Purple Blob Report: Summer & Fall 2015

A strengthening El Nino, record breaking water temperatures and the most intense storm in the history of the Western Hemisphere. Summer 2015 was a dynamic and interesting meteorological season. From May-October, at least 2 swells came monthly, making for a solid surf season.

The 2015 South Swell Season started early with a healthy dose of southern hemi swell in late March.

South Swell with NW windswell- March 28, 2015
South Swell with NW windswell- March 28, 2015

Back to back, steep, south swells impacted California in early May. The second swell packed a serious punch with 25 second periods! Unfortunately, the angle was steep and persistent north wind made the conditions less than ideal. Although, there were fun windows of well overhead, heavy surf.

The 2015 Eastern Pacific Hurricane season witnessed a record breaking 30 depressions, 26 named storms, a record 16 hurricanes and a record 11 major hurricanes. Including the all-time strongest storm, Hurricane Patricia on October 23rd.   With sustained 200 mph winds, if the scale extended, she would’ve been a Category 7! This monster veered away from destroying Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at the last moment, instead impacting a far less populated area of the Mexican coast.

For the first time in recorded history, 3 major hurricanes, Kilo, Ignacio and Jimena spun simultaneously in late August. They sent a plethora of swell throughout the Pacific, especially to Hawaii.

Late summer/fall through October, saw a very active southern hemisphere storm track and a series of strong pulses of swell.

Overall, Summer/Fall of 2015 was a solid season, with consistent pulses from the Southern Hemisphere and a record breaking tropical season. Record breaking water temperatures kept wetsuits in the closet until November. Most mornings and evenings had good offshore/glassy conditions.

Unfortunately, November 2015 is the worst month of surf in a couple years. However, El Nino is real, so go ahead and get excited about this coming winter!


Swell Affective Disorder

It can appear anytime of year…more frequent in the summer but possible anytime. When the surf  stays below waist high for 2 weeks, the symptoms arise. When the longest range forecasts show no hope, a mild melancholy begins. Swell Affective Disorder. Lots of swimming, diving, longboarding, SUPing and going straight on knee-high whitewater just to get wet. Sure thats all fun, but it doesn’t fill the sensory void left without powerful surf.  

The official DSMFD-V logo for Swell Affective Disorder (SAD)
The official DSMFD-V logo for Swell Affective Disorder (SAD).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Fake Disorders (DSMFD-V) states, “some waveriders experience a serious mood change when the Ocean goes flat. They may stare at the Ocean too much, feel minor melancholy and have difficulty concentrating on or completing tasks. Although, when the swell comes back, they’ll still have difficulty concentrating on or completing tasks.”

Roommates, coworkers and significant others can all sense it. You can be the most cheery positive person around, but when SAD hits, you wear it in your slumped shoulders and sad face. Maybe you catch up on other priorities and hobbies or maybe you just daydream about past sessions… gasping for breath after a big barrel and a bigger thrashing. It’ll come again. But until a large cyclone spins over open Ocean, you’ll be afflicted with Swell Affective Disorder. 

The sufferer goes through different stages: from watching constant surf movies and gazing longingly at the sea to not even wanting to see the flat Ocean or watch perfect waves. It begins with checking the 17 day forecast multiple times a day hoping for a blip and a bump. A weak jet stream and blocking high pressure are frequently the culprits. They are despicable, atmospheric conditions that keep swell from reaching our coast. The anti-purple blob and the root of our melancholy. 

Anti-purple blob. Image: StormSurf
Anti-purple blob. Image: StormSurf

As SAD runs its course, the sufferer maybe only checks the forecast every other day with deeper and deeper sorrow as the storm track remains quiet. Of course, the local conditions are offshore and glassy the entire time its flat. Waves will always come again. It is against the laws of physics that govern the Multiverse for the Ocean to stay flat forever. But in our jaded minds, it feels like the surf came in the long, long ago and will probably never come again. 

Hey jet stream....WAKE UP!
Hey Jet Stream….WAKE UP!

Then finally, a spike on the long range forecast! Relief and excitement wash over. The next two weeks are spent clearing the schedule and watching every isobar on every model…But let’s be real for just a second, if lacking swell is the worst part of your month, you’re still having a pretty good month. Living near the Ocean, healthy and without superfluous drama. But damnit, I wish there were waves!!!


Tripping Fins: Fiji

Rainbow Reef, Somosomo Straight, Fiji
Rainbow Reef, Somosomo Straight, Fiji

I came to the surface exasperated. The colors, the clarity, the biodiversity, the beauty! It was incredible. My first SCUBA diving experience. Rainbow Reef! I was on a work trip to Vanua Levu and Taveuni, Fiji. I knew I probably wouldn’t have the chance to ride any waves, even though I asked every boatman and local if they knew of any nearby. They all said it was on another part of the Island. I asked about Tavarua and even though I was in the right country, it was still a day’s trip away: a flight, numerous boat and bus rides.  I had done full internet reconnaissance: message boards, travel guides and maps, without a hint of surf in my vicinity. But I kept my eyes peeled out of every plane, boat and bus. 

Small but perfect.
Small but perfect.

