Mar 5, 2009

One Day To Remember ...

Hi Paul,

Have you ever thought about writing about your best surf-mat surf trip? I, for one, would love to hear more about your stealth adventures.

It's funny how many times in the last few months a senior citizen will come up to me as I come in from matting to say, "You have so much fun!" What can you say? I usually have said, "I know it's kinda ridiculous, but so much fun." One German gal summed it up in a way that sticks in my head, "Theez is vaat zee life eez about." It sure is fun.

Jeff C.

Hey Jeff,

This is a slam dunk question to answer... but I don't have any photos to illustrate it! (Which is apropos, since no one else was there that day.)

When I woke up one Thanksgiving Day in the mid-80’s, it was threatening rain, and it had been flat for a week. I was fully absorbed in riding the nylon mats at the time, and I was getting in the water 3-5 times a week…so I was in really good shape. But, since it was about to rain and we were in the middle of flat spell, surfing was the last thing on my mind.

Around 8:30 AM friend called me up from the South Bay and said it was closed out in front of his house, and the wind was straight off shore. (Which is often the case in the South Bay on rainy days.)

So, I threw my gear in the car and headed down to Rincon for a look-see. Sure enough, it was 3-4 feet in the cove, but with a faint, rainy-day southeast bump. No one was in the water. Not one person. A few guys hanging out in the lower lot…that was it.

I figured the best call was the Overhead. It can handle south wind better, since it faces a more northwest direction than the local points. I toyed with the idea of going back home and getting my spoon, since Overhead was a great spoon wave. But, I decided to stick with the mat, and headed south.

As I drove past Faria, there was swell showing, featuring a slight south bump that would surely get worse as the day progressed. Still no one out. (It was Thanksgiving day, mind you…but this was the first day of a swell before mass-media surf predictions and instantaneous surf reports.)

The outer reef at Overhead was cracking, as expected, and wind and texture were a lot better. That was the call, but I wanted to go down and check out California Street. The long, long walls there were made-to-order for the "new" mats. Unlimited speed potential when it was over 4 feet.

When I got there, the sets were 6 feet. The wind was from the south, but not ruining it. Like all the other spots that morning, no one was in the water. I figured I'd get out there and snag 2 or 3 walls across the point before the wind destroyed it.

I suited up and walked all the way past the Pipe, towards Hobo Jungle. I wanted to paddle out up top, and drift down with the current, especially since the swell was consistent, and I’d be punching through the white water on a mat.

I slipped out during a lull without even getting my hair wet, and started moving from the Pipe down towards the parking lot. The wind was starting die down, but there was a residual south bump lingering. I picked up a wave in front of the lot, and rode it all the way down to the pier. Great fun. The swell had more depth than was apparent from the beach.

After I pulled out of my first wave, I decided to stay in the water rather than go into the beach and walk back up. I paddled out parallel to the pier, then worked my way back up the point. As I was kicking along, the wind started blowing again, but this time it was from the north/northwest…¾ offshore from behind. The ideal wind direction for California Street. I looked over towards the parking area, and there were still only a handful of cars there, and none of them appeared to be surf cars. It started to dawn on me, this was going to be an epic go out!

It was still overcast, but out towards the islands, there was a large patch of blue sky starting to show. That meant that the bulk of the daylight was coming from the west. It was maybe 10:30 in the morning, when the sun is usually coming from the opposite direction, but the waves were backlit…like morning in Queensland. My favorite lighting to surf!

A handful of other surfers paddled out during the session, but I never came into contact with them. I rode so many wave across the point, it seemed like I spent as much time riding waves as paddling. And I could let waves go that I would usually kill for, just to watch them break, unspoiled. A rare feeling, even back then.

What was the most interesting was being able to take any line I wanted on a wave, with no fear of someone taking off in front of, or behind, me. And no fear of blowing a precious wave, either. When I screwed up, there were plenty more where that one came from!

I tried riding my mat with so little air, my chest was almost touching the bottom skin. And I rode a few waves blown up almost rock solid, just to feel the rail hold in like a fin. Each extreme worked, but in a profoundly different way. What worked the best, overall, was the 90 bend we had been happy with for a year or two. But it was fun to try variations with no pressure (pun intended) to make the most of every wave.

After 4 hours, I finally started to get a cramp in one of my calves, so I reluctantly came in.

What I came away with from this day is that when it comes to riding good waves on a mat, less is more. Less turning, less concentration on myself. I just started to feel my way along, the way you do when you ride a mat in the dark. And, the exact opposite of how one might surf in a modern, competitive/photographic environment.

Later that evening, another friend called and asked if I surfed that day. He said he’d been in the water at Faria all afternoon, and a few guys came and went, but that was it. He had it to himself. He was riding a fin-forward hull, and conveyed a lot of the same observations I had about my day in the water down in Ventura. “I stood there and did nothing on most waves…just flying…it was incredible!”

I looked at the surf the next day, and it was a Victory-At-Sea, post-rain-front blow-through, with 30 knot west winds, and dozens holiday surfers out at every spot. At the time, I certainly appreciated what I had experienced the day before…but not as much as I do now! I don’t think I got in the water again for another week.

I still have the mat I rode that day, BTW. In fact, it was the original "Standard" 4GF shape. Since then, the canvas strips got peeled off, and several other non-skids have been added. It's a damn mess now! The last time I went surfing, a few days after Christmas in 2008, I rode that mat because I knew I wouldn’t be in the water anytime soon, and I wanted to see how it felt after all these years.

The first wave it jumped into second gear before I got to the bottom of a 4 foot wave!


Surfsister said...

That's an epic day for the history books. I don't know that you can find an uncrowded break that easily down here anymore. I've done it once or twice in the last six years. I love this story, Paul!

Anonymous said...

Do you see the irony here, SS?

I was in So Cal on this Thanksgiving Day, and you were probably in Walla Walla. And now I'm in Walla Walla and you're back in So Cal. (I think it was 1985.)

OK, not an irony, but kind of interesting.

OK, not that interesting, but worth mentioning.

Jamie said...

Great story PG! I was just thinking to myself that every time I come out of the water from a session lately, I think to myself, "That was the best surf I've ever had. Definitely the best waves I've ever gotten, and best I've ever felt with regards to my performance on the mat." It feels like it gets easier every time, but I learn something new or am fine-tuning techniques every single go-out. My timing is getting better, fitness is getting way better, and I feel like my body is more relaxed on the wave, actually giving me more control and speed. Also, I must publicly state that I am very gracious and incredibly stoked to test the new blue prototype when it arrives.
Thanks Paul!

Jamie said...

I guess then that my best mat session would have to be the one I'm going to have tomorrow. And I'm very much looking forward to Sunday. Proneman, Tatum, and I will be joining a few other friends and a bunch of stoked sliders at The Alley Fish Fry at Currumbin. The forecast calls for small groundswell and light winds, and though I don't have any swallowtails anymore, I will be toting around a bag full of mats to ride and pass around. Should be a great day, will report how it turns out. Anyone reading this and attending the Fry please come up and say hello, the mats are for sharing.

Surfsister said...

I was in Holland then. I left Walla Walla in May of 1984, never to return!

Pahl Dixon said...

Wow, that mat with the blue canvas strips brings back lots of good memories! Really fun go-outs with friends and family who bought their own mats or borrowed some of mine. However, all the very best mat sessions were solo surfs on obscure days at difficult spots with sharp rocks and reefs and high winds and such. Somehow, big perfect waves with high risk factors and no one to come to the rescue adds up to epic fun!

nathanoj said...

Jamie - take photos!