Tripping Fins: Dynamic Coast

Depart Encinitas 8:30pm Friday evening: seven hours straight to Eastside Santa Cruz urban camp. Breakfast with Homeboy Eric and Homegirl Rachel then northbound to Ocean Beach, San Francisco to meet up with our buddy Dallas. Sloat St. swim: overhead and super fun. Snagged a couple solid peaks in the strong drift. Dinner and spectating in the Haight. Chat with Child: coffee shop drug dealer representing “Dead Nation.” Vibrant humanity.

Urban camp at the Pacifica Pier. Sunday 6:00am Kelly’s Cove check: not working and no orange swim cap. Back to Sloat: overhead+, catch a rip way outside. Plentiful swimming, as expected at OB. Sets on the head. Luck into a beauty of a right wall: nice speed, sensational feel.

Photo: Rachel Newton

On to FP- too much tide- Crissy Park nap. Awake to dropping tide-rising swell. The Point woke up. Thought it was novelty, discovered a legitimate wave. Head high and incredibly dynamic. Sets swing swiftly into rocks. EJ charges. Once heard a big-wave icon say he can instantly decipher who truly has the proverbial “Right Stuff” by the way they react to an approaching set…EJ is the guy swimming into the guts of It because It “looks fun.”

EJ under the bridge and dreaming.
EJ under the bridge and dreaming.
Photo: Rachel Newton

Say goodbye to dear friends. Stretch out solo. Cruise the Piers and Wharf: clam chowder and people watching.  Urban camp Stockton St. downtown San Fran. Next morning to Pier 39 for whale-watching cruise to the mythological Farallon Islands: decomposing granite monoliths 28 miles offshore. Homestead of innumerable seabirds, pinnipeds, intrepid biologists and the largest of great white sharks.

No whales today but more than my money’s worth. The reefs at Indianhead and Mirounga Bay firing with 8-10ft of raw NW Ocean energy. Apparently never ridden…the last California wave frontier. It’s out there, if you want it bad enough.

Mirounga Bay- Farallon Islands

Our vessel, The Kitty Kat looks like a plague cruise. Seasick zombies stumble to the “Ralph” spot and unload, immobilized by sheer misery. Make new friends: literature teachers from Paris: Ocèane and Aurelie. They didn’t have much fun on the cruise, but we made plans to discuss Rimbaud and Sartè later in the week. Drive over the Golden Gate to the Marin Headlands…overlooking everything. Stunning views abound.

Big Set
Big set from the Marin Headlands through binos.
Dynamic City
Dynamic City

Next morning to Point Reyes National Seashore. San Andreas Fault heartland. Exposed to North Pacific fury like few places in California. Steep blowing sand shorebreak at South Beach. Double overhead+? on the outside…head high warping wedges on the sand. Chilly swim, washed down the beach, exhilarating wompy visions. Cruised the dairy farms way out to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rocks. Fascinating physical oceanography.

Point Reyes
Point Reyes National Seashore

Southbound down iconic Route 1 back to the city. Muir Beach sunset. Quick stop back to Fort Point.  Dirtbag shower in the bathroom before meeting up with new friends from France. Found them perusing the poetry at a classic Beat bookstore.  Intellect and cute French accents make for a late night.

Urban camp Pacifica Pier…rocked to sleep by shorebreak energy. Next morning southbound, hike to the Boneyard and pay homage to Mavericks. On to Santa Cruz. A little nook is working on the Westside- waves bounce off the backside and wedge into fast hollow peaks…super fun. Watch The Point get torn apart by a heavy Westside crew including Flea and Nat Young.

Nat Young- Steamer Lane

South to Big Sur’s golden sunset light. Camp: Ocean front forest service road. Glorious dark skies…”What’s that glow in the West?” WOW! The Zodiacal Light!  First observation, been looking for years. Dust in our solar system reflecting light…beautiful!  Morning at head high Big Sur reef.

Big Sur Gold
Big Sur Gold
The Zodiacal Light
The Zodiacal Light

Southbound: Incredible wave potential everywhere. NW swell lingers. Every turn-out offers dynamic new potential. Epicness awaits the extra hearty. Somewhere: big lefts slab over an abrupt rocky reef…mindsurf. The giant elephant seals swimming on the inside have the best view.


Southward. Cayucos is offshore and amazingly walled down the beach…400 yard cylinders. Swim out but avoid the guy getting barreled on a jetski. Pushing South into Morro Bay: volcanic plug geology and peregrine falcons. Camp: Pismo Beach, Oceano Dunes. Put the Tacoma back on sand where she belongs. Sandy sweet sleep.

Central Coast
Central Coast

Headed South early. Straight to SB: to spy enchanting spinners.  Glassy, stomach high turbines roping along the breakwall. Best barrel view in California? SB framed by the Santa Ynez Mountains. Top of the list to score solid. On to the Queen. Glassy, waist to chest and hollow at the Rivermouth. Magic point…everyone should have one in their front yard.

The barrel looks out to a mountain range.
The barrel looks out to a mountain range. Santa Cruz Island out the back.

To Oxnard with the wind and fog. Cool town and I didn’t get punched in the face…bonus. Down the 1 through the wave potential of Pt. Mugu. Here the coast changes. No more secret nooks, not much open space…masses of concrete from here to Baja.  Stop at Surfrider Beach, fogged in but can see knee high waves peeling across First Point.

Dynamic coast, excellent adventure!

Fred Simpson Bodysurfing Wedge by Ron Romanosky

Bodysurfing Wedge: The Fred

Bodysurfing Wedge: The Fred

At times, it is hard to pinpoint and other times the differences are striking. With each wave you stumble to or with every grainy youtube video you devour, you may have noticed variance in bodysurfers’ style. The way a person bodysurfs a wave, much like the human gait, has a long list of factors. Biology is one. Imagine Michael Phelps and Danny Devito bodysurfing head-to-head, they simply aren’t using the same tools. If both wanted to maintain the optimum speed on any given wave they would need to utilize different styles. Despite this, many riders of differing heights and roundness seem to have developed stylistic similarities within the confines of unique waves.

An important component in understanding the practicality of bodysurfing styles, is a basic understanding of hydrodynamics in relation to the speed of a bodysurfer. Speed is likely the most crucial aspect to catching and staying on a wave. A bodysurfer’s speed is primarily determined by kicks, drag and floatation. These three variables are not independent and are intentionally manipulated by skilled bodysurfers.

The resulting style is not particular to region or even community, but a particular wave. There are magnet waves, that pull bodysurfers from across regions. These waves break in a distinct manner according to their bathymetry and swell windows. Due to the specific break, you can understand why many of the waves’ expert riders share stylistic similarities. Each commonality serving a particular purpose in riding each particular wave to its maximum potential.

Early Season Wedge
Photo: Kyle Stock

An infamous magnet-wave is the Wedge of Newport Beach, California. Described by it’s riders as a freak, proper Wedge has a focused breaking point amplified by the refracted backwash of earlier waves. Long-time Wedge Crew member Tim Burnham describes, “The takeoff at Wedge is extremely critical. It breaks really fast and is super steep and the key to riding Wedge well is to hold a high line and maintain speed.”

If that wasn’t difficult enough, “Not only does the acceleration of the Wedge-peak force riders to seek a highly streamlined form, but the powerful and at times unpredictable backwash, can send bodysurfers over the falls if they haven’t gotten a full head of steam.” Longtime riders of the Wedge know this to be fact and have adjusted accordingly.

Wedge riders extend from fingertips to toes. The longer and straighter they are able to hold their body, the faster they will cut through the wave. Every inch of their body pulled into a tight line to reduce drag. To reduce trim, Fred Simpson and the rest of the 70’s crew began rolling their bodies onto a single hip and extending with their lead hand. They tucked their opposite hand near their armpit and the Chicken Wing was born (some riders leave their opposite hand near the waist which is also referred to as the broken wing). This stylistic adaptation is primed for dealing with pitching, nasty, unpredictable Wedge.

    Fred Simpson years after he pioneered "The Fred," what would go on to become The Chicken Wing     Photo: Ron Romanosky
Fred Simpson years after he pioneered “The Fred,” what would go on to become “The Chicken Wing”
Photo: Ron Romanosky

The Chicken Wing could also be called a modified Layout. The Layout was born, as most adaptations are, to accelerate. By expanding the rider’s flotation, the Layout increases a bodysurfer’s speed. In a Layout, the rider increases their body’s planing surface across the face of the wave. The greater the area of a planing surface, the more flotation and consequently, the more speed you can generate.

Mel Thoman, Wedge Crew member for the last four decades stresses, “(the) ultra importance of …putting the most pressure for speed and stability on the lead hand as it literally has all the lift and control during your ride.” You may see riders with their palms up or reaching out for a handshake, but this will not fly at the Wedge. Your hands are vital to providing lift, control and speed in the belly of a Wedge monster.

Over 40 years, the Chicken Wing has evolved. With each new generation of Wedge riders, the Chicken Wing is fine tuned. Some members of the Wedge Crew in the 80’s and 90’s began showing a mechanical-like rigidness when flashing the Chicken Wing. The rigidness is highlighted by a physical flex and release cycle.

The Flex: When a rider needs more speed they turn their head slightly away from their lead hand. This motion allows their trailing shoulder to roll on top of their lead shoulder, forming the body into a flexed line. The angle of their lead arm and torso is increased by this roll. With an increase in this angle, the rider’s body is a more efficient planing surface. The chest and stomach float easier because your center of gravity is shifted towards the head. The Flexed position is the part of the cycle most easily identified as The Chicken Wing.

Picture 093
Mel Thoman in the middle of the switch
Photo: Ron Romanosky

The Release: According to feel, a rider may release the Flex to a prone riding position. The Release position is categorized by a more acute angle of the lead arm and torso. The head is facing down the line. In the Release position, the rider can look at their line and make decisions about whether or not to hold or return to the Flex position. Some riders will pull their chicken-winged hand to their front and use it as an additional planing hand.

In the video below provided by Tom Lynch, you can see Matt Larson with total control of his speed. Matt has been riding Wedge since the 80’s. He is still a standout in the line-up. Pay close attention to the first two waves in the clip. Matt uses the Flex position for speed and the Release position to judge his line and target velocity.

The newest group of bodies eager to ride the liquid bucking-broncos embrace the Chicken Wing as much as anyone. They understand through blood and bruising how important form is to their craft. There’s even rumor of them going so far as to add a chicken head to their wingin’ ways. Ridiculous props aside, these guys are carrying on a well-founded tradition through style and dedication.

Charlie McAuliffe Photo: Ron Romanosky
Charlie McAuliffe
Photo: Ron Romanosky
Parker Chicken Wing
Parker Varner
Photo: Thomas VanMelum

There are innumerable waves across the world. Each with it’s own unique bathymetry and swell window creating thousands upon thousands of liquid mountains. As we wander from peak to peak, we will continue to evolve in pursuit of harmonic slides on each new face. We’ll learn that the wave you ride ultimately determines the way you ride it.


Salty Fins: Hal Handley

Some people stumble to their place in this world, riding the wave with no consideration of the reef beneath them, nor their position on the face. Hal is not that guy.  He attacks bodysurfing with vigor and inquiry, unwrapping the most subtle movements with focused thought and repetition. Hal is described by life-long bodysurfer and all around purveyor of stoke, Mike Sullivan as, “the ultimate student of bodysurfing, if you ever wonder how to do a maneuver, Hal’s your guy.”

Hal Handley was born the son of a baseball player. His father started at UCLA and had begun his professional career with stints in the minors. Neptune had another plan for the senior Handley and he was given the gift of a baby boy. As a young teen, Hal watched his television in awe as Buffalo Keaulana bodysurfed Makaha’s waves with grace and expertise. He was hooked. Buffalo stored his fins in the fridge to preserve the rubber, so Hal did the same.

Through his teenage years Hal would hitch rides and eventually get wheels to bodysurf Wedge. His friends would go for the novelty, laughing nervously and staring wide-eyed, but he was taking mental notes and making plans for the future. The Wedge, taught Hal to value commitment. His dedication to “the Newport wonder” ended when he was 23. For ten full years, Hal would explore the wave riding world before coming full circle to his pair of Voit Duck Feet in 1982.

Hals Highline   Hals Stroke

One day that summer, Hal sat watching the Oceanside World Championship of Bodysurfing and he set two goals for himself: 1) to win that contest and 2) earn a PhD. Over the following decade he had accomplished both, becoming a Grand Champion in 1990 and earning his doctorate in immunology. Hal continued his passion for science through a distinguished career in research. His work on the molecular level has paved the way for many advancements in cancer treatments today. On the competition front, Hal has continued to pile up achievements with six age-group victories and a showing in the final of the Pipeline bodysurfing contest.

Hal has been a fixture in the La Jolla waters for over 30 years. A cerebral waterman, he has traveled the world studying diverse wave riding forms. At each new wave, the analytical gears turn and Hal picks up novel techniques. He firmly believes in the power of competition. His face turns an excited red as he describes throwing out all the stops in order to make the next heat. Hal has found himself doing things he’d never consider doing on a wave, when in the throes of competitive discourse.

Hal Somewhere in Southern California Photo: Bill Schildge
Hal Somewhere in Southern California
Photo: Bill Schildge

Despite Hal’s cerebral tendencies, he is well aware of his connection to the spiritual resonance of the Ocean. Instead of describing his connection, he painted a familiar picture. We’ve all watched a young child throw themselves into two-foot shore break. They’re tossed by the powers of the sea back to the sand, limbs tangled, laughing and gasping for air, before hopping to their feet and rushing back to do it again. With each new swell, Hal practices with tactical precision, but he also finds himself rolling helpless in whitewater, sometimes gasping for air through the laughter.


Ode to the Tube


The Water. The Wind. Bathymetry. Collaborating. Creating a sublime natural wonder.
Energy pumped from low pressure across the Ocean approaches the coast.
From deep water, the energy quickly shoals…shallower…shallower…
Focused, fluid energy forced up, up and out. Bending water.
Barreling waves.
Blessed by the experience. A fortune for the Soul.
The feel the view the smell the sound the taste…Sensory explosions.
Cosmic energy pumped straight to the brain.
Pick a peak. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
Swim hard, feel the dynamics, tap in and let go.
An instant of sublime stillness, weightless, gliding into the pocket…
Enclosed in water but not wet.
The sun illuminates everything. Synapses overload.
The air clears and the mind melts.
Enjoy the view. Psychedelic forms of color and light.
Snap. Snap. Snap. Brain camera firing off.
Trillions of bursting bubbles echo inside.
Time liquefies and Space warps.
Breathe deep. Inhale the pure barrel air. It’ll be needed…
Swiftly transforming peaceful to violent.
Chaotic serenity. Hectic tranquility.

Tubes-shacks-caves-pits…Greenrooms/blue/brown and white rooms.
No two the same…all thrilling.
Swimming, chin deep in the energy. Mesmerizing, spinning water.
Round waves exhaling…spitting spray. Exploding rainbows.
370,000 miles of coast on Earth. Only a fraction have the right stuff to bend water into dreams.

Astonishing from every angle: underneath, on the head, down the beach, on paper, on screen.
But nothing on Earth compares to the experience of being inside a barreling wave.
Driven so fast and so smoothly by the Sea.
Begging hyperbole: Nirvana…enlighteningly blissful.
The most supreme pleasure.
Begin to imagine them everywhere: In rocks, under trees, in a puddle.
We become enchanted. Doodling, studying, watching, chasing, dreaming…
Consumed by the tube.
The Water. The Wind. Blessed by the experience.