Monday, January 30, 2006

Cheyene's Paint Job

Look familiar?

At least the seller on eBay was being truthful about the fact that the airbrush job on my new "Nugget" was inspired by Cheyne Horan's 1980s board.

I seriously doubt that I'll be riding it anytime soon. We are in the throes of what can only be described as "The Perfect Storm" up here: I think I heard a newscaster say that this January we have recorded record rainfall for Portland. And you know that's rain of biblical proportions, considering the reputation of the Pacific Northwest. Torrential doesn't even begin to describe it. And with these downpours comes surf of 20+ feet that looks like a oceanic spin cylce. This Saturday we are looking at 28.3 ft swell at 14 seconds.

I think I'll start a new blog about knitting.

The Joggers - "Loosen Up"

Monday, January 23, 2006

Walking the Plank

That's what it felt like every time I tried to drop in on a wave yesterday. We should have stayed at The Cove, which was overhead and somewhat congested in terms of other surfers, but we were fairly certain that Short Sands would also have good waves, so we drove down to Oswald West State Park.

The only person who was kicking and screaming about leaving fairly perfect conditions was Slim, who had just spent the last several months surfing in New Zealand and was tuned up for the Cove's steep faces and the surly faces of Seaside "locals." He also just so happened to be out of town when there was a great white shark attack at that break.

After we made the walk down the trail to Shorties and checked the surf, it started to look like we should have listened to good old Slimmers. Ten minutes after I made the paddle-out, it became painfully obvious that we made the wrong choice.

The waves were about the same size as the Cove's, around 6 feet, but they were much less organized. They would crest and crumble way outside, then reform very quickly, while the swell still had most of its power. When they would hit the first sandbar, they would flip over and explode, most of the time closing out.

On my first wave I tried to go right but didn't pop up fast enough and found myself crouching on the deck of my board, looking down a dropoff of about 5 feet. What to do? Walk the plank. I couldn't pull backward, since I was already this deeply committed to the wave, so I dove down the face into the trough, trying to get as far from my board as possible.

Anybody who surfs knows the feeling of "going over the falls": You hit the water and penetrate the surface, tumbling with the surge of the wave, but that's not the bad part. Just when your mind says, "That wasn't so horrible," you feel your body rising up, an insignificant part of the back of this massive cylindrical roll of tons of water. You might as well be a piece of debris. Then, you go weightless for a split second as you head back down again, this time at the epicenter of the wave's power. BOOM. It's like being hit by a liquid grenade. You don't know which way is up, you don't know how long you will be down there. Even through your clenched eyelids you can tell that it is pitch dark. And it always takes longer to get back to the surface for air than you think.

Anyway, that happened to me like five times yesterday. I didn't get a single ride. It feels like I haven't reported on a good session in ages. My stoke meter is dipping dangerously low. And these winter blog entries are scaring my mom to death.

All I need is one good session to make things right again... c'mon springtime!

Split Endz - "Shark Attack"

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Big Day at Morro Bay

I had two hours free on Sunday morning the weekend we travelled to central California for my grandmother's memorial service. I had surfed The Rock twice the last time we visited, since we were staying in nearby Los Osos. There's a surf shop called Wavelengths where gear can be rented (last time I used a 6'4" Epoxy CI Flyer, which worked well in the powerful waves). This time, though, I realized that the conditions would have to be perfect (or shall I say, easy) for me to make the commitment.

My cousin drove me down to the dirt parking lot and we scoped the surf. The monster winter swell that had been rocking California was still putting a smackdown on this part of the coast. The lineup, which had about 50 people that Sunday in November when I surfed last there (when the waves were about 5 ft.), was significantly less. There were only seven guys out. I realized that I was in no condition physically or mentally to surf this wave. It didn't look easy. My heart wasn't in it.

The previous day we had spread my grandmother's ashes at a nearby beach in the same place where we put my sister. The idea that both of my loved ones were now a part of this ocean was profound. I knew that my intense relationship with the Pacific (especially in this part of California) had a lot to do with the fact that I feel like my sister is there, symbolically, if not in actuality. But I also had a deep sense of respect for the power of the sea.

