Sea Notes

Small waves, big minds, bigger dreams

Today the ocean once again looked like the Daytona Salt Flats. There were three desperate riders out, picking off the scraps of a dying swell. And I will soon make it four. Why not? I’m done with work, it’s a beautiful afternoon and even if all I get is a good workout and a trip to the kelp, it beats the electronic diversion of the exercycle at the gym. My longest board, a 9-foot-4-inch Hobie should do the trick.
Walking toward shore, I stop to see the Cardiff Kook, resplendent in white and dressed as a June bride. They say the water is warm, maybe 63. I hope they’re right, cuz all I have is a vest and trunks. A guy on shore is catching small sharks and releasing them while tourists take pictures of the mighty hunter. I haven’t checked a calendar for a while, but all the signs indicate that summer is nearly upon us.
The 9’4” plugs along in the mush and, after three little waves, I return to shore, to dry off in the warm evening and enjoy the view. It’s over 90 in Escondido and the heat drives them out of their nests, to the coast, where it’s breaking 80 for the third day in a row. By the time I make shore, five SUPs are in the lineup, three more longboarders, a kayak and a few struggling short boards.
Yesterday it was really windy and the kiteboarders were out in force. One guy was moving at me at around 40 mph and I wasn’t sure if I should go inside of him and risk being hit by his board, or outside of him where I could be clipped by his lines. I decide to keep an eye on him and not move. At the last moment he turns it around and heads by out to sea. My companion screams the word “Donkey” at him and I laugh.
The kiteboarder brings up a good nonverbal point however. Just as you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight, so you don’t bring a small board to harvest froth no larger than the average man’s spit. In other words, get the right tool for the job. While I don’t like to admit it, it seems the SUPs and kayaks have the right tool this time. While it looks frustrating, I still admire the few kids who rip on sub 5-footers in such puddles. But the average surfer like me needs something a little bigger. Or maybe not bigger, but flatter and possibly thicker.
I like riding my Frye Fish when it’s tiny. At 8 feet long, it fits in my car and with such little rocker it catches every wave worth the effort. A fun board that is falling apart after nearly a decade of regular service. With Frye retired, I wonder what’s next. When I get my next small-wave board, I’ll keep low rocker in mind. I suggest you do also.
Rocker is not as obvious in a surfboard’s design as those other compensations to turning: width, thickness and length. While those characteristics can also accomplish the desired glide, they, like flat rocker, have some drawbacks. Thickness helps you paddle, but generally makes a board harder to turn. Length also offers paddle power, but decreases turn radius. Width can add to maneuverability, but makes a board somewhat sluggish. Low rocker makes a board paddle faster, but also makes it stiffer.
I learned years ago that everything in surfboard design is a compromise and you have to decide which ones you want to make. I don’t really like super long boards and neither do those forced to watch me catch more than my share of waves. For me, that flat rocker does the trick of catching and riding the small, mushy waves that tend to visit us this time of year. I am open to trying anything else, however, and am glad to see so many people experimenting. One thing for us all to keep in mind: If you’re on some massive paddle machine, be kind to the rest of us.