Surfing at the JR

Israel snags a good one near the Pier. Photo: Alan Jackson

The surf is flat. Luckily there were a few corners to be had on Monday and Tuesday.

According to Kevin Wallis, Chief Forecaster for Surfline “’With La Nina conditions likely to prevail through the winter and into at least the early part of the 2011 spring, we can expect dryer than normal weather with our swells generally coming from a more ‘northerly’ direction. The northerly direction of the swells will limit size for Southern California, particularly at those breaks that face southwest.”

And despite the flatness, last Saturday the JR was once again a magical time on the beach for all.

Contest director John Gillem said, “It is the smallest surf ever, but we couldn’t ask for better weather.”

It was so warm that Tom Christiansen surfed in his speedo.

Alec Mackenzie, the best contest announcer of all time (he trained as a boat driver at the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland), said, “What looked like a six inch day turned into 12 inch surf.”

Reminiscing about old surfboards, Alec recalled, “I have an original Simmons board. And I bought a Dempsey board bought for $17 at Value Village.”

Anyone who knows thrift stores knows that you find cool stuff at Chula Vista’s Value Village thrift store. The groms once bought a board sock there for 75 cents. And I bought a 1970s O’Neill front-zip long-arm spring suit for four bucks.

But nothing beats scoring a Dempsey surfboard for less than a double sawbuck.

The first couple of surfing, Taylor Jensen, and Nava Young, were at the JR. Nava is the author of, Surf Food: The Ultimate Surfers Cookbook, a musician, and the daughter of surf legend and historian Nat Young. Taylor of course is one of the world’s best surfers.

I caught up with my neighbor, fellow surf scribe and SUP expert John Ashley before he paddled out for the SUP final. “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail,” said John, quoting John Wooden.

John came in 2nd in the SUP division after Kelly Kraus.

Kelly is always prepared.

Russ “Mr. Fitness” Elwell was on the beach. A former lifeguard and schoolteacher, Russ is 76 and in better shape than most guys in their 40s. “I do yoga, weights and paddle,” said Russ.

Russ also remembered surf sessions with Dempsey Holder. “He used to take me out in the lifeguard boat out at the Sloughs. Jimmy Voight was one of the best surfers out there,” said Russ. “Dempsey knew more about surfboard design than most people give him credit for.”

Terry Gillard swept the Masters, Open, and Best Noseride divisions. The first time anyone has taken all three. Terry is an outstanding surfer and a pleasure to watch in the water (see below for complete contest results).

Congrats to the Coronado Surfing Association for once again holding a great event that benefits youth education and recreation.

See you in the water.

Waves, Storms, Scientists and Surfers

Cover of "The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rog...

Cover via Amazon

My Southwest Surf column for November 24, 2010, published via

I got the inspiration for the Dempsey from the good times at the JR Longboard Surf Classic. It is a charitable event that supports youth athletics and education. The level of surfing is generally very high and in the past luminaries such as Nat Young and John Peck have also stopped by for a surf.

Laird Hamilton

Image via Wikipedia

With the unstable weather and lackluster surf, it is a good time to get in shape for future swells and read Susan Casey’s riveting new book, The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean. In the book, Casey documents her time following Laird Hamilton, Dave Kalama and the rest of the Jaws crew on Maui.

Not only does Casey track storms and surfers around the world from Mavericks, Tahiti, Cortes Banks to Todos, but she also investigates the research on the increasing number of giant storms that produce ship-killing waves.

This is a book I could not put down and was as fascinated by the stories of surfing as well as the description of the research. The Wave is the perfect gift for any surfer.

Speaking of big waves, surfing legend Flippy Hoffman rode the Sloughs back in the 1950s and passed away recently. Local surf scribe John Elwell said, “Flippy was just an all around water man who tried everything. Had plenty of guts like Dempsey. A great character.”

Someone who also has plenty of character is world-renowned oceanographer Dr. Walter Munk of the Scripps Institute. A La Jolla resident, and the father of surf forecasting, Dr. Munk is a great friend of surfers.

Chuck Quisenberry and Professor Walter Munk. Photo: Chuck Quisenberry

Dr. Munk helped invent surf forecasting when he had to advise Allied Forces on the weather and surf conditions favorable for the D-Day invasion of Normandy during World War II. In 1963 Munk and John Tukey tracked a southern swell from New Zealand to Alaska. They were the first scientists ever to track a storm swell across an entire ocean.

I was at reception last week at the Faculty Club at UCSD and ran into Dr. Munk, along with longtime IB resident (and my parents’ neighbor) and UCSD Transportation Services Training Coordinator Chuck Quisenberry. Chuck was lucky enough to be Dr. Munk’s driver for the evening.

“I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Munk,” Chuck said. “I was really in awe of him. He is amazing man. Some days at work are better than others.”

Since I am a surfer of average ability trying to ride shorter boards (6’6″ Novak quad), I have to workout to keep up with my surfing. And when the surf and weather are bad I head to the pool. So here’s a shout out to the morning swim crew at the Coronado Pool who keep me in shape.

As a former ocean lifeguard who worked in Imperial Beach and at Silver Strand State Beach, I enjoy swimming laps with Imperial Beach lifeguards Don Davis and Benny Holt, as well as my former Silver Strand colleagues Karlyn Pipes (visiting from Hawaii on her way back from Paris recently) and Randy Coutts.

I am also lucky to occasionally join current Silver Strand Lifeguard Captain Mike Martino, when he leads his crew through a rigorous workout. Mike is also the author of the very interesting Lifeguards of San Diego County, another great stocking stuffer.

By the way, after it rains you need to check in on the Tijuana River plume tracker or follow for updated water quality reports.

Have a great Thanksgiving and see you at the JR.

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