Dawn Sunday

By Drew Green

It is dawn on a Sunday. The cold, metal railing seems to the draw the line between wild and civilized, dividing groomed, green grass from unkempt and restless waters. Up above, seagulls hasten to make their morning dives, squawking in their pursuit of crabs and fish, hoping to snag something fresh before the sun rises. As they break the glasslike surface of the water, a new world is briefly revealed to them, as much separate from as it is tied to their own. A sea lion glides past, curious of the feathered disturbance to its breakfast routine. The beast flies effortlessly through the obsidian murk, dipping and diving, reveling in the occasional catch. Once the fish is caught, the creature flicks it into the air, as if playing a game of aquatic basketball. The animal’s play inspires a nearby photographer to… “CLICK” The shutter of a Canon 5D slams down, and this moment is freed from the fleeting nature of time.

They never stay on the bluff for long, the photographers. The frigid offshore wind shoos them and their beanies along the path and eventually back to the refuge of their cars. As the photographer pulls out, his space is taken by a red VW van.. The owner knows the icy water is warmer than the air around him. A neoprene-clad foot steps out from behind the scarlet door, across the manicured grass, and past the railing; casually leaving the uniform parking spaces, grid-paper grass, and engineered symmetry of the apartment building behind it. The man steps down the jagged Torrey sandstone, and sits down on the damp, worn ledge that has been the seat of many a patient water-goer. With fins on, he casts off as water rushes up onto the thawing rocks around him.img_0822

Rocks that have been here for eons. Sometimes the rocks are friendly. Most times they are not. Occasionally they shift and clamor with excitement, when the waves get too big. Today the rocks just wait, immersed in the constant energy of the surf. Energy that has travelled long and far to deliver its fatal blow on this ragged coastline. All of the members of the morning cast feel it. The sea lion is lifted from its hiding place in the kelp, the gulls evacuate their roost on the once-calm surface, the man dives deep into the blue. While submerged, he pauses to look back through the vertical pane of water as it stands up on the reef. He sees the distorted form of the apartment building, complemented by a row of crooked parking spaces, a furry swath of green grass, and a twisted, gray railing.img_0833

Purple Blob Report: Winter 2016 *In Memoriam

Winter 2016. One of the greatest seasons of Purple Blobs in the history of waveriding. El Niño 2016: we’ll never forget you. We’ll mythologize you. All future seasons will be compared and likely fall short of your glory. We miss you already. We were spoiled by your consistency. Watching the North Pacific slow down is heartbreaking. 

Jan. 24, 2016

It became mindless. A constant cycle of surf, eat, work, surf, eat, sleep, surf. Over and over, everyday for 2.5 months. I stopped checking forecasts…there were waves and there’d be waves.

There wasn’t a super-mega-decadal swell but it was consistent and solid. The small days still had occasional head-high sets. The actual swell events, and there were a dozen or so, were frequently double-overhead. Big wave surfers raced back and forth between Maui, Oahu, Europe and California. Jaws saw an all-time year of massive, paddlable days. The Eddie could have run more than once and finally ran in maxed out 25+ surf at Waimea. Mavericks had arguably the best day ever.

Forget the endless summer, we all crave the Endless Winter.

November was a dismal month. All the hype surrounding El Niño had waveriders scratching their heads waiting for an early winter start. Then it happened, December 11th 2015, a very solid pulse of NW energy slammed the California coast.

NPAC early December 2015: StormSurf, SwellWatch, Surfline, MagicSeaweed.
NPAC- early December 2015: StormSurf, SwellWatch, Surfline, MagicSeaweed.

The torrential rain didn’t materialize as we’d all hoped to quench California’s drought thirst. February saw many 80° days without a cloud in sight and light winds persisted. The constant pounding of substantial groundswell did have serious impacts of our coastlines. Sandbars washed away and cliffs crumbled. 

2016 began with immense optimism for waveriders. All indicators continued to point towards a strong El Niño in the equatorial Pacific. January did not disappoint. A conveyor belt of strong storms crossed the North Pacific. 

Powerful jet stream- early Jan. 2016. Image: NOAA
Powerful jet stream- early Jan. 2016. Image: NOAA

January ended with a powerful wind storm bombarding Southern California. Sideways rain and wind gusts over 50mph brought tree damage and large storm surf.

February 2016 continued the consistency of surf but also included the aforementioned stellar conditions.

Spring 2016 is off to a good start with a series of south swells with combo NW swell mixing in, although the wind isn’t always cooperating. May looks to start with an active South Pacific storm track. Hopefully, spring/summer 2016 can pick up where the stellar winter 2016 left off. The water remained warm throughout the winter so possibly, we’ll have an active East Pacific tropical season.  Here’s to continued pumping swell!

Nothing gold can stay.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
–Robert Frost–1923

Nothing gold can stay.
Nature’s first swell is gold.
Her hardest energy to hold.
Her early barrel is round;
Until it runs aground.
So the sea sank to grief,
It now seems so brief.
So El Niño turns to summer.
Such a bummer.
Nothing gold can stay.

