Monday, February 27, 2006

Locals Only

It's always tough to paddle out at a new spot, even when the conditions are great, as they were when we four-wheeled it down an umarked trail north of PC. You don't know which way the rips are going to pull, if the boils in the water are going to turn into exposed rocks as the tide goes out, or exactly how far out the sneaker waves may break. But the worst thing about testing new waters is running into surly locals who think they own the place.

The waves were pretty amazing on Saturday when Nash and I parked his truck on the cobblestones above the waterline. Winds were offshore (yet again) and the shoulder-high peelers were actually hollow, breaking both right and left. We met up with Slim and Smithy, who had surfed this spot before, and followed them out to the peak. Just a mile down the beach we had witnessed a group of longboarders jockeying for mushburgers, yet we were all alone. It was Smith who picked off the first good wave, and he actually ripped it - I saw the nose of his new board flick above the back of the wave several times before he kicked out. Hm. We actually had a decent surfer in our ranks.

Inspired, I made a fair effort going right, staying in front of the fast-moving lip and doing a few little top turns of my own. Slim rode the Grease Slapper well in these conditions and Nash made some nice drops despite his bum eyes.

About halfway through the sesh, the locals showed up. I'm not sure how they snuck up on us, being as fat as they were, but no sooner had I finished a ride and paddled back outside when they made their presence known. They weren't happy. The first one paddled over agressively and jutted his nasty whisker-covered jaw at me exposing his bottom teeth. He barked like the animal he was. I was intimidated. Oregon locals have a bad rep and these, blimpish in their black slick skins, looked ready to throw down. The second one just glared with his beady black eyes. "Salty dogs!" I thought as they moved a little closer. They must've weighed about 1,000 pounds each, and they were backing me off the peak, inside where the set waves were breaking. I was about to threaten to "go Inuit on their blubbery asses" when they made themselves scarce, just as stealthily as they had arrived.

When sea lions get up in your grill, it can be a little scary. They love to face off and make a lot of noise, but usually they're all bark and no bite. Sometimes you can see their shadowy forms zipping underneath you under the water, which can add to the tension, but it's hard to imagine that an animal whose head looks like a wet daschund can do too much damage. Sometimes it can be more unsettling when the animals all dissappear at once, as they did on Sunday. Then you start wondering about the locals with the silver suits and the blacker eyes. The ones that don't say anyghing with their big mouths...

Robert Pollard "Gold"

P.S. This entry is meant to be read in your cheesiest Bruce Brown narration voice - I have been overdosing on vintage movies like Waterlogged that were part of a box set I was given for Christmas. (I'm also going to see Robert Pollard tonight).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ice Break

The icicles hanging inside the tunnel looked like giant sabre teeth, ready close on cars like hard candy as they sped through the mouth of the mountain. There was evidence that some of the transparent stalagtites had tried to mastigate motorists; shattered ice lay on the ground like fragments of broken glass. We weaved around them as we exited the darkness of the hillside.

It was an unthinkable hour on Sunday morning, we were on the Sunset Hwy, there was snow on the sides of the road, and we were going surfing. The air temperature on the beach was forcasted to peak at around 28 degrees, but the surf was predicted to be smallish and organized. Wild clydesdales couldn't keep us away.

We got to the beach before anyone else and struggled into our suits (Gee was taking his new Rip Curl F-Bomb out for the first time and he couldn't have picked a better day to upgrade his gear). Changing in sub-zero temperatures requires a very deliberate plan: jacket, gloves, hat and wool socks stay on as lower half of wetsuit is wriggled into (socks increase speed through the legs while keeping toes warm), socks come off and booties go on quickly, jacket and multiple layers are shed in an epileptic blur as the upper half of the wetsuit is zipped up, and finally the wool beanie is replaced by the wetsuit hood, which is followed by neoprene gloves. Only then can a Northern surfer consider the finer details of preparing for the session, like picking up his pile of scattered clothing, putting them inside his boardbag to stay dry, waxing his board, scoping the waves, and stretching.

We were counting on Slim to build a fire when he arrived a few hours later, so we made our way to the glassy water's edge quickly. The view was the stuff of National Geographic centerfolds. The north side of the cove was getting the first rays of the day, bathed in the warm diffused dawn's early light that photographers refer to as "the golden hour." The smooth sea was living up to its name, with a few clean peelers rolling in at the center and the south side of the beach. A light breeze was blowing mist from the crests of the waves. Best of all, we were alone.

The water didn't seem as cold as usual because of the brisk air as we paddled to the outside, timing the sets perfectly. The shadow cast by the south side of the cove swung down like a massive sun dial and within minutes we were illuminated forms in the green Pacific, scanning the horizon for the next set. Gee noted that his new wetsuit was "da bomb" and emphasized his review with a few f-bombs of his own. He paddled into a wave and then I didn't see him for a while.

