This pay to play surf forecasting business has all just gone too far.
–A general feeling throughout California during the swell of 9/2005.
Dylan Jones is one of Malibu’s best surfers. A lifeguard and a top paddler, Dylan rides everything from a 6-foot Fish to a 12-foot tanker and makes it look good. Goofyfoot or switching foot, he is one of a minority of talented surfers who ride First Point nice and do it justice.
On Monday, September 19, Dylan was out of the water, nursing wounds both physical and spiritual. He was sitting near the lifeguard tower in front of the Adamson House, in the sand with a friend named Bridget. The tide was low and coming in and pushing the remnants of the Southern Hemisphere swell that was variously called The Monster From Down Under, The Goer from Aotearoa, The Hoax Along the Coast, The Hype from Across the Stripe or The Tease from Forty Degrees.
What this swell lacked in size and power it made up for in longevity, and this Monday — four days after the peak — there were some zippy little peelers through the inside and still some overhead waves at the top of First Point and up to Third. Normally Dylan would be surfing, but he was on the beach, nursing bruised ribs from a collision with Allen Sarlo the day before.
Witnesses saw Dylan Jones do a big, swooping cutback that connected with Sarlo — which is about the equivalent of headbutting the Malibu wall. Some said it was an accident, others said an act of aggression, or frustration. Dylan Jones is a mellow fellow, but a crowded weekend at First Point during a swell that was hyped for more than a week in advance as the Swell of the Decade could turn Buddha into Mike Tyson.
The weekend was gone and the swell was lingering. Malibu was still good, but Dylan wasn’t surfing and he rubbed his ribs as his friend rubbed his head. As he looked, sadly, out at the lineup at Malibu, there was a flash of Robert Redford in Out of Africa, flying over the veldt in his biplane, seeing tracks into the frontier where he had never seen tracks before: “Never again,” Dylan said. “Never again will I get excited by one of these overhyped Internet swells. They were talking about this thing for over a week, saying it would be historic, bigger than 1983, bigger than that swell in 1975 you hear about. And I got all wound up, you know?”
Dylan loves Malibu and he is not alone. He loves Malibu from two foot to 12 and he was hoping to get a look at the 12 over the weekend. “I was having trouble sleeping, thinking it would be triple overhead. I love this wave when it’s like that and I was hoping it would get so big it would wash away all the flotsam and jetsam. But … no. I don’t want to bitch and complain and sound like a whiner, but it’s just sad, you know? Surfing is supposed to be fun. You are supposed to feel good in the ocean, but these days? Too many surf forecasters, too much hype, too many people making money off of this. It’s just … bad.”
Dylan sat with Bridget as the sun was going down, but he looked lonely, personally hurt by all that had gone on in the surf zone in front of him since Thursday. He was not alone in his reaction to this swell that was hyped as the next big thing since the Monster From New Zealand in 1975. But in the end, the hype was much more intense than the swell, and it left more than a few people wondering about this modern world, whether anything is sacred anymore and whether it’s all gone too far.
Technology is killing the soul of surfing. People need to get back to hunting for waves. It’s all too easy, like ordering a Big Mac.– Matt Rapf, Cabo San Lucas, 9/19/2005
Matt Rapf remembers the Swell of 1975, the legendary Monster from New Zealand. He was there, dude, and not just there, he was living in the last house in the Malibu Colony, the best seat in the house for Third Point Malibu. Rapf was in junior high when that late-summer Southern Hemi hit, and he took photos from his kitchen of truly giant Malibu that you can’t believe even when you are seeing it. Legitimate 15- to 20-foot faces reeling down to the pier. “That was the swell they based Big Wednesday on,” Rapf reminded us all. He surfed it, Allen Sarlo surfed it, Andy Lyon surfed it. The surf/realtor Mafia all surfed it and remembered it, and so when they began to hear about the Thunder From Down Under, they had high hopes that history would come again, and they would soon be taking off at Outside Third Point and shooting the Pier with nothing but hollow sections in their way.
