Saturday, January 8, 2011

The California Coast Welcomes You

The nice thing about Northern California is that when windsurfing season ends, surfing season starts. Those regular prevailing westerly winds that blow 8 months of the year that we wind-folks love draw the ire of the local surfing community. But during the winter, we get into weather patterns that give a week or so without wind, then storms that bring wind, rain and snow to the Sierra Mountain range. These periods without wind are what surfers thrive on, since it takes only a little bit of wind to make waves less fun and more difficult to surf.

But there is a catch to surfing many of the spots in NorCal. It can be really, really difficult. The picture at the top of this post is a snapshot of someone getting ready to go out on a typical Double-to-Triple-Overhead-Plus (10-15 ft + waves) day at Ocean Beach, which is a few miles long, down the west side of San Francisco. The current moves extremely fast and the head high walls of whitewater batter surfers back toward the beach as they try to paddle out. No easy channels present themselves to get to the waves breaking a quarter-of-a-mile or more offshore. Often when you visit Ocean Beach on a big day, you can't even see the surfers out at the break. They are just specks on the horizon through a thick fog generated by sea foam. It's amazing that anyone even surfs these kinds of conditions.

The type of person who surfs Ocean Beach on a big day needs to be fit to get out to the breaking waves. Typically it is said that it takes 45 minutes or more of paddling and duck-diving to get out to where you can catch these giant waves. After that, it may take just as long to get back in, so you have to be ready to paddle for about an hour and a half. Just paddling, not catching waves. So in addition to being in great paddling shape, you have to be extremely confident in your ability to survive. If you get half way out and lose confidence, you're going to be in a pretty bad situation. The third attribute I would give an OB-big-wave surfer is to have a screw loose. You might catch one huge wave, get creamed by it and held down underwater for a minute before you start your paddle home. The reward was that 2-4 second drop. Two hours of paddling, one big adrenaline filled drop, then paddle back with a big smile.

These guys are crazy, and there's seemingly hundreds or thousands of them.

The good news? It's not crowded.