All posts by Tim Ryan

A Touch of Morning Glass in San Francisco

 

On the way to California relive morning glass.

On the way to California to relive morning glass.

By Tim Ryan

Standing outside the terminal at San Francisco International Airport at 10 p.m. in a 50 degree temperature and a brisk west wind while guarding 84 pounds of  four boards, three pieces of luggage and two back packs,  another traveler approaches me and says, “So, I guess you’re going to surf Mavericks, right?”

I’m impressed that he thinks for even a brief moment that at 68 I would be able to do that. For a very brief moment – and I mean brief  – I wanted to say “Yes!” and detail what’s it like to ride mammoth winter swells of Waimea and Half Moon bay. I had to burst his bubble saying “Uh not exactly.”

I explain that Steve my surf partner and I have temporarily returned to California to relive our surfing days of the 1960s and 70s that rarely included riding  waves higher than 8 feet. That’s still our limit.

He looked at me, smiled, said goodbye then walked away seemingly disappointed. The fact is I was never good or courageous enough to rides waves like that, or wanted to. Always a 6-foot and under guys,  Steve and I don’t consider anything over 10-feet to really be fun and that’s what this trip is about.

Where was Steve? He was standing at the curb semi frantically eyeing down every airport shuttle hoping it was ours.

“What did that man want? Steve asked.

“He assumed we were here to ride Mavericks,” I said.

“Yeah, right,” Steve said.

I brought two 9-foot-plus long boards here so I had to use a unwieldy SUP bag to carry them.  It was late, Steve was sleepy, grouchy and impatient – four sneak on three-ounce bottles of Kalua on an airplane will do that. Steve can be the proverbial worry wart. His concerns? 1. The shuttle wouldn’t take our boards; 2. The shuttle would never come.

The shuttle did come and the driver took our boards. He insisted we lay the boards over the shuttle’s seats and they had to come through the front door. They covered nearly all the space front to the back of the shuttle on one side. That would be fine if we were the only ones on the shuttle. But we weren’t.

The driver made six stops after us. Imagine the look on the faces of tired – no exhausted – travelers when they climbed on board and the first view was our stack of boards. As Steve and I rested in our seats near the rear of the vehicle, we watched families of various ethnicities and ages crawl around or climb over our boards then squeezing into to a seat. Naomi, a 67 year old grandmother  from Redding, California and  just returning from a missionary visit to Haiti, tired of seeing frowning passengers so she literally climbed and crawled over our boards to make room for others.

“So I’m guessing you’re going surfing?” she said. “That must be such a great feeling.”

We made it to the hotel; the passengers left the shuttle uninjured and at midnight we lugged our gear up the stairs to our second floor room. Steve bitching about why I had to bring two 9-foot boards.

“One is a thruster and one is a single,” I said.

The silence was deafening.

The next day we took the BART to the Fisherman’s Wharf area to pick up our camper van. (Check it out below). It’s 19 feet long about 7 feet high, has a kitchen in the rear with an electric refrigerator run by its own battery, two bench seats, a table and plenty of storage. We were stoked.

Comfort and artistry combined. Our home for 16 days.
Comfort and artistry combined. Our home for 16 days.

Nick, the San Francisco manager at the business, threw in without charge, an outside table, an extra beach chair, surf racks, a GPS, and extra container of propane for the stove.

Then we headed to Ocean Beach hoping – well kinda, sorta since the temp was only in the high 50s and water low 50s – to check the surf  hoping  it had some rideable size and shape. Bumpy, onshore winds, 3 feet and gray skies. The wetsuits went unpacked.

With nothing else to do, we visited a couple of classic surf shops in the Sunset Beach  district a few blocks from Ocean Beach – Mollusk, and Wise Surfboards.

 

Steve Casar at Mollusk Surf Shop that featured original prints by former Surfer magazine photo editor Jeff Divine
Steve Casar at Mollusk Surf Shop that featured original prints by former Surfer magazine photo editor Jeff Divine

Spent nearly an hour at the Wise shop talking story with salesmen Dave and Rob who couldn’t have been more polite and helpful.

They were nearly as stoked about our trip as we are. They gave us suggestions  about where we might find glassier surf than Ocean Beach which at several miles long is exposed to all kind of wind and swell.

Steve and I agreed we had to get in the water the next day “somewhere,” he said.

I agreed, adding that Ocean Beach had to be our first go out since I wanted to start in a place I had surfed several times before. Steve had never surfed there but agreed unless it was too big to get out.

