Monday, November 24, 2008
Alright then, it’s sendoff day. I’m flying out of here tonight, or, more precisely, tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of 4:15am. Bleh. This essentially means I won’t be getting any sleep tonight at all, and I am perhaps the worst person you’ll ever meet when it comes to being affected by sleep deprivation. It fucks me up, and leaves me fucked up for days sometimes.
Oh well, such are the ways of the airlines and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it, so the hell with it, where are the waves?
Right where they’ve always been, at Maria’s, of course.
Seems as if whenever Claudie and I travel together, the north winds blow and blow and blow, and this trip is no exception.
Got the car loaded up and entering the coastal road, we can see lots and lots of whitewater but it’s once again a full Victory at Sea blender.
We consider checking things along the way but in the end we opt for the direct route.
Soon enough, we’re twisting along the familiar narrow confines of 413, past parked cars half blocking the road, old men hanging out here and there with nothing to do, new construction that may or may not survive the deepening economic downturn, bakeries with delicious smells emanating from within, stray dogs, concrete houses with water tanks perched on their flat roofs, deep verdant valleys showing though here and there on either side of the road, a glimpse of the blue sea off in the distance with lines showing, overhanging mango trees and a riot of green things in general, potholes, impossibly narrow alleys branching off to the side, absurdly steep-sloped driveways that are either plunging down toward houses that are only half visible down a cliff or rearing skyward toward other houses that loom unsteadily overhead, bestickered cars with surfboards on racks, and all the rest of those wonderful sights, sounds, and smells that tell us we’re right where we belong.
Turn the last corner on the hill overlooking the lighthouse, and oh yeah, there’s waves.
It certainly did come up overnight, didn’t it?
Yes it did.
Domes, as it’s been the whole time we’ve been here, is sideshore and messy-looking, while Maria’s, despite the strength and direction of the wind, looks plenty clean enough and there’s people in the lineup.
A quick run down to the corner where the Calypso sits, and we can see that although there’s plenty of cars and people, it’s nowhere near as crowded as it’s been.
Thank you Monday.
But the swell, once again, is less than fully linear, and there’s large pushy chunks coming in all along the stretch from Maria’s down through Dogman’s, with a very hard north angle.
How big is it?
Well let’s go take a look at Tres Palmas, ok?
And we pull off the side of the road at the top of the rise, completely filling the narrow space of dirt between the roadway and the barbed wire fence that surrounds the cow pasture, tucked up beneath the branches of a tree, and see that yes indeed, Tres is breaking once again. And it’s nice and clean.
That would be twice in the same week.
Did I say there’s been a lot of waves?
Well, if not, let me say it now: There’s been one hell of a lot of waves.
However, although it’s breaking, it’s not cycloptically big. Hard to really tell from this remove, but maybe perhaps triple-overhead on the very peak of the very largest sets. I might be off a little there. Don’t quote me on it, ok? Somebody might laugh at me for overcalling it. I dunno.
Probably more than I want to deal with, but Claudie and I bat the idea of paddling out around for a while as we continue to examine things.
He doesn’t have a proper board available for riding these waves, and for that matter, neither do I, but I’m stupider than him and might be persuaded to go out anyway.
The time ticks by and not very many waves are being ridden by the fairly sparse crowd of ten or fifteen people out there, all of whom seem to be having trouble with lining things up.
Which, to be honest, doesn’t seem to be their fault, but instead is a result of the way it’s just sort of coming in here, there, and everywhere, with a nasty tendency to occasionally swing way wide for no good reason and blast everybody with one of those aggressive soups that this place is so good at producing.
What the hell is up with the soup at Tres Palmas anyway?
It seems to gather power instead of dying down after the wave breaks.
The underlying north somehow generates this great surge of energy, and even as the wave itself has swung around to an aspect more parallel with the coastline, the goddamned soup wants to keep pushing down the coast, by some means managing to accumulate energy as it does so, and the result is this great unpleasant mass of whitewater, that oftentimes overwhelms the wave that produced it, pushing, churning, shoving itself out onto the exposed face of the wave to such an extent that any portion of open wave face that might be at all steep enough to ride is smothered underneath an angry white entity that just keeps on pushing, shoving, and racing along, swallowing all that dares to approach it.
Including an awful lot of riders.
An unhappy fraction of rides, although starting out well enough, end up with the rider enveloped by the goddamned soup.
And it’s not because of a poorly-advised cutback, or any other operator error, with, perhaps, the exception of catching the damned wave in the first place.
It’s just because, as things unfold, it winds up that there’s nowhere to go.
The soup exceeds the shoulder of the wave somehow and the rider must perforce get consumed.
After my little scare at this place last March, I’ve become leery of it.
I know what it can do.
I know how old I am.
I know my limits.
And today, we’re right on the cusp of things.
And as I keep watching, I also begin to notice that almost every single wave has this section on the end that will finish you off if the soup doesn’t get you first.
Must be the swell angle or something. Probably explains the paucity of takers.
Very few attempts are resulting in a rider cleanly exiting the wave and paddling back outside unscathed.
