Top Five Ocean and Surfing Stories of 2012

 

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From Hurricane Sandy to the return of big-wave paddle surfing to the crowning of Parko as ASP World Surfing Champion, 2012 was a pivotal year for the ocean and for surfing.

1. Hurricane Sandy and Climate Change. This “Frankenstorm” slammed the Eastern Seaboard like a bomb, leaving a path of destruction and loss of life in its wake. Sandy’s storm surge radically changed the coastline, destroyed entire communities, and reminded us how vulnerable beaches and coastal cities are to sea level rise. Due to Sandy, 2012 was the year that will be remembered when policy makers, politicians and the public finally took climate change seriously. It remains to be seen if President Obama will have the political courage and conviction to address the very real threat of climate change that is altering our planet.

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2. The Return of Big Wave Paddle Surfing. With two days of epic conditions at the Cortes Banks just before Christmas, the world’s best big-wave surfers including Greg and Rusty Long, Mark Healy, Shane Dorian, Peter Mel, Twiggy Baker, Jamie Mitchell and Derek Dunfee, paddled into blue monsters and forever changed big-wave surfing. Those sessions followed another early season paddle session at Jaws on Maui in which veteran surfer Shane Dorian (among many) displayed his mastery of the sea. After the Coast Guard airlifted veteran big-wave charger Greg Long to a San Diego hospital after a multi-wave hold down at the Cortes Bank, we were also reminded about the very real limits to riding giant waves in the middle of the ocean.

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3. New Marine Protected Areas for Southern California. With the establishment of new Marine Protected Areas or MPAs, our most iconic coastal and marine ecosystems in Southern California–including Swami’s, La Jolla, Point Loma, Tijuana River Mouth, Laguna Beach, Catalina Island and Point Dum–are now protected forever. The establishment of MPAs in California is a globally important conservation initiative that will help to foment the restoration of our marine ecosystems and fish and shellfish stocks as well as provide recreational opportunities for our growing population. California now has 848 square miles of protected area, supporting ecosystems from Oregon to the Mexican border.

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4. Parko Wins the ASP World Title and the Changing of the Guard. After four years as ASP runner-up, Joel “Parko” Parkinson was finally crowned ASP World Surfing Champion after a brilliant performance and victory at the Billabong Pipe Masters. Parko, one of the most stylish and popular professional surfers, narrowly edged out Kelly Slater for the ASP title. It remains to be seen if Slater will return for the 2013 ASP Tour (most likely he will). But 2012 was a seminal year for professional surfing. With great performances by Josh Kerr, Kolohe Andino, Gabriel Medina, Julian Wilson, Ace Buchan, John John Florence, Yadin Nicol, Mick Fanning, and Dane (will he return full-time to pro surfing?) among others, the ranks of pro surfing is thankfully undergoing a much needed changing of the guard.

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5. James Cameron Explores the Marianas Trench. Earlier this year Oscar winning filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron proved his technical skill, oceanographic prowess and courage by taking his “vertical torpedo”, the Deepsea Challenger, down to a record depth of 6.8 miles or 35,803 feet in the Marianas Trench southwest of Guam. Ironically, we  seem to know more about deep space than we do about our own oceans, but thanks to Cameron and a new generation of ocean explorers and oceanographers, we are on the cusp of uncovering some of the mysteries of the origins of life.

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

Other worthy events include Hurricane Isaac, the loosening of federal restrictions on the movements of sea otters in California, the warming of Antarctica, the SANDAG sand replenishment project, the ending of La Niña, the expansion of federal marine sanctuaries in Northern California and the increasing acidification of the ocean.

Of course the most important ocean and surfing events in 2012 were those special days when we enjoyed the beaches and waves with our friends and family that belong to us all and are our responsibility to care for.

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Nike Lowers Pro 2012

I spent the morning of Saturday May 5th at Lower Trestles for the final day of the Nike Lowers Pro 2012 professional surf contest. Amazing to see some of the world’s best surfers in action including Dane Reynolds, Gabriel Medina, Pat and Tanner Gudauskas, Julian Wilson, Ace Buchan, John John Florence, Kolohe Andino, Evan Geissalmen.

Ace Buchan.

I had watched the event via the webcast and while impressed with Gabriel Medina’s surfing, I wasn’t sold on him as a complete surfer (lack of style). But after watching his dominate his heats with his effortless and amazing aerial and vertical surfing, I can easily predict he will be World Champ and dominate professional surfing.

