Hey, at least I’m surfing
Making the most of the mush in Pacifica.
Before I continue I'd like to append the previous sentence. Horrible as the water was, any day I surf is a good day.
Mushy waves can happen for two reasons. Off-shore winds push the wave over before it crests, or there could be multiple swells coming from different angles, keeping waves from fully forming. Today there were both, leaving the waves disorganized and difficult to ride. Needless to say, the surf report wasn’t favorable. I considered not even going to the ocean for this very reason, but it had been a couple of weeks since I last surfed. I needed to get into the water.
South of the Hwy 1/280 interchange, Linda del Mar in Pacifica is an easy place to get to from just about anywhere in the Bay Area. It usually affords relatively clean and definable waves. With a sandbar running parallel to most of the beach, there are several reliable breaks that not only help spread out the crowd, but allow all ability levels to find a spot just right for them.
On a good day there, it’s easy to find a wave to surf. This time around, I wasn't sure where to start paddling. So I did what surfers often do—I went to where others looked like they were having some success, thinking I could duplicate it. Easier said than done.
Burning isn't a sensation people usually associate with surfing, but that’s how my shoulders felt as I paddled out. The feeling only worsened as wave after wave broke in an unending flow of whitewater in front of me. Fortunately I got far enough out to where I could catch a wave.
Sets of waves typically come in seven. The best ones to catch are the third and fourth, but patience is difficult when you see that first wave rise up in front of you. So I waited, watching another surfer stall because the wave didn't have enough force to propel him towards shore.
Another wave came through—bigger than the last—and I debated about whether or not to try. I figured if I had to talk myself into then it wasn't time. This is the most important thing I've learned while surfing: if you have to talk yourself into doing something, then follow your gut and wait for a better opportunity. I've learned that the hard way. Not only does surfing require patience, it's a potentially dangerous hobby, and it’s best to exercise caution if it doesn't feel like the right moment.
The third wave started to form and I knew this was it. I slid back on my board. Kicking my legs to facilitate a quick turn back towards shore, I laid down on the board and started to paddle. Hard. Just a few strokes and I could feel the water rising up underneath me. I felt myself sliding down the face of the wave, which means I'd caught it. Quickly I brought my hands in, pushed off from the board while popping to my feet and standing up.
The joy I feel when I stand is short-lived. Maintaining balance in the choppy water takes full concentration. The haphazard water meant my ride in wasn’t very long, but was enough that when the wave lost its strength as it neared shore I turned right back out to do it all over again. It wasn’t a great day surfing, but it was surfing.
Stephen Cosgrove is a Valley native who has a passion for enjoying the local terrain by foot, bike, tent and most recently—longboard. Join him here as he journeys forth into the Wine Country wilds and embarks on greater Bay Area excursions. You can read more at his blog