Dawn Patrol – Part 3 (final part)

Columbus Day Morning Surf 5x7 Oil

Image courtesy of Joe Mancuso at Mancuso Fine Art (on the web at http://www.mancusofineart.com/)

Sunrise

The sunrise today was about 6:42am. They were parked at 6:35. He reached over and slapped Marco on the face. It was rude but he earned it by sleeping all the way over. The Professor would make sure he collected for gas today. He stepped out of the car and stretched.

It was still dark on the beach but a faint light could be seen emerging to the east. There was a lonely quality to this beach. The crew seldom saw anyone else surfing here. Occasionally, depending on the weather, a family or two might park and walk on the beach. For the most part they would see drifters from HMB begging for food or money.

He walked up to the top of his favorite dune and sat down on the cold sand to listen. He always listened first; he liked to arrive before it got light enough to check out the conditions. The elephant seals that hung out between the billabong and the surf to the south were barking with the break of day. He could hear the pups and the females, but no Big Neck. That meant he was probably cruising the lineup. They would have to walk past this herd if the waves he anticipated actually happened. This time of year the sand tended to build up a bar just around the cliff corner. The sets could be awesome if conditions played along. Nice peaks that meant goofys and regulars could have plenty of choice.

He could hear the closeouts hitting the beach right in front of the parking lot. Just before the crash there was brief moment of something. He didn’t know what to call it. It wasn’t a sound. More like the absence of sound and… a feeling. He could tell that the closeouts were about 50 to 60 yards offshore. This meant it was running about 4 to 6 feet in wave height. He counted about 6 waves to that set and he was pretty sure he missed a couple of the first ones. In about 7 minutes he would hear another set.

The air was wet and a fog still clung to the ground but it didn’t feel very thick. He could taste the salt and the rotting kelp bulbs on the air. This meant that there was little to no wind. The wind would likely stay this way for an hour or two around the sunrise, and then turn offshore for a couple of hours. Once the sun really got up, around 11 or so the wind would start to turn onshore. You could still surf for a while but once it fully turned your session at an exposed beach like this was done. He hoped that the onshore would happen late today.

It was getting light enough that he could start to pick out detail at the surf line. He heard another car pull up. That would be Todd and Dave. He could now see the dirty looking foam on the beach out in front of the dune. In a few more minutes he was able to make out the sets as a wave reached its breaking point and the lipped pitched over. It was going to be good, he could feel it.

He jumped up and walked back to the car to greet Todd and Dave. Both somewhat hungover, they were at least reliable enough to get there on time. “It sounds like about 7 or 8 minutes between sets and probably a solid four or five feet” he told them, “let’s hit it!”

They suited up in the parking lot, grabbed their sticks and a towel, locked the car and started the walk. They had to trudge through the northern end of the crusty billabong to get all the way to the beach but having booties on keep the nastiness to a minimum. It was now light enough to decide how to get around Big Necks harem. It was usually safest to not cross their path directly. They stayed high on the beach and went around in single file. Everyone walked a bit faster once they were past to make sure they didn’t get chased. That done, it was another six or seven minutes to walk around the cliff corner and there is was.

The sandbar was working this morning. Total glass peaks, protected from the cliffs when the wind started to shift later in the morning, were peeling off one after another. He called it right again.

He pulled his wetsuit top on all the way, zipped up and then roughed up the wax on the deck of his board with a handful of sand. He was going to have to strip this old shit off pretty soon. One quick look around to see if Big Neck was cruising and it was time.

Waiting for a break in the sets, he saw the last wave in the set rolling through start to break and then sprinted down the beach, launched his board ahead of him and landed perfectly in a prone paddling position. Stroking hard, he wanted to get to the line up before the next set started. If you were in the wrong place in front of this peak you could get a thick lip tossed on your head and get pummeled. That would set you back another 20 yards and you’d have to struggle through another set just to get to the lineup.

He was almost there when the next set showed up. He could see lines ahead and estimated there were 4 or 5 waves in this one. He thought about trying to snag maybe the last wave in this set but decided against it. He wanted to watch the set come through and get his line up set. His usual indicators were the large crack just off the corner of the cliff and the big rock to the south. When he triangulated just right he was almost always in position for a deep takeoff at the peak and going left. He was a goofy and while he enjoyed surfing backside, it wasn’t very often he could surf frontside almost exclusively.