Gabriel Medina.

Additionally John John Florence also demonstrated why he will also be a World Champ and dominate Professional Surfing. He surfs with the savant of Andy Irons combined with the strategic brilliance of Kelly. Medina to me is more of a Kelly Slater and just an intuitively brilliant surfer. No one can really even touch him. He doesn’t even look like he is trying.

John John Florence in his quarter final heat against Tanner Gudauskas.

After the final between Glen Hall and Gabriel Median, the ebulliant Brazilian fans carried Medina on his shoulder.

Gabriel Medina in a pensive moment right before the awards ceremony.

The Brazilians  clearly love their country, surf with passion, are determined competitors and are hungry for victory. There is no Dane Reynolds embarrassing lack of clarity on being a professional surfer.

Gabriel Medina and his sister Sophia.

When is the last time you saw an American professional surfer celebrate a victory with an American flag? Brazilians are not ambivilent about victory. Americans almost seem embarrassed by it (not so the Australians who are equally committed to winning and being professional athletes).

Nike Lowers Pro champion Gabriel Medina and runner up Glen Hall with Gabriel’s sister Sophia.

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Jack Oneill’s Surfing Life and Legacy

Drew Kampion has always been one of the most astute and intelligent observers of modern surfing. With over 10 books to his name, the former editor of SURFER, SURFING and the Surfer’s Path, has published a new tome on the life of Jack O’Neill, the legendary innovator behind surfing wetsuits and the founder of the Santa Cruz surf giant, O’Neill.

Serge Dedina: You’ve documented the evolution of surfing since the 1960s. For you, what was the most innovative and exciting era?

Drew Kampion: Definitely 1968-1970 … what could compare? So many converging impulses in that atmosphere of cultural upheaval and experimentation. Surfboard designs were changing by the week – by the day! 40 years on there are still people going back to some of those ideas and realizing that there had been no follow-through. So you see a re-exploration of concepts. The fact that the 40-some pros on the WCT (and the rest of the ASP and ISA circuits) ride boards that appear to be essentially cookie-cutter, in fact there are infinite varieties out there being ridden and tested, and each of them has its own little cult following and band of believers and all of that. Those thousands of little niches create the actuality of the surfing world.

Dedina: Your tenure as the SURFING editor in the 1970s seemed to be the zenith of mainstream surf journalism for adults. Are surfers really interested in coherent and contextual reporting anymore?

Kampion: I think so. In fact I’ve really, really enjoyed a lot of the surf writers over the past 20 or 30 years. I think surf writers are pretty good as a group –they tell good stories about adventures on the edge of things, they integrate environmental and naturalistic perspectives, they do a good job of enlarging our understanding of the sport and art and culture. I think the surf mags have done very well, even as ownership and management have shifted, the guys on the beach have stayed on mission. Thanks to them all!

Dedina: Jack O’Neill seems to be one of the last generation of founding fathers and surf CEOs. Do you think in today’s world of multi-national surf companies that O’Neill’s success is even possible anymore?

Kampion: Absolutely. Surfers are quick to pick up on things that improve their game in one way or another, and practical innovations will always attract a market.  From there, you just start selling T-shirts and “sportswear,” and you’re golden!  That’s where the money is, in all of these companies.  No one really got right making surfboards or wetsuits; it’s the sportswear (made in China and sold to folks in Chicago or Knoxville) that builds the so-called “industry.”

Author Drew Kampion

Dedina: When O’Neill looks back on his own life and career, what is his greatest legacy

Kampion: Aside from an incomparable accumulation of innovations, inventions, and improvements in the world of wetsuits and related comfort-causing products, I’d say Team O’Neill was the big one. Largely Pat O’Neill’s baby, the Team O’Neill concept (an international roster of top riders who toured, marketed, competed, and partied together around the planet) really provided a template for what became modern pro surfing and also inspired the other big companies to follow suit. Team O’Neill arguably ignited the reality of career surfers with potential beyond the performance arenas.

Dedina: Out of all the innovations that have spurred the progression of surfing, where does the development of modern wetsuits fit?

Kampion: Well, it’s one of the top three probably, right up there with foam (which Jack pioneered too) and the leash (which Pat O’Neill helped create).  So, the O’Neill name is pretty essential in the evolution of surfing.  Picture surfing without Jack and his kids, and the vision would be far more limited, I’d say.