Allen Sarlo is one of the most avid swell-chasers in California, always ready to jump a plane for Tahiti on south swell or Sunset Beach on a winter swell, but this week he had the flu and was busy so he stuck around. Rapf had plans to go to Cabo already in place, so he left Malibu with his family, maybe regretting a little his second chance to get a shot at history, but also wondering what would be happening at the tip.
Malibu resident Dave Ogle was directly in the middle of editing his latest Puerto-Opus, Puerto Underground IV, when the margarita wireless began to buzz with rumors of a massive swell. Ogle wanted to finish his movie but he couldn’t resist the possibility of history and he bailed back down to Mexico to film what was promising to be 30-foot beachbreak: “Peter Mel, Skindog, Anthony Tashnick and others are flying down there to tow it,” Ogle said on the phone from LAX. “I can edit down there and I’ll have Wi-Fi in my cabana.”
Tahiti had its giant day on Sunday, 9/11 and Maalaea started on Wednesday the 14th and peaked on Thursday the 15th. At 3 p.m. California time on Wednesday the 14th, Ogle rang in with his first report: “Just got here. Calm winds, 8-foot swell and peaky fun. Peter Mel just paddled out. Skindog is hung over from the Surfer Poll Awards and Nathan Fletcher and Anthony Tashnick are putting fins in their boards. I might have to sneak out and catch a few.”
Ken “Skindog” Collins had indeed been at the SURFER Poll and Video Awards the night before, a Santa Cruz guy flying deep behind the Orange Curtain on his way to Mexico. The Monster from Down Under might not have had the size and consistency everyone wanted, but it did have timing, showing up when most of the surfing world was in town. On the weekend of September 10th and 11th, the Action Sports Retailers tradeshow was happening in San Diego, and a lot of people got stuck there schmoozing while the surf was going off in the South Pacific and on its way across the Pacific and up the coast.
On Monday night, the Surfing Heritage Foundation had an open house for an exhibit called Trunk It, which traced the evolution of surf trunks from 1900 to $2 billion. There were lots of legends young and old in the house, including Greg Noll, Mickey Muoz, George Downing, Drew Brophy, Tom Morey, Wingnut, Walter Hoffman, Flippy Hoffman, Joyce Hoffman, Linda Benson, Debbie Beacham, Mike Hynson, Matt & Sam George, Steve Pezman, Herbie Fletcher, Randy Hild, Ed Clapp, Steve Hawk, Mike Tabeling, Matt Warshaw, Peter “PT” Townend, Henry Ford, Bolton Colburn, Drew Kampion, Les Williams, Ben Aipa, Paul Strauch, John Creed, Phil Roberts, Bob McKnight, Bill Ogden, Jeff Divine, Cecil Lear, Dick Catri, Jim Gilloon, Matt Biolos and Don Meek.
On Tuesday night, the SURFER Poll and Video Awards went off in the highest sense of the word, and guys like Skindog made a short detour through that party in Orange County on their way to the big party in the path of the Wild Ride from the Other Side.
A lot of surfers like Kelly Slater probably wanted to chase the swell, but they stayed around town because the ASP World Championship Tour Boost Mobile Pro of Surf was scheduled for Lowers that weekend — directly in the path of the Demi Southern Hemi. This was good news to contest officials, contestants, spectators and the media, and it was the second time in two years that contest had been in the right place at the right time — in the path of a big Southern Hemi. Forecasters were promising 12- to 15-foot faces and the world said, “Really? Can Lowers handle that?”
Meanwhile, way south of the border, Dave Ogle chimed in at around 3 p.m. on Thursday for a first report on how the swell was holding up after that long passage from Hawaii: “Anti-climactic here. Swell seemed to peak yesterday with 10- to 15-foot Hawaiian. Had ugly weather and weird south winds. The boys towed and Nathan got a paddle-in bomb and broke his 9-foot board on first wave right before dark. Today we woke to clear skies and a dropping swell. South wind picked up early and it was not that good. Nathan took off and Skin, Mel, and Taz still here going for an afternoon tow right now.”
