you may get wet

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Old enough to know better. Young enough to do it anyways.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

La Fondle

One of the best things about LA is its close proximity to Mexico, which is good for those looking for cheap thrills (read: pharmaceuticals), but even better for those looking for surf. This past weekend I encountered both the the thrill-tweekers and the surfers in Baja Norte.

On Friday, my brother, his girlfriend, my girlfriend and myself all loaded into the car and took off south with boards firmly strapped up top. Our destination was La Fonda, Mexico. Our directions as told by my brother OS were "Drive to Tijuana and take a right." We all made fun of his third-grader-like simplicity. Turns out he was pretty much right. When we saw the ramshackle shanties of TJ sprawling out in front of us, we veered right onto Hwy 1 and sped down the sunny coastline.

Monitoring the kilometer signs like it was a lottery, we waited for our number. Somewhere in the high thirties we found a taco stand and a statue of Jesus Cristo. Just below the all-knowing's watchful eye was supposed to be a regional classic of a right point. After order eight tacos and one torta, OS and I walked down to see what we could see. Not much as it turned out. You could see the perfect set-up, unfortunately it was missing one key ingredient - waves. So we got one of our key ingredients - Dos Equis beer - and headed on down the road.

After checking into the La Fonda Hotel, my brother and I checked into our wetties and grabbed the boards. As we wound our way down the concrete staircase, we got a glimpse of the conditions. It looked pretty flat, but there were still guys milking the waves for all they were worth. Paddling out was easy, and just like that we were floating in Mexican waters. The waves were no preparation for Todos Santos, but what they lacked in size they made up for in consistency. The repeat motion of paddling furiously, popping to my feet and cutting down the line was great for my muscle memory.

With a few hours logged in the lineup, we sat down to an apres surf dinner on the terrace overlooking the break. A lot of carne and carnage later, the four of us stumbled off to bed.

Saturday promised more of the same, but peeking out the window at the pre-dawn swell was disappointing. My indigestion was bubbling and hissing with more venom than the surf. Turned out to be a day of recon. We drove south to a reef break that's supposed to be very hard to leave. Looking at it you could see why - sharp red cliffs dropping into turquise water. But on this day the swell didn't agree, so we headed back. Then in the late-afternoon, we finally ventured into the water. Mostly to get some exercise and keep our paddling arms going.

Sunday, however, was a different story. Same pre-dawn surf check, but this time the little crumblers had shot-up with 'roids over night and now were legitimate head-high peaks. As OS and I rushed down to the cold, gray beach we heard footsteps behind us and realized we had been followed. A spry surfer in his thirties walked up to us with a slight grin. Under his arm he had a beautiful Pavel Speed Dialer fish. That would make me smile too. He introduced himself as John, and the three of us waded out into the water and began our last surf of the weekend.

We were the first ones out, but I knew the bros would be on it soon. So when the first peak popped up my way, I paddled with all my bean-fueled might and pulled into a clean, reeling right. My KG came alive as I pumped up and down the face. All the practice of generating speed in small waves paid off with a bit more size. Almost too much though - I nearly outran the shoulder, but a little cutback brought me back to the pocket and kept me speeding to the shallows. As the wave reached up in its last pitch before a watery death, I angled up the face to snap off the lip. At least that's what I tried to do. I'm sure it looked more like an epileptic in the final stages of a ferocious fit - but I was happy that I at least tried something.

Stoked to finally be surfing waves with some power, I headed back out. When I made it out I couldn't find my brother. I spun around and saw him on the shore messing with his board. The red sled had given him some problems earlier, so I just assumed it was more of the same. For the next hour, John and I shared waves, hooting each other into fast, steep drops. I caught one of my best waves during this period. I could here John yelling me in as a head-high peak popped up in front of me. It was a left, and as I dropped I grabbed the rail to pull me up into the pocket. This sling-shot the board forward and I had to lean into it to stay on top. The wave just unfurled in front of me for what felt like eternity. My body somehow figured out how to pump going backside, without my brain even knowing how. I connected sections that I didn't think I had a chance at, and then in the final push I saw a surfer paddling toward me shouting encouragement. It was my bro on his way back out. Glad to have a witness to the ride, I dropped off the back of the wave and began paddling out with him.

