HI Surf Advisory


Big Wednesday -- 7/24/96

It was all over the news--an intense storm near Tahiti had generated 45 foot open ocean swells. The surf had already rolled through Hawaii with the South Shore topping five feet. And it was now headed to the West Coast.

I was still in San Diego, but was planning to bail early Thursday. Wednesday would be my only chance to catch this swell. Had make the most of it (head wound and all).

Dawned it to Windansea and pulled into a full parking lot. In the darkness, I could see that the swell had a strong southerly flow, with crumbly left walls and sectioning rights. Looked manageable, though.

I wondered why no one was going out until one guy finally broke the ice. He quickly became a speck in the mayhem. It was pretty big after all--at least a few feet overhead. Had enough time to catch three peelers before I had to leave for work.

As I was leaving, I peered over to Big Rock, and saw it absolutely going off. The surfers truly looked like ants in the lineup, with waves tumbling through at almost triple overhead size (my exaggerated guesstimate). Not for me...

Got off work a bit early, so I was forced to get back in the water. In anticipation of heavy crowds, I decided to shine Windansea and go somewhere else. I was pretty close to Imperial Beach, so I checked it out.

Hitting Palm Avenue, it took me all of two seconds to decide to stay. It was much more manageable than Big Rock, with a lightish crowd. Out there!

A few minutes in the lineup made me realize that thinks weren't so hunky-dory. Like most other surf spots, IB has a pretty complex lineup, and wasn't too keen on it.

After much scrambling, I finally dropped into a decent wave. Dragging my feet off my bodyboard, I stalled in the barrel before going head first into the oncoming foamball. I ended up right in the impact zone where another wave bore down on me. I felt my coiled leash get stretched to its limit, then beyond. Snap! Faark!!!

By the time I swam in, I was near the rock jetty to the north. Disgustedly, I gathered my board and ran to the Surf Hut for a replacement leash. Thank goodness, they were still open.

I guess my leash is kinda like my crutch. I never did like riding without it, especially in big surf.

As I was choosing a new leash, wetsuit partially off, sand everywhere, a grom came up to me and asked if I was out there surfing. As soon as he saw the kind of leash I was getting, he said, "Oh, you're a bodyboarder; I thought you were a surfer." What's the diff? Had to chuckle to myself.

So I paddled back out and for the next hour got frustrated out of my brains. The surf was big, but not gargantuan. But for some reason, I was really gun-shy. I guess as you grow older, pulling into closeouts has less of an appeal. I was looking for open-faced waves, but there were very few to be had. Thoughts of another broken leash didn't help either.

The locals had the spot wired. Sitting just north of the pier, they took off right on the peaks that walled up underneath. It set them up for a nice ride, with a thirty-seventy chance of making it. There were some good surfers charging it backside, and in the bodyboarding department, Manny Vargas was putting on a drop-knee clinic.

I, on the other hand, sat off the main peak, watching these nice waves go by, just hating life. I paddled here and there, trying to get in position, but it just didn't seem like my day.

After about an hour of frustration, I finally paddled into a nice mid-set wave. The thing opened up and doubled nicely. I had the chance to drop down a few times and pump through several sections. Great feeling.

After about 30 or 40 yards of riding, I saw a fellow bodyboarder taking off in the feathering section just ahead of me. As he dropped in on me, I realized he didn't have any clothes on--he was butt-naked! Mind you, this was in 65 degree water. I was laughing so hard, it was almost worth being dropped in on. Later on, he told me that a wave just ripped his shorts off. He just kept on sponging for over an hour--hardcore!

After that, the session seemed to turn around for me. Maybe I got more confidence, maybe the crowd lightened up a bit, maybe it got more manageable. In any case, I caught some really fun waves.

Just before sunset, I snagged one from the pier all the way to the beach. I rolled onto the beach with a big smile--satisfied.

On the evening news, they called it the biggest swell of its kind in 20 years. They also said it was going to get bigger still on Thursday. Wish I could've stayed a little longer. But hey, I felt really fortunate that I got a chance to partake in "Big Wednesday."

Aloha from SoCal

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