I no longer remember the name of the surfer who lived directly above Swami’s in the early 1970s.
I do, however, recall that he surfed the reef every day, regardless of the size.
When I questioned his devotion, even on flat days, he replied, “It’s never really flat; a wave of at least 3 feet will break here at least once a day, especially when the tide moves in.”
Living a few blocks from the beach at the time, I had ample opportunity to test his theory and, sure enough, if you wait long enough, there will be a wave worth riding.
While I was never that patient, I now realize that even on the smallest of days a quick incoming tide will bring the surf up.
I have been the beneficiary of this shift on numerous occasions as crowds check out the waves at low tide and leave before it fills in and waves appear.
The opposite can occur at certain places where dropping tides focus a swell better.
When the ocean is between swells and seems half asleep, there are still ripples worth riding if you have the right equipment, and, more importantly, the right attitude.
Longboards, stand-up paddleboards and other high-volume surf craft are common choices for small surf, but other alternatives don’t require length or thickness to get you moving.
I have been a fan of the Paipo board ever since shaper Jon Wegener gifted me one several years ago. The board (it is literally a board), which measures 4 feet long and is a quarter inch thick, floats only a little better than a rock of the same size.
Still, when the tide is high, and the waves are lapping near shore, it catches waves easily and allows for surprisingly long rides.
Small, high-tide surf is also suitable for hand planes.
Those little wrist rockets, which are about twice the size of your hand, make Paipos look massive by comparison.
While I have yet to master the hand plane, I appreciate the abilities of those who have.
From the hand plane, it’s a short jump to bodysurfing, the purest form of wave riding that does not even require fins for those who have mastered the art.
Of course, there are those times when the ocean is genuinely flat for at least a few hours.
On such occasions, it may not be possible to ride a wave at all. If the sea still beckons, however, swimming is an excellent way to go.
While this exercise will help get you in shape for the next big swells, it is also an enjoyable and worthwhile activity all on its own.
While unnecessary, an investment in a pair of goggles is beneficial as you move over the sea on your own power and view some of the best scenery in North County, much of which is under water.