Another “big” swell is already being touted. Certain pay-to-play forecasting sites, validating their SURF ALERTS with various storm modeling techniques, have sent out newsletters announcing the swells arrival date. As of this writing, the storm hasn’t even completely formed yet. A service? Or a disservice? The debate rages on.
Matt Rapf flew down to Mexico on Thursday and you have to wonder what he saw from his window as he took off out of LAX over the water and got a long look back at Malibu, and then along the coast of Baja. There were reports of hundreds of surfers flocking to various “secret” Baja points to chase the swell by plane, train and automobile.
The swell was hyped to peak on Friday and storm into the weekend, but apparently those abnormal, 30+ mph speeds were correct, because the swell peaked on Thursday night all along the 27-Mile-Miracle. A Point Dume resident who wishes to remain anonymous spoke about walking down to a surf spot that shall remain anonymous to see if the swell was showing up: “I surfed that morning with a friend from the East Coast who had never ridden a wave over 4 feet. Well he got his 4-footer that morning, but by evening it was two or three times bigger. This was just about the biggest I had ever seen the place, and I swear I saw one wave break on the outer reef that went all the way to down to the Cove.”
Dylan Jones had the same thing to report about Malibu. He got there Thursday night with his head full of the misinformation that the swell would peak on Friday, but by evening: “There were some good waves out there, some good-sized waves with some 20-wave sets and I’m sure the swell was peaking as the sun was going down. It was crowded, of course, but the real pandemonium didn’t hit until the next day.”
Late on Thursday night, Matt Rapf chimed in with a hastily typed e-mail from The Tip: “Cabo east cape- double overhead++ cranking. So much ENERGY to this swell. Got stuck in a 30 minute set = 2 hour run. No red tide. Blue blue water. Mucho gringos on longboards. Let me know how big the ’bu is (face heights).”
Around Malibu on Thursday night, there were a lot of helicopters in the air over Serra Retreat, leading citizens to think they were paparazzi looking for that million-dollar money shot of Britney Spears’ baby. That night, Dylan Jones had trouble sleeping as visions of triple-overhead Malibu danced through his endorphined brain, but the next morning the reality was something less: “We got here early the next morning, and it was smaller and we counted more than 100 people at First Point alone, with maybe another hundred more up through Second and Third Points. We didn’t even go surfing. We just went home and sat in the Jacuzzi. We came back in the afternoon and it was just a scene. There were two or three helicopters hovering, and like four or five news trucks taking up all the parking in the lot to cover THE BIG WAVES DESTROYING MALIBU. It was a joke. The swell had already peaked the night before, but now everybody and their grandmother was here. I tried to surf the rest of the weekend, but forget it. The swell never got that big and it was inconsistent and that is the worst possible thing for Malibu.”
THE DIRTY OLD WEDGE
While the Boost Mobile Pro at Lowers had more than enough surf, other places had almost enough. The south swell lit up the left point at Zeros and gave the long-suffering locals a chance to sample some of its potential.
When a Southern Hemi is bubbling, all eyes turn toward Wedge, or The Wedge, or whatever you care to call it. In The Endless Summer, Bruce Brown called it The Dirty Old Wedge and this year he was right, as the Mess from the Sou’west roared toward Newport beaches that were besmirched, fouled, incarnadined and otherwise ooky from red tide. This is how one longtime reporter — who is not now nor has ever been a bodyboarder — described the scene on Friday: “Tea-colored ocean with an oily whitish/tannish foam from dawn the 16th until the west winds killed the wave quality and smooth surface at 2 p.m. The air and sand stunk as bad as the ocean’s color might have indicated. Peaks and walls to an occasional 14- to 18-foot (just maybe 20-foot) faces. Very inconsistent but easy to catch most set waves (a rarity). There were 40 assorted takers from 6:30 a.m. on to 10, mostly the ubiquitous, common-as-cigarette-butts-in-a-street gutter booger. The bodysurfers had maybe three hours of decent waves before strong winds destroyed all hope. News crews and hovering helicopters accentuated the circus scene from the get-go, departing by 9:30 or so as the media hyped MOTHER OF ALL SWELLS failed to live up to its billing (once again). Too bad the cigarette-addicted morons and lookie-loos didn’t leave with them. By evening the crowd had grown to hundreds, a full quarter of them smoking cigarettes against posted signs, as the wind/high-tide-damaged swell crept further into a familiar realm of mediocrity. Certain surf forecasters of the world, thanks again for forever ruining my home break. But at least you’re rich, eh?”
