Throwback: A Week in Florida- March 2018

Florida

I work in Florida for a couple months each winter. Sometimes I’m conflicted. Florida provides an interesting place for new adventures and new ecosystems. Rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, The Everglades, Miami, gators, bald eagles and manatees, sometimes fun waves. However, winter waves are generally much better in San Diego than south Florida.

The winter surf of 2018 was historically dismal in Southern California. The winter surf of 2018 in Florida was possibly the greatest of all time. I had been in Florida for a few weeks prior. I usually go for a dawn swim a couple times a week regardless of the conditions. 40 minute drive to Juno Pier at 5am and make it to work at 10am. But I had been watching the surf forecast when a monster purple blob began to form.

Winter Storm Riley

Winter Storm Riley moved off the coast of Massachusetts on March 2nd and went through a period of explosive development known as bombogenesis. Unfortunately, wreaking havoc across New England and beyond.  On the morning of Sunday March 3rd, 1,200 miles south, I arrived at the Juno Pier at dawn. Nonstop waves were already breaking 100 yards past the end of the pier. The swell had definitely begun and wasn’t scheduled to peak for 2 days.

Juno Pier

This swell quickly became the most impressive I have experienced anywhere. Five days of overhead to double overhead waves without a lull. It was like a 5,000 wave set bombarded the coast. Most Florida surf spots were overpowered by the immense energy as the swell peaked but a few mythological spots lit up for a select few. Winds remained light and even went offshore for extended periods. 

I bodysurfed every morning and my employers were gracious enough to give me a day off to chase this incredible swell. I didn’t have to go too far. The closest beach to my hotel is a little nondescript beachbetween the Lake Worth Pier and West Palm Beach called Phipps Ocean Park. It was firing all week! Peaky lines of neon blue swell going below sea level and exploding on the sandbars. I also swam epic Delray Beach, pumping Jupiter Inlet and all-time, incredible Reef Road.
-KS

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Why? How? When?

Do you ever float in the Ocean wondering…

Why do waves come in sets? Why do sets come in sets? Why do some sets have 4 or 5 waves while others only have 1? How does a storm’s pressure gradient effect the consistency of a swell? When will swell come again? Why do some waves double-up and focus more energy onto the sandbar? How does the tide swing impact a shoaling wave? Why does wave energy refract toward shallower water? How does sand move bank to bank? Why do some evenings glassoff and others don’t? When will swell come again? How does turbulence from previous waves affect the shoaling of the next wave? Where is the best wave on Earth breaking right now? How do islands and offshore features affect swell approaching a coastline? Am I missing a better wave breaking nearby? How does wind and upwelling impact water temperature? How does water temperature affect swell production? Why do seasonal changes change the areas of Ocean that generate swell? How does coastal geology impact bathymetry? How does coastal ecology impact bathymetry? When will swell come again? Will climate disruption equal more swell? What’s more important for swell: size of the storm, duration of the storm or direction? Does a storm in the Indian Ocean eventually create swell in the South Pacific? What happens when different swell trains cross in the middle of the Ocean? Does a storm in the North Pacific become a winter storm in Cleveland, then a Nor’easter on the US east coast and then eventually a swell for Europe? Do Pacific hurricanes originate in Sahara dust off the coast of Africa? Are all low pressure systems connected? When will swell come again? Are the cobbles always on the beach but covered with sand or do they move beach to beach? Are the swell generating systems in our Oceans connected on a macro scale? How important are the micro-connections of capillary waves to the formation of a swell? As the sun goes through 8 year cycles of activity, does swell production increase and decrease accordingly? What did the waves look like breaking on beaches during the time of supercontinent Pangea? What will waves look like 100 million years from now? Where have the biggest and best waves broken in the history of Earth? How do the properties of individual water molecules impact the formation of swell? Does salinity affect swell production? When will swell come again?
-KS

Perfect waves in Nicaragua

Tripping Fins: Nicaragua

I‘d seen the photos and heard the stories…tropical beachbreak barrels and offshore all day! What? Really? Its perfect offshore all day? Apparently, Lake Nicaragua sits just inland from the coast and disturbs the typical land/sea breeze cycle. After 10 years of the afternoon, blown-out sea breeze in Southern California, it was a must to check out the mythical Nicaragua land breeze.

