PacificSurfReport 7/09-12/09



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 Erik at the Seawind Fall Classic, 11/08/09  


December 29, 2009

Giant waves still pummel the coast. Here in La Jolla, the range is amazing. At the Marine Room Restaurant, two-footers lap ashore. At the Shores, four to six-footers. At Scripps, the odd six to eight-footer. Over on the reefs, and at Blacks: double over-head, some triple, some too big to measure. Yesterday, while I worked, my son, Erik, took my 7'6" baby gun to Outer Reefers. "Dad, I rode the biggest wave of my life." Joe Roper was out with him, and a couple other guys he knows. He paddled under the hook of a monster, air-dropped, made it, and cranked his way to safety. He just turned 16 on Christmas Day, Erik did. Am I proud of him? Yes. Does it make me nervous, my kid out there in the big juice? Double yes.

Today, Tuesday, I got home early from work and checked out the surf. I saw a monster set coming ashore, and got all excited. Talked Nick into surfing somewhere near Marine Room, but we drove all over the place and at last he confessed he was beat up from skateboarding and wanted to rest. Aha--Erik took off for Tube Rights, I went to my bedroom for a nap. Yup. An hour later found me paddling out at Big Mids, with only three other guys, and a fine series of ten-twelve footers cranking in. Unlike Headkick, you can surf here without the feeling of risking your life. I had a ball.

So--is all this wave pulchritude due to El Nino? Quien sabe?


December 27, 2009

The year's drawing to a close, and, as usual, the surf is macking. Two day swells, two day lulls, two day swells. This last one, yesterday and today, has been a dilly. Yesterday--glassy, breaking sweet, the reefs loving it. My pal Brian e-mailed me, told me he worried if the surf was big enough. I told him to hit it. Here's his reply:

"Aye, you were right. I had a blast and something special happened on my last wave. A bunch of dolphins moved into the lineup just before dark. They were frolicking around, riding set waves, jumping through the wave faces, etc. I dropped in on my last wave and what do you know, right under my feet, below my board, I see, crystal-clear, a dolphin riding the wave...a great way to end a great session."

Today I met with Brian, Stewart, and Ron, we all surfed ten-plus Headkick Reef. What a sess. I didn't take pix, but here's one of Brian from an earlier day at the same spot:

December 17, 2009

More good surf. Here's Erik, still 15 until Christmas, cutting it up at Amphibians (you've got to be amphibious to surf there, that is, be both right handed and left handed, or regular and goofy foot). Ambipedextrous? Ambiguous? Ambitious?

Photo: Bill Andrews, see


December 13, 2009

It's been a fantastic week. Monday and Tuesday were small and stormy, unsurfable. I spent hours, though, on Tuesday watching the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational at Waimea Bay on Greg Long won, getting 100 points for taking off on a bomb, making the drop, and disappearing into a cloud of white water forty feet tall. Long, to his credit, grabbed seven other fine waves. His over-all command of the day seemed unapproachable and made his victory secure. He gave an eloquent thank-you speech at the podium, something befitting a true diplomat of surfing.

Ramon Navarro, of Chile, took off on a similar wave to Long's, a tad smaller, but disappeared behind the beast breaking in front of him. He reappeared, holding on, riding all the way through the nasty reform whomp to the beach. The judges gave him 100 points as well. Navarro won the Monster Drop specialty award and fifth place overall. Kelly Slater, showing his true Surf God status, placed second and surfed the giant waves with aplomb. Sunny Garcia took third. Bruce Irons, the defending champ, took fourth.

It was great to watch the real-time action from my office here in San Diego; I could feel the aloha spirit oozing out of my computer. Thank you competitors, thank you Quiksilver, and thank you, Aikau family.

Historical note: Eddie Aikau, the Hawaiian surfing legend, was born in Maui in 1946, where he learned to surf in the Kahului shorebreak. After moving to Oahu in 1959, he began charging major winter northwest juice. In '68, Aikau became the first North Shore lifeguard, covering breaks from Haleiwa to Sunset Beach and receiving the '71 Lifeguard of the Year Award. A stand-out surfer in big waves, he won the 1977 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational at Sunset Beach.

In 1978 Aikau joined a group of volunteers on a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe that set out from Hawaii to Tahiti. The boat sprang a leak and capsized in the Molokai Channel, twelve miles from shore. Aikau took off for Lanai to get help, paddling his surfboard and leaving the others with the remains of the canoe. No one saw him again. The treacherous channel waters claimed his life.

From these and other waterman exploits came the saying, "Eddie would go..."

