Dec. 8, 2015
Overnight TV news reports that high surf has broken railings on the O.B. Pier and the pier is closed. The Point Loma buoy is at 7+ feet at 14 seconds at 7 a.m. Morning news reports show big surf at local beaches and report high tides at 6:40 a.m. at 5.6 feet, dropping to a 0 tide at 1:20 p.m.
At 8 a.m. the reefs at Sunset Cliffs are showing waves of 4 to 6 feet with sets over 8 feet at times. The waves are not optimal because the tides are too high for the reefs, so backwash off the cliffs is making the waves a little wobbly and unsmooth. Some surfers paddle out anyway to get the waves before they become too crowded.
Access into and out of the water from the cliffs at the higher tides is treacherous and not safe for the inexperienced. As the tide lowers and the day warms the surf begins to improve and sets get bigger. The strong west swell pushes into the reefs with little or no angle so the waves are straight and clean in the light offshore wind.
I decide to take one of my big-wave boards down to the beach-access stairway at Ladera Street and put a for-sale sign on it and watch the surf. As the day wears on, at least two surfers come up the stairs with broken boards. The afternoon breeze comes up a bit and the rips become rivers in the channels between the reefs. Unwary surfers are pulled out to sea and out of position to catch the waves. Successful rides are rare as the surf becomes less clean and sectiony.
The lifeguard truck pulls up around 3 p.m. and the lifeguards get out and scan the sea. There are over ten surf breaks visible from our vantage point with large rip currents between them. The guards point out the hazards and the access points to each other and take stock of the scene.
I overhear them talking about two rescues the night before. Seven victims were trapped by the tide on a pocket beach with no way up the cliffs and had to be removed by boat. Another surfer with a broken board was unable to paddle against the currents and was swept southward over a mile and needed to be rescued by helicopter.
As the tide bottoms out and the swells feel the reefs, the wave structure begins to improve and some great rides are had, also some powerful wipeouts.
The next shift, after school, after work, find a parking spot and wax up and head out. The tide will be pushing in until after sunset and that will help focus the waves on the reefs and make them throw out even better.
Tourists watch the sunset, surfers come and go, dog walkers and joggers go by, the world is surf music and Jimi Hendrix is proven wrong when he said, “You'll never hear surf music again.”