Dedina: How did the development of wetsuits and especially the commercialization of flexible, neoprene suits for surfing help advance modern surfing?

Kampion: Without the wetsuit – and specifically the smooth-skinned neoprene wetsuit – surfing would be a far more limited, unknown, and warm-weather sport associated with certain parts of the world. As it is now, with the proliferation of the wetsuit and associated technological developments, surfing is a global sport that has participants in the northernmost points of Europe, America, and Asia, as well as the chill zones of Africa, South America, and Australia.  Surfing (and a full range of other sports and activities) is a year-round global sport, in large measure due to the wetsuit.

Dedina: Why did Jack O’Neill set out to create a surfing wetsuit?

Kampion: Jack had been working in sales for several years following WWII, and he’d moved from Portland to San Francisco to work for an uncle in the fire-equipment business. Anyway, this kept him trapped in the downtown world most of the time, and Jack, being an adventurous spirit, was getting progressively more claustrophobic. His only escape was a drive down to the beach and a plunge into the Pacific.

This was totally invigorating, and he was an excellent and dedicated bodysurfer, but there were limits to how long you can swim in that water without protection.  So the cycle of “dive in, swim out, catch a wave or two, start shivering, get hypothermic, sprint back to the beach and the fire to warm up and do it all again” had (its) own frustrations, so… he began to think about ways to keep warm and thus be able to surf longer.

First came bathing caps and wool sweaters, but when he saw a piece of PVC foam in a surplus store, a lightbulb went off, and he tried fitting pieces of the foam into his bunhugger trunks … and behold! At least that part of him was warm. So, one thing led to another, and soon he found neoprene and the rest is history.

Dedina: Out of all of the surf personalities you have written about who stands out? And whose surfing stands out for you?

Kampion: Well, I learned to surf (literally) in the shadow of Miki Dora. I was awestruck by the surfing and animal magnetism of Nat Young. I was blown away by the intricate artful sensibilities of Tom Curren. I was overwhelmed with the powerful insights and commitment of Titus Kinimaka, and on and on and on.  Every one of the hundreds or thousands of surfers I’ve interviewed has been a unique pearl of human perfection, and each one I’ve appreciated in many ways, but I must say that it’s hard not to admit that Kelly Slater is the most impressive surfer (meaning a person whose central mission in life is riding waves) that I’ve encountered.

He’s 40 years old, and he’s still the best.  In fact, his mission may be to see how old the best can get.  But Kelly is amazing on other levels too — interpersonally, heartfully, aesthetically.creatively — that it’s hard to see him as anything other than the culmination and fruition of numerous forces.  I continue to follow his career with fascination, keeping one eye out for the amazing genius that will inevitably follow him.

Dedina: Your book, Stoked: A History of Surf Culture, provides an excellent framework for understanding the world of surfing, but has surfing become too mainstream and too commercial to be considered a lifestyle or culture anymore?

Kampion: An old friend of mine, who sold advertising in the surfing world, used to caution companies and clients, “Don’t forget to water your roots!”  Meaning, don’t leave the beach to chase the dollar – you’ll regret it.  Some big companies buy a surf brand and then see the brand go into immediate decline — because not only do they not water the roots, they don’t even know where the roots are!  The fact the sport becomes mainstream or commercial only affects those that are affected by that.  The core practitioners of the sport-art don’t change, they just move further out to the edges, where all of that in drowned out by the sound of moving water.

The Best Winter Surf Destinations

Serge Dedina during the recent Thanksgiving swell. Photo: Alan Jackson

From my Patch.com column this week.

This past Thanksgiving weekend swell—arguably the best run of clean waves and conditions we’ve had since Labor Day–was a great reminder why winter is the best time in California and much of the northern hemisphere to be a surfer.

Swells from the northern and western Pacific batter the coast. Offshore winds blow out of the canyons, creating perfect surfing conditions.

Although the water is cold, with a good wetsuit and attitude, you can surf for hours.

The winter surf season from November through March—is not only a great time to surf your homebreak and to visit nearby spots, it is also a great time to explore the California coastlline and the planet to catch great waves and visit beautiful beaches.

Serge Dedina surfing during the recent Thanksgiving swell. Photo: Alan Jackson.

Here are some winter destination spots in California and globally that are worth a visit.