He was no warmer for the swell on Saturday: “Today at Wedge: Fifty riders at 8 a.m. (mostly boogers but two longboarders and a few surfers). A full-on snake pit of greed and stupidity. Great peak shape to 10- to 11-foot — all waves super easy to catch but so crowded even the local spongers said, ‘no thanks’ — a first here I believe.”
As the swell swept up the coast, so did a shockingly long convoy of trucks with trailers and small boats make way for the Point Conception line. The scene at Gaviota State Park was enough to make those in favor of private property slash their wrists: “Twenty-plus boats all lined up for a turn at the hoist that someone forget to sabotage,” said one correspondent. “Shit. What’s next? A wave-cam at Utahs?”
The swell had the gumption to make it up around Point Conception. Surfers in the know who know what a weird angle it takes to light up Maalaea wondered if that weird angle might light up other places along the California coast, above the Los Angeles basin. Along the Central Coast, an expatriated and circumspect Kiwi surfer who identified himself only as M. caught some of the Goer from Aotearoa when he took his wife and visiting mum to Hearst Castle and other attractions along the Central Coast: “The first place I surfed was a left-hand reefbreak just north of K—— on Friday morning. It was double-overhead on the sets with four guys out who didn’t want a bar of the set waves, so I was getting every wave I wanted. The sets were very inconsistent, there were times when a wave wouldn’t break for 20 minutes. However when the sets would roll in they were so glassy, one of the best surfs I have had in California. I checked other spots that morning but the crowds were thick at some of the other spots and due to the inconsistent swell they didn’t look worth the hassle. On Saturday I surfed the right-hander. It was a couple of feet overhead with three guys out, not perfect but good fun with hardly anyone out. Sunday it was a lot smaller and I ended up surfing some shoulder high and pretty weak waves. The central coast is so beautiful, it reminds me of some of the coastline we have back home in NZ. One problem was that the wind got up fairly early and blew hard ruining the chance of an evening surf.”
And even farther up the coast, where the road rides high over the Pacific Ocean, another surfer who identified himself only as M. had this to report: “Well, let’s see: For its proximity to the Bay Area and Santa Cruz (and SLO), this part of the coast was sure feeling the weight of a two-week-hyped south swell, especially since it hit on a sunny weekend in mid-September. The F word was extremely inconsistent, relatively crowded, and marred by NW windswell on Saturday-Sunday, but HEAVY when the sets came. Billions of lookie-loos on the cliffs. The NW wind bump was BAD. All in all: the swell was way, way, too hyped and way, way too inconsistent. But it had its moments at this famous surf bastion of butterflies, flowers, and overall good vibes.”
Cue the Beach Boys, “Cool Clear Water.”
From up along that same stretch of coast there were rumors of big, perfect south swell barrels breaking in places no one had ever seen. One correspondent chimed in with claims of surf that was 10 times overhead which we wrote off, until he explained himself: “Monterey is the only coastal California county where kneeboarders are allowed to congregate in groups of more than four. So to escape persecution, our group of kneeboarders planned a ‘Gathering’ in Big Sur months ahead of time. And it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. We surfed fun Willow Creek and Sand Dollar, but the big surprise popped up directly in front of our campground. None of us had ever seen or heard of this place before, but this Southern Hemisphere swell had such a weird angle and it mixed with a little NW swell to light up a right reef that might appear maybe once every 10 years. The place was just unbelievable and it was just us kneelos. It turned on for three or four hours then turned off, with the tide. As suddenly as it appeared, it disappeared. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the claiming.”
