Category: Surfing

Baked Potato (Updated)

After the Saturday Firewire demo in Pacific Beach, I decided to buy a Baked Potato. It’s is the perfect summer board for me: short, fat, and wide (heck, it almost looks like me!). Short means it handles well and has quick turns; wide means it provides stability in the frequently choppy/churny/crossed swell; fat means it has all the volume it needs to keep me afloat and to allow me to paddle into the better waves.

I demoed it three times already, so I feel pretty comfortable with it. The first time was at Pipes, at the Surfride demo day. I tried the 5’5″ and 5’7″ Baked Potato and thought the longer one better. It was a fairly lame day on a completely new break, so I am not sure I should have been all excited.

The second time was on a pretty big swell day in May. I happened to get into the Shores parking lot when I saw the demo canopy and decided I really had to try something. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I went for the 5’7″ Baked Potato and the Potatonator. Felt good, but I still didn’t feel I had a good idea of what I really wanted.

Then there was the demo day last Saturday. I mentioned it in a separate post, but what came out of it was that I really loved the way the BP handled itself in the backwashy surf of the day. It felt like a little aircraft carrier, always sure of where it wanted to go, but responding to my pleas to get around some section that was looking sketchy. It was the first board I tried, when the surf was still decent, but that experience sealed the deal.


Firewire Surfboards Demo: Testing Baked Potato, Vanguard, and Unibrow

unibrowvanguardbaked-potatoThe good folks at Firewire Surfboards came into town again, this time at my local break. They set up their truck in front of South Coast Surf Shop and had a good selection of boards with them. I had already tried a few here and there, but this time I wanted to give them the big test: a multi-hour session in 2-4 foot wind swell.

I got there just in time for the truck to open. Same guys I had seen at previous demos, same deal: sign a release form, hand over your drivers license, and get the board you want. You can either bring your own leash, or take one of those they have handy.

I did my research before showing up and had both the models and the sizes in mind. The guys that were there are extremely helpful, and they could direct you to the right combination for your skill level and the surf of the day.

Of all the possible choices, I first went with the short and fat Baked Potato. It is a thick board that gets to the right volume for me (about 34 liters) in a very short and wide package. I took it out first, in the 5’5″ variant, and was stoked.

Today’s surf was a choppy and bumpy wind swell, Mostly NW, but with some annoying cross-swell from the SW that made the rights real scary at times. I wondered how well the Baked Potato would do in that funky mix, especially as a demo board with no traction pad.

The first wave threw me out completely. I barely managed to get standing when I completely oversteered and landed on my butt. I was about to return the thing, but I figured it was a little (lot) silly to give up so soon.


Old Yeller

An important change is happening right now: I am finding myself yelling more and more often for people to get out of my way on a wave. Just yesterday, I had to do it five times.

Now, you may ask, what is the reason for this change? Are people getting ruder and snaking more waves? Not so, it turns out. People are just as nice or as rude as they ever were, but I am getting better at surfing.

It used to be that I was too afraid of my incompetence to actually jump on a wave that someone else was paddling for. I would start paddling, notice that someone else was getting into the wave, and give up. I was frustrated all day long – and while much of it was the unsportsmanlike behavior of certain surfers, a good chunk was also that I didn’t want to compete, because I didn’t know how to handle the competition.

I am feeling much more confident, nowadays. I have steered around other surfers successfully, avoided hits and bangs, and I have cut out of a wave when someone snaked me badly. I also got faster on the face, estimating the correct speed and angle better, and catching a better spot for take-off.



Yesterday, end of day. I had nothing else to do, so I simply decided to pack up my stuff and go to Scripps for a late session. I could see that Pacific Beach was crowded, as usual, and I didn’t have the patience for Black’s. I knew I would be able to spot a spot at the pier, so I just went for it.

I wasn’t expecting much. There was the checkered flag out, which removes most of the best surfing area near the pier, so everybody was forced to huddle as close to the marker as possible to get a whiff of the waves. Plus, there was no spectacular surf in the forecast, and the cams were chatting of slow-rolling, smooth and flattish waves.

I got there and parked near Naga Way in the only spot in a mile I could see, after a double take that took me all around the Northern portion of the Shores area. Got out of the car and suited up, then zipped down the hill.

At the Shores, there were good news and bad news. The good news was that the checkered flag had been lowered, as I forgot is done every afternoon. Surfing in the pier area was allowed again. The bad news was that UCSD had a surf meet at the pier, which made the area particularly hazardous.


Sunday Sesh

Scripps at end of dayI was looking at the surf reports this morning. Surfline color-codes surf quality: grey means nothing going, blue means don’t go, green means you can go, and orange means you have to go. As soon as color codes were handed out, an ocean of green was staring at me. We don’t have these days often, so I packed my stuff and headed out.

