Perfect weather and good surf have blessed our coast for the past few months. No matter what you ride, it’s a great time to be a surfer, watching rippers on boards from five to 10 feet. Five fins on one. Our beaches provide quite a show of talent. And while we often praise the artist riding the wave, we sometimes forget the canvas he or she paints on. Think about the wonder of waves breaking on shore.Nobody knows who first rode the first waves, but it was probably not long after the first human took the first steps in a garden paradise. There is no record of it, but maybe Adam and Eve were wave riders, shredding waves to the delight of their creator. Maybe not, but certainly someone in antiquity rode toward shore on a breaking wave.
Ancient cave drawings illustrate Polynesian wave riders using paddles (the first SUPs?) and ancient Peruvians rode to shore on reed boats some 4,000 years ago. The Chumash Indians who lived on the California coast from Malibu to Santa Barbara rode perfect point waves in boats. I have no idea what they called it, but by any definition they were surfing.
It may have been the Hawaiians who refined the activity into a sport and made it a strictly leisurely activity. It wasn’t long before it was a regulated sport — compete with rules and restrictions — that the ancients never envisioned. OK, so I’m off the subject. This is about waves.
Nonsurfers must have painted most of the seascapes in the cheap motels I’ve stayed at, as the waves portrayed in them are usually blown out, closed out and breaking close to the rocks. A surfer won’t look twice at such a disorganized swells — they look for symmetrical peaks or a ruler-edged point waves, moving down the line.
The bigger the wave, the more the chaos that it took to produce it. Southern California’s biggest surf is born in Aleutian storms and travels thousands of miles before breaking on North County beaches. The seas get churned up to the size of mountains before they head south and are groomed by kelp, offshore winds and contoured bottoms. Naturally, the closer to the source of the storm, the bigger the wave.
Yet there are other factors that determine size. In the case of North County, our waves often encounter a lot of obstacles getting here. They are slowed by a continental shelf, and sometimes blocked by the Santa Barbara Island chain. Still, north swells wrap around and are groomed clean by our lush kelp beds before approaching shore and lighting up the Internet and the lives of every surfer within miles.
And there we are, waiting just off shore, not realizing that the band of energy we are about to ride has been harnessed by surfers on Vancouver Island, Washington, Oregon, Northern California, wedging up as it is condensed through the offshore canyons of Mavericks, then moving on down the Central Coast into Santa Barbara, lining up forever at Rincon, missing much of L.A. County, pouring into the Orange County breaks of Huntington and Newport, hitting Church and Upper Trestles, on down to Oceanside and finally greeting us in our home breaks.
The result is a true miracle and a gift that we should accept with gladness, rather than fighting over it and trying to deny someone else the pleasure of harnessing some of that aquatic energy for themselves. I myself must repent for the times I said or thought, “That was my wave.” It was not my wave and it was not your wave. It was something sent by the Maker. I’m sure that he doesn’t like his children arguing over their presents.
Chris Ahrens is a surfer and author of four books on surfing. Email him at [email protected]