I left home at 5am, easy Uber to the airport, no problems through security, stroll to the gate and wait. Excitement building. I’d been worried about a tight connection in Dallas to Managua. As I entered the jetway, my phone buzzed…the flight from Dallas to Managua was cancelled. Damn. I quickly called American Airline customer service and had just enough time hear something about mechanical issues and no flights to Managua until 2 days later. The flight attendant forced me off the phone in preparation for take off. I spent the entirety of that flight cursing under my breath.

Arriving in Dallas, I found a long line of disgruntled passengers waiting for a chance to voice their frustration and amend their broken travel plans. One of them, Kelly Anne, lives in Encinitas and was also headed to the same surf community in Nicaragua. After a 2 hour wait, the rep found me a flight to Mexico City that afternoon and then to Managua the next morning. Mechanical issues at least guaranteed a hotel room in Mexico City.  But now the great mystery…what would become of my checked bag containing my swim fins. Would I ever see them again? Would I be able to experience the magical Nicaraguan conditions?

I arrived in the seeming chaos of the Mexico City airport at 11pm local time. A couple of helpful American Airline employees helped me acquire a hotel voucher and track my bag…it was in El Salvador. Optimism at a new low. When I entered the hotel lobby at midnight, a couple hundred travelers waited in line for a room. Finally, I laid down in bed at 2am and slept for 2 hours. By 4:30am, I was back in the chaos of the Mexico City airport. Quick flight to Managua, still fuming at American Airlines for the delay and missing baggage.

Gusto Pablo. First time I’ve been picked up with a sign…extra credit that it’s spelled wrong.

Gusto Pablo met me outside the airport and drove me the 3 hours to the community that’d be home for the week. Gusto Pablo dominates the hectic roads of Nicaragua. Not in a dangerous way, but in a supremely confident manner. The beautiful countryside and colorful towns flew past. At one point, we were hung up in a traffic jam in a town because of a festival passing through. Pablo simply found a dirt road to the right and proceeded to take his small sedan over and through the rutted, flooded road. We pulled back onto the road on the other side of town and continued toward the coast.

We drove into the idyllic surf community and quickly arrived at the home that I had rented a room. It was beautiful: four rental units surrounding a pool and the home of the owner, plus a large common room. A small river runs through the backyard and the whole property is surrounded by thick forest.

After dropping my bags, I walked the few hundred yards to the beach. Wow…a gorgeous tropical paradise. Not pumping swell yet, but sure enough the wind was offshore and a fun, high-tide shorebreak womped onto the sand. A rainbow appeared as a quick squall passed through and I jumped in the Ocean, finless, for a quick womp. The forecast showed a slow start to the week with a very solid swell filling in after a couple days.

Ken and Bruce on film.

I walked back to the house to meet Mateo, the owner of the home and his parents Ken and Judy that had just arrived. Turns out, they live about a mile away from me in Encinitas and would be staying for couple weeks. Their friend, Bruce, also joined for a few days. Ken and Bruce are retired teachers and they are all delightful people.  

As darkness fell, a man appeared in the driveway. American Airlines slightly redeemed themselves. My bag was delivered to the house all the way from the Managua Airport. I was elated! I had my swim fins! Plus, I could finally change my clothes after two days of humid travel.

I woke at 5am everyday of the trip and rode a bicycle to the beach with my fins. The first couple mornings, the surf was small but still gorgeous. I went for a long walk down the beach and into the forest on the way to a little fishing village. I was blown away by the vibrant ecosystem: butterflies, iguanas, birds and howler monkeys.

The food at the house was delicious! Three meals a day, all super fresh and healthy…perfect surf fuel. Ken and Bruce vs. Mateo and myself commenced a table tennis tournament after dinner each night. I was the weak link and it took us a couple games to overcome the craftiness of the older gentlemen, but we eventually figured it out.

