Archive for the ‘surfing’ Category

A few things I’ve been mulling over in between deciding I don’t have enough time to post:

First up is attack of the cicadas. Those are the cool spaceship-looking bugs that reach dizzying numbers every so many years and then make a deafening racket. This season is supposed to be a big one in Japan for the four-year cycle of the kumazemi, a cicada so awful that it has apparently spawned its own genre of haiku.

And the headline above is not misleading: these cicadas inject their eggs into the bark of trees, but have recently found that fiberoptic cables work just as nicely. They’re peppering exposed wires all around Osaka, and whole blocks are losing their Internet access. (The worst part is that then there’s no way for them to Google “What in the hell just happened?” So forward this post to all your Osakan friends while there’s still time.)

Science and Nature have stories on this, but you need a subscription. There’s free news here, and a blog post here. (thanks Charles)

Checking back in with the surf talk show Going Off (see Kind of Like Oprah…), host Pat O’Connell and returning guest Rob Machado take up the subject of the thruster’s total domination on the pro surfing circuit. (The thruster is a three-finned design that made for much faster boards and ushered in power surfing. A bit more background here.)

O’Connell squeezes some trenchant one-word sentences from Machado. (Hey, in some circles, distilling the truth into a handful of words is called poetry.)

Discussing the possibility of a four-fin board producing a winner:

MACHADO: Hey, Trestles. C.J. Hobgood. WQS. Different.

O’CONNELL: Grovelly.

MACHADO: But Trestles can have these moments of fatness.


MACHADO: You can’t take out of the equation the possibility of a single fin or maybe a twin fin.

O’CONNELL: <sound like tire deflating>

MACHADO: Don’t laugh at me, bro.

Even later, they stretch out a bit, and latch onto something:

MACHADO: It’s sad in a way, from my perspective. Being on tour, all I did was I had eight boards that were identical, and I just wanted to get the one that felt magic and I wanted to go out and ride that thing every day and do the same thing every day…. To expand your surfing and go somewhere else was the greatest gift about, uh, getting kicked off the tour. Wait did I say that?

It’s another step forward in the bold move to put words where no words have gone before. To unscrew the unscrutable, as it’s been put. But Pat, if you’re reading, next time you’re talking about the fine points of design, consider tackling why it works, not just whether.

Finally, if all you have time for (before the cicadas close in) is 30 seconds of video, you could watch Ozzie Wright get shacked for 18 seconds. That’s about 17.5 seconds longer than your typical Santa Cruz shack. This one’s in Indo, and I love how at the beginning you can’t tell how big the wave is. It looks about shoulder high. It isn’t. (Thanks Andy)

Apologies in advance for the soundtrack. No one should talk about killer whales that way.

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Pat O’Connell has a new talk show. Check Surfline.com for “Going Off with Pat O’Connell” and catch the ex-pro, who last made a Scribble appearance in connection with shifting baselines. He’ll be posting interviews with new guests every two weeks.

This week he sits down with Rob Machado, owner of the gnarliest hair in all of professional sports. The topic under discussion: Who’s going to win the surfing world tour this year? Will it be Mick Fanning, the blazing Ozzie who everyone thinks is overdue, or Andy Irons, the competitive bulldog with three consecutive titles from earlier this decade?

The result is intensely uncomfortable to watch but also, somehow, gripping. The producers put them before radio-style mikes in a darkened room. O’Connell shifts uneasily in his seat and pulls his knee up under his armpit for half the show. They cut to surf-flick outtakes whenever the tension gets too great.

Machado cuts in to make a point, then apologizes, realizing that snaking someone in conversation is kind of like stealing waves. O’Connell’s sentences start forcefully but end with an abrupt upswing, as if he’s duck diving. Machado’s are often two syllables, one of which is a chuckle.

Machado pronounces Fanning “unfadeable,” and O’Connell is all over him. “You’re kind of dancing on the line dude, it’s a yes or a no.” Machado clarifies that “unfadeable” means a sure thing. Uh, obviously?

