I 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).
An incoming wave. It looked really good, rolling as it was towards me. The peak, some 50 feet North, had started breaking. I could see how the wave would evolve coming closer to me, and I realized I was in the perfect spot. I checked whether someone else was taking it, and thankfully nobody seemed interested. I checked South for the occasional snaker, but the guys there were looking at me, trying to figure out if I was interested.
One last look behind me, to see if there was anyone in my path. Oh, the waves you have to give up because someone is coming your way! But nobody there, either.
So, to my amazement, I had covered all the options and it was my lucky turn. I saw the shoulder shaping up and realized I didn’t even have to paddle in. I waited until the face swooped me up, gave it a half-hearted push, and jumped on the board.
When you get a good wave, the rush is amazing. I guess that’s the core of surfer’s delight, this feeling of a superior power letting you do what you’d like to do. I thought you are happy because you can show off, but I really don’t care about the world when I am on a good wave: instead, I am almost infinitely thankful, because I’ve done so many other waves where things didn’t go right in one way or another. A good wave is a gift, and it’s personal.
I flew on that thing. I could hear the foam grabbing my ankles, trying to chomp me up and throw me off. A section was falling dangerously close, impeding my way. I tried something new: stall on the way up the face, and use the higher position to do a U around the falling section. It worked, I steered around it and got back up after.
The wave didn’t want to end. The farther I went, the smaller it was, but it was still breaking. Now it encountered a backwash wave – a wave that hit the beach and is trying to get back out. I saw it coming, saw how it was going to affect my wave, realized it would create a little extra height right in front of me if I hit it right.
So I steered. Left first, oversteered, right again. I had a good angle. At this point, the wave was maybe 2 foot tall, thigh high. The extra bump would bring it to maybe three, to the waist. I knew what to do. It was going to be a short ramp.
I used all my skills from snowboarding and jumped. It’s not easy on water: you have to use momentum in a totally different way, and there is always the risk of getting the angle wrong and either stalling completely because you pushed too hard, or diving the board into water because you didn’t ramp up hard enough.
But it worked. That short ramp catapulted me in the air, and for maybe a second, I was airborne, the board still attached to my feet.
Then, I fell. Turns out the water was just a foot deep: shallow enough that I hit it with my back. It hurt. But I didn’t care. I was happy.
The rest of the session was similar. The drift was strong enough that you constantly changed neighbors, and that’s a good thing. We were all good about sharing waves, maybe because it was so early and we all had all the time in the world to get our fun in. Or maybe because the people that had gotten drunk on Saturday night were not ready yet to pollute the water. In any case, I have never been with such a wonderful crowd at Shores.
I caught another few waves. A mighty good left (it was mostly a right-handed day) that took me to places I never wanted to go to. A few good rights, always in that same perfect shape as the first one.
Everybody got enough. It was a perfect day. After an hour, my shoulders were complaining. It’s been the fifth day straight of surfing for me, and it was time to get out.
But give me another session like this, and I’ll build an altar to surfing!