Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks for the waves

Thanksgiving morning, you don't need a brain to know the water's going to be crowded. Especially if it's 55 degrees and the waves are good. And they were.

Just as I got out the sun appeared, casting that light over the water that you only get in the morning, and painting the water such a beautiful blue-gray.

I didn't feel like going for the jetty today, not just because the waves were so good I didn't really need to, but because of what I saw. The jocks were all piled on top of each other and going four or five at once for the same wave. Not just going for them figuring the others wouldn't make it, but they went knowing pretty damn well they were all going to make it and meaning to surf it together. I mean, they were literally surfing on top of each other. In typical surf jock fashion they hooted and hollered happily (a couple who rode in literally rail to rail jumped off their boards smiling and yelling "Happy Thanksgiving!" to each other) even though they were inches away from dying or being seriously injured. I have to think that these guys all knew each other and knew their skill levels---I mean, I have to think that, if only because as far as I know no one got killed today! It surely does take a high level of skill to take off right next to someone and not hit/get hit by them. I did not belong among that crowd today.

When I was at the jetty last time I remember a guy yelling me off a wave when I was a safe distance away from him. Yeah, we were on the same wave but we weren't even gonna come close to hitting each other, even at my skill level. And then when I see what I saw today, I know I wasn't breaching any written or unwritten rule of surf etiquette or doing anything others don't do; he was just yelling at me because he didn't know me and didn't want me near him on "his" wave. Or maybe because I'm a woman. Who knows.

I did do some early popups again today and fall off when trying to make the drop. I saw D. in the water and asked him about what Always Smiling Asian Guy said. Should I stand up at the top of the wave of the bottom? D. said "It depends" which seemed like a good answer. He said, not too soon but not too late. Not at the bottom but not at the top. Yeah. That makes sense.

So, I worked on not getting up too early, and on really thinking about and trying to remember what I do after the popup, which as D. always says is the important thing.

When I got out of the water I got compliments from my other former surf coach (now I can't remember what initial I gave him if any, but it doesn't matter) and another veteran surfer about my progress. People are noticing that I'm getting good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

About these crowds...

With the warm weather and good waves we're having in November, the crowds continue. Today was another packed day. On a Wednesday morning! And just because I can handle a crowd doesn't mean I necessarily always want to, you know?

Although today was convivial enough. It saw the return of the person I'm going to start calling "Always Smiling Asian Guy." He's always stoked, smiling, hooting for people. He started off a conversation right away. And he offered some friendly advice. He saw me fall backwards off my board and told me I am popping up too soon.

Now, after all these years of not being able to pop up at all (as you can see by the length of this blog) it's hard to conceive that I might possibly be popping up too soon. Well, but I am up before the drop, and that's when I tend to lose my balance.

Is he right, that you are supposed to wait to pop up until after the drop? But that's clearly not what I see people doing, and I was taught that you don't do that because popping up is so much harder when you're at the bottom of a wave, not the top.

This may be an insignificant distinction when we're talking about one or two foot waves, but when they're four or five, yeah, there's a big difference between top and bottom, and it matters.

Whatever the reason, I wasn't getting good rides. I moved farther down the line to get away from the crowds to ponder the question of when to pop up, and worked on it a little without people in my way. I did better down there maybe because of less worry about hitting or being hit by somebody in front of or behind me. In fact, I got several really good, long rides. A gray morning turned into a fun day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

With the jetty jocks

Today didn't look as big as yesterday at first. In fact when I first checked the waves I was disappointed. I almost thought it was too small. But it was actually as big as yesterday, and conditions were choppier, just to add some challenge.

Plus, as usual after a good day and when waves have been forecast to be better than they are, it was crowded. But I was feeling confident enough to paddle out to the main spot by the jetty, which, as I've said, is traditionally where the best surfers are (AKA jetty jocks, as least when they're male). I've been able to handle myself there well on the 2 foot days, but today was taking it up a notch.

And I proved myself able to handle the four footers as well. Yeah, I had to pull off some waves, and I didn't go on the biggest ones. But as I was out there I realized I was confident in my ability to handle a crowd in waves of this size. It wasn't scary, and there were no collisions or close calls. I got my share of waves (not by taking off on the same wave with others, as the jocks do, but by waiting til no one else was going, usually after they'd all been taken in by a set).