In these treacherous times, it's great to have a hero. Eddie Aikau fits the bill. My son Nick, who picked him for a biography years ago in English class, worships his name. So do many of us grown-up surfers with ties to Hawaii.

Back here in California, on Wednesday the swell that pumped into Waimea smacked into San Diego, sending fifteen-foot bombs onto my favorite reef. I made it home late from work and paddled out with only 30 minutes of daylight left. My pal Brian Caldwell, a big-wave charger from Scotland who surfed Todos Santos regularly in his younger years, had been out all day. Tired but in the groove, he snagged a big left at Headkick and disappeared. Lured inside by time pressure, I got caught inside and paddled back out by sunset, still without a wave under my belt. With the light failing, I paddled into a dark pit, made the drop, and--like Greg Long, well, sort of--disappeared in a giant wad of white water. Can't say I felt satisfied. I prefer to make a wave and ride it into the beach, like Ramon Navarro on his 100-pointer.

My son Erik surfed for hours on Big Wednesday, and also on Thursday. A fine water photographer, Doug Wylie, grabbed this double sequence Thursday evening as Erik got himself shacked near Seawind:

Photos: Doug Wylie, see for more of his shots.
Thanks, Doug. Your work is stellar.


November 27, 2009

More bombs coming in thanks to a lumpy six to ten-foot swell (some bigger) from the North. I caught a few, ate it just as many times at Headkick. Shot some pix of the boys at the reefs on Thanksgiving. Here's one of 12 yo Nick. We are thankful to live here close to such great surf.



November 25, 2009

Seems like there's been a six to ten foot swell coming or going for the last three weeks. Makes it hard to get to the keyboard and fill you in. I surfed last Monday and Tuesday on my long board on some glassy Santa Ana two-footers, biding my time. Wedneday picked up and we had fun four-footers at Seawind. Thursday last--kabam, ten to twelve, lumpy, and a bit angry. I caught a few at Headkick Reef, but also took a lip on the head, failing to duck-dive my big gun deep enough. The water knocked my kisser into my board, giving me a classic shiner (see what's new for photo). Friday seemed smalled and cleaner. Satuday--I surfed with Erik, soon to be 15, at Hamburger Reef. Surfing with Erik is a lot like surfing with Kelly Slater (actually, I've never done that) or Mark Richards (done that at Laniakea in the 80's). Erik is a pro. He never makes errors, takes off on the most outrageous waves, always makes the drop, and seems to know exactly what to do when on a wave. Tube--get down and stall. Flat section--pump. Wall--off-the-lip after off-the-lip. He throws buckets when he makes a hit. Gosh, he's so much better than me. He gets four waves to my one. Since he's my kid, it doesn't bother. Too much.

Sunday--I surfed Seawind during the Charger game, lots of fun waves, Seawind is a cakewalk after surfing big Headkick. Monday I worked. Tuesday--more Hamburger Reef with Erik. Back to Santa Ana perfection at Headkick with Erik today, Wednesday the 25th. A strong south mixing with a north. My arms feel like-a-the-overcooked-a pasta. No can-a lift 'em.

Tomorrow--Thanksgiving--it's gonna get big again, peaking on Friday and Saturday. The gales of November...came right on time.


November 9, 2009

We are still recovering from a thumpin' north swell that blessed the Southland with six to ten foot waves over the weekend. Nick and I paddled out at Hamburger Reef, Nick on his 5'5" Sharp Eye. He was undergunned, you might say. I caught a few and he only caught one, a feat, that. He paddled into a wave three times over his head, and spun out. "I got going too fast, Dad. I ended up on my tippie-toes." Luckily he made it in unscathed through the high tide whomp on the rocks.

Erik surfed all day Saturday before competing in Sunday's Fall Classic at Seawind. He won his first heat, and placed in the finals. A happy camper, he surfed himself out (see photo above).

Yours truly paddled out for some big uns on Sunday at Smashmouth Reef, just as the Chargers kicked off their game at 1300 hours (that's one in the afternoon, if you're in the reserves). My pal, Stuart, was out there, too, with only two other surfers. All the rest watched the game or were surfed out.

I fell off my eight/four gun on my first wave, settled down, caught a few, took a few on the head, all before taking one HORRIFIC wipe out. I committed to a serious wave, when a weird back-wash warble ran up the face. The wave jacked. I tried to keep balance but lost it and got driven into the water down in the flats. It's a cliche, but I truly did see stars throughout my visual fields. I waited for a couple more sets, my headache cleared, and then I got lucky. A beautiful, screaming left came along, I paddled in, made the drop, buzzed along a section at warp speed, and rode it to the beach.