My first wave was one of those blissful mistakes where, not having surfed in such user-friendly conditions since last season, I paddled too early for a set wave and found myself incredibly late on the takeoff. I was also too far forward when I popped to my feet - a predicament I only realized when I leaned into the bottom turn after barely making the descent. Looking up at the steep face and hoping to make it around the falling lip, I was in slo-mo mode until I suddenly felt the tail of my board sliding out. The back fins had disengaged and I was side slipping in a critical part of the wave. I smacked flat on my stomach and got worked, but the view was amazing on my way down. It was on. For the next couple hours, I chased peaks and blew drops, partially because I was still adjusting to the new board.

Gee paddled back over to me, sharing my sentiments about re-adjusting to new waves. When he left, I stayed out an hour more, and the lineup filled quickly.

I got to shore and found Slim's bonfire moments before hypothermia set in. My wetsuit was steaming and I peeled my booties off, nearly roasting my toes on the hot embers. After a half hour, I was ready for another session, noting that the south side of the beach was churning out right after right. Slim was and his pal Smithy were also puting new surfboards through their paces. Slim was on a Cort Gion signature model "Grease Slapper" - a freaky six-foot fish with multiple channels and a gnarly '80s paintjob. And Smithy had a Pang T&C board, a real performance stick that looked like a pro model.

Yet again I choked on an well-shaped swell, not getting low enough to make the section backside this time. I told Slim that I should take up skatboarding again so that I could practice being more active, generating speed through my legs. No sooner did I finish what I was saying when another (smaller) right rolled through. I paddled for it, popped up, and very consciously dropped my back knee to get my center of gravity down. Then, thinking about skating, I pumped a few times almost like tic-tacking, but lower and smoother. It worked. I was in the pocket and the long shoulder was in front of me. I rode it until the wave petered out, near the rocks to the south.

I looked up at the rock wall and there were clusteres of massive icicles grinning down at me over the water. I shuddered and made my way back out to the lineup, where Slim was dailing his skatey new board into a picturesque right.

Iron & Wine "Each Coming Night"

Monday, February 13, 2006

Mild at Heart

Friday was a crapshoot. Looking at the surf report on Thursday night, it looked like the swell was completely gone (careful what you wish for, right?). Slim, who is currently unemployed, even crapped out on me, saying he wanted to wait until the surf picked up again on Saturday.

So there I was Friday morning, having taken the day off work, sitting there with my mouse in my hand, checking the bouys and webcams every couple minutes and listening to the east wind rattling my windows. The Columbia rivermouth bouy was reading about 5 feet with a 14-second interval with winds due East at 25 kts. But reports on Magic Seaweed and the One Stop Surf Check contradicted eachother. It looked like there was a 4 second interval with 3-foot swells on one, the other one reported swells at .7 feet.

Thinking "Gotta go to know," I was about to jump in my car and see for myself, but decided to call Gee to check the odds of his being able to "Spiccoli" his way out of work. Two hours later we were in the parking lot of Short Sands. The drive down the coast was a stoke-lifter, showing that there was actually swell in them thar waters. Plumes of spray flew off the backs of the waves all along HWY 101. Picture perfect peelers greeted our surf starved eyes. And the sun was shining.

Knowing that it would be small, I brought my 6'2" McCoy. It turned out to be the right decision. Only one peak was working at Shorties, near the south side of the cove. Though it was a work day, at one point there were 20 guys jockeying for set waves. Good thing only five of them knew what they were doing. That's not to say that I know what I'm doing, but at least I didn't drop in on anyone (I was dropped in on twice, though).

After sitting on the shoulder for a while, I finally paddled to the peak and went for a few set waves. It paid off. My new board was incredible. It went really fast and was much more maneuverable than the 6'6" Hammer I was accustomed to. I distinctively remember a late takeoff where my board squirted from the pocket like a skateboard down a ramp. Incredible. I did a bunch of small bottom turns where I would drag my left hand in the water, enjoying my newfound mobility.

As the sun began to set, I forced myself to go in, having counted somewhere between 15 and 20 rides on the day. My arms were wet noodles. I popped a beer before even changing out of my wetsuit and watched the golden colors paint the sky metallic blue. I little boxer scampered around our gear. What a feeling!

I contemplated the fact that there is something special about these small days when survival isn't the first goal of a go-out. Maybe I am a longboarder at heart--or maybe I have watched the film "Sprout" one too many times. Summer seemed to be teasing us from five months away and I knew that the surf report was predicting more storms this week. The Robert Frost quote from The Outsiders, "Nothing gold stays," ran through my head as the sun dropped below the horizon. But then the Gerry Lopez line from Brokedown Melody came to mind and saved my spirit: "There will always be another wave, so keep paddling."

Fire Theft "Summertime"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Surfing Tomorrow!

Taking the day off tomorrow to go surfing. The swell is dropping and the wind is offshore. I always wonder why I have never seen anyone surfing where this cam is in Lincoln City...

Wish me luck!

Arcade Fire "Headlights Look Like Diamonds"

Monday, February 06, 2006

Logging On

With all of this storm activity, there have been a lot of logs in the lineup lately, and I don't mean the longboard variety.

Good news though: Looks like we're going to get a session in this week when the swell drops down to 5-6 feet. Yee-haw! (Did I just jinx it?)

Swearing at Motorists "Northern Line"