We had planned to attend a showing at Mollusk of former Surfer editor Jeff Divine’s photos and his new photo book, but after a “gut-filling meal” – Steve ‘s words – at the down home-style Tennessee Grill, we opted for a good night’s early to bed sleep to be prepared for the next day’s surfing.

Sunday was clearer than the previous morning. The surf in the 3 to 5 foot was smoother, peaky with far less wind – probably considered glass to Ocean Beach locals  – and relentless, meaning the shorebreak pounded onto a shallow sand bar and never stopped roiling through.

Steve practices his hula at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Steve practices his hula at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Steve attempts to remove his full wetsuit on a sunny day at Ocean Beach.
Steve attempts to remove his full wetsuit on a sunny day at Ocean Beach.

A couple of days before a swimmer had drowned after being caught in Ocean Beach’s notorious riptides. Sitting in our car even at this day’s small surf, riptides dotted the beach in every directions.

I told Steve about his brother Dennis and I surfing here a few times  but up at nearby Kelly’s Cove in Short John O’Neil wetsuits and how hard the waves broke here and how uh exciting and unpredictable the takeoffs were.

“We always got caught inside here,” I said. “The rip and currents pull you in every direction.

“Wonderful,” Steve said.

We prepared to suit up. Steve hadn’t worn a full wetsuit for some five years when he surfed California. It had been some 12 years for me.

I hoped that we would at least be in the water for as long as it took us to suit up.

I had a lot to put on. A full Patagonia R4 wetsuit with accompanying booties, gloves and hood; the Heated Wetsuit top  to be worn under the full suit. A light weight Lycra body suit and Lycra surf socks. The Lycra material makes it easier to get the wetsuit gear on and off since my suit is lined with a thin layer of Merino wool.

In 20 minutes I was “dressed” and ready to surf. We found what looked like a channel and headed out. Even close to shore it was easy to feel the the strength of the side shore current. I can’t image what it would be like to surf here on an overhead day.

Some 50 yards from shore my fin hit the sand on an itinerate sand bar where waves pounded. The bad news was I seemed to be stuck in a vortex. Steve, of course, was 20 yards ahead of me. The good news was my wetsuit gear had completely prevent any water from entering the suit. I had the heated vest on its lowest temperature level of 110 degrees. I felt totally unaffected by the chilly ocean temperature of 52 degrees.

One of the larger sets of the day came through and pounded me and swept me south in churning, foamy water. Not great traction for paddling. Steve barely made it over the set but got outside. His silhouette faded as I was going sideways more than forward.

Stopping to catch my breath wasn’t an option. By the time I barely made it outside Steve was up and riding his first shoulder high wave on his 6-6 fun Simmons shape shaped by Terry Martin ? Now I could rest and recoup my energy. I slid off my board to just float. Water still hadn’t  penetrated  the suit.

I closed my eyes and said words to Dennis, Steve’s brother, who died eight years ago after surfing with me on a near perfect head high southwest swell at Diamond Head. He had just turned 60 when he suffered a massive heart attack.

“Are you listening Dennis?” I said. “Remember the times we would surf Ocean Beach after staying in Santa Cruz? We both made some pretty steep drops in those days; we both pearled a lot. We got pounded and loved it. You were my best friend back then.

“Now I’m out here with your little brother. And he certainly can out surf both of us at 64 even on our best days. Now he’s my best friend so a sort of legacy exists with your family.

“Steve won’t admit it, but he takes care of me. Yeah, he complains but he is always there to help me when I need him. This trip is about us and you my friend. I love and miss you. We all do.”

Three surfers check out the semi glassy surf at Ocean Beach.

Three surfers check out the semi glassy surf at Ocean Beach.

I see a shoulder high set approaching and paddle quickly to where I think it will peak and it does. It’s a left. The steepening swell lifts me and I frantically paddle not wanting to miss it.

I slide down a smooth face angling left zipping through easy to make sections then digging a rail on an and get slammed by the wave’s lip.

Steve catches two more waves before my next right. It’s zippy and sectiony and, yes once again, I get slammed. Another rail dip. My attempt to straighten out is slow at best and weak certainly.

I get two more rides and then i get caught inside and dragged even closer to the Mexican border. That’s it, I’m done. I belly ride white water to the beach then make the trek back to the camper van.

I’m tired but happy. I got the wetsuit gear on easily and I was warm in cold water. At one point I turned off the heated top because I didn’t need it.

Steve followed me a few minutes later, declaring proudly that he had caught five ways but had a hard time nabbing more shifty peaks.

