Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Patience, Perseverance, and a Rounded Pintail

I’ve always lived a short drive from the beach which makes me incredibly fortunate and grateful.  For a short period of time, however, I lived walking distance from the beach.  After graduating from college I shared a house with three other guys a stone's throw from the beach in the El Porto section of Manhattan Beach, not far from the El Segundo border.  Checking the surf involved walking out into the middle of the street and looking downhill.  Sometimes I had to shade my eyes if it was really sunny.  If it was good, I surfed.  If it wasn’t, I’d check back in awhile.  Being this close to the beach meant that if I had 30 minutes to kill I could go surfing.  Life was rough.  Now, I have to make plans to go surfing – carve out time on a calendar and allot 30 minutes or so for travel time on either side of the sesh.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  Living walking distance from the beach meant I could surf a lot and El Porto offered a lot of surf that year.  Sometimes it was small and ideal for longboarding, sometimes it was big and hollow, and other times it was somewhere in between.  At the time, I had just two boards, a 6’5” thruster and a 9'6" longboard.  I‘d had the short board for years and the longboard was fun for small days but I felt like it was time for a change and I wanted a bigger board for bigger waves.  If you’re familiar with the South Bay, Becker surfboards are everywhere.  I had enjoyed hanging out in their Malibu and Hermosa Beach surf shops as the guys who worked there were really nice and approachable.  One day at the Hermosa Beach shop I found in the used boards rack just what I was looking for – a big board.  It was a thick 7’8” thruster with a heavy glass job and pin tail, all the right elements for surfing bigger waves.  It even had carbon strips glassed into the bottom of the board for extra strength.  Winter was coming up and so my timing was perfect.  

The only catch?  No scratch.  When I was working I wasn’t making very much.  I was literally living hand to mouth, eating PB&Js, Ben & Jerry’s and Fig Newtons.  Becker was asking $275 for it and I was stoked that the shop had a layaway plan.  At a time when every nickel and dime counted, I saved and saved and put aside what I could when I could for the board.  One day, I found a $50 bill and you’d thought I had won the lottery.  To think how much peanut butter and bread that could’ve bought staggers the imagination.  But it was a non-issue as I promptly brought the sun bleached bill down to the Becker shop.  I don’t recall how long it took to pay off the board but it felt like an eternity.  Finally, I did.  With a big wave board, I felt like I had officially arrived and could now consider myself a committed surfer.  Ability to surf in big waves was an entirely different matter but what did I know?  I had a big wave board!  

The board is nice and thick so it floats like a longboard but every other element, the nose, rocker, fin set up, rails, foil and tail are all shortboard.  And it cuts and trims like one too.  As a result, it works great in smaller waves too.  The only drawback is it’s pretty tough to duck dive.  I learned this the hard way.  I tried but got slammed.  I tried turning turtle but that didn’t work so well either.  I tossed the board and dove but felt like a kook.  It wasn’t until I saw a friend duck dive an 8’0” board to realize it could be done.  He just started earlier and let his weight overwhelm the nose rather than give it a quick push and expect an immediate response.  Worked every time.  Once I got comfortable doing it the board became one of my favorites and as a result it’s a permanent part of my quiver.  This is as close to a perfect board I’ve ever surfed: it floats great, catches waves like a longboard and turns like a shortboard.  One of my favorite boards.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Celebrating August in May

While it could be argued there was a significant shortage of northern hemisphere swell activity this winter, putting the kibosh on the Maverick’s and Nelscott Reef contests, that’s not to suggest there weren’t any big waves this year.  On the contrary, there were a lot of big waves.  And last weekend Billabong and a select group of surfers, groupies, and industry folks gathered in Anaheim to celebrate the best that the winter season had to offer a la the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards. 

This annual event celebrates the winter’s biggest waves and accordingly the bravest riders.  Tow-in, paddle-in, tubes, wipeouts, women and men are sized up, selected, and celebrated.  Respectfully, the waves are revered as much as the surfers who ride them.  Standouts this year included perennial favorites like Teahupo’o (Tahiti) and Jaws (Maui) but also newcomers like Praia do Norte / Nazare Canyon (Portugal), Agiti (Basque Country) and Mullaghmore Head (Ireland) and well-known but seldom XXL candidates Puerto Escondido (Mexico) and Cloudbreak (Fiji).  Yes, Maverick’s and Todos Santos were represented but not to the extent of the others.  And other big wave breaks like Ghost Tree, Nelscott Reef, and Cortes Bank were missing but that’s not to say they didn’t deliver big waves this winter.  They just didn’t deliver XXL waves.

But I digress.  Nathan Fletcher cleaned up, winning Ride of the Year, Monster Tube, and Surfline Best Performance honors for his incredible feat at Teahupo’o on August 27, 2011, a day that will not soon be forgotten.  His and other surfers' death-defying rides on this monumental day were not only captured on film but captured using technology that puts all previous surf films to shame.  Chris Bryan filmed the day’s events using a Phantom HD Gold camera.  He accompanied the 7 and one half minute film with a soundtrack entitled “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun” by M83.  I must say that in my 20 years of surfing, deep love of surfing, I have never been more captivated and blown away than I was when I watched this film.  Several months later, I still am.  Filmed in HD and presented in slow motion, you can witness the sheer beauty, intensity and rage of this dangerous wave on a life threatening swell.  Yes, surfers have been maimed and killed at this shallow wave reef break.

The conditions this day forced a Double Code Red classification by the French navy (Tahiti is a French protectorate), prohibiting and threatening to arrest anyone that entered the water.  Well, French naval law was broken by a brave few men.  Not the most ideal conditions to enforce the law....  

Chris Bryan’s amazing film can be seen below.  He was working for Billabong that day and the company’s finished product, “Code Red” can be seen below as well, under Chris’ film.  Despite featuring a narrative and being twice as long, “Code Red” pales in comparison to Chris’ film.  With Chris’ film, just the wave and the surfers riding it are the focal point; anything else is just a distraction.  Judge for yourself.  

Chris Bryan's (amazing) production:

Billabong's "Code Red" production:

Thank you to Chris Bryan and the surfers who risked their lives on August 27, 2011.  And thank you to the judges' panel who recognized Nathan Fletcher for his outstanding achievements.  I will forever be in awe.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.