Waves of consequence, fun, sort of. But no more stars, please.

October 25, 2009

No end to the steady four to ten-foot waves. Nick's been sick with the swine flu, and Erik really doesn't need me to join him, so I've been surfing the reefs solo.

Friday the swell peaked, solid six-to-eight with plenty of outside sets over that. Friday just happened to be my birthday, not saying what the number is but it requires a calculator for me to figure it out. I had a great time, the sun shone, then a bit of fog rolled in. I surfed a break that handles rights at high water for about two hours, must have scored dozens of waves. Finally, tired, I started planning how to get in, not a small thing when you're bone tired and the tide is high and the sand is gone and there are only rocks lining the shore. I should have just turned and paddled in, but, a la Shaun Tomson and his book, the SURFER'S CODE, I decided to wait for a good one to ride on in. Well, I got my rear end caught inside. Since I was riding a small gun, a rather heavy 7'6", I have a hard time duck diving under a ten-footer. Especially when exhausted. I just tossed my board to one side, since no other surfer was near, and dove under the lip--which looked something like the photo above.

I swam deep, down there with the garibaldi, down where it's dark green and quiet. The wave thundered over my head, I felt the usual tug on my leash, and I see my beautiful red baby gun ripped in half. In 33 years of surfing, this is maybe the sixth board I've busted. I paddled in with the pieces, cutting my hand on the nasty fiberglass, and bounced in over the rocks.

Another day in Socal paradise.


October 21, 2009

Lots of fine surf this month with pleasant, cool water and glassy conditions. North swells, south swells, west swells. Nick's been sick with the flu, but Erik's been out rippin' every day at Seawind. The other day he was working the inside right, a hot little zipper of a tube called Reptiles, when a couple of tourists swimming just north started looking panicky. Erik, at 15 a certified pool lifeguard, paddled over to find the guy, in his twenties, freaking out in the waves and doing his best to drown. Erik talked him down, got him up on his surfboard, and paddled him through the whomp to shore. The man's woman-friend had no trouble swimming in. Somebody called the paramedics, but Erik said he looked OK and paddle back out.

Nice one, son.

October 3, 2009

Today the Seawind Surf Club ran the Minehune Contest for the kids at the Shores. Nice. A ton of work and much appreciated by the groms. My kid, 12 yo Nick, lost his first heat but had a good time surfing outside the contest and eating hot dogs and burritos. I left after his heat and surfed Seawind, a nice little south kicking up, some six footers coming in. I caught a few rights, managed a cutback or two, and paddled in for a piano gig I had later. Erik surfed earlier and claimed he caught six tubes on the inside rights. Probably did, too.

September 26, 2009--the 55th anniversary of the death of Bob Simmons, who died in six-to eight foot surf at Windansea. Bob, a former student at Cal Tech, was one of the first to utilize the styrofoam technology that came out of WWII. He injured his left arm when a car struck it as he rode his bicycle in LA in 1936 at the age of 17. Somebody told him to start surfing to strengthen it, and he never stopped. At Cal Tech he learned a lot about hydrodynamics, and he used his science to create faster, lighter boards than the redwood planks in vogue at the time. He also was one of the first to surf big Sunset in Oahu. Bob's boards utilized plywood sandwiches mounted over a foam core, with twin fins and a fiberglass coating. They weighed around 25 pounds and ran around nine feet long. They were in heavy demand until he got tired of cranking them out and moved from LA to San Diego, where he basically hung out in his '37 Ford (gutted but for the drivers seat) researched projectile wave physics, and surfed like a maniac.

Bob died duck-diving under a wave carrying six or seven riders on that fateful September day. A big fan of Tijuana Sloughs, he was no slouch in gigantic surf. By all accounts, on the day he died the waves were nothing special. Just goes to show. They found his body a day or two later at the foot of Bonair Street, right where the shack sits today.

Bob was a leftie and a goofy foot, but the break that bears his name today, Simmons, is a hard-driving, tubing right. Not too many back-siders surf there. Simmons did.

Hang in there, dude. We're thinkin' of ya. If you'd like to read more about Bob, check out Malcolm Gault-William's site:


September 15, 2009

It's been a great month for surf, overall. Some fine south swells have kept us in shape, and the past few days a nifty six-foot west has opened up breaks we've neglected all summer. Labor Day came and went, and the crowds dropped a little, but not much. Face it, San Diego's a big town, there's lots of surfers. I've got a week off coming up and plan to shape a new board. Erik and Nick are surfing every day after school, utilizing the best Platonic balance of mind and body.