Rincon: This Queen of the Coast that is located between Ventura and Santa Barbara and is California’s best point break, comes alive during the winter surf season. Best bet is to visit after a long run of swell midweek, when it will be less crowded. Be on the lookout for some of the world’s best surfers in the lineup including Kelly Slater, Tom Curren, Shaun Tomson and Bobby Martinez. And then explore the plethora of great surf spots and picturesque coastline from Ventura to Gaviota State Park.

Rincon fun. Photo: Jason Stutz.

Black’s: Located just north of La Jolla and south of Torrey Pines, Black’s sucks in north swells and spits out beautiful A-frames and shimmering walls. Although it is bound to be crowded with local surfers who rip, it is worth the walk down the trail to get a chance to catch a few of Black’s beautiful waves. Lookout for the resident peregrine falcons that inhabit the cliffs above the beach.

Santa Cruz: The next location for a World Surfing Reserve, Steamer Lane and the waves of Santa Cruz offer winter size, consistency and due to the plentiful kelp and prevailing winds, great conditions that making surfing all day a possibility. The crowds are fierce, the locals shred, but if you are lucky you’ll snag a few great point waves at our state’s true surf city.

Hawaii: Pick the west and north shores of Oahu, Kauai, and Maui and you are bound to find the biggest and most challenging waves of your life in warm tropical waters. There are probably no other locations to surf that are as majestic as Hanalei Bay on Kauai or Honalua Bay on Maui. Just remember to visit after the contest and holiday seasons are over.

Daniel Dedina surfing on Oahau.

Mexico: North and west swells can hit the coast from Nayarit down to northern Oaxaca. Winter is a great time to longboard the points or find great beachbreaks for shortboards and barrels. Expat surf villages such as Sayulita, Troncones and Saladita offer cool surf-style accommodations and a variety of waves. Exploring the coast and going off the beaten track is worth the effort.

The point at Saladita.

Peru. Legendary left points in northern Peru such as Mancora and Cabo Blanco turn on during north swells. The water is warm and there are plenty of places to find uncrowded waves. When I lived in Peru for a year in the mid-80s I spend a week in northern Peru in December and scored some of the best and most hollow waves of my life. Just don’t forget to take the time to visit Cuzco and Machu Pichu or the amazing Andean peaks of the Cordillera Blanca around Huaraz.

Serge Dedina surfing Cabo Blanco, Peru.

Morocco. The newest and hippest surf destination, the hollow right points north of Agadir are a lot like Baja’s north coast, with similar weather and water temps. Like Peru, this is a country where leaving the surf for a few days or more is worth it. Morocco is an amazing country, filled with stunning and historic cities such as Marrakech and Essaouira. Take the time to head east of Marrakech over the mountains to explore the Route of the Kasbahs and the Sahara.

Greg Long and the Upper Limits of Big Waves

Greg Long at Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/Ghostwavebook.com

From my Patch.com column this week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Chris Dixon’s new book Ghost Wave provides insight into the exploits of a select group of big-wave surfers such as Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach and San Clemente’s Greg Long, who are redefining the limits of big-wave surfing.

Long, 28, who has won several Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards, the 2009 Eddie Aikau and the SIMA Waterman of the Year Award, has become a surfing icon for his solid, low-key, intense and strategic approach to surfing the world’s largest waves.

He has given back what surfing gave him by working with organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation, Save the Waves, San Onofre Foundation and WiLDCOAST and is, “Among the most humble, well-rounded and cerebral athletes I’ve ever met,” said Ghost Wave author Dixon.

Greg Long with groms from Imperial Beach during the 2008 California Coastal Commission Hearing on the TCA toll road at the Del Mar Faingrounds.

“The other thing that sets Greg apart, and it’s a trait Kelly Slater has too, is an ability to remain focused on the job at hand while he has such a whirlwind and cacophony of distractions going on around him.

“As a prime example,” Dixon said, “I don’t think another big-wave surfer alive could have pulled as many strings, levers and pulleys as he did to make the first major Cortes Bank paddle in mission happen in 2009—a mere two weeks after he’d won the Eddie Aikau.

“He roped in Kelly Slater, Peter Mel, Nathan Fletcher, Mark Healey, Jamie Sterling and a crew of the most absolute badasses in our sport and had them out to the most remote surf spot on earth on Dec. 26. By my reckoning, he pulled off a Christmas miracle.”

Patch: How did someone who grew up in San Clemente become a professional big-wave surfer? What got you hooked on big waves?