Paddling over the last wave in that set, he sat up, shook out his hair and looked around. Dave was a regular foot and was setting up about 15 or 20 yards south of him. He would be riding solo on most of the rights today. Todd and Marco paddled up next to him. They were both goofy like him.

“This if fucking awesome” said Marco. “You called it again, professor. I didn’t believe you last night but I didn’t have another ride, so…”.

He smiled, laughed along with the jab and then turned to look outside. Lines for the next set were just starting to take shape and it looked like it would be a big one.

They started paddling outside to make sure they didn’t get caught inside and as they got into position, Todd turned around and made an effortless no paddle take off on the 2nd wave. They watched and saw the spray as he snap-hooked a turn off the lip. Working hard to get in position, he let Marco take the next wave. He didn’t turn to watch this time. He judged that the next to last wave in the set would be the largest and started getting into the right spot.

At last, his first ride of the day was here. He could see the peak forming, judged that he should get a bit more outside and a bit south, then it was time to turn around. He sat up scanned left and right quickly and thought he was in just about perfect position. He shoved his stick down to get the extra push from the flotation, stroked 3 times extra hard and he knew he had it.

Late drops were his specialty, and often he took off too deep and, well, there wasn’t much choice except to surrender and take the punishment that came from going over the falls. Sometimes, he could avoid that and still get crushed when the nose of his board couldn’t get down the face without digging in. They called it pearling. It was about the worst kind of wipeout. You were full speed into the takeoff and would hit flat water face first and then get fully dumped on by the wave you were trying to ride.

This one would be close. He was definitely deep but thought he could make it. Pushing off, he quickly transitioned to his feet, pushing the nose of his board down as he did. If he didn’t get moving down the face quickly this would end poorly.

It was a perfect late take off. A slight free fall and then his inner rail connected, the fins started to grab and he was off.

He always loved the older surf movies. Watching guys take off and really put soul into their ride. Big bottom turns, sweeping cutbacks, stalling just right before a section that would hollow out and then speeding up to make it out of the barrel, all while making it look effortless. That’s how he wanted to surf.

This wave presented a sweet chance to do just that.

Making slight adjustment to his stance, he made the shift from the steep drop and slid out onto the flat in front of the lip. Just before it looked like he would get hit by the lip tossing out, he straighten up, arched his back and leaned into a sweeping bottom turn. In his mind he saw Gerry Lopez fearlessly turning in front of a monster lip at Pipe.

He held the soul arch until the last moment. The peak was setting up for a perfect barrel. He kept his line moving up the face until the last second then snapped a stalling turn, leaned forward, put his hands behind his back and let the lip throw out over his head.

This was the magic place. Nothing like it anywhere else on the planet. Time slowed down, the air pressure changed. When it happened right, you sort of got tunnel vision.

He kept his stall up long enough to get fully into the barrel. Todd and Marco were both paddling back out and were in a perfect spot to see his ride. He timed his release of the stall perfectly and for a moment time was frozen. The grey green water was glassy smooth. He could see the underside of the lip from inside the barrel as it raced ahead of him. Because of the position of this spot with respect to the rising sun, it looked light the entire tube was lit up from behind him.

He could hear the hoots from his crew while he got as deep as he could.

Time to catch up. He pressed his front foot down a bit and started to speed up so he could make it out. Just before he ducked out from under the lip he threw a smile and a peace sign at Todd and Marco.

Shooting out with the spit from the pit of the barrel, he stretched out and jetted in front of the section. Just before he started to slow down he leaned into a sweeping cutback and threw a big spray onto his friends. Coming out of the cutback, he released into the whitewater left from the closing barrel and came off the top to turn 180 degrees and ride out the last bit of the shoulder.

Kicking out, he effortlessly laid back down on his board out so he could paddle back out. His grin was ear to ear, smiling so hard it hurt. His friends were clapping. The sun was rising. They were the only ones there and probably would be all day. It was the start to a perfect day, one which he would keep all of the mental images from and think back on for many years.

As he paddled back out towards his crew to wait for the next set, he knew one thing was certain. He couldn’t wait for that alarm to go off again tomorrow.

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