Even when the locals said it was flat, there were still fun, chest high waves finding their way across the sandbars. The swell filled in over the next two days. Every set larger than the next and becoming more consistent. I swam 5-7 hours each day: session at dawn, after breakfast, after lunch and at sunset. If I wasn’t swimming, I was on the beach with my camera.

A set wave stands up in the wind and crackles as the top is blown off. Dive deep into the darkness. Dig fingers into the sand, ears pop as the water weight passes over top. Push off the bottom…surface blind from the sudden bright light and the spray. Pure exhilaration! 

I dealt with a stomach issue one afternoon but I considered it a right of passage for my first trip to Central America and was perfectly fine by the next morning. My trip was scheduled for 7 days, but after scoring the best waves of my life, I extended for an extra 3 days. The swell peaked in the double overhead+ range and the conditions remained mostly flawless. During 12 hours of daylight, maybe a front would blow through for an hour and the wind would switch onshore. The other 11 of hours were either light wind and glassy or perfect offshore.

I went to the beach every night with my camera and tripod in an attempt to photograph the Milky Way in the light-pollution-free sky. Tropical clouds made that difficult but I witnessed some spectacular lightning storms on the horizon. I even scored a super fun moonlight swim on my final night.

Twas a spectacular trip! I hope to go back for a full month next summer. Many thanks to Mateo, Ken, Judy, Bruce and their staff for all the wonderful hospitality! If you are looking for a Nicaragua surf adventure, I highly suggest contacting Mateo:
Website: VRBO
Email: Mateo@nicatime.com
Instagram: @NicaTime

-KS

Niknonos wave photograph

Analog Bodysurf #3

In the 3rd installment of Analog Bodysurf, we feature a variety of photos taken with a variety of cameras, in a variety of locations.

Nikonos- V (1984). Underwater film camera.

I have very much enjoyed the challenge of shooting the Nikonos V in the water. Judging the focus distance as a wave approaches, setting the focus and taking the shot at the correct moment…makes for intrigue when the negatives are scanned.  Some photos are trash, some are interesting even though out of focus and rarely, a photo is well composed and focused.

Nikon FM2

Tripping Fins: South Florida v2

As I’ve said previously, working in South Florida for much of the winter is ok. The weather is great, my employers are very good to me and the Atlantic Ocean is warm enough for skins (I chuckle at the locals in full suits…the water is 70° at its coldest!) However, winter is my favorite time of year in San Diego with consistent NW swells pounding the whole coast, while Florida can be ankle high for weeks at a time.

Yes, I missed some epic California swells this winter.  But I consider myself lucky because I scored numerous fun sessions in South Florida. From chest high and glassy to classic, overhead windswells with whipping onshore wind.

The level of surfing talent in the Jupiter area is very impressive. A pack of locals, old and young, ripped into the lumpy sets, connected fast sections and packed the inside slabs.

I woke up at 5 every morning with a hint of swell and drove the 45 minutes to Juno Pier. I found it larger than surrounding areas and a local guy later informed me that it is frequently larger here because there’s less shelf outside thwarting the energy of short period swells.  Many swells are combo: short groundswell from the North and even shorter local windswell. The inside sandbars are in good shape so the result is neon peaks and wedges.

There are never other bodysurfers around so there are some strange looks from the locals on the main peak as I lurked around on the inside. But after tube hunting a few sections, the skeptical looks turned to approving head nods.

Confused by the sunrise.

For years, I’ve seen most sunrises and sunsets in San Diego. It took a couple days to get used to the sun’s position in Florida. At dawn one morning, with the sun low on the brilliant horizon, my internal clock said, “The sun is setting, time to find some dinner.” It took me a second to realize that I had coffee in my hand and it was time to swim the sunrise.

After a solid swim one evening, I went on the Pier to photograph the action as the sun set. There I met longtime local surfer/photographer Bargain Bob Baggett.  He was excitedly shooting the local crew as they ripped the windswell to shreds. Bargain Bob is a super friendly and knowledgeable guy. He knew every surfer in the water and happily shared his local info, acquired from 20+ years in the Jupiter area. Turns out he even snapped a photo of me hunting for an inside barrel.

Photo: Bargain Bob Baggett

-KS