Wax On, Wax Off: Surfing in Storm Conditions

Wax On, Wax Off: Surfing in Storm Conditions
Flickr user Ben

In the days of Surfline buoys, swell forecasts and LOLA models, the kind of surfer who possesses an intimate, intuitive understanding of the sea is becoming rarer. But even today, good surfers enjoy a certain self-taught nautical awareness that puts them in touch with the ocean and its conditions. As one famous example, Orange County resident and world renowned surf photographer Larry "Flame" Moore relied on a network of wind chimes throughout his South County home, as well as his own extensive experience, to know when Salt Creek, his favorite spot, was breaking right. When temperature, wind, and perhaps some other indefinable qualities aligned, he grabbed his camera and suited up, never so much as glimpsing the place or checking a cam.

Today, the network of cameras, buoys and forecasts has made most surfers dependent on technology to tell them when and where the waves are breaking. But storms like the ones we've had this week tend to confuse the matter. With the kind of rain and wind we've had, most people wouldn't describe the surfing conditions as "fair to good." In fact, there are certain very real dangers involved in surfing during a storm. First, there's the obvious--extreme high tides, weird currents and unpredictable waves. If you paddled out south of the Newport Beach pier on Monday or Wednesday this week, you probably would have been driven into the pilings by what looked like a powerful east wind swell moving along the shore. Secondly, there are the trillions of microbes in the water due to our polluted runoff. You might walk away with an ear infection, strep, or even hepatitis. There are other dangers, like loss of visibility and dangerous debris in the water.

But for surfers, stormy doesn't necessarily mean bad. It might mean challenging, weird or even scary, but if there's a swell, surfing during a storm can be a novelty all its own. Plus, the usual crowds are nowhere to be found.

One anonymous reader expressed concern over yesterday's post about surfing the harbor mouth. "Some kid or novice could get hurt or killed out there," they wrote. That concern, obviously, is not unfounded. Surfing during storms is dangerous, no question. And actually, surfing in general can be pretty dangerous. But people have been surfing for hundreds of years now, and people have been surfing the Newport Beach harbor mouth since long before the jetties were installed. I don't think they're going to stop anytime soon. That was sort of the point of the article, that surfers are willing to break the law and endanger their lives to surf a good wave.

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