When the tide gets over five feet most Southern California surf spots start to shut down. That means the water is so deep the waves don’t break until they hit the beach or the rocks as the case may be.
When it hits six feet or over, as it did this week, just a handful of spots are rideable, and those work only on specific swell conditions.
One all-tide spot is the Newport Pier area, where I began my surf check this particular morning.
I was debating going out when the sight of sweepers in the lineup tilted the scales in favor of a road trip.
I knew another spot down the coast a bit. Because of rocks it’s only surfable on an extreme high tide.
There is a cadre of irregulars who hawk it, but it so seldom breaks that on a fall weekday I stood a good chance of catching it by myself or with one or two others.
There was one car in the parking lot when I arrived. It had a surf sticker on the back window so I figured I wouldn’t be alone. It’s a good quarter mile walk from the parking lot to the bluff where you check the waves, so in the worst case I’d get a nice morning walk.
When I got to the cliff there was only one guy out in the water.
I heard a talking, “Whoa yeah! How about that one!”
My first thought was that someone was shouting from the beach. But as I watched and listened I realized it was the surfer.
Whenever he’d paddle for a wave, catch one, or paddle back out he’d start a monologue, “Wooo! Gotta get back out there ...”
I couldn’t always make out the words because of the distance between us. I began wondering if he weren’t wired a little differently — until he started really digging for a head-high wave about to break.
“Oh my gosh, Oh my gosh!” I heard him saying, and just as the lip came over he whipped around and made a perfect late take-off, bottom turned and banked off the top, continuing his commentary.
This guy was just stoked and having a blast. No cameras on the beach, no parking lot or doughnut shop. Even the morning beach walkers were absent because of the tide.
I was the only witness, watching unnoticed by the lone soul surfer. It reminded me about the essence of surfing and what I loved most about being in the ocean.
There was no way I was going to paddle out and spoil the vibe. Besides, I knew another spot a little further south.
JOHN BURTON’S surf column appears Fridays. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.