By Garrett Wheeler
Surfing can be a lot like roulette: invest a few dollars, spin the wheel and hope for the best. Usually things don’t work out, a result of the odds that are constantly stacked against you. Wind, tide, swell, sandbars, even other surfers are all variables that stand in the way of a surfer and his unyielding attempt to score good, un-crowded surf. But every once in a while, the elements come together to create a wave-induced anomaly- and the result is pure, unadulterated bliss.
And so it was, during the recent succession of southern-hemi swells that I scored really, really good waves.
As May gave way to June, a string of fun-sized south swells made their way to California, no doubt lighting up the coast from Mexico to Oregon, sending surf-starved guys like me scurrying to various south-facing breaks in hopes of finding some good nuggets to call their own. But as is characteristic of off-season south swells, the hordes were on it, and the surf itself was painfully inconsistent. After quickly checking the go-to spot in Half Moon Bay, it was clear that crowds were going to be a factor. I watched as twenty-five guys attempted to share a peak that only produced about six good waves every twenty minutes. Not satisfied, I headed south.
The wind stayed calm until I passed Pigeon Point, where a light onshore flow had made its ugly presence known, turning the beach breaks into crumbly slop. The tide was too high for another popular south-facing wedge, and I knew Santa Cruz proper would be packed to the brim. North of town, I pulled off Highway 1 and watched a dozen guys surfing a couple mushy peaks. I knew I could do better.
On a whim, I skirted back up north and pulled off the road to a trailhead that winds its way over a half mile of sand dunes before emptying onto an isolated stretch of beach. I had checked this spot a few times, never surfed it, but heard that it liked south swells. I knew it would be clean, and I new there’d be waves, but I didn’t know if anyone else would be out. Surfing alone on this part of the coast can be a nerve-racking experience, given the proximity to Ańo Nuevo and its well-publicized white shark seal buffet. But as I threw my wetsuit and towel over my surfboard, another truck parked behind me and two surfers got out. Apparently we had the same idea.
As I walked ahead of my new companions in the afternoon sun, the excitement began to set in. I couldn’t see the beach yet, but I had a good feeling about what it would look like. Halfway through the hike, I couldn’t take it any more- the anticipation sent me running over the dunes like a giddy schoolboy. Finally I reached the last dune, made it to the crest and…my heart started pumping. Pushing into the cove was a sick little A-frame, maybe head high, peeling to either side all the way to the beach. Nobody out. I couldn’t get changed fast enough, scrambling into my suit, mind racing in excitement.
I scored. Surfed till my arms turned to noodles. Short, punchy rights. Walled-up lefts. Just me and two new friends, reaping the rewards of a gamble that paid off.