But I love this attempt to inject articulate conversation into the least articulate of all sports. Only two more weeks till the next episode. Theme: Will a pro event ever be won again on anything but a thruster? Perhaps they’re working up to the Middle East.

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Video Gnarliness

Santa Cruz has been humming this week under the combined magic of a big northwest and a big south swell. Some of those same northwest waves marched in on Oahu’s north shore, where the videocameras were perfectly positioned.

A big, orderly swell chugging calmly ashore can fool many an onlooker into underestimating its difficulty. This video is a good mix of rides that make it look much too easy and rides that betray a sense of the kind of trouble you can get yourself into. In between the sweet, full-rail carves that seem to have been drawn by an architect, you’ve got broken boards; people disappearing into the lip, traceable only by their board; a guy inside a tube that munches another surfer, sending one spinning around the other.

We’ve all scraped sand out of our ears after an afternoon body-flopping in front of 2-foot waves breaking in waist-deep water. These waves are eight times the size (roughly 64 times the volume), breaking in the same water depth. For scale, keep in mind those boards are at least seven feet long.

Best moment: about halfway through a boogie boarder goes for a launch off the lip and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams (that’s him above, upside down, partially obscured by the mist). Floating like Jordan, he finally lands, flat on his stomach and still headed down the line.

But beyond all this gnarliness and thrill-seeking is the real marvelousness of this video: the rolling waves that look like sculptures, the breeze delicately riffling their faces, the walls glinting in the tropical afternoon, the patient ranks of set waves closing in from outside, and the sidebar on it all, a flotilla of surfers just trying to stay out of the way of the worst of it.

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pencilchew.jpgMaybe the occasional Scribble Reader has wondered just who in the heck this Scribbler is. But let me tell you, that ain’t nothin’ compared to how much I wonder who the heck you guys are.

But that’s the beauty of Web 2.0, ain’t it? No more agonizing over the wording of your letter to the editor of Omni Magazine in the hopes of seeing your name in print. Just hit the Comments button and fire away.

So here’s your chance to do some scribbling of your own and fill me in on one or more of the following 15 pressing questions:

1. How did you get here? (no need to get cosmic on this one)

2. Have you visited this site before?

3. Are you just here for the baby turtles? (you would not believe how many people search the Internet each day for baby turtles)

4. What kind of posts do you like the best? (a) ocean science (b) climate change (c) birding (d) surfing (e) other?

5. Are the posts (a) about right or (b) too damn long?

6. Would you like more coverage of (a) climate change (b) islands being devastated by rats (c) weird deep-sea creatures (d) earthquake-type stuff (e) celebrity feuds and/or adoptions (f) sex (g) atmospheric physics (h) other (please specify)?

7. How educated are you: (a) made it out of high school; curious about the world (b) still interested in most things (B.S.) (c) able to detect the infantile flaws in some stories; peripherally interested in all the rest (M.S.) (c) basically humoring me (Ph.D.)?

8. Do you wish the words I use were (a) longer (b) shorter (c) funnier (d) snarkier (e) less stupid (f) rhyming?

9. Do you occasionally wonder what possesses me to spend an hour or so writing about such obscure topics?

10. More pictures? (Of what?)

11. Are you not leaving comments because (a) the posts arrive fully formed and inviolable (b) you never make it to the end of a post (c) it’s interesting, just not that interesting (d) try writing about something that matters (e) you have a lingering feeling that even though only a tiny fraction of the world’s population will ever look at a comments page, you might come off sounding stupid and someone, somewhere, might snicker at you from the lonely confines of their poorly lit hovel

12. If scientists were to turn their collective intellectual power toward designing one and only one robot animal, what animal should that be?

13. I am an heir/heiress and I would like to contribute ___ million dollars to further the Scribbler agenda

14. Do I know you? How?

15. Setting aside the surfing and the birding for a moment, if there was one thing in the world you’d like me to write about, what would it be?

