Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Northwest Showing.

I was walking around, down by the Hook today. Friend was visiting from out of town and we snacked at Pink Godzilla. New swell is showing in town, almost as much as up at the Miles. The Hook was super clean, and super crowded. About stomach high. Up the point a few head high sets rolled in as we watched from 38th. Nothing huge, but it is showing. A few hours later I surfed up at the Miles and it was about the same. Head high. And there was a crowd there too. Next few days should be fun especially if the wind backs down later in the week. Go out and get some!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Autumnal Shift.

Morning fog.  South swells.  Full suits.  It must be the middle of summer in Santa Cruz.
Surfer's know it.  So does anyone who makes a life on the sea.  Or in the mountains.  Foliage enthusiast certainly know it.  And yet, so many of us miss the first signals that change is to come.  The fact that I keep my ear tuned to the very first signs of the shift makes me pleased to be a surfer.  I have been noticing it for decades now.  And I can tell you for sure that it is happening now.

It is not too bad.  The Slot delivers a fine wall to carve.

Here in Santa Cruz, summer can be a damp, dreary experience.  Don't get me wrong.  I love the fog.  But my tomatoes don't.  And it can be tiresome at times.  I mean, where else can I get that perfect vitamin D, but from my friend the sun?  I don't fortify, so you can see what I mean.  After spending three weeks on a New England heat spell tour, I can assure you that I also enjoy the idea of going to the beach.  In my board shorts.  But summer here on the Central Coast is a different sort of experience.  It seems to arrive in autumn.  And autumn paid us a visit for about 5 days.  It was pretty nice.  Crisp, clear dawns, followed by warm mornings and hot afternoons.

West Cliff in a shroud.  A perfect morning for the pelican.

And for the surfer, summer can be, well, dull.  Sure, if you are creative, you can surf nearly every day.  This is Santa Cruz after all.  It is rarely truly flat.  Still, you make get reacquainted with a long board after a long winter hiatus.  Every June or so, I pull my Rick out of the shed and lean it against the garage.  And paddle it around a lot.  A few waves are caught as well.  When the winds go slack, you can find surfers scurrying up and down the coast looking for that perfect little set up which will turn a tiny combo into a decent peak.  The diligent, and informed, will find it.  Others wait for a real swell, not bothered by the substandard dribble that fills most summers.  These come from New Zealand, half a world away. They are broadcast a week in advance, so everyone can prepare.  The swell is confirmed a few days in advance from Hawaii and the the day before in San Diego.  And the hordes descend.

Sooner or later, the sun usually breaks through.  Three surfers.  Three different results.

The fog returned a few days ago.  The days before had been glorious.  And a taste of what is to come.  October is the best month.  Sure, the surf was typical small combination of summer wind swell and weak south ground swell.  Barely noticeable.  What set it apart was the weather.  There is nothing quite like standing a top a north coast bluff, looking down on the reef you just sessioned, basking in the warm late morning sun.  And it did not hurt that the winds remained calm through most of the day.  There was something a little different about this swell.  It was a combination of long period south and shorter period north.  It did have the typical wobbly summer wind swell generated just off of Mendocino.  It also had a sign of the shift in it.  Mid period north west swell was mixed in, from a storm that passed through the Gulf of Alaska late last week.  It had a taste of a fall swell.  That storm was followed by another.  As the fog rolled in, so did the first real swell of the season.  In fact, it slammed in.  Call it fog compensation.

The sun can help fill up the line up.  The surf always looks better when it is shining.

In New England, the change is drastic.  The air cools.  It even gets cold.  But it is the leaves that always signal the change.  I often here fellow New England transplants to the Golden State exclaim that the love so many things about California, but that they miss the seasons.  What?  We have seasons here.  There are four.  Wind, Fog, Awesomeness and Rain.  It is not just the sun that makes the fall so awesome around here.  It is everything coming together.  Summer surf is tedious.  The slightest shift in swell angle can mean the difference between head high and flat.  Weeks without any real swell.  Twenty minute waits for two wave sets.  Crowds.  Winds.  Fog.  It is just plain tedious.  With autumn comes the winter swell season.  Consistent big waves with lots of water moving.  No twenty minute waits here.  Hell, sometimes you are just waiting for a lull so that you can paddle out.  Pair that with off shore winds, and the surf options become endless along the Central Coast.  And after you session you can go pick strawberries, apples and plums, all in the same day.  Because it is autumn in California.