I’m not sure if 1923 was an El Niño year but Robert Frost touched on the feeling surfers have as an epic El Niño winter comes to an end. The surf wasn’t going to pump forever. Nothing gold can stay.



El Niño is real. As predicted, a series of solid swells are producing substantial surf throughout the North Pacific. The jet stream is firmly established in a southerly position and a seemingly nonstop train of WestNorthWest swells are marching across the NPAC region. Are you tired yet?

Powerful Jet Stream Image: NOAA
Powerful Jet Stream Image: NOAA

A couple months ago, I wrote a piece called Swell Affective Disorder. The month of November 2015 was dismal for California surf and I was feeling the effects. Fast forward 2 months and it’s been head high+ for almost 3 weeks straight. We are spoiled. The entire North Pacific is drenched in swell. A new affliction is beginning to affect some waveriders: swell fatigue. Many chest high waves go unridden in between overhead swells. Waves that a dozen people would fight over in July, break empty during an El Niño winter.

Nobody around.
Nobody around.

Arms are tired, backs are sore. Head’s full of water. Wetsuits smell terrible.  A chest high wave isn’t as exciting when it was 10ft last weekend and another solid swell is coming in a couple days. “Surfed out” is a real thing. Drive down the coast and check your local spots. Even the most popular might have a significant decrease of heads in the water.

You have to go out . Remember flat spells? Remember how it feels after 2 weeks of weak surf? Remember how you crave the Ocean’s energy? There it is. Right out front, right now. Fill your Vision bank. You’ll wish you had this much swell come July. Nothing gold can stay. It will go flat again. The long range forecast will go quiet. And you’ll be left with nothing but the memories of pumping El Nino surf. Always take advantage of swell when it hits your local shore. 



Cold, Wet, Sandy Wetsuits at Dawn. 

Dawn patrol. 37 degrees at 5:30am. Wind chill a few degrees colder. Coffee. Numerous layers of clothing. Out the door with towel, fins and…damn it! Forgot to rinse and dry the wetsuit after last evening’s session.
The wetsuit is sandy and it’s wet and very cold :-/

Pull up to the spot, too dark to see, but can feel and hear a building swell.  Stand in the biting, offshore wind with the boys. Chugging coffee. Cracking jokes. Try to hide from the wind. Retain some body heat. 

Can't see it, but know its there.
Can’t see it, but know its there.

We’re out there, but first…the worst moment of the day. The wind has already entered the layers of clothing. But now it’s time to strip off those layers.  And enter a sandy, wet, cold wetsuit. Ugh. 

It is an important ritual. The hardship. The adversity. You want waves? Well suffer a bit first. Barefeet already becoming numb on the pavement. One leg in the wetsuit…righteous discomfort. Both legs in and try to focus on the impending waves. Revealing more skin to the wind as the top layers come off. Its cold and uncomfortable but it is Ocean time.

Lock up the truck, grab the fins and sprint down to the beach. Shivering and hooting. No time to waste, first light is approaching.  Zip up and splash……..Wooooo! “Is the water colder than last night?” “It feels colder than last night.”  Little pin pricks all over as water climbs inside the wetsuit. 

Swimming hard, rows of whitewater stack up. Under the first, under the second….
Ice cream headache.

Dive deep, feel the brain freeze!
Dive deep, feel the brain freeze!

Under the third, still zinging. Slightly disoriented but still swimming. During a lull, the brain thaws.

Wits regained, a solid waves approaches. Swim to find the spot and take off. The barrel is round and the glide is real. A sense of warmth washes over. The warmth of a fun ride and vigorous swimming. And possibly some urine.

Warming up.
Warming up.

After a couple hours: feet turn to immobilized stumps inside the fins. Slurred speech as the jaw and tongue freeze. Continuous chills and shivers shoot through the body.  Walking up the beach after the session without feeling numb feet. A chill in the body that can last throughout the day. 

Numb feet.
Numb feet.

But there is something special about putting on that wet wetsuit. It represents passion and dedication.  The hardship presents miniature Ernest Shackleton moments.  Certainly would’ve been easier and far more comfortable to stay in bed. But the fun of riding waves with friends and getting barreled and laughing at each other’s slurred words makes it all beyond worthwhile.

Ode to Winter

Sure the days are short and morning’s cold.
But the Exhilaration!

Stripping off warm layers…
To enter a wet, clammy wetsuit…
in freezing offshore wind…
At dawn.

Big, purple blobs flood NPAC models.
The Harvest Buoy spikes…its coming.
Butterfly stomach excitement.
Impending glory rides…
…and poundings.

The North Pacific Ocean.
The Polar Jet Stream.
Massive, spinning tempests.
Spraying swell from-
Hawaii to Alaska to California.

Entire weeks of head-high+ surf.
Consistent, pumping sets.
Lungs expand.
Surfed-out, thinning crowds.
80° weekends in January.
The thrill of enormous storm surf.
Delightful Winter!

Less traffic, more parking.
Dynamic weather.
Glorious, desperate rain.
Maybe, possibly, perhaps …
the run-off bacteria strengthens our immune system?

Smile! Its time for winter poundings!