It was a good feeling to realize I've gotten to this point where I am able to hold my own at the jetty. That said, I didn't get any great rides. In fact, once I got up I either fell or didn't really go anywhere. I think I fell because on the bigger waves I instinctively lean back, and then of course I fall backwards off the board. I gotta work on leaning forward on the bigger faster ones. Either that, or I am getting up too quickly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today the forecast was for five to seven foot waves, and it was accurate. That's overhead to most people. But the conditions were about as good as they can be: favorable wind, sun, warm temperatures. Oh, and crowds.

Did I go, or did I not go?

Well. Two days ago, a surfer died at our beach. Right out in front of my window. Perhaps even while I was looking out the window. No, I didn't see it. That day I didn't go out, just because I wasn't feeling it, I was busy, I wasn't sure whether the waves were really manageable. They were, only five to six feet. It wasn't a big day. But this surfer got his leash tied around the wooden sticks which make our beach so hazardous, just as I did and wrote about a little while ago. I finally managed to get my leash off but it wasn't easy and it was terrifying being tethered there as the waves came in. And that day wasn't as big as today. Anyway, he was an inexperienced surfer and couldn't get the leash off, and by the time help arrived, it was too late. This could even have happened to an experienced surfer, though. It could have happened to anyone.

News traveled fast. The next day, though there were large and makeable waves, no one was out. Absolutely no one. A 36 year old man, healthy and fit, dead.

Today, the crowds were back. But people were thinking about the drowning, I am sure.

Not very long ago, there would have been no question or doubt about going out on a 5 to 7 day. I would never have considered it. But now (after all these years) 5 feet doesn't seem so bad, seems manageable and not scary. And I could dodge the bigger waves. And the conditions would never be better, if I wanted to challenge myself.

But my teeth still hurt, the worst surfing injury I've ever had (still don't know how that will end up, if I need surgery). I didn't want to get hurt again.

Yes, no, yes, no. I went to the boardwalk and watched for a while. I ended up watching for as long as I could have been surfing---dontcha hate it when that happens? It's like, if you're going to spend the time, you might as well spend it surfing.

But I was watching and learning. I was watching the surfers the way you do when you feel everything they're feeling as if it's happening in your own body. I was imagining what it would be like to be out there.

Others were doing the same. I saw a young woman stroll up with a shortboard, all ready to go. The look on her face when she saw the waves said everything. She was having doubts. She didn't look happy. She stood for a while, watching, exactly as I was. I am quite sure we were thinking the same thing: so crowded. It's bad to be in a crowd on a big day if you're a bit unsure of ourselves. I almost said something about the crowd, but didn't. The reason I think she was thinking along those lines was that she finally walked down to the end up the lineup, where waves were not as good but it was far less crowded. I'd have done the same. I watched her for a while, and watched a guy with a blue longboard. I watched him get out, much as I would. It took a while, but he made it. If he made it, I could make it. I didn't know whether I was glad or disappointed that he made it. If he hadn't made it, it would serve as justification for my decision not to go, if I didn't. Everything I saw was getting processed (I told myself) and ultimately I would make a decision.

I saw the shortboard girl come in after only about ten minutes, and she took her leash off, so I thought she was deciding to come in because it was too big. But then I lost sight of her, so I don't know if she did.

All along the boardwalk surfers were making calculations. Are you going in? Yeah, considering it. Did you paddle out? How was it?

I think I was deeply influenced by overhearing two of those I consider the best women surfers at our beach say, No, they weren't going out today. Too big for me, one said. She's much much better than I am. I just want to have a nice relaxing day, not get worked, said the other. She's even more better than me.

By anyone's calculations many if not most of the waves were overhead. I could have handled the smaller ones. Getting out would have been a bitch but I would have made it.

In the end I made a (in)decision not to go. I'd spent an hour and a half hanging out. I had work to do and a date with a friend later.

I'd just experienced, in my mind, every aspect of today's potential surf experience, from the getting hammered getting out to the trying to pick manageable waves to going over the falls to spending 15 minutes getting back out to pushing myself to try harder to wiping out again to maybe getting up on a smaller wave and struggling out again to the blessed delicious satisfied feeling of exhaustion I'd have by nine o'clock that night after such a session and the marvelous feeling of accomplishment I'd get for trying on the biggest day of my life so far. And I just did not feel like doing it.

But next time I will go.

