Break on Through

I’ve long had a fascination with the idea of windsurfing on the open ocean, but it has always seemed like a distant dream. The added dimension of actually surfing on waves seemed thrilling, but the skills required to be able to even attempt it are fairly advanced and the awesome power of the sea is intimidating. Last year, on a drive up the coast in Santa Cruz county, we came upon Waddell Beach. There were dozens of kiters and windsurfers zipping around in the surf. It looked challenging, but not as extreme as I’d imagined. I made it a goal to get good enough to give it go. This summer, I finally made the dream a reality:


Ally shot this, my first launch into the open ocean, after a half hour of standing and maneuvering the rig to figure out the timing of the shorebreak, and (mainly) to try to get my nerve up. The waves, which looked pretty mellow from the beach, seemed like massive walls moving at me at high speed when they were at eye level. Overcoming the instinct to avoid moving directly at these oncoming walls at equal speed was the most difficult part of the experience. Sam, one of the many friendly and helpful local windsurfers, had advised me to walk my rig upwind to avoid a set of submerged rocks, which I did. What I hadn’t realized was that I had been slowly creeping back downwind as I was trying to learn how to push the board through the whitewater to prepare for launch. It was quite shocking to one second be picking up speed, getting ready to sail through the approaching wave, and then the next second have the board completely stop short as the fin hit the rock. Without anticipating this sudden change in velocity, my body continued at the original speed as the sail swung down to the water, pulling me along with it. It took a good minute to untangle myself from the rock and get back to shore. Luckily I’d learned from a wavesailing DVD how to keep the sail pointing into the waves to avoid having the tip of the mast get stuck in the sand and the mast snapping in two.

After another hour and a half of psyching myself up and watching and waiting and getting pushed around by the break, Ally asked, “what would you want to accomplish that would make you feel good about today?” My response: to have one ride out beyond the break and back. I took a deep breath, walked my rig far upwind, watched another rider go, and launched just after him. I reached the whitewater and kept everything steady. The first small break came and I sheeted in and weighted the tail to bring the nose up to let the wave under the board, and remembered to lean forward again to unweight the tail to keep the speed up. Three more waves, each getting more powerful, but I was holding on. I had made it this far in my last attempt, but had lost power in the sail and couldn’t make it over the last wave in the set, and had ended up in the washing machine. This time the wind stayed steady and I gritted my teeth as I picked up even more speed, rushing at the three foot high wall of water. No turning back now. Somehow I kept everything together and timed the tail step, lean-forward moves well enough to plough over the top of the wave. I had made it through! I was sailing on the open ocean!

I was surprised at the feeling of sailing on the waves beyond the break as I hooked in and reached planing speed. Like riding up and down gentle hills. Overlapping the complete and utter thrill of having made it into the ocean was a feeling of crazy, unbridled terror of being on the open ocean. What the hell was I doing here?! Luckily this fear was fleeting as I focused on sailing, and on the deepest, most vibrant blue I’d ever seen.

“I really should turn back now,” I thought, as the wind was much stronger further out, and my speed was picking up even more. But first, a bit of showing off. I spotted a perfect jumping wave and took off. My plan was to make this little jump, and then find a nice flat section to jibe on and return to shore. But ocean waves are different from bay waves, and I was completely unprepared for the unprecedented height of this jump, and the wider spacing of the waves. Where usually the landing area would be just behind the takeoff spot, here was empty air in the trough between the waves. My weight was far too forward and I crashed sloppily into the cold, cold Pacific. The kind of cold that forces you to exhale all the air in your lungs. At least as cold as the Bay was in February. But I was having so much fun, that I just started laughing. Briefly. My mind went to large marine predators with sharp teeth, at which point I waterstarted quickly, and headed back to shore.

Another windsurfer passed me, then a kiter, who was rather close with his lines, but he seemed to know what he was doing. As the new guy, I was just hoping I wasn’t violating right of way with anyone. At this point I realized I’d be heading back into the frenetic zone of the shore break from the other side and had not much of an idea of how to sail through it. A second windsurfer passed me and I followed his path. I had imagined I’d be surfing on a curling wave at this point (or swishing around in the rinse cycle), but it was more like being gently pushed along by a rippling carpet. I reached the whitewater and saw another break gaining on me. I sheeted in and outran it, since I didn’t know if it would knock me off balance. I hopped off when my fin started dragging in the sand, picked up the rig and ran onto the beach. I set the rig down and threw my hands up in victory. Ally walked up to me with a great smile and gave me a high five and a kiss. Life is good.

Music: Get your hands off my unimog by Implosion Quintet. Creative Commons License

2 thoughts on “Break on Through”

  1. Gunnar

    Did I ever tell you that I think you are a wonderful writer? You know that I am not exactly into 21st century technology but I really felt that I was there at the beach watching you fulfill a dream. And that’s a really good thing! I look forward to reading more…Love, Deb

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