First Swell of the Season…May the Circus Begin

With an unimpressive fall season producing only a couple quality swells, everybody’s been chomping at the bit for the first taste of Aleutian Juice.

With winter already a few weeks old and the last big swell occurring nearly half a year ago, in summer, surfers eagerly await the first overhead session in quite some time.

Once again the surf forecasting websites have hyped up the swell several days in advance. I’m a surfing homeboy and when my local break gets 8 feet and above, it rarely holds shape.  I can already see it now: my once uncrowded break now filled with bobbing heads all over the place–including some SUP sweepers ruining the beautiful view of the horizon–jockeying for meaningless position as 9 out of every 10 waves close out.

I love racing down a tight, high line on a well-overhead wave, with one eye peripherally estimating how many feet overhead the wave would be if I wanted to angle down the wave face and try to do a steep bottom turn. But with so many people in the water and most waves where I surf closeouts, is it even worth going out?

Forecasts for this first winter swell predict 15 feet. Yeah, right. By now, most surfers should know that the these swells are at least slightly exaggerated, especially the first NW strong storm of the year. Some suspect the motivation for surf forecasting sites to hype up the swell: if people keep checking back to see if the wave models are reporting bigger surf then more people will see ads for the wetsuits and boards.

Turns out the forecast was off by about 5 feet. It was calling for 12-15 feet. The world-renown point break adjacent to the reef break I surf is uber-competitive on a 3-foot day. Imagine it on an 8-10 foot day with 75 people on the main peak. As the beach town in which I live has trended towards the upscale and affluent, more people have entered the water here.

This is a big spiritual challenge to stay positive on big swells with so many people scrambling for the same long-period set wave.

Have I lost my taste for bigger surf (bigger in relation to mere-mortal surfers; not tow-in adrenaline junkies)? I much rather surf 4-5 foot surf, focusing more on having fun, skating on the wave with my new quad-fin fish, than dropping into a 10-foot slamming wall, dodging everyone that got cleaned up by the previous set wave.

I used to get down on myself if I sat out a bigger swell. Now, I realize what truly feeds my soul and that is having fun sessions in the water. Rarely do I regret going out in huge, powerful surf, but would I consider it fun? Not with so many surfers in the water.

It’s not just the crowds in the water that jostle my spiritual nerves. It’s the crowds watching. Since when did an 8-foot day attract a North Shore Oahu gallery? I don’t ever remember seeing so many photographers with mega-zoom lenses. No doubt, with digital photography getting more advanced and accessible, the number of wanna-be surf photographers has ballooned on par with the number of people getting in the water.

There is more of everything these days and if I want to stay happy and keep a positive attitude, I better get used to it and learn to accept the fact that the more people who learn that ultimate happiness isn’t material wealth but quality of life, the better off society will be, even if that means more surfers to dodge on a big day.

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