Month: December 2016

Cleaning off the bad stuff with a final 2016 surf

Today, I surfed at a location called the Needles, located at Cannon Beach. This upscale coastal community is about 85 miles northwest of Portland. Most of the miles-long beach is un-surfable, offering no coves. Rock formations at the Needles offer some slightly more stable sets, but not by much.

Let’s be clear. It’s rough, Northwest chop. You have to get hammered by constant waves to get to the point where they break. Today, the forecast predicted calmer waves before 10 a.m., then wind. Except for the first 30 minutes after I arrived around 8 a.m., it was all chop. That did not stop me. I donned my 5/4/3 wetsuit in 28 F temperatures and headed out with a grin.

I had a lovely time. I actually caught some nice rides, riding the foam crests. I had upped my skills to a new plateau–I finally felt I had mastered a few basic moves to give me a decent ride with all of the waves I caught. Best of all, I entertained onlookers with my mediocre abilities. I don’t think they realized how warm I was in my seal suit. I hope they were amused and considered trying surfing themselves later.

I had wanted to surf here for more than 33 years, since the first time I came as a college student. I finally did it. It was a great way to end the year. All that was bad was rinsed off my skin and cleaned from my spirit. I again felt renewed and ready for the challenges that await in 2017. There will be many–and today I will not think of them.

Have a happy New Year and a peaceful and prosperous 2017, everyone.

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Scenes from the California Coast, Morro Bay to Monterrey Bay

In early December, I took a surf safari, hitting popular surfing beaches on the California Coast from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz. Along the way, I stopped at Morro Bay, a beautiful place near San Luis Obispo. It is known for its prominent Morro Rock, that juts out of the ocean like a mini Rock of Gibraltar. It is also known for great surf. I surfed Cayucos Pier, just north of Morro Bay. It is a great break.

I then drove up the California Coast, on Highway 1, through the Big Sur, until I arrived at Monterrey Bay. The highlight for that leg of the of the journey was seeing the elephant seal rookery, near San Simeon. The beach area, known as Piedras Blancas, is covered by beached elephant seals. The elephant seal is the second largest seal in the world. It is huge. I think I would be terrified if I saw one up close in the wild, in the water, given its strength.

During my brief visit I saw a number of males bellowing at each other, establishing dominance. Most of the colony simply snoozed on the beach. Some of the seals would occasionally scratch their fur with a fin or flip sand on themselves and burp. They took no notice of the dozens of human onlookers. Maybe they are used to the gawking visitors now. The prime time to see the rookery is November through February. I lucked out with great timing.

Six historic missions in six days

During my surfing-themed trip to some of southern and central California’s premier surf destinations, I also visited six historic California missions. In its colonial territories in North American, the Spanish colonial government and Catholic Church established 21 outposts throughout coastal and western California, starting first in San Diego and then all the way north to San Francisco.

I visited in order: San Juan Bautista, San Miguel Arcángel, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Carmel, and Santa Cruz missions. Collectively, the missions tell a story of the state’s transition from thousands of years of habitation by Native Americans, to conquest and ultimately cultural destruction at the hands of first Spain, then briefly Mexico, and finally the United States. Franciscan fathers converted thousands of Native Americans and their treatment overall was more humane than by the later American settlers and the U.S. government. Some historians, and even mainstream publications like Newsweek, have described California Natives’ collective historic experience, particularly during the era of U.S. control, as genocide because of the total collapse of Native culture and their demise, including to infectious diseases. Today there are 110 recognized tribes in the Golden State, and tribal rolls there count more than 700,000 people with Native ancestry.

Two of the missions I photographed, San Juan Bautista and San Miguel, both mentioned the graves of thousands of Indians who died in and around the missions during their long life span. Little evidence of their graves and these Native Americans’ role serving these missions is provided to tell their full story at colonial outposts that ultimately sought to assimilate and conquer the native people. Still, I love these places. They are a window on the past that is mostly forgotten. If you are in California, for holiday or if you live there, put them on your itinerary. You will be taken back in time.

California “mission surf”–a success!

Click on each photo  to see a larger picture on a separate picture page. Note, I used a basic point and shoot Canon–these photos were not meant to be fine art or high resolution. They do, however, tell a story.

I just returned from a six-day surf and tour adventure in southern and central California. It exceeded my expectations. I needed to cleanse all of the mounting stress from work, other life issues impacting people around me, and current events from Syria to my increasingly polarized and right-leaning country. The Pacific Ocean, and its cleansing waves and water, are a good way for me to detoxify the mind and soul. Reality has not changed, but my ability to respond creatively to it has vastly improved.

I originally had planned this trip to hit the great surf beaches from Santa Barbara all the way to Arcata. However, an injury delayed my departure by more than a month. When I left, on Dec. 1, winter had arrived, making any visit to surf spots north of San Francisco untenable. My first night camping at El Refugio beach dipped into the 30s. That was the last night I decided to camp. So, I adapted and focussed on three renown surf spots: Santa Barbara, Morro Bay/Cayucos, Santa Cruz. My surf stops included:

  • El Refugio State Beach Park, where I camped and caught mostly small waves on a calm day.
  • Sand Beach, in Santa Barbara (also called Coal Oil Point), by the University of California at Santa Barbara, where I surfed for two days and had some amazing rides and great moments in a beautiful place. Great surfing by the Santa Barbara women here.
  • Cayucos, in Morro Bay, where I caught some waves that tossed me around like a feather; I prematurely timed my visit in the water two hours before things settled down.
  • Pleasure Point, in Santa Cruz, where I first tried to ride waves at 38th Street and then moved closer to where the really great surfers were long boarding at Pleasure Point.

My skill level did not improve that much, so maybe I am a slow learner. It was definitely worth the time to do this. The rides that I did catch brought on that huge Buddha-like grin. Even the bad news about the latest appointments to the new Trump administration did not send me into despair as it might have a week earlier.

The other highlight of my trip were my visits to six historic California missions, where the Spanish colonial government and Catholic Church established outposts throughout coastal and western California, starting first in San Diego and then all the way north to San Francisco. I visited in order: San Juan Bautista, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Carmel, and Santa Cruz missions. They tell a story of the state’s transition from thousands of years of habitation by Native Americans, to conquest and ultimately cultural destruction at the hands of first Spain, then briefly Mexico, and finally the United States. Two of the missions I photographed, San Juan Bautista and San Miguel, both mentioned the graves of thousands of Indians who died in and around the missions during their long life span. Little evidence of their graves and these Native Americans’ role serving these missions is provided to tell their full story at colonial outposts that sought to convert and conquer the native people. Still, I love these places. They are a window on the past that is mostly forgotten. I will do a photo story on them shortly.

In the end, my “mission surf” project brought many rewards. The photographs are just pleasant reminders what filtered into my skin.