by J.C. Hill
Ah, summer. The most amazing time of the year….if you’re not a San Francisco surfer. But has this summer really been all that bad for waves? At Ocean Beach, we’ve seen quite a few “rideable” days with nice, peaky conditions from a glut of southern pulses crossing up with sloppy windswells, but let’s face it: summer blows. Fall marks the start of the surf season with those electric blue mornings, light offshore winds, and waves that actually remind you why you waste so much time being a surfer. Summer’s best impressions of fall have surfaced a few times during the dog days, providing those classic autumn conditions and teasing the hell out of us once the onshore flow returns a day later, lasting for what seems like an eternity.
However, summer’s single handed number of crystal clear mornings with outgoing tides and waves sub death defying also brings about the ill-fated aspect of fall: the ever present “thing” we all know as The Circus. Some Saturdays ago, a classic, yet small swell (by all standards) summer morning out at Kelly’s quickly morphed into a weekend at The Hook; I don’t think I’ve ever had three guys burn me out at the beach on a waist-high little wedge, let alone burn each other. Good times. But such is life in this day and age of surfing. Luckily, there’s an antidote for those willing to do a little homework, sacrifice some time, and get in the car: the search. Therein lies the goal for these periodical tidbits known as “Escape from Ocean Beach”: I’d like to reassure the frustrated ranks of my OB companions that there is some respite from the bullshit—and I’m not talking about the middle of the beach in the winter.
A summertime gem “somewhere” between San Francisco and Santa Cruz
Now, I’m not trying to steal Rip Curl’s mantra behind their WCT event that fired a few weeks ago “somewhere in Indo,” but I must salute them for the idea behind it. While most of the surfing world knows exactly where the dreamy left-hand barrels lie, and for those who didn’t hear pretty much everyone in the commentary say “P*D**G” or “B*L*,” the voice behind The Search calls surfers from around the world to find their own perfect wave. Yes, it’s corny as hell, but I’m a fan. Luckily for us in Northern California, we can still search for waves, and sometimes score. Our backyard we often take for granted consists of bucolic, untamed, and desolate seascapes from Big Sur to far north of the Golden Gate, with hundreds of potential spots that can fire during the right combinations of swell, wind, and tide. But before you get too excited, remember this: it’s STILL summer.
Martian coast, or Santa Cruz County? There’s gotta be waves over there!!
While a gargantuan South didn’t surface on LOLA last weekend to ignite such a search, I was frothing so much from watching the Top 45 “tap endless Indonesian kegs” that I decided to do a little search of my own. Seeing that there was a fading southern pulse still in the water, I pulled out the old map (I like to take the Kevin Naughton approach to surf exploration) and looked for a few jutting points that faced south. I called up my surf buddy, known affectionately as the Rooster, and we went over a few scenarios. After plotting several spots and selecting a backup venue, we hopped in the car and followed the wise man’s words by heading south.
If you’ve ever scouted out the coastline from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the concepts of patience and humility. Most of the time you wish you’d just gone out at Sloat or merged onto the human conveyor belt that is Highway 17 to Surf City North. Such were our thoughts as we navigated Spot #2 only to find that the fading southern pulses weren’t consistent enough to float a longboard at Lowers. We had already been on the road for several hours, hopping through bushes and sneaking through artichoke fields before we realized that we were behaving as though it were Big Wednesday. We decided to bag the search and head to our backup venue that would likely provide some kind of energy.
Mysto ledge in our backyard
While this wave is hardly a secret, one can only imagine its once illusive, feral appeal as the trail winds down to the beach, revealing its right, quasi pointbreak set-up along a gaping headland. The Rooster and I were both shocked to see that there were only half a dozen cars deserted on the side of Highway 1…it could only indicate that the waves were probably garbage. Surfers have so many paradoxical traits: we’re the most patient and impatient people on the planet. Needless to say, we suited up immediately and headed down to the beach. By the time we trekked down to the water’s edge, a set of playful little rights that looked fun, albeit a little fat, were feeling the reef and staying open in a brisk sideshore breeze. The outer point revealed sets of junky windswell that would refract off the rocks and occasionally cross up with what looked like our fabled southern groundswell for a sometimes lengthy, although sectiony ride. On the inside, a more protected, nicely groomed peak would reveal itself from time to time; the bigger sets would line up better and form a fast, vertical wall to allow for a few gaffs off the top and the occasional head dip. We were definitely enjoying ourselves at our backup spot, and were quite surprised by the lack of surfers that usually inundate this place like the Diluvium Flood on the weekends.
After abandoning the point to track down a few of those inside peaks that I had seen come through every so often, I was rewarded by a sizeable set, (for summer, I’ll call it shoulder high at best) and a few of those on the point paddled over to join me. There weren’t very many waves to support a hungry pack on the inside, so I was slightly thwarted when a few guys paddled around me to sit even deeper than I was. But then something happened that I have NEVER witnessed before in the water. A little nugget popped up for the taking, and a UCSC-looking surfer, who was sitting the deepest, looks at me and calls out “Party wave! Get this one!” Now the whole party wave shout-out thing is not new to any surfer. But witnessing someone genuinely wanting to share a wave with another surfer outside the realm of Cowells or Waikiki was definitely a first. Instead of apprehensively hoping for this guy to blow the takeoff so I could snag the shoulder, I realized that I had an open invitation to drop in on the guy! This decision-making process was alien to me, and I ended up letting the guy have it. That’s when I knew he was dead serious, because he paddled right back out and said (for the voice, think Anthony Kiedis in Point Break) “Oh man, where WERE you on that!” It was my first encounter with anti-localism. Very strange, but very refreshing to say the least.
The session ended on a note of pure, unadulterated NorCal bliss that was definitely not anticipated after our prior strikeouts during the search. Sure, we got lucky—sharing our backup break with only a few other, aggressively wave-sharing bros will probably not happen again anytime soon. It just goes to show that luck is on the adventurer’s side when it comes to the quest for something out of the ordinary. This time we might not have found a NorCal Padang, but it wasn’t the right time anyway. Christmas will come early once that purple blob shows up on the screen and the buoys read 10 feet at 18 seconds. And you can bet that I’ll be sneaking through artichoke fields searching for an elusive bump on the horizon, and giving you a firsthand account of my fortune or despair.