I caught a huge wave this morning.
No, it's never as simple as that. If you surf and don’t care, or you don't surf and you don’t care, maybe the previous two sentences are good enough for you, and you can go on your merry way, but I’d like to point out that things are always a bit more complicated, and sometimes they warrant further clarification and investigation into the minutia.
The day started innocently enough. I woke up to the fluorescent at 5:07am. I kind of suspected that there would be some swell today, so I was a bit excited. Not crazy hell-man size, but something in the doable range. The plan was to meet up at Sloat at 6:30, so after my ritual preparation entailing teeth brushing, water drinking, and board and wetsuit packing, I was out of the building onto the street at 5:56. I didn’t even look at the flags outside my building this morning, but I had a suspicion that things would be OK in terms of wind.
So I load the motorcycle, and hop on, and I’m on my way. Along the freeway I could tell there was a bit of wind, but it was coming from the South. I had a suspicion that the wind would be offshore if anything. I ride the freeway uneventfully, and ride up Sloat. I pull into the lot, kill the engine and look at the moonlit water. I could see 4 solid lines of moonlit white, with moderate glistening texture. I could tell that if we put in here, we would be in for a battle. It was 6:20 and Chris hadn’t arrived yet, so I pull out my phone, and begin texting “Damn, 4solid bars, textur……” and here comes Chris pulling in. I cancelled the text, shook hands, and immediately I mutter “ugh, gunna be a battle”. We deliberate a bit and I’m pretty firm on heading South, without even mentioning it. I let him say it. So the agenda was to go to Rockaway, but of course, my heart has always favored Winter’s Tavern, so of course, I mention we should at least stop there on the way.
Chris pulls away and motors down the street, and I’m still messing with my gloves. When I get them on, I pull out, and start down the Great Highway under the clearing moonlit sky. I motor down, exit the freeway, and get to the neon martini I always loved. I see Chris mulling around the truck, as I pulled up, and he immediately said “let’s go”. Well that was all I needed to hear. I knew that it must have been acceptable to him. In fact, when I was pulling up, I saw a monster set come in and fold over and then peel right, and I knew then it was going to be interesting.
We suit up in the new morning light, while we’re watching what appears to be pretty damn thick bombs coming through, with boiling wash carpeting and then backing off. After having backed off for a second, I watched in amazement as the entire shore seemed to be receding and then quickly building again into a violent black sand-ridden monster. What was going through my mind was “Do not be in there when this is happening; Do not be near your board when this is happening, if you are errantly in there. Damn, I don’t think the dog would survive this. The dog always survives. Maybe not the owner…Maybe not today. Heh.”. After that internalization I knew exactly how to get in. Play chicken with the shore pound. It’s pretty simple: You just wait for the grit monster to spit, and then you run and paddle as hard as you can to get past the crucial checkpoint. That checkpoint is where there is still a bit of carpet whitewash from the incoming wave, but far enough out so that you don’t get the suck of the impending shore punishment. The difference of a few feet means a lot when it’s heaving like this. You’re either safe from shore pound, or you’re not. So I let the last monster finish to my ankles, find my break in the set, and run in, belly skidding on the board, and I paddle to cross that checkpoint. I ducked under a wave, and then I look behind me and sure enough 10ft behind me I could see what was once ankle deep, now being completely dump-trucked with a solid 8ft of black hued water. It’s nice being right. It’s also nice being right and safe.
We made our way to the outside and as per usual, the waves were starting to break at the double pylon. On any decent swell, not too big, not too small, the double pylon is the essential marker. If you get to the double, you’re cool either way: Generally, you can move out quick enough to escape any sneaker, and you can move in close enough to get a smaller wave. So Chris and I are waiting at the marker and sets are generally coming through but today, we note that the swell isn’t generally too big in height, it’s just that these waves were pretty damn thick. Periodically when a big one would break, we’d hear dump trucks of water crashing and thundering on itself. We sat there for a while, waiting for the sets to come. Some small ones came and some big ones came. Chris who was getting farther South from me managed to bag a huge right and then jumping jack off the face as the remaining closeout absolutely exploded behind him as he was airborne. I laughed and cheered heartily, as it was pretty damn thick and definitely head high.
Again, it was the thickness that was of note. None of these waves were twiggy tall crumblers. All seemed to have a mission: Explode anything and everything on it, in front of it, with full vengeance. As I watched Chris paddle back out, I got jealous so I started to move inside, to see if I could bag a small one at least. I got lulled in there, and I found a wave that I tried to get into. It was pretty thick and as I started to paddle, it started to curl over and then the whole wave started to jack and throw like I was on the back of a stallion. I looked down the line at my potential right, and then I felt that if I did go, it would be crazy. It had abruptly raised about 4ft more than I had anticipated and I pulled back, and as I did, I could hear the beginning of a roar and the offshores sprayed buckets of water into my face and the whole wave rumbled and spit forward, leaving me behind.
Having averted certain disaster I was pretty content at the rush I got, despite the failure, so I was smiling. But it’s not shortly thereafter when my heart sunk. I could see another wave building and I knew that after chasing that last one, I was too far inside the double pylon for this to turn out well. Just from the look of it, I knew it was going to be time to pay. Well that second wave in the set came, clapped right in front of me, and I promptly ditched my board and did my best to just get as deep as possible. Again, it wasn’t so much the wave height today that had the prime effect on things, instead it was thickness.