Sitting on the boat after SCUBA diving, drinking some juice, I could see miniature lines of swell bending around the reef. Then I watched a darker lump approach. A long line stood up and the trough began to drop underneath. The Ocean surface was perfectly glassy. The wave began to break up the reef and perfectly wrapped all the way around. It was only about waist high but it was spellbinding in its perfection. I luckily had my camera and snapped a long sequence.  The stunning reef peeked up just inches below the surface. Mind surf. It was one of the most beautiful waves I’ve ever watched.


Overall, the trip was a huge success, even without any tube time. I went with a group of 8 students and 3 other adults. We volunteered at a local medical clinic and a rural village, snorkeled, kayaked, hiked, learned and adventured. A highlight of the trip, as for many visiting Fiji were the people: kind, warm, happy and peaceful. 

Buca Bay
Buca Bay

Snorkeling and diving are my favorite activities to stay wet when the Ocean goes flat. I knew I wasn’t going to be around waves in Fiji, but I knew the snorkeling opportunities would be epic. As soon as we arrived at the medical clinic on Buca Bay, I grabbed my snorkel gear, rallied some students and headed out front. I was blown away! The visibility! The biodiversity! It was just a small patch of reef, but it was beautiful, at least 20 varieties of fish and other interesting creatures.

When we went to stay at the Taveuni Dive Resort, I was shocked again! The reef out front of their dock was bigger with even better visibility and more biodiversity. Then, when I had the opportunity to SCUBA dive Rainbow Reef, my mind melted out of my head. 60ft+ visibility, enormous soft corals, a white-tipped reef shark, an eagle ray and various huge fish. I felt exceedingly comfortable at 40ft and wished I could stay down there for hours.

On another boat trip across Somosomo Straight to Taveuni, I could see white water on the horizon. As I watched, I began making out the shape of a wave. A perfect looking A-frame with a fast, hollow left and a roping right. It was breaking in the middle of the Straight near Rainbow Reef. I was at least a mile away. The waves must’ve been well overhead. I was mesmerized. I excitedly snapped a few dozen photos and had the whole group watching intently.

Somosomo Straight
Somosomo Straight

To my students, it was just barely-visible whitewater. But for me, it represented the folklore of exotic tropical surf. Of all the thousand or so photos that I took in Fiji, the few wave photos are the ones I revisit most. I never came close to riding one, but even the mythology, the dream of experiencing Fijian surf has me fully tantalized…perfectly peeling, glassy across exotic reef. I’ll be back.

Somosomo Straight
Somosomo Straight – KS

Sandy Pages: The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing

There are a handful of fervent bodysurfers who took the time to document, educate and rave about this one-of-a-kind activity. Here is a brief review of one such pursuit.

IMG_2410The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing: A Style Manual

By Paul A. Kosten, PH.D.

Pak’s Press LLC, 2011



Paul Kosten is a New Jersey resident and Senior Lifeguard at Poverty Beach. He has been riding waves his whole life and has written a bodysurfing style manual. The 82 page effort brims with stoke and attempts to blend a lifeguard’s point of view with that of a waverider. The book is an East Coast perspective on bodysurfing which is expressed through unique terminology and accounts of East Coast figures pushing the progression of maneuvers.

Paul begins the book by establishing a purpose. “The goal of this book is to teach you how to neutralize and use wave force to elevate bodysurfing to an art form.” It is a lofty goal and Paul dedicates part of the book educating beginners and part of the book documenting a “style” manual as he calls it. I will address each part separately.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 (Reading the Surf, Entering the Surf and Catching Waves) are mostly directed at the beginner bodysurfers. Here we see Paul’s lifeguard side as he describes drifts, rips, currents, types of waves and two ways to catch them. He provides several graphics to aid in description of water hazards a bodysurfer is to be familiar with. The descriptions of hazards and waves are well written and the information could be very useful to a blossoming water-person.

Chapters 5, 6 and 7 (Riding Waves, Exiting Waves and Parting Comments) begin to address the “style” Paul alludes to in the early chapters. Here we find one of the book’s weaknesses. Paul’s Ocean photos are of smaller waves with mixed clarity. Some of the photographs are able to get the point across, but offer little inspiration. This is in great contrast to the black and white drawings by Damien Cwik. Damien’s artwork is a notable highlight in the otherwise underwhelming visual experience.


The content provided in these chapters is basic. It chronicles a reasonable transition from jumping off the sandy bottom to extending one arm out and riding waves. Paul draws on the important dynamics of flotation and their effects on bodysurfing. As he goes on to describe what he calls “Higher-Order” riding of waves, Paul uses technical language to guide the reader through the cut-back, roll-over(spin) and bottom-turn. These, fairly common maneuvers, are described aptly before Paul introduces bobsledding, which is essentially holding one foot while riding in the standard lay-out position. The culmination of skill, in Paul’s opinion, lies one’s ability to string maneuvers together in “frenzied insanity.” One could argue the rider would demonstrate more skill by linking maneuvers with deliberate control, but despite the terminology, Paul writes a strong description and notes the importance of utilizing the wave’s energy above all else.

Throughout the book Paul has also intertwined his own personal experiences with great detail. I find myself most connected with Paul’s writing as he describes bodysurfing on 9/11 and his first experiences with the weightlessness of bodysurfing. The Progressive Art of Bodysurfing: A Style Manual is a unique piece, which despite some visual shortcomings in the time of prolific water photography, offers the reader a stoke-full East Coast perspective on bodysurfing.