Turns out he broke his leash and had to fix it with some twine and a rudimentary, boy scout knot. We kept surfing well into the morning, and saw some phenomenal surfers putting on clinics. One guy right next to us pulled into consecutive tubes. I saw his second as I paddled back out - tucked high in the pocket he was right in the almond-shaped eye of the storm - perfect.

The surf ended and the Sunday brunch began. We feasted and then jumped on the road. Somehow everyone in Baja had the same idea, and we crawled across the border at a snails pace. But it was fine - just gave me more time to daze and dream about a great weekend with friends and foam.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Looking for Tail

Well, I may have moved in with my girlfriend, but it hasn't stopped me from looking for tail. In fact, since starting up a conversation with Erik Hakon Olson, it’s all I can think about. His question seemed harmless enough: "Are you really keen on a fish-tailed fish shape? There are some other options on the tail that we could try. For instance, I'm shaping myself a quad fin diamond tail fishy shape right now."

I realized I had no real idea of the difference between a swallow fish tail and a diamond tail. So I called my friend and resident surf expert, Chum. He said he didn't know either. We chatted on the phone and put forth some arm-chair theories: A diamond seems like it has the characteristics of a squash with the slight point of a pintail, whereas the swallow seems like it helps get into waves early, but also functions like a pintail down each point of the swallow. I felt like I was in high school physics trying to BS my way through a quiz. We may have had the general premise, but I'm sure we were way off on the finer points.

Fortunately, we're not shaping the board. I got an email back from Erik to set me straight: "The diamond tail template that you can find some examples of on my blog is fairly pulled in compared to something wider like a classic fish tail. So this will help the board go more "vertical" and surf off the back foot than the really wide ones [In my desperation to become a passably decent surfer, I told Erik I wanted to be able to go more vertical and surf off my back foot...I can dream can't I]. That being said, a fish tail with bumps starts to be more pulled in like this diamond tail is so it too will have a similar effect. So the choice in my mind is less about the specific tail shape (diamond, squash, rounded pin, etc.) and more about wide or more pulled in (my tails are all still somewhat wide. Certainly when you compare them to like a classic 70's single fin style shape). And you can do this with a smooth curve or with something with bumps. The board with bumps will have slightly more linear edge to break from the water, which will make it a bit looser. The transition is more "digital" and less "analog" if that makes sense (steps rather than smooth curves). It's still relatively smooth though."

I've come to realize through this process that I can talk a much better game than I can play. I can deliberate all day about the slightest nuances, but when it comes down to it I'm not sure if I could tell the difference between a quad fish and a redwood plank. Slight exaggeration, but only slightly. I need a lot more time in the water to fully appreciate a design as complex and finely tuned as one of Erik's boards. But I've always figured it's best to play up. At least I'll never be able to blame my equipment.

I know there are a lot of very knowledgeable people out in the wild, wild web. What do you think are the main differences between a swallow tail and a diamond tail?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jurassic Crocodile Unearthed in Oregon

Could you imagine? Not only did you have to worry about the man in the gray suit, but you had to keep your eyes peeled for his associate in the crocodile shoes.

Shark/Croc Hybrid

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Wave of One's Own

Southern California is crowded. It’s a simple fact of life. From stalled freeways to over-crowded bars to endless strip-malls, learning to navigate the crush of humanity is key to survival. This is none so apparent than in the water.

Surfing in Oregon can be a lonely experience. Sure some spots get congested, but generally speaking, it’s less size you find yourself wishing for, not less people. I’ve only had a few go outs as a California resident, but it seems to be the opposite – small waves with hundreds of hungry surfers.

But somehow I don’t think surfing’s popularity is going anywhere in the near future. Which means I need to get comfortable with having company in the water.

Trying to play well with others I headed to EP on Monday. I figured most the water-heads would be at work, but pulled up to a packed parking lot. The small peaks were loaded to the gills. Frustrated I walked south down the long stretch of beach. I finally came to a small pocket of relatively empty water.

Once out, I smiled to have the sun in my face and my exposed toes tapping the warmish water. The first set showed up on the horizon. I spun, paddled and popped. The KG fish took to the wave like a fat man to food. Over the next two hours I got my wave-count up into the double digits, and started to feel comfortable dropping-in in front of all the local dropouts. I told myself a couple more rides and then I’m out. Seems the surf had a different idea. I rode the next wave into the shallows, where it pitched up, sending me down and the board up. My forehead kissed against the rail and left a large hicky that signaled the end of the sesh.

