Today started at 4:30AM. I’m not crazy, I had a plan. You see, this entire Thanksgiving weekend, we’ve had a great westerly swell up and down the CA coast. I’ve seen overhead and double-overhead waves all over the place (6-12 feet for you non-surfers). I’ve seen lots of surfers get great rides. But that doesn’t work for a surfer with a bum knee who’s trying not to re-injure himself. Last night, I poured over the buoy reports and forecasts as though I were planning Mavericks. The waves would be absolutely perfect at Cowell’s beach in Santa Cruz. They’d be pushing hard, just about 3-4 feet high, and I could ride them for two hundred yards along the cliff next to Cowell’s. Then I could spend my morning in Santa Cruz sunshine. What could be better?
I made oatmeal and coffee, walked the Ru-Dog, and was southbound by 5:30. The only problem with my plan is that Cowell’s only works at low-ish tides. And today’s high tide was a six footer which would crest about 10:30. Since the low tide was at 3AM, I figured that if I got there around 6ish, things would be fine for an hour or two. It was a great drive down highway one, starlight glittered over the big black waves I could hear crashing through the car windows.
I parked the car and watched the sun come up over the mountains across the bay from Cowell’s. The waves were perfect. Nice lines, rolling all the way through Cowell’s, except for one small problem. They never broke. They just rolled all the way up to the beach. I thought about it. I might could catch one, but more likely, it’d roll right out from under me. And since the tide was only going up, it was just going to get worse.
Instead, I sipped my lukewarm coffee and watched two amazing surfers tear it up on the overhead-and-a-half at Steamer Lane before deciding to drive back north and check out some of the more exposed breaks along highway one. So much for my grand plans of spending the morning in Santa Cruz. All the exposed breaks on highway one were ginormous. At this point, I was halfway back to Half Moon Bay, so I kept going. I stopped in Half Moon, stared at the break outside the harbor, shook my head, and kept driving. I returned to Pacifica about 9AM.
My local break was crowded as hell, with waves larger than I’d have liked. And the tide was so high there was no beach. I had to pick my way over stones just to get into the water, but I was determined to at least paddle out before giving up. I was so frustrated, I forgot to put my hood on before paddling. About twenty feet in front of a rushing wall of whitewater, I realized my hood was still hanging around my neck. I duck dove without it, and it somehow managed to un-velcro the top flap of my wet suit. As I paddled toward the next wave, I pulled the hood on as best I could, but couldn’t deal with the velcro so I got more frigid water down my back. I managed three more duck dives before finally coming out the other side of the break zone cold and clammy. I paddled for a bit more to warm myself up, then sat up and fixed my wetsuit.
Because of the tide and my extra paddling, I was now almost fifty feet past the lineup. Everything had gone wrong this morning. Was I even going to catch one of these waves with all these other surfers around? I started paddling back toward the lineup when a dolphin crested six feet in front of my board. I was close enough to see the creases on its gray skin. My eyes bugged out of my head. I could have almost touched it!
It made me think: How many events this morning had to go so perfectly wrong to culminate in that one, perfect moment?