So I took these pictures, then went back home and spent time with my family. And I made a vow to come back soon.

REM - "The One I Love"

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Real McCoy?

Maybe it is my journalism background that caused me to do some detective work, but I couldn't help but wonder if it was my McCoy that let me down, or my skills that were at fault. On a whim, I went straight to the source for info.

I emailed this longwinded query to Geoff McCoy in Australia:

----- Original Message -----
From: [Chum]
Sent: Tuesday, December 06, 2005 10:10 AM
Subject: My McCoy

Hi Geoff,

I just bought a second-hand McCoy shaped by Pautsch and tested it out last weekend in some pretty big surf here in Oregon. I believe that his shape was based on your Nugget (it has a similar plan shape) but I don't know if he used the loaded dome. Anyway, the size is 6'2" X 20" X 2.75". I have wanted a Nugget for years now and couldn't afford to get one from you directly, so I went with this one.

These waves were probably 8-10 ft. faces and pretty steep. I barely made it outside to the lineup (I had a hard time duckdiving the board through the beachbreak). When I finally did make it, I had a really difficult time getting into the waves. I would paddle really hard, but the board seemed to bog a little making it tough to get in early. Water would splash up into my face and the wave was almost inverted by the time I actually had the speed to drop in. Needless to say, I went over the falls a few times. One time I actually dinged the rail with my shin - which I now have to repair (both rail and shin).

My question is twofold: Is the board too short for larger waves? I'm a pretty small guy, so I don't think the board is too small for me. My other question: Is Pautsch even making real McCoy Nuggets?

This whole fiasco could also be a user error: that I wasn't charging hard enough.

Anyway, I have a lot of respect for you, the history of your company, and your idea that surfing should be FUN more than anything else. I hope to be riding a board shaped by you someday...


A few days later, Geoff emailed me back:

From: McCoy Surfboards []
Sent: Tuesday, December 06, 2005 4:16 PM
To: Rick Albano
Subject: Re: My McCoy

It is hard for me to comment on your experience I did not realise that G.P. made nuggets and I have never seen one, but I can tell you straight up that you do not have a real nugget. I never told Greg about that design in any detail so he would not really know what he was doing. Sounds to me like there is too much rocker for starters, who knows what else is wrong. To get the best out of the nugget you would need to weigh less than 170 lbs. If you had a real nuggget you would be writing to tell me what a great time you had in these conditions. I suggest, sell the board you have before you quit surfing, and save up for the real thing. Hope this helps. Keep Surfin

To which I responded...

----- Original Message -----
From: Chum
To: McCoy Surfboards
Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2005 11:21 AM
Subject: RE: My McCoy

Geoff - thanks for getting back to me! I do weigh 150, so maybe it's a rocker thing. Regardless, I will save up for one of yours. Sounds like US boards will be going up in price anyway with Clark Foam closing. I hope that doesn't effect you, or that it does effect you in a positive way.

Much respect,

PS - I'll never quit surfin!

To which he replied...

As I said before, it is strange that your board did not work, at 150 lbs you should have had no problems. Do not know what effect clark will have on Australis. Probably positive as the blank suppliers in Australia have been getting requests from the US for foam. It will make a big difference to the american surfboard industry, that is for sure. Take care and stay stoked. KEEP SURFIN' GEOFF

The Fire Theft - "Oceans Apart"

A Kick in the Nugget

Since I started surfing a couple years ago, I've been intrigued by Geoff McCoy's "Nugget" shaped board, a design that's intended to be the most user friendly of all non-longboards.

No doubt, this is a neo-retro shape; one originally developed in Australia in the 1970s (with his "Lazor Zaps" for Cheyene Horan) and perfected over the last 30 years. But unlike the fish, which has received tons of attention lately as a great alternative to "glass slipper" or potato chip shortboards in subpar surf conditions, the Nugget is considered to be a more versitile shape that can do well in larger, steeper waves.