One of the secrets about Santa Cruz that only half the world knows about is it is a great south swell town. Santa Cruz faces south like Malibu and Santa Barbara, but without any butt-plug Channel Islands soaking up the energy. Anyone who knows and loves Santa Cruz knows and loves it when a Southern Hemi with enough juice gets around Point Conception to lather the place with surf. Secret spots like Saberjet Reef come to life, and the Beginner’s Spot Usually Known as Insides transforms into a Queensland-like right barrel called 38th Avenue.
Santa Cruz just recently got phone service and Internet and so more than a few people around town heard the drums pounding from Hawaii and Tahiti beyond the horizon. Hopes were high for a gullywasher Southern Hemi that would rival the Monster from New Zealand in 1975, or the relentless El Nio summer of 1983 or the more recent memory of the Sweetie from Tahiti, that monster Southern Hemisphere swell in 1996 that Mike Stewart chased from Teahupoo to Yakutat.
Things were looking good on Friday morning, when Ken the Mechanic to the Surf Stars had his morning coffee interrupted at the Yacht Harbor by the sight of a charter fishing boat punching through a 20-wave set that closed out the yacht harbor. Yeeha! “The wave crests were as tall as the jacks,” Ken said. “The boat hit the wave on a diagonal and had its entire hull out of the water except for the rear port quarter.”
The son of our Santa Cruz correspondent works at Freeline and he was on duty during the swell: “Hunter spent the day behind the counter as surfers rushed in for wax, screaming how good it was. It was the first time that he saw the downside of working in a surf shop!!”
Like the rest of California, some places in Santa Cruz got it, and some didn’t. There were no reports of 38th Avenue looking like the Superbank, which is sad, but one longtime Santa Cruz local saw his local break have one of the best days ever. James Antonelli grew up in the Live Oak area, the son of the man who started Antonelli’s Begonia Garden. Antonelli has been in the water at 26th Avenue since the early ’70s and he has seen a lot of days: “26th is one of those south sell magnets but it’s a compact area with not much room for many surfers, thus making it one of the most localized surf spots in Santa Cruz County,” said Dan Young. “Outsiders just don’t get waves there. Period. James has that stretch of beach dialed in no matter the swell, no matter the season. As the NorCal rep for Block Surf for the past couple decades James has the time and resources to continue to be one of Santa Cruz’s top underground surfers who can jet out to the South Pacific, Hawaii and Mexico a few times per year. Thursday had Pleasure Point at waist to chest+ high, really fun and one of the few crystal clear, gorgeous days of this entire ‘Summer of Fog.’ The Hook was quite a bit better with the morning crowd scoring the best waves of the summer up to that point. But 26th Ave. was another matter. The south swell was good but there was also a bit of NW swell running and that caused the waves to be pushed back over the reef and to really jack up to DOH (on the ‘James-scale’) with a lot of power. James found his normal 6′ 1″ to be difficult to punch through faces due to the velocity of the waves. But nevertheless, he surfed two long sessions that day with the promise of more. After James’ evening session at DOH 26, he said that at Santa Maria’s there must have been 20-foot wave faces as the sunlight died.”
Friday morning dawned on 26th Ave. with solid 15+ foot faces breaking well out to sea. James gunned up to his 6′ 8″ and started scoring dredging barrels from the get-go. Then the 20-wave sets started hitting. James barely scratched over each and every wave until he was hundreds of yards out to sea and then ran out of waves, not picking up one ride. But he was the fortunate one. Sitting on his board he turned around and looked shoreward. Everybody was gone: no one in the water — no one on the beach — no one on the cliffs. The set had most completely cleared 26th Ave. And James thought to himself, “Now, this is the way 26th Ave. is supposed to be.”
