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"


Whiffleboy said...

Great post, Chum. I don't see how you do it in cold like that.

Chum said...

It's pretty amazing how much the "stoke" can warm the core... The next day was even better!Thanks for the link, Whiff.

TedZSurfer said...

now this looks like inspiration for contributing thoughts to Whiff's "Stoke" thread...

Diane said...

You are too much, my son. But I am proud of you as always.

Patch said...

Cojones... I mean Chum, Salud!

Music—The Client—E.M.P.T.Y.