Big Ones

It’s been the usual summer fare lately in San Diego. Storms in the South don’t quite make it up here, and there is nothing in the Northern hemisphere that creates enough of a stir to pass through the Channel Islands. We are left to fend for ourselves, making the best out of 2-foot waves.

Out of nowhere, a combo swell showed up. It wasn’t said to be much more than we’d had – instead of being 2-3 feet, it was rumored to be 2-4. That would give the waves a chance to have better shape. In particular, combo swells work really well on our long sandy shores, because they create beautiful (if unpredictable) peaks when waves converge before they break.

My buddy and I decided on an evening session, after work. Since our usual spot was crowded and the new spot too far for rush hour traffic, we settled on Black’s. Surfline (which is getting worse by the second) called it a POOR TO FAIR day, so I wasn’t expecting all too much. Admittedly, the range of what Surfline calls POOR TO FAIR is humongous, going from dribble in windy conditions to chopped up storm surf.

As we walked down, we saw they are (finally) building restrooms at the parking lot. The lack of facilities at Black’s has always been a nightmare, and you can frequently walk up the hill to the stench of urine in the summer. It’s particularly annoying because the Black Mountain Road access is a public easement, and the only way to get to Black’s for miles.

As we got to the turn, we could already see that the ocean was in near perfect conditions. The surface was calm, but once in a while a giant ripple would come creasing its way to shore, curling up and then crashing. Nobody was in the water in that section (as is usually the case), so it was really hard to gauge sizes.

As we got to the bottom, it was obvious that Surfline had been completely wrong: conditions were perfect at the peak, with overhead waves on calm sea. About three dozen people were thronged in the narrow area with the best waves, but there were peaky waves coming down all over the place.

We paddled in South of the peak, in an empty section. It took a while to get out, with wave after wave pounding on us. We got into position and started looking towards the peak. It was easy to see the jostling of people, with six trying to get into a wave at the same time. Some really nasty maneuvers happening, with guys pushing each other out of the way in an 8-foot wave. Also, some legendary rides, with the rights off the peak being fast and furious, while the lefts (which we couldn’t see) were slow and required some turning.

The first wave hit us. It was a right, and I paddled in. It slammed me brutally: the Baked Potato, a perfect board for smaller waves, just doesn’t get up to speed fast enough in this kind of condition.

I realized the rights from the SW would all be like that, so I focused on the lefts. Sadly, while those were beautiful, they tended to come as long closeouts. That meant trying to paddle into the right position of lose it, which also meant having to figure out who else was going to try getting into it. Things got tricky once douche bros beaten up by the competition at the peak started leaking down and bringing their aggressive and frustrated selves into our blessed corner of closeouts.

Two guys South of me (my buddy had left for the peak) were sitting far out, waiting for the big ones. They didn’t care they were closeouts, they just wanted the thrill of the ride. And once, and only once, they were rewarded: a beautiful long wave came their way. One of them caught it and shot down the barrel at the speed necessary to survive. Then the wave creased all along its extent and crashed – and we saw the guy flying high up in the air, at least a full body length above the crest (as witnessed by the leash, which was taut and allowed the tail to show up). I felt like clapping!

I got lucky a few times. Caught a few waves, made it in quite a bit. But it wasn’t my day: the board is too slow, and I am too preoccupied with making sure nothing gets in my way (or that I don’t get in anyone’s way) to make it down the line securely.

Buddy came over after an hour. He was done. He had been fighting for waves and caught nothing, but had witnessed some of the whales that came down as A-frames. I told him waves were nicer and people chiller down South, so he stayed. I let him catch everything he wanted, and then we left.

Strangely, the last wave I got was my best wave of the day. Maybe it’s because I was half-way back to shore, on the inside, and the wave was not one of the big ones.

I got out, happy I managed to avoid getting stung by a ray, so far. Walking up, we looked back, only to see more of those beautiful curls.

I really don’t like Surfline anymore. Much of the usefulness comes from publicly available data, while their secret sauce, the reports, are predictably unreliable. The cams would be a good reason to go to the site, but the Android app doesn’t show them any longer, and they have been always very strange, anyways. The one at Scripps, for instance, shows nothing by the beach about half the time.

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