Still stoked on the early-week go-out, I made plans to meet up with a friend of a friend. Jays suggested we meet early for a dawn patrol, so he could make it back to work in Santa Monica. With the time change we were paddling out in the pitch black of night. Jays didn’t seem to mind. The first wave rolled through and he was sliding out my rearview on a great little grinder. He said he was coming off a bit of a lay-off, but it seems the rest did him well as he caught quite a few before I could find the peak in the dying light. When I did I was surprised how fast the shoulder ledged up and reeled down the line. As I paddled back from the fast little left I realized Jays and I had just been joined by about fifty of our friends. All of whom seemed to be gathered in a twenty-yard radius of the peak. As the light increased to a gray glow the crowd increased to a dense flotilla. Jays laughed and said it was a light day, and that I should see it on a hot summer day. Somehow Jays’ “light day” reminded me of a menstrual commercial, and it seemed fitting.

After a few hours of bobbing around with my buddies, the high tide defeated everyone and I headed in. I felt like the Hoosier’s basketball team - from the movie, not IU – when they make it to the state finals. All the dimensions of the court are the same, but somehow the larger venue just feels different. I just need to figure out how to become comfortable with the larger venue, which I’m hoping will come with time.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pigpen Prose

Just wanted to take a slight detour from my wet dreams - surfing that is - to give props to one of the most dedicated artists I know. My friend Kacy Curtis has been toiling away in obscurity for the last ten years as a committed novelist. The only thing harder than becoming a professional surfer? Becoming a successful writer. Making it even more difficult, Kacy hadn't read a complete book until the age of 19. That's right, he made it through high school with only the foggiest of notions about Boo Radley, Holden Caulfied, Phineas and company. At the time he was just too busy living to read about other people's lives. But I'll let him tell it in his own words:

"I was born in Ashland, Oregon in 1976. I graduated from Ashland High School without having read one book. My overall G.P.A. was a 2.0, but I excelled in all of the violent sports. In 1996, after taking a year off to drink margaritas on Maui and Kaua’i, I attended Southern Oregon University. I dropped out after one semester because it conflicted with my principles and my vices. Since then, I have gotten lost in Yellow Stone National Park, and liquidated my mind on Bourbon Street. I have driven an R.V. across the United States, and cried while visiting Graceland. I am currently living in Portland, Oregon with my wife, and am hard at work on my next novel, 'Fourth and Forever.' My hobbies include building rope-swings, eating at Home Town Buffet, barnyard wrestling, and watching Three’s Company."

Kacy now devours books at a clip that is the envy of librarians. He writes slavishly, as if his well-fare depended upon it. And, in large part, I think it does, which is why his novels are so compelling. But have a look for yourself. You can read excerpts of his four completed novels and find links to purchasing them at Pigpen Prose.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

To Live and Surf in L.A.

Almost two weeks ago I crammed all my possessions into the back of my car and drove out of Portland on I-5 South. The only reason all my possessions fit in the back of my car is that my girlfriend made me throw half of them overboard before moving in with her in L.A.

Leaving Portland meant leaving family, friends and the cold water I'd come to crave. But moving to L.A. meant warm water and exploring numerous new breaks (even if the breaks happen to be loaded with half of Los Angeles's loads).

After hearing about an epic session up north from Chummers and the crew, I was eager to test the SoCal waters. The sites were predicting a swell size of John Holmes proportions - 1 to 2 feet - which is great if you're in porn, but sucky if you're trying to surf.

Shitbird and myself eyeballed a spot up north for nearly an hour, willing it to get bigger. It almost worked too. A chest high set popped up, and that's all we needed. We suited up and paddled out. The water was surprisingly chilly, but then again my ratty 4-3 had more holes than USC's defense against the Ducks. If I could've added my decent rides together I would of had one good 5' wave in the span of 3 hours.

So while big winter surf pounds the PNW, I'm left with knee-high-to-a-grasshopper sets, which is fine by me for the time being. The following tables show the stark difference between the noth and south ends of the left coast.



Fortunately though, somehow by some weird algorithm a 2.5’ swell in L.A. actually equates to a 2.5’ wave. Whereas in Oregon, a 13’ swell could easily be knocked down to just over chest high. I’ll put my theory to the test tomorrow when I head to a spot just below the flight path of LAX.

In the meantime and in between time, my new home comes equipped with a large flat screen TV, and endless stoke-supplying Fuel TV.