Surfing on the east side of Santa Cruz meant Pleasure Point or 26th avenue and when those massive Northwest swells rolled in during autumn only the brave or crazy headed up north to places like 3-mile, 4-mile, Davenport or Año Nuevo. One day, in 1992, my buddy WZ and I drove with a friend and our gear out to Davenport during a particularly big swell. There were only a few guys actually out in the water as we pulled up in D’s van. The surf spot at Davenport had a small bay that faced west-southwest and extended from El Jarro point about 600 yards to the southern edge of the bay. Normally there were 2 surf spots – the point break at El Jarro and the more accessible one at the south end of the bay. As we stood on the edge of the road next to the other surfers checking the waves someone produced a joint and a few of us partook.
We suited up and paddled out to the southern peak. The southern peak had a particularly dense grove of bull kelp. These kelp have large bulbous heads, filled with air, which pop up to the surface in the trough of passing waves and are submerged when the crests roll by. As we paddled out they make an ominous THUMP on the bottom of the surf board when in a trough. This was so disturbing because Davenport is located within the Red Triangle, a great white shark breeding ground.
WZ made it out first and caught a monster on his tiny 5’6″ thruster. The face of the wave was at least double overhead, or twice the size of the surfer. WZ was in the impact zone paddling out and getting trounced. I caught a wave of similar size and began to paddle back out when a close out set appeared on the horizon. The massive close-out set broke across the entire bay. Triple overhead giants created row after row of 12+ feet of white water. The first wall of white water approached and I duck dived as deeply as I could into the kelp trying to get under the turmoil. The chaotic white water tossed me around like a rag doll and soon I was deep under water tangled up in the kelp forest. I could not discern which way was up to the surface. The more one struggles the more the kelp wraps around the struggler. So I just had to relax, follow my leash to my surfboard and use it to find the surface. Finally I was able to get my head out of the water and take a breath. Then the next close out wave approached. I did this five or six more times before giving up and heading to the beach to wait out the close out set.
The beaches in Aptos, CA stretch on for miles perched on the edge of the Montery Submarine Canyon. On a lonely weekday evening, with the sun low on the horizon, it can feel like the shores of a distant planet. I found myself out in the water one summer evening, a lazy south swell rolling in occasional 6 foot nuggets breaking over well worn sand bars. With the sun in the west, on the opposite side of an outside set, the waves light up and briefly turn a bright yellow-green. There was one other guy out in the water and no one on the beach. As I paddled back out after a mediocre ride, a set came up. Through the translucent wave a silhouette, 16 – 18 feet long, with a vertical tail and dorsal fin was silently swimming south at a rapid clip. Had I imagined it? Was it a mirage? Dolphins have horizontal tail fins and often surf the wave, bounding in and out of the water, whereas sharks tend to swim inside of them. I called to the other guy and motioned for him to paddle in. I told him what I saw, or what I thought I saw. We waited on the beach and looked out to sea for half an hour. Nothing. So we paddled back out and hoped it was only the sea playing tricks on me.
One of the amazing things about living in Taipei was the public transportation. I could take the MRT (subway) to the train station, hop on a train, and an hour and a half later walk off the train not 500 yards from the tropical paradise of Fulong Beach. Once I had caught a perfect day here just before a Typhoon hit. Warm water 6-8 ft. tubes pealed away from the jetty on the edge of the river mouth. Hoping to duplicate this experience I head out to Fulong one day several weeks later and stepped off the train to gray skies, rain and wind. The ocean was tumultuous and there was no coherent break; only hundreds of peaks and turbulent water. I paddled out near the jetty anyway. About half way out I noticed there were uniformed people standing on the jetty waving at me to paddle in. I kept going, determined to catch at least one wave. Outside the break, while waiting for a wave, a bright orange coast guard boat pulled up and a man with a megaphone shouted at me in Chinese. I waved and smiled and nodded “O.K.” and still waited. When a somewhat ridable wave finally showed up I caught it and though it was mostly white water, rode it to the beach. The coast guard guys thought I was crazy. I went home disappointed. It turns out the best time to catch typhoon waves is just before it hits the island, when the swell that developed in the typhoon is ripe and the winds have not yet arrived to ruin the party. I will always marvel and appreciate the fact that in some lucky places a person can take public transportation all the way to the beach.