“A point break would have been easier,” he chimed. But he was smiling.

Several people stop by our camper van to ask about it. One hundred percent loved the van’s outside fish mural and interior layout.

As we leave San Francisco, the sun is shining and it actually feels warm. Steve is insistent on having Mexican food as we head to Half Moon State Beach for our first camper van camping. We eat at a Mexican/Peruvian restaurant in Pacifica where we enjoy a sumptuous meal and Mexican beer.

We tap the bottles to our meager success at Ocean Beach and I say “To Dennis.” “Yes, too Dennis,” Steve says.

Next stop is Half Moon Bay then on to Santa Cruz. A west-south south west surf is rising and we’re guardedly excited.

Mahalo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenging the Front Zipper Full Wetsuit

(and how I learned to conquer it without calling 911)

Patagonia Logo

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Patagonia’s front zipper full suit r4-3

By Tim Ryan

 Surfing in southern and central California for more than 20 years required wearing some sort of wetsuit year round.

But as surfers began visiting truly frigid shores, wetsuit technology advanced in becoming lighter, more flexible, warmer, and better at preventing water from entering the suit. It seemed like the only fly in the ointment was that back zipper where water seeped through the teeth and right on the spine.

I moved to Hawaii 30 years ago where cold water obviously isn’t a problem unless you’re a diver. On some visits back to the West Coast I would dig out my ancient O’Neil Animal Skin and booties and do my best to enjoy any surf I got. But there was still that damn dripping back zip.

Now I’m returning to California for about three weeks in a sort of nostalgia surf trip with my friend, Steve. Pretty much our biggest concern isn’t lack of surf but being cold. He’s bought a new O’Neil full suit with the back zip and I have Patagonia’s R4 merino wool-lined suit that has the newest innovation, the front zip which is much better keeping water out of the suit.

The general consensus is that the front zips are warmer because of the harder path water must take to get in, and the extra layer of neoprene over your upper chest at the zip area.

Probably like you, I’ve changed hundreds of times in and out of a variety of wetsuit styles but never the front zip. Steve strongly suggested I “practice” getting in and out of the wetsuit before that first go out.

“Come on,” I said, “how hard can it be?”

On a day when the house was empty I gave it a go. (Little did I know that there are actual instructional videos on YouTube to show how it’s done. I wish I had watched it first!)

You have to enter the suit through the front chest area where the zipper is located. What I didn’t do – as the videos later showed me – was to stretch the neck/chest area as much as possible so you can fit in more easily. Easy is a relative term here.

I also mistakenly put both legs in at the same time and my feet sort of got stuck. I ended up trying to yank the suit higher which I’m sure is not so good for the suit. All that did was make me break out into a constant sweat.

The videos would show that a small plastic bag over your foot allows it to easily slide all the way through without getting hung up. Basically, I did everything wrong. I tried pulling the legs up equally from the hip area rather than one at a time and lower. More sweating with a touch of grunting.

When I thought I had gotten the legs up as far as they would go – I badly miscalculated – I put my hands through the arms then reached behind me to grab the bib and neck hole.

This was not a pretty sight. It took me 10 minutes to reach it because I hadn’t pulled the suit up as high as it could go! If I ever was going to have a stroke, this was the moment. I sat down to breathe. More sweating.

The suit was all bunched up below my hips when it should have been well OVER them. Inch by inch I struggled to pull the suit higher so just maybe I could reach the damn bib flopping around my back.

Have you ever seen a grown man cry?

My arms went in smoothly so that was good. I finally just shook my shoulders to get the bib to one side and was able to grab it then pull it over my head. Then I zipped the front. Hooray!

A short-lived celebration. Getting it off was also difficult.

I got the bib and collar off my head easily. Then I needed to get one arm sleeve down past my elbow. With previous full suits I was used to sliding my arm out of the sleeve. What I found easier to do – again easy is relative – is letting the sleeve go inside out as I pulled my arm out. It took me another 10 minutes to figure that one out. Then I used my free arm to help get the other sleeve off.

I was on a roll.

I pulled the entire suit down below my waist then rolled one leg at a time down to my foot, again inside out. The suit needs to dry inside out so this method is perfect.

Picture below: Viewer discretión advised!

 One arm to go

ONE ARM TO GO!

By the second time I wore the suit I had watched the videos and it went much faster. I also bought a pair of wetsuit Lycra socks $25 that allows your foot to perfectly slide through the wetsuit legs. I also purchased a full body super lightweight Lycra suit $40 that allows the entire R4 to slide on and off with ease.

