Left Side Story (Guam) -- 3/18/98

Who is this kook?

Leaving Hawaii during the winter is always a bit of a bummer, but especially so this year because of the stellar season the El Nino was serving up. However, traveling for work meant opportunities to engage in more exotic surf sessions.

This time, my job took me back to the beautiful Western-Pacific island of Guam. I actually had low expectations for scoring waves there this late in their season, but as always, I tried to maintain a fair amount of optimism.

Guam has lots of potential for surf, but many things conspire against catching it good. The local trades are very strong and incessant, ruining lots of potentially good swell. Virtually all breaks are over reef, and part of the challenge is finding spots where you don't have to paddle a half-mile just to get to the lineup. Low tide makes most of the spots all but impossible to ride (except of course, on a bodyboard). You really need a lot of patience and luck to catch it just right.

On my first day at the site, our work got abruptly halted due to unforseen circumstances. I was simply "forced" to leave and find some other way to entertain myself. Might as well check out the surf!

From oceanic glimpses earlier in the day, I had a feeling that the surf was up. But with the steady winds, I just wasn't sure what kind of conditions to expect. My target was the Agana Boat Basin, where two of the best spots on Guam are located. I had surfed Right Side on my last trip here, and found it to be a fun little tube breaking over a shallow reef. However, I never got a chance to sample its bigger brother that broke on the other side of the channel--Left Side. Maybe this would be my chance.

When we got there in the mid-afternoon, we found it absolutely roping! Right Side was big, but barely holding its shape. However, Left Side looked perfect, peeling beautifully with just a few bodyboarders out. Luck was on my side--I was on it!

I paddled out with locals Pat and "Cat", two really down-to-earth guys who both had "Hawaiian-kine" attitudes and connections. The others in the lineup were just young kids, taking off on the shoulder.

With no humility whatsoever, I set myself up the deepest and took off on a mid-sized closeout set. Although this wasn't a very subtle way to introduce myself into a new lineup, it did help assert my presence.

The waves were nuts on the declining tide--maybe 2-4' (Haw'n), with calm, offshore winds. "Cat" said there was no surf the day before, but it suddenly started firing that morning. Many sick barrels were had during his high tide, lunchtime session; the fairly light crowd caught off being guard by the surprise swell.

I wasn't complaining about our afternoon sesh. I got the sickest tube rides -- just full-on funneling barrels over the shallow reef. You had to fully commit on takeoff, then set a good trim line into (and hopefully through) the end bowl section. I was just propping myself up on my sponge, arching my back, and just driving for the safety of the channel.

The closeouts were scary not just because of the shallow water over the sharp reef, but the fact that the breakwater loomed just 20 yards inside. And then there was the boats zigzagging through the channel, always screwing up the waves with their wakes. Familiarity of the lineup was a major asset.

My best wave was this overhead dredger that just pitched way in front of me as I flew at maximum overdrive. It reminded me of days at Ehukai Beach Park when the sandbar gets perfect, only this time I was playing for keeps over some serious reef action. The lip just skirted me as I exited in sheer elation. I couldn't hold back hooting myself for the ride.

As the session went on, the winds slowly shifted, deteriorating the conditions. Also, the dropping tide started shutting down the inside bowl more frequently.

A couple of local surfers paddled out late in the day. One guy, an Olympic caliber swimmer I was told, absolutely ruled out there. He took off super-deep backside, and made some impossibly gnarly tubes. I was impressed.

For some reason, my initial fearlessness turned to apprehension and hesitation. By the end of the session, I was fully gun-shy and couldn't take off on the big ones. I think it was because the conditions became less makeable towards the end, and also because the heavier jockeying with the surfers made me tentative on the takeoff. Like my dad always used to tell me, "He who hesitates is lost."

Crossing the channel after my last Left Side ride, I decided to catch one at Right Side just for fun. It was looking kinda ugly, wedging awkwardly onto the barely covered reef. I took a foamball of a ride in, gliding on the shoulder right over the edge of the channel. Once inside, I stupidly decided to grab onto the reef to avoid bottoming out--big mistake! My right ring finger hooked into a nice hole with a vana (sea urchin) tucked inside; it came out with about a dozen tiny black needles portruding out of it. I guess if you want to play, you have to pay.

Once outside, I went and talked story with more of the boys. They have a very similar attitude and stoke to their Hawaiian counterparts. We planned to hook up again sometime down the road--not many surf spots around, so I was certain to see them later.

As a whole, Guam is a very fickle surf destination, and I count myself extremely fortunate to have scored such good conditions. The surf is expected to continue to rise, but winds are going to increase too. I hope luck will again be on my side (the Left Side, that is).

Hafa Adai from Paradise,