For this outing, the Midtown crew decided to take a dip into some colder waters north of Santa Cruz. The plan was to road trip up the coast, camping and surfing at the plethora of beautiful beaches the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Work was requested off and our travelers locked in the ten days or so they would embark on their journey. They chose to go during a time they were assured they would find some waves and have decent weather. Of course, things never quite go as planned. In the weeks leading up to their departure, the weather forecast went from good, too bad, too downright insane. All of a sudden a giant and uncharacteristically early storm was brewing off the coast. With record breaking rainfall, wind, and swell in the forecast, our team did the only logical thing… they went anyway.
In a van packed with four people, a dog, and twelve surfboards, the crew embarked on their eerie journey in the last week of October. Their first day of travel made it very clear that this storm was not a force to be reckoned with. According to weather.gov, on October 23rd 2021, north of San Francisco had a record breaking day of rain and wave height. By the time evening set, Point Arena had experienced 15 to 20 inches of rainfall, peak gusts of 80mph and the second largest recorded swell height in 23 years. With individual wave heights recorded at 50 to 60 feet. This storm became so ferocious the crew had trouble driving due to the wind, and it became increasingly clear that camping this night was out of the question. In a stroke of luck one of our team members had a friend offer a place to stay for the night just before the peak of the storm hit. That night was spent in a comfortable side house with friends instead of a fearful huddle in a flooded campsite.
While international travel has its heaps of rewards, it also is accompanied by the headaches of airports, customs, and jet lag. Sometimes the greatest adventures can be had in your own backyard, or in this case, your own stretch of coast.
The next day they woke up to a much mellower storm . They decided to make up time and head north driving through the storm for the whole day. With google maps as their guide and a borrowed forerunner, they decided to go check out some of the local beaches and coves once they arrived to their destination. Their hope was to find a spot that could either handle the massive waves or was protected enough to surf without being swept out to sea. The first spot they checked was remarkable. It did in fact handle the massive swell on tap. Yet, the waves were situated inside a harbor that was flowing like a river out to sea. With gaping barrels taunting some of the crew members, it was a relief to know the coast guard wouldn’t let anyone enter the water due to the unsafe nature of the spot.
Google maps lead the young surveyors to the next couple coves with no luck. Whether it was blown out, sucking out to sea, or just destroyed by the massive swell the crew couldn’t find a surf able spot. After a while they decided to check out a cove that had a small opening guarded by rocks that let out into a much larger horseshoe shaped bay. Much to their surprise, while searching for some more daring shortboard spots, they found some small peeling longboard waves. Out at the key hole of the bay giant white water explosions and throaty peaks dwindled into rolling knee high reforms greeted by a river mouth. There were even a few other surfers suiting up. This sight is usually not a pleasant one, but given the treacherous conditions, the crew was pleased to know that this spot was in fact safe to surf. The waves were nothing too special, but everyone was pleased to grab a few rides and hang some toes after a serious storm. After befriending a couple local surfers, the crew heard stories of this spot really lighting up when the swell was up and the sand was right. The team was glad just to find any waves after the thought of driving all this way just to be skunked by a record breaking storm.
The next few days followed a similar format. Wake up, get some food, and then hit the road with google maps as the tour guide. Countless spots were observed. Many miles had been drive. Most of the time, their ambition to surf was powerfully outmatched by the wrath of the sea. Eventually they stumbled upon a wave far within a harbor. Calling it a surf spot would be a stretch. An underwater jetty of sorts caused the swells to peak up and break and then roll into the harbors beach. Judging by the plethora of half decayed pilings scattered in the line up, the jetty reef seemed to be the ruins of what was once a pier or boardwalk with in the harbor. The crew had serious doubts about the safety of paddling out due to the shrapnel present and the occasional exposure of dry reef where the peak broke. Two of the travelers opted out of this wave. But, one was drawn to the rare clean faces and beautiful back drop and convinced the fourth member to paddle out too. This wave was even worse than the first cove wave. Most of the swell just closed out along the underwater jetty, but a few held up just enough to get a couple nose rides and turns in. Underwater was riddled with debris and the two surfers stayed light in their feet and aware their surroundings. The real cherry on top of this session was the beautiful lighthouse directly across the harbor. Despite the potential peril from impalement, the scene at least made for some nice photos.
There seemed to be a trend forming. The swell was so large and powerful, the only real option for surfing was longboarding. In an ironic twist of fate their journey for slabbing waves of consequence had been hijacked by a novelty wave longboard trip.Deep inside the harbors and coves small peeling waves were breaking in spots where nobody thought to surf. With the exception of the first spot our crew surfed alone every session.They only attempted to shortboard once. At a blown at reform wedge the smallest day of the trip they were able to get a couple turns in. But besides that, they just kept surfing these weird little waves. By far the strangest wave they surfed was discovered on the day when the wind was blowing straight onshore. This wave was also in a harbor, but there was a twist. The waves would travel deep inside the harbor until bouncing off of a breakwater type jetty that curved back toward the ocean. Inside of this curve, there was a beach facing straight inland. At this small beach the wind was offshore. To the crews amazement, the waves were so large out in the ocean that the swell was traveling far enough into this harbor to make a refracting wave off of the curved jetty. This backwash swell made it all the way into the inland facing beach producing perfect knee high hollow A-frames right next to another decayed pier. The waves were inconsistent, but there wasn’t a drop of water out of place. It was the strangest set up any of them had ever seen.
The whole week they did this dance. Eventually, it was time to head home. They packed back up and began their descent back to Santa Cruz. They even found a couple waves on the road home. What started out as a storm chase, turned out to be a story of unique waves. Our crew had expected the worst when departing on their journey. At the very least they’d hoped to find a few decent waves, and they did just that. It wasn’t what they expected to find, but the stoke of the search was there nonetheless.