The water has been WARM, hitting 74 degrees F., maybe even hotter on days. It's dropped slightly with the west swell, but not much. The surfing community is watching the El Nino projections for 2009/2010 with interest. The climate scientists report now that it will be a weak El Nino. That can still mean large waves for us in the winter; only time will tell.

Check out the latest SURFER mag, among other stories is a report on Liz Clark, a fearless 29yo who set out to surf her way around the world in a Cal-40 sailboat, but who has gotten bogged down in Tahiti, surfing radical lefts. Enjoy her dispatches at

August 15, 2009

It's been flat, a few bumps out there if you know where to find them. I've been cleaning up my desk and found a couple of surfing essays by Nick and Erik. They're short and sweet, and maybe you might like to read them.

Erik wrote this one at age 12 (October, 2006):

"When I caught My First Wave" Erik Vanstrum

It was the summer of 2003 that I became a surfer. Everything started at the YMCA surf camp I was attending with my friends Dillon and Alp. At 9 in the morning we'd go to the camp where my friends and I would be taken by bus to our surfing destination, which was Crystal Pier on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and South Mission on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was the 3rd or so week that I had been surfing at the camp, which I was enjoying to the fullest. My Dad is a surfer, so he got me into it when I was young. The last week I surfed, the conditions were very good for the particular 7'4" Ellington egg I was riding. Throughout the beginning of the summer my Dad was teaching me how to pop to my feet so that I wouldn't have to spend time standing up, when I could be riding the wave. Catching the outside or blue water waves was my next goal, which I hadn't had much success with previously.

The Friday of the last surf camp I was stoked because I had just gotten a brand new X-Cel wetsuit for the winter, which I had gotten from Mitch's the day before. Once at Crystal Pier, I slipped my wetsuit on watching the perfect little peelers coming in the outside. I had a good feeling in my gut about that day which I remember vividly. After waxing my board, I strapped on my leash, and charged to the water. Paddling out, my body was already accustomed to my new wetsuit, which was so much warmer than trunks and a wetsuit top. Once I got out to the outside a set came. Guys were scrambling everywhere trying to get in the right spot. Finally, after a few had passed, I sighted a perfect right coming in. I excitedly wheeled around and sprint paddled for the wave. I got in it and jumped to my feet just like my Dad had taught me, I felt so proud. Dropping in, I was off, charging down the line with water flying every this way and that. I remember the water so clear I could make out every aspect of the sandy bottom racing below me, and the lip was curling out in front of me as I raced past it. I rode the wave all the way in, and finally it closed out on the inside, where I jumped off my board not even believing how stoked I was. It was the best, indescribably insane wave of my life. I had done it just like my Dad, the other surfers, and even like the guys in the movies.

That was the most awesome wave, I coulnd't believe how fun it was. I had to go back out and get 10 more! At the end of the day I was exhausted, mentally and physically. We had an award ceremony, in which I won stoked camper of the week award along with a blow up shark that hangs in my room to this day. In conclusion, I had gained another attribute; I was a surfer from now, and now till the end of my life.

Erik, seven years after the above essay. Photo: Nick Vanstrum


Nick wrote this one at age ten (March, 2007):

"Spring Break" Nick Vanstrum

During spring break I had tons of fun! I surfed everyday with my Dad. One of my favorite days surfing was on Tuesday. I surfed Hotdogs and Rockpile. I remember it just like it was yesterday.

"Dad, let's go surfing!" I said. It was Tuesday and I was waiting since I woke up for my Dad to come out of his office.

"Have you had breakfast yet?" he said.

"No," I responded.

I asked him to make me an omelet so we could go surfing as soon as I was done. My Dad makes the best omelets; I ate it as fast as I could. When we checked the tide on a "Tide Chart" it was high tide. Which is perfect for Hospitals or Rockpile.

My Dad already had the car loaded with the boards, wetsuits, and towels. So we went out to check the surf. We were going to check out Hospitals first. It looked fun and glassy but we thought that Rockpile might be better so we went to check that out. It looked perfect from the rocky shore we were viewing the waves from. I couldnt' wait until we could go out surfing.

I grabbed my board from the car, ran down the rocky driveway to the shore and jumped into the water carefully avoiding the rocks. I was ready for anything. After I paddled outside my Dad was just behind me. I sat out on the inside second peak because it looked like I could get more waves on the inside. I caught a perfect wave, I went right. I paddled hard for speed, jumped to my feet, caught up to the shoulder and turned with all of my might for a perfect cutback. I was dominating the wave. I kicked out near the rocks and paddled back out to the line up. I caught at least twenty waves that day at Rockpile. After that my Dad and I went to Hotdogs. But Rockpile was more fun. So after that we went home.

