Posted by: martinworster | October 30, 2008

136. SURFING THE HANDS OF THE GODS

Cans Festival, Waterloo, London summer 08

Cans Festival, Waterloo, London summer 08

My local beach here can take on the whole spectrum of tonal hues, one day looking like a muddy North Sea, the next like a cyan blue South Pacific. As with moods, it’s amazing how the weather affects the colour of the sea so dramatically. It’s also mind boggling when you consider all the factors in the equation to create good waves.

Firstly big storms out to sea, wind energy hitting the surface to create a swell that will hit land depending on how far away it is. Then the angle of the beach to pick up the swell. Is it a reef or point break? If it’s a beach break, what’s the underwater topography of the sandbars, shifted by tide, currents, rivers and swell, required to give the wave good shape? A gentle, sloping beach will create rolling waves with white water that crumbles. Reefs and steeper beaches will create faster, hollower waves – like my local beach at Brookhurst – which can tube. Tube or barrel – that’s the holy grail of surfing, a brief encasing in a glassy water castle, a momentary bending of natures behaviour in an un-natural way.

Tide also affects it. High tides can swamp the swell, reducing it’s oomph. Also take into account the wind, onshore winds give the surface bump and texture and can kill the shape of the waves. Offshore is good and means the wave is sculpted by the wind to create perfect concave A-frames also with – another surfing holy grail – the white water neatly flying off the back off the wave as seen in cliche surf shots the world over.

So, yes, for conditions to get really good, there’s a dizzingly wide array of factors that need to be in place. For all of them to come together well probably happens once or twice a year. Then there are occassions when a perfect storm of factors occurs to create mind bendingly good conditions. That might happen twice a decade. Climatically, we are in the hands of the Gods.

So it’s been ace to be back in the water. For a while I was spooked by the spate of Great White shark sightings and the chomping to death of a surfer in San Diego county 30 miles south of here. I have since overcome that fear. My fate is in the hands of the Gods.

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