Geoff McCoy is an eccentric dude, which I also found appealing, sort of a mad scientist Down Under, creating these unconventional waveriding vehicles and supporting them with hippy slogans like "Designs to free your mind." There aren't that many Nuggets in the USA. When I did a search on Google a few years ago, only a few pictures showed up. One of them was a red/blue one that was mentioned on Surfer magazine's message boards. A few others were Aussie imports in yellow. You can buy Nuggets in America through a website called, but the sticker price is fairly astronomical: like $800. You can also pick up a Surftech Nugget a little easier, but that will still cost around $700.

So I did what I always do when obsessing over a rare item online: I added it to my "favorite searches" on eBay. Every time a Nugget would be put up for sale on eBay, I would get an email. As a testiment to the user satisfaction of these boards, I hardly ever got messages telling me one was available secondhand in some remote part of the world.

But then, in November, I got an automated email saying that there was a McCoy board available in Southern California for $350 bucks... if I wanted to "Buy it now." The board looked familiar: It was the same red and blue one I had seen online a year before. I took that as a sign.

This was the catch though--it was shaped by Greg Pautch, a SoCal shaper who is the only licensed shaper of McCoy boards in the USA. Having done my homework, reading nothing but positive reviews of Pautch's work, I immediately made the seller an offer and he took it. I picked up the board around Thanksgiving.

The board is 6'2" tall and around 2.75" thick. The tail is round and wide and the girth of the board is pretty consistent from top to bottom. It looks like a stubby red-white-and-blue cigar.

My first session was in Venice a few days before Thanksgiving. The waves were small but fast--mostly closing out. I had a blast, despite the conditions. One thing I noticed was that I couldn't duckdive it very deep. No problem. Until my second session, that is, back in Oregon.

The waves at Shorty's were pretty big when I took the Nugget out the second time. Again, I couldn't sink the corky stick very deep, causing me to get worked over a few times on the paddle out, but I was still looking forward to testing this board out in some powerful conditions. After all, McCoy's website stated: "When it gets hollow, you'll be laughing."

I caught one wave, midsize, probably around 5 feet, but it died quickly. One thing I noticed was that I was having a really hard time paddling into the waves. I would scratch as hard as possible, but wouldn't have enough speed to start planing before takeoff. As soon as I'd grab my rails to pop up, I'd feel the wave jack up and I'd almost lose all momentum on the lip. Looking down a vertical face, I knew I wouldn't make the drop, and I'd have to pull back or get pitched.

And the waves were getting bigger. Another guy in the lineup on a Channel Islands yelled to his buddy (there were only 5 of us) that he was undergunned. I tried to go right on an eight-foot face, but didn't get in fast enough and went over the falls. Underwater, I felt my leg kick something sharp. I thought it may have been my fin, but didn't have much time to contemplate things because when I emerged, I saw some menacing swells bearing down on me. I paddled hard and made it outside.

Again and again I would try to paddle into big waves, only to get sprayed in the face before attempting to drop.

The day ended when a crusty old dude pointed to the outside and said, "Better start paddling." The biggest wave I've ever had the misfortune of meeting was jacking up and there was no way we'd make it over the back. We both bailed at the same time as a thick, 14-foot curtain fell right on our heads.

I'll never forget the slam, tumble, spin, rinse, repeat of that hold down. I was more than 200 yards away from the shore, but I hit the sandy bottom and dragged along, pinwheeling and ragdolling. My leash coiled around my legs like a kitestring on a spindle, hogtying me. I didn't panic. I was spooked, but it wasn't my worst punishment of the day. But considering how far the turbulance pushed me in, I decided to end it there. I walked up the beach with my tail between my legs.

The old guy who got caught inside with me came up the beach a few minutes later. "Dude, I hit the bottom!" he said. I told him that I did too. He went on to tell my friends and me that in 20 years of surfing big waves in the Northwest, he's never been rocked that hard. The guy, we'll call him Jonas, is a Seaside Point regular. He said that the near two-wave hold down he experienced was worse than anything he been put through before. At least I knew that I could handle a big hit.

When I got back to my house and was showing my friends my new board after dinner, I noticed something on the rail behind the fins. A big ding gouging all the way into the foam. I reached down to my shin and felt a jawbreaker-sized lump. I guess I didn't hit the fin after all!

Sun Kil Moon - "Gray Ice Water"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Pacific City

REM - "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"