“Morning broke; the surf did not.” So begins a Surfer Magazine piece written by Dean Perry on the 1973 World Surfing Contest held in Ocean Beach. I always liked the wit of that opening line and the way it summed up that sinking feeling we all get when we check the surf and find there is none.
Those of us stuck in Southern California (that would be nearly all of us, right?) enduring countless sunless, surfless days know the feeling. Some turn to reading, some to fishing, some to skateboards, some to surfboards so big they need to be registered with the Navy. But know this — the surf will rise again. At least, it always has.
I’ve always been in awe how surfers responded to the first big waves after months of flatness. The rust is ground off of the joints with the first few bottom turns, timing returns and paddle muscles feel the ache of not being used before settling into an old familiar rhythm.
One of the smallest summers for waves in my memory occurred in 1969. I was on Maui that July and the ocean showed no signs of life. One bright morning I encountered the forever optimistic and eternally youthful Mickey Munoz in Lahaina. He had just sailed in from the Mainland and commented on the ease of the crossing due to the lack of wave action. We and most everyone else on that island were hungry for surf, but saw nothing but a mirror finish reflecting a glassy sea. “It will come, it always does,” said Munoz, somewhat prophetically, smiling before departing.
We suffered through August, September, October and November without seeing a wave much over shoulder high. I was in class when I heard the rumors that we always hear during times of extended flatness —a big swell is coming. At the time I was living near Hookipa Park, which is just around the corner of the then-undiscovered big-wave garden, Jaws. As was my habit, I woke early to check the surf. By the time I arrived, the pavilion in the park was gone, washed away by waves so big it took several seconds for them to fall from crest to trough.
I returned home, picked up my board and headed for the jewel of Maui, Honolua Bay. By the time I arrived the word was out. Much of Oahu’s North Shore had been flooded, and some of the best surfers in the world, including Jock Sutherland, Jackie Baxter, Billy Hamilton, Herb Torrens and Les Potts, were out dominating a pack of 40-some lesser names. I remained safely on the cliff, and watched the show along with Surfer Magazine founder, John Severson, who was filming his final film, “Pacific Vibrations.”
Back on the Mainland the surf continued with somewhat less intensity, but solid consistently until that summer when it once again went flat and we all wondered if we would ever see waves again. Of course we did, as the endless cycle continued. So, be patient, you may soon find yourself camped on the beach, wondering when the waves will drop so that you can paddle out to a carefree session where the thought of drowning is as far from your mind as the next big swell.