While the swell was small last weekend, the autumnal weather brought out the hordes.  Off the top @ the Slot.

The arrival of the first swell is many things to many people.  For the new students in town, it is an eye opener.  For some it is humbling.  For others it is what they came looking for.  Old time locals bark and yell to maintain order in the line up.  For many, it is a signal to put the longboard back in the shed for the winter.  And to pull the guns out and give them a once over before the season shifts into gear.  Some will start riding the 9'0" in head high surf to remember how they trim.  And usually, that first swell will see crowds in town.  What am I saying?  There are always crowds in town.

More sunny day, small swell action fun.  This same location a few days later would be a washing machine.

As is typical, the hype over this current swell perhaps eclipsed the actual impact.  Thursday awoke to some large size.  The better breaks were seeing waves push the double over head range, while the most spots were pushing a few feet over head.  The swell was a bit warbled, but alas, there were waves to be had.  Hundreds flocked to the protected points of Santa Cruz, and the frenzy began.  There was definitely a fair amount of heckling and general noise coming from the Slot lineup.  Just the old guard being sure to let the newbies know who is in control of the point.  But for the most part, the mood was light, and people were stoked to see that the North Pacific had awakened from its long summer slumber.

The first large swell of the season brings out the surfers, gawkers, peanut gallery and photogs.  Middle Peak.

So the shift has come.  We have started to see that fog break away and be replaced by glorious sunshine. We have seen the first of the north swell arrive and make us forget that there is even south swells in the water (yes, there was one hidden under this).  And today we are seeing the first cold front sweep down the coast and brushing us with a chance of rain and drizzle.  Not fog drizzle, but the actual real stuff.  Chances are things will get back to awesomeness real soon and stick around for a while.  Enjoy October.  Enjoy the sun, and enjoy the waves.  Because as we move toward the Thanksgiving holiday, we can expect to make the slow shift to winter.  Still a good time of year, but a whole lot more wet.

The day after the arrival of the swell, things lined up at the Lane.  Traffic was thick at the Slot.

More pics from the last swell here.

North West Swell #1. Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz.

The first swell of the fall/winter season arrived in Santa Cruz on Thursday, September 22.   That is just about on time.  Some may say a little late.  Some may say a little early.  Regardless, the NPAC is open for business and has been sending us waves for days.  And the next week looks good as well.  This first one showed at about 8.5 feet @ 16 seconds from 310 degrees.

Middle Peak eluding everyone.  
Thursday was a bit jumbled.  Waves were hard to pick off, but the few that were caught sure looked like fun.  I did not get a whole lot of pics, as my son had others interests, such as a diaper change, bottle feed and a good long cuddle home.

The rights were short and into the channel, but easier to pick off.  Overhead for sure.

The lefts were a bit harder to find.  This guy taking off just a bit too deep.  Still a fun drop.

The Slot had the most lined up waves.  This was average.  Some were thick.  Solid thick.

By friday morning things had settled down just a bit.  The current mellowed, so people could better hold their position.  At 9:30 the line up looked pretty thin.  By 10:30 it looked like an L.A. freeway.

Lots of folks enjoying the Lane in different ways.  It seems the swell also improved the fishing.

The best waves, and the best surfing, still seemed to be happening at the Point and Slot.

The left at Middles was a bit more manageable.  Still many eluded the crowds.

A few were down by Indicators, but most of the action was further up the point.

A series of out of focus off the tops.  The inside was offering up some nice lips to play with.

More inside action.

People were working the entire wave when they finally picked one off to themselves.

Inside Middles had plenty of fun waves.  It averaged three surfers to the peak.  One right.  One left.  One screwed.

The fog began to roll back in around 11AM, keeping the waves nice and glassy.

And keeping the lineup nice and full.  This was perhaps a 20% of the crowd.
The best action was happening at the Slot, with a well defined wall and an aggressive crew.

Dueling lip crushing.  It was tough to get a wave to yourself.  Or not get snaked if the crew did not know your face.

This guy snuck into a nice one and went looking for a cover up.

Just another day is (cold water) paradise.

Surfers were not the only ones enjoying the swell.
This has been a good start.  I was down in Asilomar over the weekend.  Both days had swell.  Saturday had a bit of bump on it, but really cleaned up for a sunset session at the Dunes.  Sunday morning was oily glassy with some sweet lefts at Asilomar's north end.  More waves on tap for the week ahead.  The first few days will see subsiding swell heights and period, with a nice bump arriving mid week.  I think it is safe to say that our season has opened.