But I did say I was stupid, didn’t I?
Fortunately, Claudie makes the decision for me, and we depart.
Next stop, Little Malibu.
A more drastic change in things is hard to imagine, and considering the two places are essentially side by side, the difference is simply astounding.
It’s waist high on the SETS.
And yet, from a vantage point on the sand in front of these miniature waves, you can see people attempting to deal with the intensely deep blue forces at Tres, upcoast, none too far distant.
Little Malibu is clean as a whistle, and peeling down the point, but it’s none too inviting anyway.
This place is SHALLOW, and we can see the suction, boils, and occasional bit of coral peeking just above the surface of the water, more or less right where the waves are breaking.
Elkhorn coral, fire coral, sea urchins, what will you be having today sir? Perhaps all three at once? Very well then, here you are. Thank you and come again some time.
Maybe the tide’s low? I don’t know, ‘cause I didn’t check.
On top of that, there’s what appears to be a surf lesson in progress!
Ten or twelve goobers are bobbing around on Bics, without the first clue.
Whoever is operating this little enterprise gets extra points for balls, or maybe they’re just insured to the hilt and don’t really care what happens.
I’m sure I’ll never know.
But there is at least one person in the lineup who seems to know what they’re doing.
A grommet, out of school or whatever, maybe thirteen years old from the look of him, is occasionally getting one to himself without a goober on a popout taking off in front of him, and working on his shortboard technique in the, to him, chest high rights.
He does ok, but tends to succumb to the typical teenage temptation to shralp rad cutbacks and throw huge buckets, in the expectation of mad props from all the peeps.
It never works.
The cutbacks are never quite rad, the bucket seems to have a large hole in its bottom, and the resultant, every single time, is him having to hop off the board in unpleasantly shallow water, after having managed to position himself, yet again, behind the breaking portion of the wave, eating yet another soup.
The peeps remain unimpressed, and no props are offered, mad or otherwise.
Live and learn, kid.
And wind up a bit farther downcoast, at the end of a little byeway just north of the Rincon Balneario.
And here we tarry beneath the cerulean sky and white cotton candy clouds; sparkling blue water before us, soft green bare-feet inviting grass beside us, soaking up the warmth and marveling at the beauty that is so profligately strewn all around us in every direction.
Out in the water, well offshore, directly in front of us, the bizarre wave that this place occasionally develops is inconsistently sputtering along, with very occasional sets that actually stand up and break for real.
Straight absolutely fucking sideways, headed north to south, with an expansive area of green water between ourselves and the weirdness, to give us a fully unobstructed view of it as it does its goofball thing every five or ten minutes.
The offshore reef hereabouts is far enough out, and the intervening water is sufficiently deep, that a strong wedge effect has the ability to develop, stand and feather, and then come over and then wind downcoast without ever coming any closer to the beach as it rolls along.
It’s a strange-looking apparition, and in truth isn’t all so very good for surfing, but the sheer novelty of the thing attracts me strongly.
And today there’s a guy out there all by himself catching ‘em every once in a while, riding stinkbug squat for hundreds of yards on a wave that’s simultaneously pushing a chunky soup and backed off (what the fuck is it about the soup along this stretch of coastline anyway?).
Claudie is enthralled and claims he’s never seen anyone ride it before.
Which I find more than just a little hard to believe, considering how many times he’s come down here.
We discuss paddling out for a novelty session, but in the end we let it go.
And instead just continue to hang around all by ourselves and take it all in.
Right along the beach there’s weency right-hand funnelers occasionally looping down the shoreline over a shallow rock shelf, and Claudie attempts to persuade me to ride it.
Nope. No wanna.
Disregarding any urchins that probably carpet the rocks, a loss of the board could easily result in a nasty ding on those barely-submerged rocks.
So no, I ain’t going, Claudie, and that’s that.
Eventually we get into the car and head back toward Maria’s under the noonday sunlight.
And it looks as if all that piddling around has paid off.
It’s noticeably cleaner, and hammering right along, and the crowd is still delightfully thin.
So ok, I guess I’ll give it a go.
Here’s hoping I make it outside on the 9’7”. No duck-dives for you, my friend. We’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way and grind it out bare-handed so to speak.
The sets are booming right along, which, considering that people are also riding Tres at this very minute, should come as no surprise to anybody.
Claudie dawdles off somewhere and I put on the rashguard, unrack the board, and proceed to apply a nice fresh layer of wax to the deck, all the while keeping an eye on the ocean and wondering to myself if I have a prayer of even getting out through it, as powerful surges of water heave and fume across the reef.
Oh well, nothing for it but to give it a try.
Stand ever so carefully on the algae-slick beach rock at the get-out spot, time the incoming wave, jump with the board being mindful not to bang the eleven inch fin on the bottom, and arm over arm we go, through the confused water of the inside backoff, even as a powerful set growls and rumbles across the reef directly ahead of me in the middle distance.
