Monday, June 26, 2006

A Confident Rider

A Confident Rider

Yesterday, I surfed at Cowell's in Santa Cruz. I cannot remember exactly when the last time I surfed there, so it must have been quite some time. In the past few years, when I go to Santa Cruz, I either surf the East Side or go to Manresa, and actually much of the time I stay up closer to breaks in Half Moon Bay.

I was really glad, though, I went, because the waves were fun, and especially I was comparing my experience with Waikiki. Here I don't have to paddle out too far, but we still get some good quality long rides, and like it was in Waikiki sets were far enough in between that getting out was easy and really relaxing just be out waiting for the waves. There were a modest amount of people, but there was a room for just about everyone too.

While I try not to boosting my abilities, I must say that I came a long way since the first time I stepped myself in this break. In fact, this was the only break that I could surf for many of my early sessions. Now I go, catch a wave; go "diagonally" to the wave all the way to the beach from the "outside" where other people are not catching. I have gotten confident enough also that even there are people inside; I can easily negotiate around most people. I can sometimes even work out a course when I was dropped in later, if the surfer wipes out, I can cut over the surfer and continue on!

Every once in a while I do run into a surfer that I would aspire to and I saw a woman surfer who was there catching ton of waves at ease wearing a small smile as she went down the line with really graceful posture. There is this big "confidence" on her that everything looked so natural and part of her from a take off, kick out to paddle back. I was just observing her and I was just watching the whole grace of the thing. It was kind of watching a nice dance performance by master dancers. Everything looked came so easy and effortlessly with her.

There always are other technically good surfers, but I saw that many surfers seems to be forcing something out of their actions, and I feel that I am one of them doing that too. So I really felt that I still have a long way to go, but this is a kind of surfing experience that really is valuable to me.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Progress Report

The week stint in Waikiki with a long board was great. They were definitely a great confidence building and also a bit of ego boosting. The confidence building came in two parts. First, because of the gentle waves and waves not so big, they were easy to catch and so I felt like I was so much better. Another confidence building was that these sessions were done mainly at a distant break from the shore. This was the first time I had to commute to a break just by paddling by so much distance. May be 1/2 a mile one way! I actually do paddle that much or more from the stairs at the Hook to the Pleasure Point peaks, but I catch waves inside on the way, and usually I gradually migrate there rather than in one shot. At any rate, still, these Waikiki breaks were quite far away from the shore, whereas in SC breaks still are not happening that far out from the shore.

So after coming back to Half Moon Bay though, I felt that I am much more comfortable being "further out" in the ocean than before, and can gauge the feel of being how far more confidently.

A bit of ego boost part is the following. My board rack at the hotel was a bit further behind the beach and when I take the board out, I had to go by one of these beach front restaurant areas. Needless to say, I attracted a lot of attention carrying a 9'2 ft hunk of plastic through drinking crowd each time causing a bit of sensation and making a scene.

So I do highly recommend this Waikiki experience for those who just hit kind of an intermediate stage, you have a good command of your board under most situations. I think these long-board waves can really help you out tuning riding skills, especially the rides are usually much longer than the ones you get around here.

In terms of my recent progress, I have actually feeling much more confident working with a bit more hollowed waves. One thing might be that due to the highway closure, there are less people surfing here and so I tend to be able to "own" waves better.

Much earlier on, on this WavLOG, I have talked about this issue of taking-off when the waves are faster, and I talked several experienced people about this, and the general
answer from them was that you do need to take off diagonally and not straight down. It is not that straight-down approach does not work, but basically you do need to have both options available. I feel that mastering the diagonal take-off is really important on these nearly-closing out beach breaks that are abound around here (and this goes along with a requirement to master clean duck-diving technique too).

Now, this diagonal take-off thing is not that very easy to do, and the success rate is not that great yet, but I feel that the consistency is improving quite a bit lately, and that is with my 6'4 board. Several of key elements in getting here were

? Becoming a much more stronger paddler than ever before. You basically need to grab a lot of water fast. Diagonal take-off means there is much less assistance from the waves to take off compared to going straight down.
? Become better at assessing the wave break spot and direction.
? As with all take-off technique, be really agile on getting up on the board. Diagonal take-off adds a bit of balancing challenge to get up on the board.
? Overall comfort being challenged by more hollow breaks

For me, attaining the stronger paddling was probably one of the key mastery that took me (and taking me) a long time to get to.

