Waves gently break toward shore. Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: Relearning beach breaks

Having grown up surfing near Huntington and Newport, I was raised riding beach breaks. Those sand-bottom, unpredictable shifting peaks made the transition to the reefs of North County easy. As anyone who has surfed for a while understands, beach breaks tend to shift, while the waves on reefs and points break in pretty much the same spot, wave after wave.

Beginning in the ‘60s my parents rented a cottage on the beaches of either Newport or Oceanside. It was in those spots that my endless of love of beach breaks began, as we practiced the basics of surfing for hours before arriving home wet and sandy.

Once we were holed up in one of those little pink Oceanside beach cottages and had no idea that the surf had come up. It had been small the day before, but that morning I paddled out at Oceanside pier and wished I hadn’t. I was an inexperienced inlander of 14 years old, and the waves, to me, seemed twice the number of my years on earth, something I figured would be cut short with each growing set.

There were only four of five other surfers out, and the biggest set waves would sweep the bottom of the pier. I was out for hours without catching a single wave, knees knocking to feel them break as they vibrated the pilings. Finally, with nowhere to go but in, I paddled for a smaller wave, which was still a good double overhead, caught it and rode to shore.

While that wave broke half a century ago, I have maintained my on again, off again love affair with Oceanside beach breaks ever since.

This morning was a homecoming of sorts as I paddled out into the 2-foot, glassy peaks. The waves were fun, but I soon realized I had become spoiled by the fine reefs of Cardiff and Encinitas. The dry paddle outs at Swami’s were about to become nothing more than a memory. Oceanside offered no channel to paddle out in and, although the waves were small, they packed a bit more punch than I expected. Note to self: sharpen duck diving and turtling skills.

Everything in me wanted to ride a wave in and drive north, but I stuck it out until I was rewarded by a clean little peak that let me in early, and I slid happily toward the beach until my fin was dragging in the wet sand.

After drying off, I ate lunch in a café up the street. Rather than returning home, I decided to try another session. By then the tide had risen just enough to make the waves a tad slower and easier. Half a dozen decent waves later, I returned to the beach satisfied.

As I stood there drying off and contemplating the lineup, the onshore wind (which is the curse of beach breaks internationally) kicked up, and quickly blew the little waves out.

As whitecaps dotted the horizon, I remembered that surfing beach breaks was generally a morning and evening affair. From now on, it’s Oceanside in the morning and Swami’s in the afternoon? Life could be worse.