What I felt was definitely thick. I was pushed down extremely hard, and I could feel my foot being tugged quite forcefully, until, I could no longer feel my board on my ankle any longer. The leash had been snapped like a licorice whip at the movies. I was pretty damn sad because I hadn’t surfed the weekend, and yesterday was a disaster, and today could have been the day where I got at least one wave in four days to restoke the fire. It didn’t matter what conditions were like today. It was a must-surf day, and when the leash broke I knew that despite my must-surf status, the ocean didn’t care one lick and it could have been time to go home again. Dejected, cursing, and still underwater, there was more to come. I was pushed down deep, and then I was finding it hard to come up, and when I finally did come up to grab a breath, it was so foamy I couldn’t tread water so well. That’s when another wave of the same size came crashing on me, and it made me feel even worse about things.
That’s when I did get a little scared. Not necessarily panicked, but a bit scared. That was two on the head, hard to swim, dejection, and impending shore pound. I wasn’t feeling like I was controlling things. However that didn’t last too long, as I finally made my way in, found my board fins up on the blackish gritty sand and saw Chris run over. We both laughed and Chris hopped in his truck for a new leash. I put the leash on but it didn’t wrap around my ankle too solidly like my other ones and that’s when I determined and uttered “Damn dude hahahah This must be a grom leash” Beggars can’t be choosers right? So I put that leash on, paddled back out, and had two leash tests of the same ilk right out of bed. I held onto the board this time, no matter how ill advised it was, but the board was ripped out of my hands and tugged my ankle again regardless. The leash held both times, so as grom as it was, it was good enough apparently, thankfully.
A while later it was time for Chris to go in, so he catches a middle insider in, and safely gets to shore, after I told him I’d be out for a bit more. I’m continuously sussing out where the waves are breaking, and trying to stay towards the middle. I can see the tide rising now, and when the waves hit the shore, or rather, completely pound and utterly speed flood the shore incline, the water rushes up and juts up against the rocks and break wall causing black and white explosions. That’s when I think to myself “heh, don’t wanna be in there towards the left, lemme move right and towards the center”. So I paddle and paddle and kind of set myself up correctly for the next set. Then I could tell they were coming. Two were on their way. I wasn’t going to touch number one.
I already resigned myself to that. I thought “No more playing chicken with number two after flailing on number one, f that, not today, not again. Already done that fuckin twice already and paid dearly.”. So number one comes by and jacks and roars like an angry son of a bitch, and I was sooo glad that I opted out from the get go. Then number two comes and it appears to be setting up as a left. It’s getting bigger and better, and I think this is it. I can see Chris at his truck. I can see another guy on the pier. I’m thinking maybe I just catch this one, and call it.
So I start paddling, and the wave seems pretty damn thick just like all the others that have been rolling through. Then it starts to jack and immediately, without thinking, stand up and point hard left. I could feel myself going violently forward and down at a left angle, and I knew that I had to maintain this, I had to make it. I had to hold my ground, I had to bag this one.
I did. Finally. I skate down the face that seemed like forever and as soon as I turn to look behind me I hear an explosion, and as I look forward towards my line I see it completely shut down. I straighten up and then tell myself to embrace for the carpet, because I know it’s coming. As soon as I thought that, the board shoots violently from under my feet, and I’m bobbing in the water near the pier, having gone left.
I collected my board and then begin to paddle towards the center again, but since I was closer to shore, and having just gone through quite a bit already I was feeling a bit tired. I didn’t have a lot of paddle juice left to get far to the center, especially that close to the shore. I was past that shore pound checkpoint, but there was a pull North, towards the pier. I decided to play chicken. I decided to try to make it in, even with the very little Southern slack that I had, away from the pier. This was an error. A bad error. It turns out I was right yet again. When an hour and some change ago, I had thought to myself “heh, wouldn’t want to be in there”, that’s exactly where I saw myself at that moment.
Now I was playing within 10ft to 2ft swings of undulating water, within pier pylons. I could see a shore pound coming so I ditched the board and swam towards the left pier pylon. I could feel the board tug at my foot and I couldn’t give a rats ass, but when I looked at the board I nearly shit myself, because I caught a glimpse of the shore there and I was like “FUUUUUUUUUUCK”.
So I swim even more feverishly through the pylons towards the North side of the pier and I think to myself, “get past this fucking wall, don’t take a shore pound here, NOT HERE, fuck here comes another one.”. Sure enough another drainage undulation comes in and I barely duck under another pylon gnashing flow. I keep swimming and clear the pier and go out a bit more and I think finally I’m safe. I hop on the board, see the North stairs, and paddle in towards them. I get out on a mound of water that thankfully didn’t throw, but instead, go from 10ft high to about 2ft on an incline. What goes up must come down, and the backflow rush sucked me off my feet just as quickly as I was able to get up and I’m hoping I can just get up fast enough to just get to the damn stairs and get in. I made it to my feet and I see Chris running over. We laughed heartily and I fully admit what just transpired was a bit sketchy. I wasn’t really scared though. Once I made it through the pylons I knew I’d be OK, essentially but there were two moments of do or die. Maybe not die but brace for unwanted impact.
We walk back and Chris says the fishermen were getting a rise out of my situation and running over the pier to see the other side. Wonder what that looked like. Dude with a green board, about to get slam-handled I bet.
I did what needed to be done. As I got dressed and Chris pulled off, I thought to myself long and hard. I came to the conclusion that surfing is fucking stupid. The whole goddam thing is stupid. Look at me. I get up at 5 in the morning. I go out in the bitter cold. I subject myself to utter torturous and dangerous conditions.
For what? Why bother? For literally a mere two seconds of glory, on a stupidly steep left that was bigger than me, and by sheer force of nature, aims to bowl over everything in its way?
It’s a fair trade for all those details.