Getting up on the board quickly, to me, is very important because once I am standing on top of the board; I can be in much better control of the board. I can easily correct the line for speed, and position in the wave.

It is really a lot of fun when this take off works into a nice smooth pocket and I can extract all the power from the wave, yet it is almost hard to explain how quiet, smooth and fast some of these rides are, when they start out right!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Back in Nor Cal

Today was the second day at my home break at the Jetty, after nearly a week in the Waikiki break. First thing, I hear so many people complaining about our water being so cold and won't surf. As for me, I actually see not much difference in terms of the comfort. I put on the XCEL 4/3 with a 2 mm hood and a pair of XCEL booties. The first dip in the water is, admittedly, a wake-up call, but after that I paddle out hard and I am just as being comfortable as in Waikiki waters, and I also admit that after surfing without wet suits, it really felt strange, like wearing one of these medieval armor and go to a battle with the waves. But once I was in the water, it became a business as usual, and with my arms spring loaded with rubber, I felt like I was getting more arm exercise.

In terms of the waves, it also was a welcome change from these Waikiki waves. Today, waves were on a "mellower" side, but yet, there were some hollow sections that I could enjoy (not saying that Waikiki won't have it, and of course O'ahu is the place for really great waves, but then I am just a regular surfer.)

Paddle out here means less than two minutes, and ride also means just 5-10 seconds today, but I just get the same stoked excitement about catching waves, and I can be back on a short board, and when I catch some of the breaks successfully, there just more speed to and power to the ride that I missed -- (at least trying to) cranking the bottom and snapping off the top is something that is really exciting and that's something I want work a lot more on!

Perhaps, next time I would be back in O'ahu, I would get enough courage to try out these North Shore waves, but somehow, I think that is still a long long way.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Last Day at Waikiki

Final Waikiki Sessions
Some of you might be wondering why I seem to just have been surfing Waikiki. Well, before we took off to Japan, I misplaced my drivers license and so I am actually asking my wife to drive at the moment. As soon as I get back I plan to visit our friendly and efficient DMV office to get the replacement. But until then, it is best that my wife drives. You know, however, I also find some challenge in certain limitations. For example, right now, I just paddle out from the hotel. If you are following my story, I have rented an NSP 9'2 for this week, and also rented a locker space so I am now able to go out to surf any time I wanted to.

This morning, I went back to the "Royal Hawaiian" spot. At my paddling speed, it took me a good 15-minute paddle out go get to the spot. But as well as the crowd and the waves, it is really mellow paddle out. I just stroke each hand slowly and all the way through and I can see the bottom of sea passing by, sometimes with smaller fishes and big sea turtles passing by. Speaking of this, through surfing, I have really seen so many things in the ocean from a direct encounter with whales, dolphins surfing right next to me, sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and huge sea jellies even.
As for paddling out, tt is amazing that I have been this far out in to the ocean! When I turn back toward the shore, I cannot literally identify each person standing at the beach! Should this have been in California, I would be really freaked out for having paddled out so far, and worried about how in the heck I am going to get back!

But back to surfing? There was a bit more swells this morning, and I was already identifying some familiar faces. And I got another one of those extremely long rides. It is really different type of surfing, and really what I have learned so far have been really helpful. If you are reading this as a new reader, please do know that my purpose here is to share what I am experiencing as they happen and not really to boost how I feel how good I am. Really, I am not that great of a surfer at all technically. There still are, no matter what break I am in, a lot of surfers whom I aspire to be. Having said that though, what really helping me to get these long rides is that I now know how to read waves ahead and how to extract power from the waves. I now know when to cut back a little and go straight down to get more speed and when to climb back up on the wave using the speed I gained to get more speed. So even the wave "puters" out a bit I can connect these sections and go on. And it is really something that paddling back out in of itself takes another 5-6 minutes to get back in to the spot I started with. It is so different from surfing at the Jetty or Linda Mar where paddling back out means just a few minutes!
I really had fun this morning. So as usual, I went back to the room, changed and spent the rest of the day driving around and checking out other areas of the island (we will write StokeMaster's Guide to O'ahu soon).

