last of the water between the reef and the bar, the waves merged and exhausted we left the water. There were still classic lines out there but we were toast, it was mid afternoon, I had left town at 8:30a.m.