Picture perfect Lowers. Isn't it grand when things look good on paper?
Ahhh…summertime in Santa Barbara, what a great time to be here according to tour books and international visitors. If you’re a surfer on the other hand summer it is all about hassle, especially if one decides to keep surfing through the season. Sure there is the occasional short period wind swell day here and there, but for the bulk of the time the channel is a complete lake. That is just how the tourists like it here on the “American Riviera”.
Best bet if you surf, go on an extended trip, crash at a friends pad for the season down in Orange or San Diego Counties or find another way to occupy your time. For me summertime is all about surfing marginal waves for which I drive nearly forty miles each way to get. There is nothing better then burning $5 a session in gas to go surf garbage. Ok, its not that bad, I mean most of the time it is far better then what I would be surfing back in NJ this time of year. I’m just jaded these days. Five years in California will do that to a person, especially up here where beach breaks are scarce and good points and reefs the norm.
Usually by this time in the summer I have scored a good day at Malibu or Jalama, even a sick day or two at River Mouth. This year unfortunately that has not been the case. A good south swell was forecasted for early week and two opportunities for me to get some quality surf for a change presented themselves. The first a boat trip out to the Channel Islands. This was the one I really hoped would materialize, but just like that ranch connection that never comes through, it never happened.
Luckily my boy Kevin and his friends, Luis and Jeremy were eager to make the three hour trek south to Trestles just south of San Clemente. For my non-surfing readers Trestles is one of the most famous surf spots in the United States and one of the top in the world as well. It is considered by most the hot bed for progressive surfing in the continental US. Anyone who is anyone has surfed the wave at some point in his/her life. Its one of those places every serious surfer should visit before death.
Basically Trestles consists of a collection of coble stone reef breaks with in a ten mile span of beach. Going north to south you have Cottons, a mushy left that can be fun on the right swell direction, wind and tide and usually has the least crowd factor. Then there is Uppers a rather punchy right with the occasional closed out left that draws a sizable crowd being it is the closest break from the trail. Following Uppers you have Lowers, the crown jewel of Trestles offering a 50-100 yard wally left and a 100-250+ yard right that although a bit softer allows for just about anything the imagination has in store when it comes to wave riding.
Lowers is always packed with everything form top pros, to hot up and coming groms, to kooks, long boarders and every type of surf tourist you can imagine. That being said if you just get one or two good ones you will be more then satisfied. After Lowers you will come to Middles, a collection of mainly closed out bowls that serve up on the right day some fun killable peaks and is a refreshing break from its always crowded counter parts. The most discouraging thing about Middles is one has to watch lowers peel off perfectly in the distance, while surfing short ended closeouts.
Finally after middles you have Churches, a usually mushy and sectiony right hander more known for long boarding then anything else. On the right day though the place can fire. I surfed there about five years ago and it was solid overhead and dredging for easily 150 yards.
I used to fancy all the spots at Trestles, opting to surf Lowers as little as possible just to avoid the horrendous crowds. These days being a Californian now and a seasoned Rincon aficionado I have become completely desensitized to stupid obnoxious crowds. I always get my waves eventually anyway and would much rather catch fewer waves that are really good then a bunch of garbage any place else.
We showed up at Lowers Monday (7-11) and it was solid 6-8ft with bigger sets and to my surprise only had about twenty guys on it. The wind was a little bit funky but there were still great left and rights coming in. The lefts had more juice then the rights. I went out there and absolutely frothed for three hours. I have never surfed out at Lowers and pretty much had my pick of waves. I mean there was still plenty of scraping and jostling to get the good ones but it was nowhere near as intense as usual.
I went in for lunch and hung out on the beach before paddling back out for the evening glass off session. The tide had gotten a bit higher, but the surf filled in a little more and it was very clean. Unfortunately the crowd came in with the tide and it got really shifty. Between both those factors getting the good ones became very frustrating. I did manage to snag one huge right I managed around eight turns on and two really fun lefts, one I stuck a crazy vertical tail free thing, where I came completely unglued on the re-entry yet somehow managed to recover and then get three more turns. The last I had a solid ally-oop. It was a good day of surfing.
After a double session and an entire day at the beach I was over Trestles and ready to come home. My compadres unfortunately for me were still stoked. I soon found myself in my least favorite situation: camping. We got ourselves a plot over at San Onofre State Beach on the bluffs. Luckily my boy Kevin had a two man tent and a queen size blow up mattress making the night more bearable. The boys and I lit a solid camp fire (you know how much I love fire), talked some story, and ate a gigantic pizza made for us by this crazy skin head dude who was completely tattooed from head to toe at a local joint in San Clemente. The pie was surprisingly not bad or I was so hungry it did not matter. I would bank on the latter.
Next morning thanks to certain lazy members of the group we got a super late start, getting to Lowers after ten. We parked and walked up from San-O. Let me give the reader a sound piece of advice: that is not the way to go. The walk is ten times harder; being one has to trek across hot soft sand for an easy two hundred yards. To our dismay Lowers was blown to shit and there were easily 75 guys on it, six cameras on the beach, wannabe pros and invidious colored wetsuits everywhere.
I did manage to run into my old photographer Dave Molleck as he was cruising. It was nice to catch up with him after moving to New Port for more opportunity to make it as a surf photographer. Not stoked I watched it for over an hour as the sun burned the fuck out of my skin (a fact I am not enjoying today). Finally Kevin and I forced ourselves to give it a go and by far it was the most demoralizing sessions ever.
I have not been in a shit fight for waves like that since last summer at Malibu. It was a straight up battlefield out there. I literally had to push a 14 year old hot headed grom off a wave. I was already up on the left and he stood up to try and backdoor the right. He yelled at me and I grabbed his arms and sent him off the back. That was my first good wave out there. When I was kid I would never challenge a person of higher rank then myself for a wave, alas times have changed.
After about and hour and a half the crowd died and I began getting some really good right-handers. I had three in row where I banged out 6-10 solid turns. I would have surfed another two hours but after two and half hours already I was completely strung out from the previous day and all the exhausting lineup jockeying. As I was getting out Dane Reynolds showed up and absolutely destroyed the place. I have surfed with Dane a bunch of times, but have never seen him surf Lowers. The guy made every other surfer out there look like a kook and judging from my knowledge of his ability he was having an off session for him.
I was contemplating another session before cruising, but I was sun burnt, completely enervate and eager to get back up to the “Barb” by a decent hour. Looking back I probably should have sucked it up and paddled. This was the first time I had been back at Lowers in three years and I think I am good for another three years. Give me a good day at Rincon any day. Winter is coming!!!!!
The reality of surfing Lowers.
LNF: Lowers Raid! from Lastnamefirst.tv on Vimeo.
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