March SoCal Warm Surfski Blow-Out!
Recently I was fortunate enough to find myself on an early flight heading to California for four days of warm weather paddling. I knew it was going to be a good escape from the La Nino winter in the PNW, but like the last time I escaped to SoCal for some warm waves, I was blown away by the local paddling opportunities around Costa Mesa. Don’t tell the Hawaiian tourist industry, but hands down the best warm water paddling adventure starts with a quick flight to the John Wayne Airport. We got a couple interesting looks from fellow passengers as the plane approached the airport and we did a happy airplane seat dance after seeing the whitecapping ocean swell out the window.
Patrick Hemmens, co-owner of Ocean Paddlesports and local paddling guru, picked Austin and I up at the airport and our paddling clock officially started. After a quick hello to DeAnne and the family over lunch, we loaded up and headed for the open water. The palm trees were blowing and Austin was doing the happy downwind dance as we headed for the water. On schedule, we headed to 19th Street, met up with paddling powerhouse Philippe Boccar, and headed out to sea. Unlike most of our sheltered local paddling around Bellingham, getting out past the breakers acts as a sort of natural filter on windy days.
It was on – immediately we headed out about a mile into some healthy beam sea and we quickly noticed we were among some lively gray whales. Once out about a mile, we regrouped, pointed south, and followed the wind & swell. Every time I get into swell after a couple months on smaller wind generated stuff I have I have a couple minutes of the Wizard of Oz ‘We’re Not in Kansas Anymore’ moments. For me it’s been a long winter with my nose hard at the grindstone, so my Kansas moment lasted most of the downwinder. Towards the end I started to feel my sea legs, or so I thought, but failed to see the gray whale surface 20 off my bow, or so I was told at the take out.
AM intervals in the ocean with Rich Sprout. Anytime I go for any kind paddle with Rich I know it will threshold-plus, but the clear glassy swell and pod of dolphins made any hurt well worth it. Austin took the morning off trying to recover from a man-flu he caught after spending 15 minutes with my kids the week before, but I think he was waiting to be fresh for the PM wind.
The afternoon brought another nice breeze and a line of us found ourselves bobbing about a mile off shore, again in the company whales. This time my sea legs were back as we throttled downwind and watched Austin disappear into a spec in the distance. Second great downwinder of the trip!
Originally we came out to race the final race of the California winter series, but the last second cancellation of Malibu to Marina gave Patrick just enough time scrap together the new ‘Patrick Hemmens Newport Classic’. A nice and short ten kilometer dice in the morning swell, or so we thought, till the Slovakian Olympic team showed up. The mood at the start felt something like a trip back to kindergarten lunch line mixed in with the upper class seniors. But, what goes fast on 1000 meter flatwater doesn’t necessarily mean it will dominate ocean distance. Austin and Tim Burdiak (current lifesaving spec ski World Champ) made short work of beating the foreign fast lycra out of the starting gate as they headed down the coast for the first turn buoy. Both were riding fast in new Fenn Elite-S’s (Austin wants to mention he was still in the recovery phase of acute man flu) and quickly gapped the rest of the field. Philippe, the second Slovak ski, and I bunched together towards the 5 km mark, Philippe hit a throttle at the turn and jumped ahead of the group, the Slovak bailed on the race and jumped on the rescue boat, I ended up keeping even with the 50 meter gap to Philippe on the way back to the finish. Austin edged Tim out at the finish – probably safe to say that these two paddlers are the fastest two ski paddlers currently in North America.
Who had the smartest race of the day? Probably Rich Sprout. He arranged to have a top muscle bound Slovak sit in his double and they were off in the distance all alone. Rich said in was like having after-burners built into his ski as they chased swell back to the finish.
Top Slovak K1 Female, first time in a surfski and first time paddling out at sea, jumps on a Fenn Swordfish-S and takes charge. She gaps local female paddles Maggie and Michael and gives a technique lesson to all on the water as she blazed towards the finish. Hope she doesn’t quit her day job and take up ski paddling!
PM session consisted of about an hour of out and back in 2-3 foot wind driven waves. There was a full line up of spring breakers on the beach hoping for some wave carnage when we launched, but luckily session #5 had no drama, just more warm waves!
Last day, and most of us were ready for a light session. I did an hour session with Austin and got some much needed technique coaching from a pro. Funny how a winter of dark paddling makes you have crazy technique ideas, luckily an hour of Austin’s knowledge worked on some of the details.
PM – last session, #7 and another line of college co-eds hoping for a dose of carnage in the breakers. No carnage, but more whales and warm waves as we did some ocean intervals. On the last set I passed the finish buoy and was taken for a ride towards shore by one last warm rogue wave trying to make a swim happen before the flight home. Interestingly, I did some kind of full 360 degrees turn on the foaming wave and paddled out the other side and hit the beach for the last sunshine before heading back north.
How good was the our 4 days of paddling based out of Costa Mesa? – GREAT!
- – warm water and waves everyday. Two days of paddle-down surfing, a day of working for runners, and one day of swell driven bump – not bad by any standards!
- – Easy logistics. Actually the easiest paddling logistics of any paddling trip. Multiple paddling options, sheltered flatwater for technique, small bump to get a taste of the goods, and consistent open ocean waves.
- – Plenty of boats, 50 plus at last count between the OPS flotilla and NAC fleet.
- – It’s close – 2 hour flight to John Wayne Airport, 15 minutes to the water from there, that easy.
Next time you want an escape of warm waves, put visiting Costa Mesa/ Newport on your bucket list – probably the best bang for your buck value for legit paddling. Seems like a hassle free option which is about a 2 hour flight from the PNW!