How Does Sunset Beach Work? - Page 5

So ok, so you're sitting outside on a respectable day at Sunset Beach.

Presuming you're not going to have a near-death experience with a cleanup set, what else might happen?

We're back to watching for the incipient bulges, soft and subtle on the far horizon, once again.

And of course, since this is Sunset Beach, we already know that there's going to be nothing straightforward about any of it.

Nothing pat.

Nothing that's direct or simple to deal with.

So we've got our cautious head on, and our attention and alert levels dialed up to Full, we rise up over the crest of a low unbroken roller to gain line-of-sight to the horizon, and here we go.

The bulge appears, perhaps a bit west, or perhaps a bit north.

And, with just this small bit of information, it's already telling you things you must know in order to meet it and connect with it when it assumes is final form.

The side of the horizon that the bulge first appears on is telling you which of the two refraction axes that's going to be (for the most part) delivering the goods this time, and it's telling you which way to paddle to try to get right up underneath it, swing the board around toward the beach, dig in for real, and begin your final takeoff run.

Keep in mind, please, that at a normal surfspot, if a bulge on the horizon is way the hell off to one side or the other, the incoming set of waves is very likely not going to be reachable, paddling down the beach to try and get to it before things start standing up and coming over.

But when you're surfing Sunset Beach you quickly discover that, you like it, and it likes you, and it just bends things right around and throws them right at you, in a most disconcerting way. You can wind up getting a bit more than you bargained for on a far-too-regular basis.

Also, it's a sneaky sonofabitch, and of course the bulges do not strictly appear either here or there.

Far from it, in fact.

Instead, what happens is that the goddamned bulge tends to be in one place or another, but, like Schrodinger's Cat, or some other bit of quantum weirdness, it can manifest itself as a sort of strange entity that can simultaneously contain bits of its own opposite self, and then shift or morph, even as it continues its journey in your direction, even as you keep your eyes fixed firmly upon it the whole time, getting an excellent look at it every fifteen to twenty seconds or so as you crest each of the low rollers which precede the distant set of larger waves that is producing the bulge, watching in amazement as it becomes first one thing, and then perhaps another, without rhyme, without reason, without warning. Paddle up over the next wave, get a good look, and holy shit, now it's over there, and all of a sudden, I'm not where I want to be anymore. Not at all, in fact.

This aspect of incoming waves at Sunset Beach is devilishly difficult to convey to anyone who has not experienced it for themselves, and I feel that I'm doing a particularly lousy job of things here, but it's all I've got to give you, unfortunately.

Suffice it to say, when they tell you that Sunset Beach is tricky they really mean it, and goddamnit, we haven't even caught a wave yet!

This is the one aspect of Sunset Beach, above all others, that causes perfectly competent people to say, "Fuck this bullshit," and go find somewhere else to surf.

Because remember, when you get it wrong at Sunset Beach, you can really get it wrong.

It does not take too many of these sorts of events at all to cause someone to very wisely decide to take their game elsewhere. To go find something that's a little less out to get them. Something that's a bit more comprehensible. Something that yields better odds of not getting the holy bejeesus kicked out of them, backed solidly by an all-too-credible death threat, on a far-too-likely basis. The place culls the infirm and the unfit rapidly, and it culls the firm and the fit, too. It does not grade on a curve. Every child is not a winner. It neither remembers nor cares how good you did last time. It is both alive and coldly lifeless, looking directly at you with unseeing eyes, at one and the same time.

And of course, the flip side of this ever-so-peculiar coin consists in the business of failing miserably, time and time and time again, to even catch one of the infuriating sonofabitches in the first place.

You find yourself paddling madly around, chasing some delusional will-o-the-wisp vision that never seems to quite materialize where you expect it or desire it.

Or you finally do manage to get up underneath one the right way and successfully stroke into it, only to discover to your dismay that it's one of the wrong ones, one of the ones that's not interfering with itself in quite the constructive manner in which you had hoped it would, and you find yourself taking the drop on a no-good lousy rotten bastard of a "wave" that's already backing off, even before you've made it all the way to the bottom!


And you find yourself swinging wildly back and forth between terrified races for safety as looming behemoths with cold death in their eyes come steaming directly toward you, threatening to lip you directly on the head, and an infuriatingly futile chase for a bunch of stupid damn unrideable gigantic mushball crap.

There's people spread out all over the place, easily a hundred yards or more, and sometimes much more, sitting on the far outside, and here it's coming, and everybody begins to move to the place they feel most appropriate, and you immediately notice that not only do many of them paddle towards differing endpoints at differing speeds, but that they also will be altering their courses, oftentimes drastically, even though they're staring right at the damned thing the whole time.

I myself dearly loved, and constantly looked for, a bulge that was wide enough initially to span a distance across the horizon that would encompass both refraction axes, but this turns out to be not only surprisingly rare, but is also the exact sort of thing that results in an especially large cleanup set that runs better-than-you'd-like odds of getting you than you might care to deal with.

When one of those things makes its first faint appearance out upon the farthest edge of the world, you'd best hop to it with the paddling, and you'd also best be able to understand immediately, without need for further time-consuming scrutiny of the situation, precisely where and how things are going to be coming together in their final form, so as you might stand a sporting chance of getting up underneath it properly and be able to catch it as opposed to it being able to catch you.

