The Coast News Group
Sea Notes

Opening day, crowds and Nanook

I don’t recall when or why the term “opening day” was coined, but it was an agreed upon day when Swami’s broke, and the beach breaks closed out, and were left unridden until May. If memory serves, one criterion for opening day was that the waves needed to be ridden from outside Swami’s at least to the lifeguard tower.Opening day usually occurred right around Thanksgiving when the Aleutian pump was turned on for the season. Those first swells ripped the sand off the reef and gave Swami’s its classic hourglass figure, something that surfers up down the California Coast forever hope to caress.

I am writing this on a “black” Friday morning after Thanksgiving, just past the peak of a decent, but quickly tapering two-day north/west swell. As I arrived ready to surf, I was quickly repelled by more than 50 surfers, a handful of SUPs and half a dozen kayakers, all competing for the three or four set waves that pushed through every 15 minutes or so. The surf was pretty good, but the tide was high, and most waves rolled into mush until the shore break where some of North County’s best gremmies made the most of them.

While some of the sets were, arguably, big enough to put them in the opening day category, I didn’t see anyone come close to clearing the lifeguard tower. Maybe at low tide, the waves would acquire more teeth and distance. Then again, the swell was dropping fast and a draining tide could have worked against us.

While not overly impressed with the surf, I was highly impressed with the surfers’ attitudes, as kayakers and shortboarders complemented each other’s waves while waiting to rinse off in the shower. This is something that would never have happened in the in the ‘70s, when one poor kayaker braved Swami’s alone.

I never did know his name but we called him Nanook, after Nanook of The North, the great Eskimo famed for paddling his sealskin kayak in search of food, in the frozen north. Our Nanook was nothing like him, and I am kind of embarrassed to say we did not welcome him or his wave-devouring machine in the lineup.

Even then I felt bad about the way we treated him, and would like to apologize if I ever see him again. Then again, one of his species owes an apology to me. It was during a stellar opening day over a decade ago. I waited until the wave hit the reef perfectly, dropped in and came off the bottom, watching the translucent carpet wall up all the way to Cardiff Reef. At full speed, negotiating the connection section, I saw a lone kayaker, stroking frantically in from the channel.

With the wave still hovering at well overhead, he swooped down and turned, nearly spinning out as his massive boat barely missed me and his wake caused me to fall. As I returned to the surface, I found my board floating near me. Paddling back out, I heard the kayaker brag to someone, “Did you see my wave?”

That was the last time I felt up to the challenge of mixing it up with a wave-starved, opening day crew at Swami’s. Still, I am content to remember a thousand good waves and watch as surfers and paddlers and kayakers share a nice north/west swell, opening day or not.