Cold water being pushed by a new swell. Photo by Chris Ahrens
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Waterspot: Chilly winter days bring out the surf

While winter officially begins on Dec. 21, the season has received a kick-start from northern activities bringing, cold, rain and good-sized surf. The average tourist or casual beach goer most likely considers surfing a summer sport, but for the hardcore surfer in our region, the season begins with the first north swells.

Winter conditions can prove shocking to surfers who learned in a wave pool or the white-water of a surf school. It’s obviously cold. As the sand recedes the rocks become more numerous and feel slippery on numb toes. Kids quickly find themselves paddling into what appears like a city block of water unloading on them. A broken leash can lead to a long swim against a rip that resembles the Colorado River. The crowd is older, more experienced and aggressive. It’s not like the surf school where your instructor hoots for you and tells you how well you’re doing after pushing you into a wave. Nobody pushes you into a wave and some might push you out of the way. There are no hoots for a beginner and you might have your feelings hurt when you are called a “kook.” Get used to it. It will happen until you prove yourself.

Each major hold down will make you think you are about to drown, but you will surface and with each beating you will get tougher. Keep paddling out.

The reward is coming, so hang in there. One day you will find yourself sitting out in the pack when you see a wave rise in the kelp. Everything in you screams to head for shore or the channel, but you paddle out. Then, like a kid tired of being pushed around by a bully, you decide you are going to ride this wave. When you do, a gear you didn’t realize you had kicks in and you paddle into position.

You barely make it over the first wave as three surfers take off. The next wave approaches, bigger than the last, the face covered in the froth from the last wave. The next wave casts a tall shadow and you hesitate, wondering if you will make the drop. There are two surfers waiting on the shoulder. Spin around, point the nose of your board toward shore, paddle hard and take an extra stroke, maybe two.

The wave lifts and the spray stings your face. For a moment you are running blind. Take another stroke and feel your stomach move down the face in anticipation of the rest of your body. Stand up, drive forward and take the long drop. The longest of your life. The wave jacks and breaks behind you. One of the two paddlers on the shoulder has pulled back, but the other one is dropping in late. Turn.

Your turn brings you up the face, maybe higher than you wanted. The wave steepens and you force the inside rail back down the face, just in time to avoid spinning out. You have nearly caught up with the surfer who has shoulder hopped you. Taking a high line, you drive past him.

From there the trip is easy. The wave lines up like a straight edge and you race down the line, hit the lip once or twice and kick out over the inside shelf. Someone hoots, not the obligatory hoot of someone paid to teach you, but an anonymous surfer who is paddling out and appreciates your ride. Paddling back out, you smile to yourself and move back into the lineup where your peers await.

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