I decided not to try my local break, Pacific Beach, because on Sunday mornings it’s incredibly crowded. That’s still better than on Sunday afternoon, when it’s impossibly crowded, but not exactly what I was looking for. So I headed over the hill (Mount Soledad, although it really is just a hill with a pretentious title) and parked at the Shores lot. I thought I’d walk to the Scripps Pier from there.

As I changed, I saw the waves. They looked plenty big, and Scripps was going to be a lot bigger. Also, the crowd at Shores was not the usual mass of people, so I thought I could tough it out. I hopped in the water, took advantage of a lull, and paddled out into the lineup in no time.

The waves were friendly. There were few of the typical beach break closeouts, and most of the surf was peaky and fun. I looked around, checked what everybody else was doing, and noticed we had a really friendly crowd. The longboarders were close to the shortboarders, which indicates consistent breaking, and all of us were drifting North (which explains why the crowd was spread).


The Ten Worst Habits of Advanced Surfers

YouTube has some funny videos – even about surfing! The one every novice should watch, though, is titled, How Not To Be a Kook.


It’s a short compendium of the things you need to watch out for when you start out. The rules of the trade, the etiquette in the water, the all-important right-of-way. The things listed in the video are very typical of novices and any surfer worth their salty hair will know better.

Still, watching the video got me thinking. There is a lot that advanced surfers do wrong. It’s not that it’s wrong because it’s not in the rule book, but because it’s terribly unsportsmanlike. So, here a list in ascending order of annoyance.


Western vs. Eastern Learning

Today, surfing reminded me of my days doing Tai Chi.

OK, you say. Whatever. Hear me out. 

My buddy and co-worker Dudley said I should do Tai Chi with him. I had seen them do it (since “perform” or “workout” don’t work too well) at the Jardin du Luxembourg one May morning, and it looked blissful. (Plus, twenty years later I manage to get a gratuitous reference to the Jardin du Luxenbourg in a blog post!). So I did join.

We had one wonderful teacher, a master of his art. Apparently, a routine consists of 32 moves, and he would explain one after the other. The whole routine would last something like 15 minutes. By the time we became Tai Chi masters, we would have achieved perfection in each of the moves.

I sucked. My suckage was total. I am glad I didn’t fatally wound anyone in the gigantic room, since I managed to always move in the wrong direction. It was comical. Dudley laughed half the time. I am sure he told his wife every night, because when she saw me for the first time, she giggled like a schoolgirl. When I meet his kids for the first time, they’ll giggle, too.


Is Surfing Dangerous?

Every year, there are reports of surfer deaths. There is the always popular (in the press) shark attack, the horrific vision of a sneaky predator shooting from far under the surface to swallow you in little pieces – or big chunks, as luck would have it. There is the giant freak wave that submerges you for minutes until you drown. But, really, how often does either happen?

On the other hand, surfing looks fun and safe. It’s very similar to snow- and skateboarding, but instead of falling on a hard surface, you just hit water. Sure, a big wave may bury you; but it will eventually wash over, unlike an avalanche that is there to stay and slowly suffocate you. And yes, you could hit the board if you botch a turn; but really, how does that compare to a spill on the skateboard, where you have the same risk, but hitting the board is the least of your worries?

After two years of surfing, I think I have the definitive answer: surfing is much less dangerous than it sounds, but it’s much more dangerous than it looks.


Teahupoo. How Do You Say That? What Does It Mean?

In case you have never seen the awesome wave of Teahupoo, here is a video.

The amazing Laird Hamilton rides the famous giant wave of Tahiti. Immediately, people started calling it “the greatest/largest/highest/biggest wave ever ridden!” in a quest for view count spectacular.


Fact is, the wave at Teahupoo is amazing in many respects. Still, it’s not the biggest wave by far, not even the biggest surf-friendly wave, nor the biggest wave surfed. But it has certain qualities that endear it to the camera (more than to the surfer).

For one, it is located at a shallow reef right next to a deep channel. That makes it possible for camera crews and rescue boats to sit right next to the breaking wave for an almost perfect shot. Indeed, the first time I saw the swell at Teahupoo was on a poster where about a dozen boardshorted surfers sit next to a wall of water that looks 100 foot high – without batting an eye, indicating that they knew the wave was not going to hit them.

The conditions are frequently perfect for shots. The waters of Tahiti are relatively calm, and the swell originates far, far away, in the freezing waters of the Antarctic Ocean. When they get to Teahupoo, they are monstruous, but they lost all the misshapenness of their origin. The lower frequencies dissipate, only the big carrier wave makes it to Polynesia.

All but one thing stymies the Teahupoo enthusiast: how on earth do you pronounce the name? And, secondarily, what does that mean?


A proud moment

Without much further ado, here two YouTube videos that illustrates the progress you can make in just a few weeks of surfing. First a video shot at the end of February (uploaded on the 27th):


Then this latest video, from mid-April (uploaded on the 13th):


Notice the differences: