Ode to El Niño

Warm Equatorial waters
Southerly jet stream
Conveyor belt of large storms,
Marching across the North Pacific
Barrier-breaking, big wave paddle sessions are the norm each week.

Busy Buoys: NOAA
Busy Buoys: NOAA

Week after week of weekend swells,
Building in through the day on Friday.
Pumping by Friday evening.
Peaking Saturday morning and still pumping on Sunday.
Overhead sets lingering on Monday.AR8A5568

It is difficult to finish this publication.
Sleep, swim, eat, swim, swim, eat, sleep.
Maybe some work, but mostly bodysurfing.
And thinking about waves.
And watching wave models.


And it’s world-wide:
Gold Coast, Aus point breaks.
Massive Europe.
East Coast USA: double overhead, 12ft and perfect.

Marathon sessions, full body exhaustion.
Lazy towards the end,
Not getting to the spot.
Going over the falls,
Not diving deep enough.
Beatings and poundings.AR8A6573

High pressure, sunny skies, 80°
Offshore or glassy in the morning
Minimal onshores through the afternoon.
Although, not enough rain.
We need more rain. 

But selfishly, we’re smiling.
Exhausted, sore, beat up…but smiling.
Spending hours underwater,
Taking exhilarating sets on the head.
Considerable amount of tube time.
Hope it never stops. 




Eschrichtius Robustus

2/25/16- San Diego, California

Good- Epic.

The surf was huge and perfect, with local buoy readings of 8ft. at 18″, directly from the west. Double overhead+ peaks moved at a velocity rarely experienced. Windless, glassy conditions persisted throughout the morning. Two months of extraordinarily solid surf removed most sand from the beach and left behind piles of rock. With high tide smashing head-high whitewater off the cliff, entry and exit are hectic. After catching several dreamy waves, I went to the top of the cliff to photograph the epic surf from my favorite vantage point. Peaks continuously bent and warped out of the Canyon, thundering in the neon blue-green water. Two bodysurfers began riding waves, sans wetsuits in the 80°, 11am sun. Trading barrel rides, they lasted about 45 minutes.

AR8A2793A pod of 8 dolphins appeared from the south, not out of the ordinary for this area. They rode waves together and kicked out the back. Then I spotted a larger dark spot in the water. I first thought it was the dolphins in a tight bunch. As I watched, it became clear that a gray whale was cruising shockingly close to shore. The dolphins swam circles around the large cetacean as though escorting him into uncharted whale territory.

Gray whales migrate annually from summer feeding grounds east of Alaska to winter nursing grounds along the Baja Peninsula. Spouts and flukes are frequently witnessed along the Southern California coast as the whales move north and south within 2.5 miles of the coastline. The 13,000 mile round-trip migration is believed to be the longest of any mammal. 

This specimen was apparently a male, getting an early start on the long swim north to Alaska. He continued his cruise along the shoreline, dolphins buzzing around. I was concerned. I’ve spotted plenty of whales and some of them just beyond the breakers. But this whale was now 40 feet from shore and in about 5 feet of water. An unusual and uncomfortable place for a 40 foot, 30 ton marine mammal. I was prepared to call SeaWorld Animal Rescue and help them push the creature back into the sea.

AR8A2790At his closest approach, a wave broke across the whale’s back and he disappeared in the white water.  I anxiously watched, thinking he would roll up on the beach anytime. Finally, I caught a glimpse of him as he was headed back out to sea. Probably exhilarated with his first taste of breaking wave energy. He was headed straight towards the pack of surfers sitting at one of the peaks. I watched intently through my camera lens to witness the surfers shock if the whale surfaced in the middle of the lineup. But I never saw the whale again and haven’t heard of a beached whale. So, I’ll just assume that the whale had been feeling the pulses of El Niño wave energy passing by for weeks and wanted a closer look.



The Rhythm of Bodysurfing

Finding order within chaos is one of human-kind’s most beautiful abilities. Michael Shermer, in How We Believe, calls our brains “evolved pattern-recognition machines that connect the dots and create meaning out of the patterns.” Over hundreds of thousands of years we became better and better at recognizing the panther in the bush. Early Homo sapiens relied on this ability to distinguish threat from the benign.  We crave the regularity.

Nowadays we hardly flex these pattern-recognition muscles in the wild. We sit behind desks staring at screens illuminated with order. Humans drive in between yellow lines on carefully planned streets stopping at the octagon and going on green. Order has been handed to an animal that thrives on finding its own rhythm. Enter the Ocean.

When I step into liquid I am free from the artificial constraints of a product driven society. My nervous system is overwhelmed by the sensory embrace. I find myself briefly lost in the dopamine. The water-world has different rules and it takes a minute to adjust. I’m in it to catch the waves, but its the rhythm of the Ocean I find most settling. The heartbeat of the Ocean rises and falls, like a metronome for the soul.



Tripping Fins: Louisiana Edition

The following Tripping Fins was written by Tim Barnes. Tim is a bodysurfer based out of La Jolla, California. He has turned his frequent border crossings into a travel company specializing wine tours. Boca Roja
8:00pm, Friday Eric’s over-excitable iPhone alerts him that he has a new text message.
Can we make the meet up 4am at my place?  I wanna be the first ones in the line up.  Swell is filling in fast and the winds are right 🙂
IMG_29384:15am, Saturday – We are en route to a not-recommended-for-beginners heavy right hand break in the middle of the ocean.  Only the essential items are packed – we are a lean, mean, surgical-surf-strike team.  
Wetsuit – check! Fins – check! Sunscreen – check!
As our captain navigates the cranky predawn waters we exchange looks and glances and wide eyes as we roll over massive, deep water swells.  These sizable lumps of energy lift our sizeless watercraft well above and below the horizon as they silently approach and then recede toward the sunrise.  The water is more agitated than the wind forecast suggested but the consistent, pulsing energy in the water has morale high amongst our kaha nalu crew.
When we finally get eyes on the line-up, that fine old friend, I am torn.  She doesn’t look the same.  A California King tide has her bulging a bit at the seams and we are apparently not getting her undivided attention – her focus panning from the normal take-off zone to a moving target about 20 yards wider than I have ever seen.  
Waves rolling and warping and shifting and feathering and doing everything except concentrating the deep water energy over the shallow reef causing them to stack up, throw out and peel.  Eric and I chase the mark over the course of two 1.5 hour sessions.  A lot more swimming and chatting than surfing on this day, I’m afraid, but we each hooked into a handful of 10-15ft lumpy right handers.
Once back on the ponga and out of our wetsuits we spot a series of whale spouts about 200yds to our Southwest.  Our captain buzzes over and we get within maybe 30yds before the giant creatures take a deep breathe and return to the depths of the big blue sea.  The impromptu whale watching adventure took us around the South side which I had never seen.  Waves smashing and crashing and booming against the rocks and cliffs.  Headed back to shore now with the warm sun high in the sky, the beautiful coastline lighting up brilliantly, we all come to the same conclusion at the same time – we are HUNGRY!
IMG_3072A quick drive North and we are belly up at a well-oiled street taco machine.  We order large quesadillas, fresh off the grill, con todo – cheese, pinto beans, cilantro, onion, guacamole, red salsa and lots of lime!  Crack a few Mexican beers to wash it down and we are in El Cielo!  Salty, stuffed and smiling, we make the final leg of the journey back to our families and friends to celebrate the remainder of Nochebuena.  Today marked the second anniversary of this very special trip on Christmas Eve and I am already making plans and looking forward to next year!