I opted to surf early in the morning and later in the afternoon when other "tourist" activities, such as outrigger canoe and catamaran rides stop. It is kind of amazing that outrigger rides and surfers coexist on the same waves, but then I have found out how people ride waves in Waikiki is different from others. In Waikiki, people tend to go straight down, and only when people find a room to trim they do the trimming on the wave face. This includes seasoned local experts who usually do not wear rash guards. Unlike, say Santa Cruz breaks, here people do ot seem to have problems sharing waves. Good people are willing to go straight down and really no issues sharing waves. There has not been any yelling by other surfers. Waves are really "given" to everyone who are willing to catch waves.

I think that I've learned a lot in the past few days of surfing here. I can just be happy and very stoked in Waikiki as well as at the Jetty in HMB. Each locale is so different from others and it is so much fun to try and see so many different surfers around the world, and that's makes surfing really fun!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Another Royal Hwaiian Treatment

Day 3 at Waikiki:

Now that I have gotten my "own" NSP 9'2 board in the locker that I can take out any time, I am doing two sessions a day; one in the early morning and another in the late afternoon when the sun is no so darn strong. This morning was a So-so session, but this afternoon I paddled out again to "Royal Hawaiian" spot again. And lone behold, I had another one of those 2-minute ride again. It is a long and long paddle out there but once I am out there, the breaks a bit more powerful than the inside Waikiki, and also it is much less congested with no lessons, no outrigger canoes and catamarans. So I caught another one of long rides, in fact two of them. I would imagine if there is real good S swells in place this place can really rock!
For those who are just starting to learn how to surf Waikiki is probably one of the best spots in the world to learn how to surf. First of all, the water is warm, and you don't need to wear wetsuit (but do need to put on good sun block). Secondly the breaks are really gentle and nice and non-threatening. The only other place that I know this kind of break happen is the inside Cowells in Santa Cruz. Another thing is that the vive here is really great. I have not seen anyone yelling or even colliding upon each other. Even seasoned surfers that hang around the inside Waikiki stake off just straight down, and will give you a plenty of room to surf. Experts will only turn and trim on the face if nobody else is on the surf.
So contrary to what I have heard, I did not experience the real "crowded" scene here, and if that is a concern go out before all of the rentals and activities start, say before 8 a.m. and you will be just fine.

So, in terms of surfing, especially at our levels, there is no problem at all.
Waikiki would be a perfect choice for you, if you have older parents and relatives whose purpose in life have mainly shifted over to shop and shop and shop, and eat and eat and eat, while your goal is to surf, surf and surf. You can leave them alone shopping to their hearts content while you do exactly the same, just go out and surf all the time. Just set up a time in the evening when and where to meet to eat, get drunk, come back to the room, crash, get up early and surf, and eat lunch with them. It is really amazing that these two almost completely opposite mode of life can co-exist in this almost Las Vegas time forest of high-rise hotels and shops!

I must say though, I am starting to miss the cold refreshing water, fighting with currents and trying to time and position for much stronger waves. This is "too easy" for many of us, and it is fun for a while, but if you have been working on how to make the best out of these crappy waves we got in Pacifica and HMB, then you might feel like going back out there and try to see if you'd catch the waves just as well as you have been here in Waikiki. No wet suit is great, paddling hands are really light, but then I do miss duck diving through overhead waves in Montara and the Jetty. I can get outside paddling nearly 1/2 mile out, that gives me a confidence, but my arms are just as relaxed as before surfing. When I am in the waves of Nor Cal, I get really tired, and feel like I got some substantial excercise.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

2-minute Ride at Royal Hawaiian

Stoke 11 at "Royal Hawaiian"
Well, the inside Waikiki is crowded with a bunch of "rental" surfers (that includes me), surf schools, outrigger canoes, catamarans. You name it, you would find it out there. But when I was surfing there I saw this spot way outside, far right from the main Waikiki section. Yesterday, I went to a surf shop and asked them about that, and a response was "You man, Royal Hawaiian. Yeah, do go out there!" So this afternoon, I decided to paddle out. It almost felt like paddling a mile out. It probably took me 10-15 minutes of paddling out to get out there, probably a 1/4 of a mile out, but it was worth it. The breaks were more consistent and vives were not bad either.
Well, as it so happened that there was a set.
The breaks here require quite a bit different timing than I am used to, especially when I have been surfing short boards a lot in beach breaks in Half Moon Bay. The way things happen (at least right now) is much slower than anything I have experienced. I see a set, I start to paddle and continue to paddle inside, look back and check where it is going to build up, I still have time to paddle towards where it is going to break, and then when it is time to take off, I paddle extra long and on to a very smooth and slow take off. But once you are on the wave, the rides are typically long, and sometimes, it can last, yes a 1/4 of a mile that I have paddled out!