I’m really not kidding about this. Answer as much or as little as you see fit. Post a comment – or – if you don’t feel like going totally public – send aphriza at gmail dot com an e-mail. Thanks for reading.

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The ocean-advocacy group Shifting Baselines aims to jazz up conservation by enlisting Hollywood, and their new crop of video shorts looks promising.

The only serious one is also the best of the lot. It starts with voiceover from Pat O’Connell, the eternally stoked young ripper in Endless Summer II (see above and below, left).

pat-o_wingnut.jpgHe does a pretty good job of not sounding like he’s reading (“I woke up this morning bummed out…”) and he nails the phenomenon the group founded itself to confront: the way we gradually become satisfied with environmental conditions that would have horrified our predecessors.

Marine biologist/filmmaker Randy Olson takes over and offers some vivid examples, many drawn from SoCal water-quality problems, which are deeply gnarly. In San Diego, if you want to surf for your high school, you have to get an annual hepatitis A shot. One city bragged about its water quality, saying 90 percent of its beaches were clean enough for swimming last summer. (Is there some reason why that target shouldn’t be 100 percent?)

Other PSAs include Jack Black conducting a symphony of dissonance and a pretty funny bit with one of the Reno 911 guys.There’s a short documentary where inner-city black San Diegans demonstrate that ocean issues really don’t register on their political agenda. (The site notes that you could get similar levels of cluelessness nearly anywhere outside of a marine science department.) Once again, in a field currently directed at old, educated white males, science and conservation needs to break some new ground.

The Groundlings comedy troupe seem to have found one approach, working a gratuitous Cher joke into a funny skit about the catch of the day at an upscale restaurant. Check’em out.

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parus.jpg Strong onshores are whipping the North Sea into an unrideable mess. Great tits are flitting through the branches outside (note to non-birding readers: this is not naughty in the slightest: see picture).

Scribble Headquarters Europe has just opened in Bremen, Germany.  This is as of 24 hours ago, when Scribble Headquarters U.S.A. dragged his sorry sleep-deprived butt off a 737 to begin a 3-week stay in the Old World.

So far, the highlights have been modest, but Herr Gekritzeler has high hopes nevertheless. At the very least, it should be easier reporting breaking ocean news from nine hours in the future.

I did enjoy being able to take a tram from the airport straight to an eighth-century cathedral. (So tell me again – why can’t we do public transportation in the U.S.?) Some of the cars here are the size of an NBA center’s high-tops. And yesterday, someone actually said “Achtung!” to me. I braced for the worst, but it was only a piping-hot plate of ham and sauerkraut.

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point conception, courtesy Surfline

Point Conception, the grand elbow in California’s coastline, has been sold along with more than 25,000 acres of undeveloped coastal ranches. Surfline has the story along with a prognosis.

Sitting some 50 miles west of Santa Barbara, Point Conception is where Southern California officially begins. The privately held ranches always served as a sort of insulation protecting the Central Coast from the insane development of points south. The ranches also harbored a handful of mysto surf breaks, accessible only by boat, rumored to be so perfect that you couldn’t even see them unless you had been previously anointed by some member of the pantheon.

The article is well researched and thoughtful. The buyer, a firm called Coastal Management Resources, is at least making noises about appreciating the area’s fine natural resources. And nearby military operations place restrictions on what exactly can be built in the area. But for $150 million, you have to believe they’ve got bigger plans for it than putting up some outdoor showers and giving the rest to the Nature Conservancy. Cross your fingers.

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Alaskan storms are literally rocking the South Polar ice – jarring it about 5 mm vertically and sometimes bouncing icebergs along the sea floor.

The image of house-sized waves detonating on a reef is a standard one in any surfing tale, but when the waves hit a “nascent iceberg” carrying a $7,000 seismometer there’s actually proof – in the form of a pretty blue-and-orange picture like the one above. No, it’s not an image swiped from a natural-gas ad, it’s actual data as it appears on Mac Cathles‘s poster (and recorded on my cell phone).