I think I’ve got it down pretty well, but how will I feel with the air temp at 50 degrees and water 54? I’ll find out on Saturday when our first go out will be San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, then south to Santa Cruz.

Stay tuned

 

Reliving Morning Glass

PRE REVIEW

Heated Wetsuits

State-of-the-Art Heated Wetsuit Warms the Chill

Nothing Burns like the Cold

By Tim Ryan

Hawaii with its year-round water temps of 74-degrees-plus isn’t the best place to review a heated wetsuit top.

So this is a “pre review” review with the cold-water “real review” coming next week when my surfing companion, Steve,  and I plunge into the chilly waters of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Santa Cruz and Big Sur.

Yes, I’m already expecting major shrinking with that first duck dive.

This review focuses on the Thermalution Surf Series top’s ease of use, flexibility, and, of course, warmth factor. I had to try out the Thermalution before we arrived in California so I at least knew how to use it and what to expect.

(What I am not writing while still in Hawaii is a review of the Patagonia merino wool-lined full wetsuit R4. That review will come next week.)

But here’s the bottom line: Using the Thermalution  top is a snap and it works exactly as advertised!

 The Lycra-like top – but thicker – is called ThermalTek®, a non-metallic heating wire technology that generates heat and warms up the blood. The wiring, laced along two sections of the back, is both light weight, durable and and flexible since surfers move around so much.

Heated Wetsuits

The Thermalution is a base layer to be worn under the wetsuit because then it’s more effective in heating the skin.

My testing ground was Kewalo Basin near Waikiki where a small south swell was running. I also brought with me a super thin, long-sleeve Lycra top I would wear over the Thermalution to keep the micro temperature controller (see below) from moving around.TH_15m_controller__93477.1366096969.1280.1280The top slips on as easy as a T-shirt.

To turn on the waterproof micro controller (above) you push and hold a sliding button for two-three seconds. It first shows a green light and starts the temperature on low. Push once more to change to medium temperature with an orange light indication and once more to change to high with a red light indication. To turn the undersuit off, simply push and hold button for 2 seconds. The button slides easily.

The heating “grid” is powered by two removable lithium batteries (see below), one on each side of the wetsuit’s outside that fit into sealable rectangular spaces. The batteries are two 7.4-volt lithium polymer batteries – 4x2x0.5 inches – the same type in mobile phone or mp3 players. The Thermalution has three temp settings: 110 to 141 degrees. Maximum usage time is 150 minutes on low.

TH_70m_15m_battery__96835.1366096963.1280.1280I turned on the control to the highest temp, 140 degrees – wimp that I am even in the tropics – hopped on my board and paddled out. Within a minute I could feel the back heat up; an overall heat and not spotty. It felt like the sun shining on a bare back.

A hundred yards into my paddle l could feel a very warm back but not a burning. I turned the top to low then submerged myself several times, which had little affect on cooling the warming but did flush out the water under the top. I switched temperatures several times, and the Thermalution worked with no glitches.

Paddling was a breeze. The suit didn’t bunch up, snag or feel bulky. Brisk paddling for waves wasn’t inhibited by the Thermalution. It didn’t even ride up when I wiped out.

The top generates heat instead of only being able to reduce heat loss like a regular wet suit. Wearing the undersuit beneath your wetsuit distributes the heat through the whole body by the water already inside your wetsuit. So when you duck dive and some water leaks into your wetsuit, gravity pulls the new water over the already warmed water, which drips around your waist then over your legs.

As one gets older it seems like ocean water feels colder. I live in Hawaii because I don’t like cold anything. And if I’m going to be in the ocean I have to be comfortably warm.

When I started surfing in 1962 there were no wetsuits except those made for divers. And boy did they make the most painful underarm rash because they weren’t made for lots of movement, and they’re thick and stiff.

My first Wetsuit was an O’Neil Short John, $20. It looked like rubberized shorts and a tank top, but we thought it made us toasty. Then came the wetsuit jacket, Long John, full suit, full suit with hood, and booties.

Even back then we fantasized about a future with heated wetsuits for those super cold California days. Those wetsuits are here. No, they’re not inexpensive, but ask yourself what price you pay for warmth if it can give you longer time surfing? The Thermalution top should make anyone’s surfing more productive and certainly more comfortable under a full suit. You won’t be disappointed.

THERMALUTION SURF SERIES (15M) $390 AT _HeatedWetsuits_logo8