And there, I had one of the "ride of a lifetime." I barely caught a wave but it started to build up on the right. I kept my position on the surface of the wave. I looked at the wave. As the wave got steeper, I cut back to the top of the wave and gained more speed. With the speed I have gotten, I was able to get to the next section that was breaking, and I was able to keep doing that, and thus I was able to continue going and going. It was really amazing amount of ride. It was probably equivalent of taking off outside the indicator and be able to make all the way into the sand in Cowells. It was not a speedy ride, but it was really more like a cruising slowly. My rental NSP 9'2 did not perform badly at all. After 4 sessions, I am starting to get used to the board, and I think that there is a lot to be said about getting used to how the board performs.
Another thing I have realized is that stepping moves are really important in long boarding. With a short board, I can easily shift fore-aft weighting but with a long board, I do need to actually walk on the deck back and forth to maintain good speed of the ride.

As the sun started to drop closer to the horizon, all of the hotels started to play one type of Hawaiian music from another and from the outside in the ocean, you can hear just about all the music each of the hotel is playing from this vantage point. I started to wonder how many musicians and dancers are being hired to orchestrate this, and how many of the songs are being played in the entire Hawaiian islands.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Waikiki Day 2

Sunday, June 4th
Day 2: Waikiki Surfing

We are staying at a major beach front hotel in Waikiki on this trip. This is the summer and so I have figured that we should stay on South exposed location. Besides, surfing on big waves on the north shore at any time of the year is really not an option for me anyway.

Waikiki = Tourist, and that's quite true. But I must say that it holds true out of the water. Once in the water though there is a lot of fun waves. The condition for today and yesterday was about hip high on standard sets, perhaps chest level on the biggest sets. But Waikiki waves are different from the Jetty or Montara waves. I think this is really a fine beginner section. The only other place that is comparable that I know of to this is Cowells in Santa Cruz.

This morning, I just rented a hotel rental, which was a 9'0 NSP Epoxy board. It was $15 for the first hour and $7 additional hour. I quickly figured that it would not be economical to keep surfing like this. At this hotel (probably others) I have found an outside long board locker, and when I asked the front desk, it was free to the guest, so I immediately signed up for the slot. Now I have to find a weekly rental.

Luckily using the Internet technology I quickly found an outfit called Hawaii Surfboard Rentals ( and I called them up. They not only dropped off the board at the hotel but also will be picking the board on the day of departure at 6:00 AM. Perfect! I can do a DP before taking off back for SFO for the noon flight! So I got 9'2 NSP board. Now with a locker setup, I can go surf in Waikiki break anytime I want and as often as I want! This is very great.

The waves in Waikiki is really mellow like those of Cowells and even when they size up, they are not really threateningly fast closing like those at the Jetty or even Linda Mar. The NSP board is easy to surf and I am surfing good on it. Trimming and turning are relatively easy, and rides can be really long. I wished that I have had even bigger and wider board to help practice riding on front of the board, but with these long smooth rides I am getting here, I think I can really practice working on these techniques just in time for this summer classic competition. It looks to me really a long-board only break in the past two days, and the break have some thickness to it, that trimming, and cutting back up and down on the wave can be done really at relaxed pace, hence at much slower speed than, say, being on a verge of being closed out and need to work with a lot of speed. These are the qualities that I think really help me learn a lot more.

One of the things I am not used to as much is that the paddle out is really long. The part that break well are way way outside from my standards. Perhaps 300 - 700 yards out from the shore. Typically in Half Moon Bay area, the outside can be reached in 100-300 yards from the shore (I have not really measured it though). It is kind of equivalent of getting in the water at the 38th and then paddling all the way to the Pleasure Point Peaks. Like the 38th, there are inside breaks too.
Vives, so far, has been good and even really good people are giving a lot of chance for others to surf. So far I have found people surfing here are not totally a beginner nor really super experts, except that I have found a few of them very seasoned as well as aged well under the Hawaiian sun.

A few summers ago, I surfed Lahania Breakwater in Maui. I must say that Lahaina Breakwater is significantly more challenging. It was much more similar to catching an overhead break at the Pleasure Point Peak. Much more power concentration in smaller spot (but less crowd).

I will go and check out other south facing spots in the next few days.