But if you manage to grab one of these, then the rewards are immediate and profound. When it wings around strong from both sides simultaneously, it will sometimes break and peel with noticeably more wall out ahead of you. And at Sunset, that's a very nice thing indeed.

We'll get into the overall walliness or peakiness of things here a bit later on, ok?

As with pretty much anything else, the news can't always be bad, and really, once you've gotten the place figured out to the point where you begin to develop a reasonable expectation of being in the right place at the right time (nobody ever quite figures the place out completely), then things really start to get interesting.

Here it comes, and it's a nice big thick one!

You're still stroking toward your chosen point of intersection with the oncoming wave at a goodly clip, and as you lurch over the one before it, you can see it there directly in front of you, standing up, looking down on you, beginning to steam, beginning to feather, the two wings of the peak pushing one another, forcing each other, higher and higher in the center, and you're right there, right exactly in the right spot.

The adrenaline surges inside of you as you take your last few hurried fine-adjustment strokes, lining yourself up perfectly with the darkening peak that's now looming directly above you and giving you that weird low hiss it makes as more and more water gets torn off of the top of it by the tradewind that's quartering against it.

If you'd begun your final approach from off to the side, then you kind of just redirect your paddling around toward the beach, watching out of the corner of your eye as the great mass of the dark-sparkling scaly entity swiftly closes with you from behind.

If you were approaching it from dead straightaway in front of it, there comes a time, careful now, not too early, not too late, where you stop dead in your tracks and whip the board around nose to the beach in an abrupt pivot, as fast as you possibly can, sinking the tail of the board deep into the water to gain just that wee little bit of extra paddling speed as the majority of board buoyantly pops up from where you had just shoved it down under the water, aiming now for the distant shoreline, and goddamnit, PADDLE, paddle like your life depends on it. Hell, your life does depend on it. Stroke for the shoreline like you've never stroked for a wave in your life!

The tradewind is blowing an expanse of significant chops that swarm up the lower apron of the wave and into your face from the left side. You're getting sprayed directly in the eyes with a quick-fire succession of slapping little things, too small to call waves, but definitely larger than any kind of mere texture, and the nose of the board is thwacking some of them on their tops, cutting some of them clear through from their sides, and all the while this assault of wind and chop is trying its best to slow you down, to cause the nose of the board to unexpectedly dig under water, to blind you, to disorient you, and you must overcome it, must treat it as though it does not even exist, and continue blazing away with the deepest, strongest, fastest paddling strokes you can deliver.

There's nobody anywhere around you.

Nobody in front of you, and nobody to either side of you.

You are free and clear to pass or to fail, completely on your own, self-sufficient, self-contained, in a fearsome bubble of isolation. Just you and the gigantic unfeeling thing which dwarfs you, and has inexorably overtaken you from behind, and which is now lifting you.

You are now fast ascending into the glowering face of an increasingly cupping, curving, mass of water which is arching rapidly upward, and will, all too soon, further arch out and away from itself into a great, thick, heaving roof, possessed of an extreme violence, the like of which few people ever encounter, existing for only the briefest of moments, but plenty more than long enough to inflict dire malevolence upon you, should you permit it to.

The wave kindly permits you to borrow a trifle of its forward speed, and you are glad to have it, but it's not nearly enough, and you're losing your desperate race with it.

You need to get this right, or otherwise things will take a turn for the worse that you cannot permit yourself to consider, cannot permit the mere thought of, to enter your mind.

Your forward speed has come up to a level where you just might have a chance. Just might pull this one off, if all goes exactly according to plan and there are no slips, no surprises, no split-second unexpected developments.

The wind, which before was merely strong, has now ramped up to a whole new level of ferocity as the speed of the wave moving against that wind is now added to the original speed, power, and effect of the wind.

Air wants to get up under the nose of the board from the left side, pushing it, shoving it, plucking at it, trying to lift it, trying to blunt your speed, trying to hold you back, and that just simply canNOT be allowed to happen.

One or two more of the deepest strongest strokes you've got, and you've now entered some bizarre state of hanging, in a gale, at high speed, up in the far upper reaches of the vast face of a gigantic ocean wave, the top portion of which is only a second or two away from lunging forward into a canopy that is as thick as you are tall, and then detonating like the sort of bomb that can bring down entire buildings in one fell stroke.

You do not wish to become entrained within that lunging canopy.

That's a bad, a very bad, way to go.

If your eyes have not been blinded with the spray coming off of the forward surfaces of your board, you can now see that you are high above the flat surface of the water out in front of the main body of the wave, and the aspect of the windswept water you are still more or less attached to has become more or less vertical, and you are about to take a fall.

You must take this fall correctly or suffer the consequences.

In the blink of an eye, you transition from paddling to hands-down, grabbing and shoving the board into the yawning gulf in front and beneath you.

As the board snaps into place beneath you, you spring into a deep crouch, hands no longer in contact with the board, and immediately feel the sensation of weightlessness in the pit of your stomach.

You have begun the fall.

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