The Coast News Group
An empty wave pours through Oceanside Pier last week. Photo by Chris Ahrens

The siren’s song of storm surf

Last week, the wind hit like pharaoh’s plague, and for most of us surfing was replaced by indoor sports like eating and binge-watching reruns of the original “Hawaii Five-O,” where Waimea shore break holds every surfer’s attention.

That one pay to play wave — windblown, closed out and bone crushing — is enough to send me out the door in search of what we once called “storm surf,” another term for what is now called “junk surf.”

There was sand covering the street by the time I arrived at Oceanside Pier. The surf, which is of decent size and shape, is being ruined by 30 mph onshore winds. As I walk the creaky planks of the pier, sets of waves topping 6 feet cause the pilings to rattle and hum, playing a siren’s tune I once responded to.

It wasn’t that long ago that I made a habit of riding waves like the ones before me. Among my friends I became known for showing up just as the wind shifted to onshore, blowing out the waves.

Battling the chop was an everyday occurrence then. Bouncing down the face, air dropping, connecting with my board again, leaning into a bottom turn, and, usually, getting blindsided by the whitewater, were all part of a game of solitaire.

Why, you may ask, would anyone want to paddle out into such cold froth? The reason is to experience that increasingly rare feeling of being alone with the elements.

And, like any game of chance, I found I could occasionally score in ways nobody else, safe and warm at home as “Mod Squad” came on the screen, ever could.

The ocean now seems to be more threatening than it was back then. Of course, I realize that I have changed, not it, and that being caught by a big set, leash broken, battling wind and tide to make shore again is no longer for me.

Maybe it never was. I only have my unreliable memory to count on. No matter. It’s much safer to snap photos and remember.

A set wave marches in and I am ready, in the right spot, spinning around, mind surfing. No paddle takeoff, air drop, reconnect, bottom turn, cutback. Stall. Quick barrel. Repeat. That was fun.

The wind begins dying, the whitecaps disappear, and the waves begin to shape up as two surfers paddle out. With surf checks just a text away, there will soon be others coming.

Looking south, I know that some of the reefs are about to get good. Even so, only a few of the more rugged among us will leave the car heater for a soggy wetsuit and a chance of getting two or three decent waves.

If you’ve ever rolled the dice on such a day as the one described, you realize that two or three good waves might be too much to ask for. One decent wave that stays open for long enough to get 50 yards down the line is reward enough.

I mean, think about it: What are you missing if you go? “Gilligan’s Island” will be there when you return, and your three-hour tour could just be the greatest adventure you’ve had all week.