The next day the waves were 4 to 5, and what a difference it makes to know you can handle the biggest waves, not just the smallest ones. There was no fear or indecision. I went for the bigger waves. I got compliments on my surfing. I made all my drops and got up on every wave; it might have been downhill from there, but at least I got that part right on bigger waves, which is a major accomplishment for me.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

When Surfline says "good" and means it

Today was that rarest of occurences: Surfline actually rated our waves as Good. We almost never get Good. The best we usually get is Fair. And the occasions when it's good are usually over 6 feet, limiting the crowd to experts.

Today was both Good and 4 feet.

The result was that this midmorning November Wednesday was soon as crowded as a summer weekend. I mean bumper to bumper. I mean a board every two feet. I mean people sitting not only on either side of you but inside in front of you.

I could have gone down the beach a ways from the main peak where it would, eventually, get less crowded. But I decided not to. I decided to join the fray.

I've done that enjoyably on small days. Today wasn't completely small; there were some head high sets coming in. But by now I'm good enough at surfing, and surfing in crowds, that this didn't faze me. I can turn, I can (mostly) get out of people's ways just as well as they can out of mine.

So I decided to make the crowd part of the challenge and the fun. It wouldn't have worked if the waves were any bigger, but it worked.

I got waves, I got up and riding, more than most people I saw; and I was having fun. Now, were there waves I would have gone for, but for someone else going for them? Absolutely. Were there waves I missed, having to pull off, that I would have gotten and enjoyed were it less crowded? Yes.

Were there waves I got that no one else got? Yes. That was mostly by going for the smaller ones. That was my tactic; I might have gotten smaller waves, but I got more waves.

I would have been fine on the bigger ones, if there hadn't been so many other people out. After a while I started wishing I could have gone on the bigger ones, but not so much that I was willing to try it.

I was where the very best surfers were, the ones who sense a big set coming before you can even see it and start maneuvering. They didn't bother even paddling for the smaller waves I went for. But when I saw them paddling out and around me, I knew they saw what they had been waiting for. And I could have paddled into position as well, and tried for them, but these were the guys who catch what they paddle for, and they know how to position themselves and would have been flying down the line by the time I got up. Damn. I've got to become one of these guys. Or women. One of them is a woman and she was having a fine flying time on head high sets.

I enjoyed myself immensely today and congratulated myself on the challenge of holding my own and getting my waves in the crowd. It actually did turn out to be part of the fun.

And then just as I was getting a bit overconfident, and trying for some waves that were a bit bigger...

On a silly wipeout where I didn't get the wave for I know not what reason, I came up and the board somehow smacked me hard in the jaw.

It's the noise that's so unnerving, the noise your board makes when it hits you in the head or the jaw, isn't it? The noise is almost worse than the impact. And once you hear that noise, what's the first thing you do? Check for blood, that's what.

There was blood. It was from my teeth being driven into my tongue. The session was over. It had been two great hours. A "good" day indeed.

But I checked that my teeth were still in my mouth, and the blood wasn't a lot, so I decided I would be OK. Well, I'm not. The pain subsided some but my teeth hurt so much from the board slamming against them I can't eat. Turns out my teeth have small fractures, there may be nerve damage, and I'm told if I don't get better in a week I will need root canal on my front four bottom teeth.

It's just bad luck, that's all, I can't blame the crowds or anybody else. I haven't had any surf mishaps in well over a year, maybe more, and these things happen to everybody.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"How was it?"

Didja ever ask that question to someone coming out of the water as you're getting in? Do you? And if so why and how do you use that information?

I usually ask whenever and whomever I can, but then it's difficult to judge how much weight to give to their response. It adds to what you already know from your visual impressions, info about wind direction, etc. Does it make the difference between a go and a no go? After all, that person is a random surfer, not you; may be a better or much worse surfer, and so the reasons why "it" was good or not may have more to do with him than you.

Today I had a feeling that things would not work out so well (saw whitecaps from my window, the wind was west) but it was a sunny warm day and I haven't surfed in forever (I just came back from Omaha for crap's sake) and I just wanted to go. So I put my suit on and on the way to the waves met a random surfer and asked the question.

His response: Not too good.

I decided to disregard that and think for myself.

Turns out, he was right.

The waves were sideshore and doubling up and few were catching them even though a lot of us were in the water.

It was a one-wave day for me; the kind where you are lucky to get one good ride and when you do, you might as well go in.

Shoulda listened to the guy.