Hopefully I’ve timed this right, and hopefully the ocean will see fit to cut me some slack after this set, and hopefully I’ll still have enough stamina in these fifty-seven year old bones and muscles to seize the moment when it comes and make it all the way across the impact zone before the next snarling group of boomers arrives.
And, miraculously, it all comes together exactly as planned.
I hang for a few soups on the inside, and when I see the last of the set waves has passed, I start stroking like crazy for the outside, punching through a few smaller soups to enter the momentarily becalmed water in main zone of breaking waves. The 9’7” is my friend as long as it doesn’t have to deal with oncoming soups of any real substance, and I cover ground with it at a healthy clip. I’ve already drifted a respectable distance downpoint, but I not only resist the urge to angle somewhat back up point, but instead put the current slightly behind me and aim the nose of the board in the vicinity of where the peak at Piston’s comes over, hoping to slip through just up point of it.
The chunkiness of the swell comes to my rescue, and good luck smiles down upon me as I weave from side to side cleanly avoiding the middle-sized whitewaters as I continue to bear down on it, paddling for all I’m worth.
And now I’m almost even with the scattered folks outside.
A set looms in the distance.
Paddle paddle paddle PADDLE!
A guy takes off on a wave outside and downpoint from me, but the left shoulder is nicely chunked out and I’m around and over it with plenty of room to spare, still going at it arm over arm for all I’m worth.
And then I’m free and clear, exactly where I wanted to be.
Rest a bit, breathe a bit, take the measure of the lineup a bit, and whattayasay we indulge ourselves in a little Latin He’e Nalu?
The crowd is thin, the waves are peaky, the wind is nicely offshore, the sun is shining, and I’m sitting here right smack in the middle of all of it.
As per usual, I eschew the very head of the point, even though there’s hardly anybody up there to pester me had I wanted to ride it.
The peak at Piston’s is my wave of choice and today it seems to be perhaps even a little more energetic than usual, although this looks to be coming at a cost of shorter rides with less wall to work downpoint.
The cross wave is catching the main swell at a healthy angle and making for steep bowling peaks that stand up and throw, explode in a fury of spray and whitewater, and then expend themselves rapidly.
And all of it is coming downpoint hard from the north, heaving, surging, hissing, booming, and just generally putting on quite the show of energy in the raw. I never grow tired of marveling at it from close range.
I think I’ll forego the lefts today, and instead take only the rights.
And so I do.
My first wave typifies the entire session.
It shows well outside, and the main focus of its energy swings wide of the head of the point, gathering itself together as I paddle for position.
Nobody anywhere near me to get in the way of the least little thing.
Over the wave immediately before it, and there it is, bearing down on me, steepening, darkening, the cross wave interfering constructively with the main energy band, right out of the physics textbook.
Paddle up under it, fine-adjusting my position to the last second, right into that surprisingly small crease precisely where the two wave elements intersect, right where the energy is at its highest concentration. Pivot the board around smartly, digging the tail vertically beneath me as I do so, pulling hard on the rails as the board’s buoyancy causes it to pop forward even as the wave is lifting it from beneath and behind. Stroke deeply, still rising up the face, seemingly headed in the wrong direction as the wave seeks to outrun me from below. For an instant, the forces balance, neither one dominant. And then in the blink of an eye the invisible line is crossed and the board begins its delicious, dangerous slide over the edge and down, fully committed, do or die. One more stroke and spring into the stance. The nose of the board points downward at an alarming angle as the wave begins to unload. Ok then, here’s the plan: Don’t fuck up. Trust the equipment. And the equipment does its job superbly as it plunges downward, entering its element, coming fully alive beneath my feet on a line that’s straight and true, gathering energy on a steep exponential curve. By the time I reach the bottom of the wave I’m just fucking zooming, and when it’s time to twist and lean into the bottom turn, that great big ridiculous-looking eleven fucking inch fin back there, pushed all the way to the back of the finbox, goes to work preventing any squirrelyness, squigglyness, or any other kind of loathsome slip or slide. This lets me hesitate a little, take the line of acceleration just a smidgen farther, straight toward the beach, and then lay the board over, pulling the g’s, and come squirting out of the pit like a wet bar of soap. Thank you Claudie for the forgiveness and grace of a nice fast surfboard! FWOOM, and out around the brilliant white eruption we go, into the clear water on the shoulder, and on down the line for a bit, but not too far this day. The chunkiness of the peak and the thought of having to paddle back out through breaking waves both conspire to keep the rides fairly short. But sweet. Very very sweet.
Today is Drop & Bottom-turn Day.
I really like taking the drop and pulling a nice bottom turn, in case you were wondering.
Over and over and over.
People come and go, clouds come and go, the wind comes and goes, the clock ticks on, and the rides accumulate.
Finally it’s time to take one to the beach, and so I do.
Golly, but that sure was swell!
A fine finish to a fun-filled, wave-filled trip.
No doubt about it.
Tonight I’ll try to snatch an hour or two of sleep before awakening at the ungodly hour of 2am.
But for now, I’ll just take my ease under the almond trees at the water’s edge, watch the waves, talk story with the people, and just generally soak myself in the tropical seaside ambience.