Greg Long: My father was a lifeguard for 38 years. He introduced us to the ocean before we could walk. As we grew up, he instilled every ounce of ocean knowledge that he had into us. Because of this, I always seemed to feel comfortable in the ocean no matter the conditions. As I really started surfing at age 10, I was naturally drawn to bigger waves because they were so much more challenging. Over the years my surfing ability slowly progressed and continued to challenge myself in larger and larger surf.

Patch: You’ve been credited as being part of the group that is now really pushing the envelope on paddling into massive waves. What is your goal in terms of wave size? Have you already reached the limits of what can be surfed?

Long: From a paddle-in perspective, I think we are getting close to the upper limits of how big we can safely go. What you are going to start seeing now is people paddling into new waves, which were typically thought as being un-paddable like Jaws or Cortes bank. However with the implementation of Shane Dorian’s new V1 wetsuit we just might be able to push the limits a little further than we had previously thought. As far as tow-in surfing goes, there is no limit to how big you can ride as long as the conditions permit.

Greg Long at the Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: What kind of boards are your riding and who is shaping them? Are you able to think critically about how your surfboard is working while you are making a big drop?

Long: I get all of my surfboards from Chris Christenson. It is imperative in our sport to know about your equipment. It is essentially your lifeline. Riding big waves comes down to managing the risks you take and if you’re out there on equipment that isn’t going to perform, you are setting yourself up for disaster.

Patch: What role does fear and adrenaline play in propelling you to take more risks or to analyze a situation in which you hold back on pushing the envelope? Do you have a formal or informal risk assessment strategy?

Long: Fear is a big driving factor behind what I do. I love the mental challenge of overcoming it. I train extensively both physically and mentally to prepare myself to ride big waves and handle the potential consequences. In doing so I eliminate all the variables possibly working against me which are in my control and, in turn, increasing my odds of success.

Greg Long taking a break at the Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: How are you training in terms of physical exercise, diet and mental preparation?

Long: I train every single day in some form or another to prepare to ride big waves. The main activities are yoga, swimming, cycling and running. I also have a very clean diet, mostly vegetarian. Your body is essentially a machine. If you put bad fuel into it, it won’t perform as efficiently as it should.

Patch: What is currently your favorite big wave spot and why? And your favorite country as a surf destination and why?

Long: I couldn’t name a single favorite big wave break as my favorite but my list of favorites would include:  Mavericks, Todos, Jaws, Cortes Bank. My favorite country to travel to is South Africa as it offers the widest array of surfing breaks imaginable. From perfect points  to huge slabs, it has it all. Not to mention it’s stunningly beautiful with amazing people.

Patch: Do you work with a forecaster or are you continually evaluating wave models and weather reports to determine where to travel to find waves?

Long: I do most of my surf forecasting on my own. I have been following and monitoring swells in great detail for well over 10 years now so I feel I have a pretty thorough understanding of each of the waves I surf and what they need to make them tick. I do, however, confer with Sean Collins from Surfline and Mark Sponsler from Stormsurf.com anytime I doubt or question a decision during a significant swell.

Patch: Your brother Rusty and you have carved out unique careers as big-wave surfers. Are you competitive with each other? Does each of you give feedback to the other? How often do you surf together?

Long: Rusty and I are extremely close. Growing up we never really had a rivalry but rather worked together in an effort to help one another succeed. We still surf and travel together on a regular basis and are constantly giving advice or sharing tips.

Mike Parsons, Chris Dixon, Jim Houtz, and Greg Long. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

Patch: Your father, Steve, was a legendary California State Park lifeguard, park ranger, superintendent and now a conservationist who helped to defeat the proposal to place a highway through San Onofre State Beach. How much of an influence did he have on your choice of career path? Do your parents still worry about Rusty and you when you are out surfing huge waves in off-the-charts locations?

Long: Both my mom and pop have been incredibly supportive of our careers. Growing up they never pushed us in any certain direction but rather let us find our own paths and what made us happy. My mom still refuses to come watch us surf when it’s big but loves hearing the stories and seeing the photos afterwards.

Patch: You’ve won the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year Award and the Eddie Aikau. How do you top that? What is next for you in terms of your career and surfing goals?

Long: I surf big waves because I love it. Simple as that. Winning contests or XXL awards have never been and will never be the focus or motivation for my career. My goal in life is to be happy, live a healthy, positive lifestyle and hopefully inspire and encourage others to do the same along the way.

Cortes Bank. Photo: Chris Dixon/ghostwavebook.com

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