Monday, May 23, 2011

Season's First Real South Swells Hits Santa Cruz. Yipee.

The season's first real south lights up Steamers Lane in Santa Cruz.
Every summer, central coast surfers wonder if they will be blessed with a few a consistent period of south swells, or if they will be looking north for any meager wind swell because the groundswells from the other hemisphere are not delivering.  March, April and May had seen a little bit of south energy dribbling into Santa Cruz, but not much bigger than thigh high.  Perhaps a few hours of head high surf during the best periods here and there.  Still, that was to be expected when it is really still the end of the winter season up here.  On May 19th, things turned on and a solid 4'+@20 second swell arrived from due south.

One, Two.  Could not decide which shot better gave a sense for the day.
This was the first real south of this season.  What Stormsurf called #1S.  It sure seemed real to those who got a taste of it.  After what had been weeks, or even a month of mostly small and weaker surf, not too many were going to miss this one.  People were ready, and the buzz on the cliff was high.  One woman kept on giggling from excitement whenever a set passed through.  And if the waves were not enough, a whale decided to head out of the bay just 50 yards outside of the line up.  It was a good morning.

A whale  migrating north for the summer adds some extra action to the lineup.

Steamers Lane was looking pretty fun on Thursday morning, with the better sets pushing a solid six feet.  The pack had not really yet gotten on the swell, so there were only twenty surfers or so vying for the peak. A heavy fog and significant warble may have also kept some out of the water, hoping for fair conditions later in the day.  But by the time the sun broke out, the wind had picked up in full force.

Monday still had some waves in the waist to head high range.
The 20th was the peak of this swell, and a modest north 13 second period swell arrived as well.  Things were pumping and most spots were crowded, as strong northwest winds kept most folks surfing in town.  A few points just out of town had decent windblown surf, but you might have preferred to be using a kite.  Still, if you like surfing with just two other people, this was the call.  Town was crowded.  And good.  Rumor had it that on Pleasure Point, waves were starting around First Peak and wrapping all of the way past the stairs.

Just enough juice for those smaller, lighter, quicker groms to get some lift.
Both swells dropped a bit by Saturday with periods running around 12-14 seconds.  Sunday was even smaller, but at the right spots one could still find a few head high waves.  Not to worry though, as reinforcements arrived from the north early Monday morning with some 5'@17 second swell recorded at the deep water buoy.  Again from a northerly angle, so not much of that was making its way into town.  The Lane was still scoring some fun surf with the better sets pushing about chest to head high.

It was pretty windy across the point, but once around the corner, it got smooth.

More south swell should fill in this evening and stick around for a few more days.  Perhaps another smaller on for the holiday weekend.  Another round or two of north swell will fill in through the week.  Those winds may even die down a bit and allow those of us who like to wander, to head up north.  If that happens, we could see some overhead surf.  Hell, with the north swells expected, one could even find good waves down in the bay.  It is looking that May will end on a good note.

More surf on tap through the week.  Not too bad for later May.  Perhaps this summer will be good.

Monday, May 2, 2011

When the Weekend Starts Early.

First views from the bluff.
Some of the best days don't even feel special until they are done.  Life can be funny like that.  January was about as good as it gets for surfing in Santa Cruz County.  It was not just that the fall season never quite got going, or that December was a month better left for snow sports.  It was really just the endless feeling of it all.  A few days after the new year rung in, the skies cleared and the mercury sky rocketed.  Combine that with a perfect set up in the North Pacific that kept the ground swell coming in daily, and never dropping below head high.  Oh, and I think there were two days that the winds ever picked up more than 5 knots in any direction.  It became easy to not get too excited about a calm 12'@17 second day with perfect tides one Friday.

Just another day in paradise.  Santa Cruz County.

After a decent breakfast, I packed up the boards (a 7'1", a 7'6" and an 8'4") in the truck and headed up Route 1.  When I arrived up at Scotts Creek at around 11AM, I was certainly in no rush to paddle out.  I wanted to watch and observe.  Where would I surf?  What board would I ride?  I wanted to make sure I was doing this right, as, even though big clean surf had become common place, it was still of decent size out there.  The tide was full, but not too high, and backing off through the afternoon.  I counted.  Only four guys out on the reef.  That was a bit of a surprise, even for a week day.  Another reason, I thought, not to rush.  I sipped my coffee, focussed my mind and watched a few sets come through.  Things were variable, but some of the waves were pushing double over head.  Not much bigger than that, so I decided on the mid sized board for the day.

Long walls were the name of the game on this good Friday.
Did I mention that it was already 70F and not even noon.  I mean really.  In the middle of January.  I paddled out and slowly got myself into position.  I think it took me over 30 minutes to get my first wave.  I had been a little nervous, as this was my first season in about 5 years that I was able to find the time to get out into some bigger surf.  And we all know that the pit can be mean.  It surely can at Scotts, and I did not want to start (and end) my session with a beat down.  But I made my drop, swept the bottom turn and was instantly racing down the line.  There are certain things that you never really forget.  After that wave it was game on.  I spent the next few hours swapping waves with a crew of just the five of us.  It was good times.

Even the small ones were long and fun.
Then slowly, but surely, the tide began to drop, and the waves began to stand up incrementally more.  With each passing set, the waves asked a little bit more of us.  A good ride was more rewarding, and the punishments more severe.  And the crowd began to grow.  At first it was just a few guys.  But these folks were fresh.  And hungry.  Then the pack grew to ten, then fifteen, then twenty.  Seemed like the weekend had started early; who could blame it with perfect weather and sick waves.  Oddly, there was still plenty to go around and the vibe was great.  With a good wave lasting a few hundred yards, there were always some folks paddling in the channel.  And not every one wanted the peak.  Still, for those of us who had already spent a few hours wondering where every body was, it was starting to look like time to go.  Besides, I was tired, and starting to get sloppy. Not really something you want to do when you are looking for twelve foot walls.  So I took the next wave in.

Setting up for a few moments of Ahhh.
Up on the bluff, after changing out of my suit, I began to consider the session I had just experienced.  Two hundred yard long eight to twelve foot walls with just a handful of guys.  People travel to all corners of the world in hopes for something like that.  Sure, I was wearing a 4/3 and the water a chilly 52F, but the air was now 73F and that winter sun felt oddly warm.  And I was sitting on a cliff, watching folks get some killer waves, eating a snack and enjoying a cold beer.  Life really does not get much better than this.  I knew this would be a day to remember.

Like Gremlins in water, the cars mutplied