Surfing on Tuesday during Spring Break was my favorite surf session. Surfing the good waves that day made me want to surf all week. And I did. I had tons of fun surfing during spring break.

Nick, two years later. Photo: Diane Vanstrum

August 2, 2009

Last week's swell left me with a legacy: a small zit on my knee, just over the patella (knee-cap), just adjacent to a persistant abrasion the reef gave me one session's end as I hauled myself out of the water. The abrasion kept getting re-opened with daily surfing without a wet suit--one of the problems with warm water surfing.

The zit grew into an abscess and soon involved the pre-patellar bursa. My entire knee grew hot, red and angry. Thank God I work in a hospital and am not a feral vagabond surfing in Indo this summer. I lanced it three times myself in the bathtub with a number 12 blade, took 48 hours of i.v. antibiotics (after a culture showed Staphylococcus aureus senstive to cephalosporins), and have started a two week course of oral antibiotics. I don't like antibiotics much, they select for resistant organisms and wreck havoc with your GI tract--but you gotta do what you gotta do.

As to lancing your own abscess: I laid down a doughtnut sized ring of lidocaine local anesthestic, then slashed away with the blade. Helps to have some surgical and anesthetic background. Note: it still hurt like hell. Some will say I'm a nut, operating on myself. But otherwise, it's spend time in a hospital, take a general anesthetic for thirty seconds of surgery, and pay accordingly.

July 26, 2009

Tempus fugit. Those memories of Kauaian bombs have been supplanted by the latest ginormous South Swell. As luck would have it, I had a week off. Nick and I surfed every morning after I finished working on my novel, as from Saturday to Thursday the swell picked up. Nick caught some fine waves Thursday, his muscles toned, his 12 year old courage up. Friday was the day for the peak of the swell to hit, though. The media was all over it.

"Dad," said Erik, my teenager, who'd been Googling Tahiti madly, "it's 40-foot in Teahupoo. Guys are scoring tow-in death bombs."

"It'll be smaller here, don't worry, Nick," I said. The two of us slathered on sunscreen, rashguard, waxed boards, and down we went to Depo's, the reef break we'd been hitting all week. Nick sat on the rocks and laughed, a mature response for him. Six-foot tubes banged into the whomp. Much bigger waves broke outside, where dozens of 20 and 30-year old guys struggled to paddle in to waves too big for their six-foot boards. "I know my limits," he said, picking up his five-foot five-inch board. "Forget surfing today."

Poor guy. We drove over to the beach break, but it was mushy, blown-out, and lined-up with closeout sets. People by the dozens paddled around in the water, but no one caught anything lasting longer than a second. With regrets, I dropped Nick off at his computer, dropped Erik off at Seawind, and paddled my 8'6" gun out at North Turd. I caught some DOH waves, nothing too dramatic. The sun was shining, the water warm, only five guys out. One SUP fellow, but nice, never intruding on surfer waves, only taking ones we couldn't get. A good guy.

Finally I found myself in position, after two hours and six or seven lesser waves, to drop in on a set wave. Who knows how big it was, plenty big. I paddled, jumped up, and nailed it (for a change). Zipping down the face, I waited, smart enough (for a change) not to attempt a turn before reaching the bottom--a common mistake in giant surf. It takes a while to get down a huge face. My board hit a kelp patch and decelerated. I fought to maintain balance, but fell. My head snapped back against the water, which, given the projectile speed of my body, felt like concrete. Instant neck pain. Instant worry--I've seen too much at the hospital over the years. I felt like Junior Seau (say, Ow!) had just tackled me. Or maybe Dick Butkus.

But nothing felt broken, and I paddled back out, frustrated by the whims of the ocean.

Next day, sore neck and all, I again dropped off Erik at Seawind but surfed the high-tide breaks at Emergencies. Yes. Caught a bunch, great day, big empty wave-canvases you could paint any track you wished with your board. Not a shred of wind. The same wonderful warm water.

I exposed my geezer-hood to a couple of young studs I surfed with. "This swell, so big, water so warm, so south--sure reminds me of a swell in August, 1977."

They laughed, good-naturedly. Of course, '77 was long before they were born.

Later in the day, I went to Seawind to shoot some pix of Erik. My wife and I often wonder why he likes the break so much, it being so crowded. Diane always says,"It's the girls in their tiny bikinis on the beach." After standing on the bluff making photos, I had to agree with her assessment.

Erik, bottom turn. July, 2009