The bands of orange and red come from waves smacking into the iceberg. Time (calendar months) is on the horizontal axis and wave frequency is on the vertical axis. Frequency is better known to surfers as period, their single most coveted wave statistic. Low frequency waves (low on the graph), are the beautiful, widely spaced, high-energy lines that sneak up on point breaks and explode out of the deep water. Higher on the axis is the depressing, confused, beach-break windslop that knocks down unwary tourists and fills their ears with sand.

As storm winds sweep over the ocean, they stir up waves at many frequencies. But lower-frequency waves move faster than higher frequencies. So when storms are far away, low frequencies arrive ahead of high frequencies. On the graph, that means the scatter of datapoints leans to the right. It’s such a reliable relationship, in fact, that the degree of lean quite clearly indicates the distance to the storm.

In the record from 2006 on this picture, Cathles said, at least eight of the “flames” are leaning far enough to have come all the way from the Gulf of Alaska, more than 8,000 miles away.

Of course, Cathles and his coauthors didn’t do all this just so surfers could daydream about sharing epic waves with penguins. They’re interested in the cumulative effect of all those incessant waves (“like wiggling a tooth”) on the composition of the Antarctic ice sheets. If global warming causes fiercer storms, it could batter Antarctica with more wave energy, perhaps leading to earlier or more frequent ice breakup. With their iceberg-seismometer contraption, Cathles and colleagues Douglas MacAyeal and Emile Okal hope to keep track of that wave energy as it arrives.

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Crazy die-hards encase themselves in neoprene and dodge ice floes in order to surf pathogenic, knee-high wind slop.

That’s the story, in a nutshell, and if it sounds vaguely familiar it’s probably because you watched Dana Brown and the Step into Liquid crew shake their heads at the Great Lakes surfers three whole years ago. So it’s a bit of a mystery why the New York Times would jump on the same story at this late date – unless the Swell of the Century was marching on Cleveland, its corduroy lines stacked to the horizon. Which, as the photo accompanying the article illustrates, it wasn’t.

Also surprisingly for those crack Times reporters, there was no mention of the seminal Great Lakes surf pic Unsalted. (See trailer for the rest of the nice backhand slash in the still above.) OK, so it’s more a record of a guy’s desire to film the epic waves of the Great Lakes than convincing evidence of the waves themselves. But nonetheless, like the Great Lakes lifestyle the film is a triumph of perseverance, and in its climax we do get to see a handful of SoCal pros shredding a perfect head-high freshwater A-frame in beautiful offshores. And the accompanying voiceovers are precious, since even on 80-degree days pro surfers tend to sound like they’ve been recently clocked by a chunk of ice. Imagine how they sound when they actually have.

But at the end of this article’s rehash of the Great Lakes surfing folly, reporter Christopher Maag actually latches onto some part of the truth:

“Occasionally there are days when the waves are good and the sunset falls into Lake Erie like a red fire and the Cleveland surfers bob silently in the water, alone in the city. “

It’s like that everywhere, even in the California these Midwesterners so desperately want to set themselves apart from. Rare moments when it’s finally worthwhile.

Riding waves is an exercise in heartbreak redeemed only occasionally by moments of purity. Surfing is sitting in a cold gray flatness and waiting as the sun drops out of the sky, and over the horizon it looks like God has been smoking rubies.

And then, every once in a while, a lithographed crescent wells up out of the deep and aims itself at you. Drops fly backward off the lip as it tumbles and you go, down, fast. There is ocean, a slab of it, at your cheek as you speed through a parabola and back to flat reality. The wave-riding itself is so short that, to a first approximation, it is timeless.

This post is dedicated to stalwart Scribble reader and veteran of both North Shores (Hawai’i and Cleveland) Charles Eldermire.

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