The Coast News Group
Surfers dot the water on “Opening Day.” Photo by Chris Ahrens

Waterspot: Opening Day on the open ocean

The definition of “Opening Day” may have changed over the years, but from my recollection it occurred each year at a certain North County reef when someone caught an overhead wave and rode it past the lifeguard tower.

Opening day for surfers is not like it is for horse racing fans. There is no paid admission, no beer vendors, or fancy hats. It does not fall on a particular date and, some years it never shows up at all. It is dependent strictly on weather systems — violent storms born in the Aleutian Islands. Waves generated by these disturbances travel south — threatening to sink ships and devour large chunks of real estate before their final death rattle on shore. Waves breaking close to the initial impact are generally unseen by the public and unridden by surfers.

These north swells first collide with groups of anxious riders on frigid Canadian reefs. They stand tall on secret shores in Washington and Oregon — roar down through Crescent City, flirt with insanity in San Francisco, cross over into complete madness at Maverick’s, are better behaved in Santa Cruz, are groomed to perfection in Santa Barbara, roll down the state where their energy is decreased and yet still thumping at a certain famous reef located on the Encinitas/Cardiff border. I make no mention of the reef not because it’s secret, but for the opposite reason — it has become a welcome mat for surfers of all abilities, something that makes it nearly too crowded to surf and, at times, dangerous.

Once the waves hit a rock shelf a few hundred feet from shore they form a peak that is meant by a crew anxious to get in the mix. You can count on longtime locals like Jeff Timpson and Billy Irwin to sit deep and wait for the biggest set waves. Local news channels line the bluff, further advertising the swell to viewers that will soon be packed in next to them as the waves lift majestically in the kelp before finding riders.

All last week the first north swells of winter made a good showing, peaking with double overhead sets in water that poured down from oil clogged gutters. Just as at the races there were those who won, placed and showed and long shots that paid off in stoke and respect. New reputations were made and old reputations were enhanced.

For most in the lineup, the waves are at or above their capabilities. For an elite group, however, these waves are simply warmups for the truly big surf at Todos Santos Island, Maverick’s or the seven-mile miracle known as the North Shore of Oahu. Regardless of where you find your opening day, limits will be tested and surfers will lite up for days, the glow in their eyes like bulbs on a highly decorated Christmas tree.


The winter rains can deposit some unwanted items into our playground. Among the worst offenders is fiberglass cigarette filters. Realizing that, Moose of Moose’s One Hour Ding Repair offers a solution: “Make each cigarette butt redeemable for two cents. It could be paid for by charging a few cents more per pack. To see more clever ideas by the Moose, please visit