So there you go. One guy found the perfect wave on the perfect day and was alone with his surf and his thoughts.
Meanwhile, back beyond the Orange Curtain, Saturday was an off day for the Boost Mobile Pro because contests are not allowed to take up two weekend days in a row. Lowers went back to its usual, chaotic self as guys and gals who had been chomping at the fence for the first days got a chance to get a bit of history.
Around Malibu, Saturday was the Malibu Boardriders’ annual Ronald McDonald Day at the beach at Leo Carrillo, Dave Olan of the Association of Surfing Attorneys chimed in: “Very crowded and fun head-high waves. I saw Keala Kennelly paddle past me on Saturday at the unlikely break Secos. She sat inside and took the waves nobody else could catch. She ripped and defied gravity on those inside sneaker waves. We had a power breakfast of champions at Coogies and then hit the ’Bu around noon and man was it a circus. Everybody and their uncle was out. Tough to catch lots of waves with that crowd especially when the intervals were coming every 15 or 20 minutes but it was great watching Sarlo, Farberow, Andy Lyon and some of the other guys who have that place wired rip it up.”
On Sunday there was more than enough swell for Kelly Slater to win the Boost Mobile Pro and Dylan Jones to crash into Allen Sarlo at Malibu. What the Monster From Down Under lacked in size it made up for in hype and staying power.
Matt Rapf chimed in from Cabo on Sunday: “Sunday was clean, sunny, peaky and about 10- to 15-foot faces with some sneaker bombs. Wind stayed relatively calm all day. The points in the area were firing on all cylinders. Air is averaging 95, water about 82.” And again on Monday: “Still up to double overhead on Sunday. New swell today (Mon.) close interval hurricane, up to 10-foot faces and fun.”
Dave Ogle had similar things to report from Puerto Escondido: “Today waves were still about 15- to 20-foot faces and deadly. I got one that had to be about solid 15-foot face and got barreled for about eight seconds. It was one of the gnarliest tubes I have got in a while — frothy and gaping. It closed out on the end and I hit the bottom hard in about 12 inches of water. Very close call. I can’t even tell you the feeling of being surrounded by that much power that just wants to rip you apart.”
A few days later, Ogle summed it all up: “Puerto Escondido was disappointing if anything. Swell peaked on Thursday afternoon with 20- to 25-foot faces and rainy, dark weather. Wind was fickle, mostly out of the south holding the few rights open, but the swell was very south and there were mostly lefts. Friday and Saturday were maybe a tad smaller but ugly all the same. Monday jumped back up to about 20-foot faces on the sets with some bombs. More closed out than yesterday, but some heavy tubes were had.”
Dylan Jones didn’t go surfing on Monday night. His ribs were bruised from the collision with Allen Sarlo, and his soul was dented from his swift collision with the realities of surfing in the 21st century. This swell made you think about the words of John Severson, written a long time ago, in a decade far far away, during a time called the ’60s.
Dylan preferred to stay on the beach to be alone with his thoughts, but a few surfers paddled out after sundown at Malibu to find that the after-party was almost more fun than the main event.
The tide was coming up and there were some very fun, 3-foot zippers all lit up by an otherworldly light show. All that thick red tide that turned Malibu’s beaches incarnadine glowed misty green and blue at night, the phosphorescence swirling off feet and hands and the lips of breaking waves exploding into flashes of blue you could see from Pacific Coast Highway. Off on the horizon, the Gods must have been angry with the Lunada Bay guys, because they were pelting the Palos Verdes Peninsula with massive lightning bolts as a tropical storm moved up from the south. And then God’s big orangey moon came up over the Santa Monica Mountains. There was more than enough light from the red tide and the moon and the lights of the city reflecting off those tropical clouds to make for an epic night session, at Malibu, the crowd of 200 reduced to about 10, here in the modern world, alone with the surf and their thoughts.