Archive for December, 2009

Swell Five and the Marathon Man

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Frame 1 Day 2

It was o dark thirty on the second day of swell event number five on the Gold Coast, in the middle of the El Nino 2009-2010 season. I was gingerly working my way down the spiral stairway which leads down from the aerie which is the loft bedroom that overlooks one of the beaches I shoot all of the time. Under my left arm was my Macbook Pro. In my right hand my cel phone. Quietly, carefully, I padded down the bamboo shod steps, and my right hand exploded in song.

Deftly I snapped the cel phone open. Chuck Patterson was on the line. “Hey Dave, headed your way. Whatcha doing?” I knew that it was cloudy out, having peered at the sky already, but knowing Chuck had already likely left home in OC very early, my answer was predictable: “Um, meeting you?”

By the time  I reached the kitchen, we had arranged a meeting place. In ten minutes I was in the car, a cup of coffee in my hand and full camera kit stowed. As the car rumbled to life the sexy female voice that is my bluetooth, told me I had another incoming call: Lars Rathje. Overhead the ominous dark clouds began to be tinged with the grey tone of an impending dawn, still an hour away. Well, looks like a crew shoot, I thought. Wonder what the day would offer?

The prior day had been grey with soft flat lighting and a beautiful 4-6 foot WNW swell. Looked like more of the same, except that swell on the buoys was a little bit larger.

Twenty minutes later, saw us all gathered under a brightening dawn sky. Chuck’s big ass truck, chock full of his water toy-tool collection was already waiting in the parking lot of a place we hoped to shoot. He was on the phone, so I meandered out and had a look. Hmm. 3-4 footers peaked and the wind looked to be slightly side shore. An indicator at this time of year, that the day would be Santa Ana. I knew that we would need to look around, to find a more suitable wave.

Chuck joined me, and nonchalantly mentioned that he had gotten off a boat at 3 am. He had been out at Cortes Bank. Said that it had been fun. Interesting. But we were focused. As Lars, Hans and a friend showed up, we all had a quick look, and before the sun was risen, were on our way out of the parking lot. The Chase had begun.

An hour later, having checked a few places, we wound up down the street from my house. Crisp edged blue lines strode down a long point, brushed by a 10 knot, cool offshore wind. My phone had been going off the entire time with messages from Tyler Chandler. Tyler is a budding 16 year old photographer. He and I had been having a tet a tet online for some months. He was camping nearby with his parents for the holidays, as his Dad commuted up to Santa Barbara for work. I told him where we would be, and he walked on down from their campsite.

I opted to long lens, as I had a lot of people to shoot, sans tripod. Hand holding my big Canon 600mm IS lens is not something I often do, but this spot is right on the freeway. It was empty and I did not particularly want to advertise what we were doing, and ruin the session for the few knowledgeable people that would show. But Tyler found me immediately, and we chatted, as I tutored on the nuances of our craft.

He and I clicked away, and frequently changed position as the boys drove through some spinning barrels at mach speed. It was perfect. And challenging. Chuck had opted to SUP the place on his 8’6″ Hobie stinger Quad. The boys were short boarding, their friend was body boarding. A few other people were scattered on the point.

Pretty amazing that Chuck could even stand, having just completed what I knew from personal experience, to be an incredible marathon out to Cortes. He had taken an 11 foot SUP to the wave. Chuck is a tripper. An elite athlete in so many sports, that it is sort of mind blowing. He is one of my favorite subjects due to his savvy and yet easy going nature. We have spent some amazing times together around the world. Here we were again, scoring within eyeshot of my house.

A few hours later, we grabbed a late breakfast at Cajun Kitchen in Downtown Ventura and after, headed immediately South in what had become a bluebird 75 degree Santa Ana day. A check of an infrequently surfed mysto spot, saw it vacant and somewhat fickle at 3-4 feet. Before I knew it, the boys had scrambled down the cliff and I struggled to catch up, as loading a water housing and getting into my 5  mil wetsuit, takes a little time.

This particular wave washes up a cliff and sends a backwash wave immediately out to sea, which sweeps sideways across the next, incoming blue sparkler. It is a high degree of difficulty wave to surf. Yet Chuck was somehow managing to stay astride his SUP board. I am sure he was the first to ride it on that sort of craft. Hmm, I pondered, as I slipped over the boulders, and out through the shore pound: two firsts for Chuck in 24 hours: Cortes, here.

It is complex pioneering a new sport. SUP is so young that it has not yet found stasis amongst the ocean going community. Many people hate the big boards. In similar fashion to what occurred with the advent of the birth of modern longboarding, there is extreme resistance and punishment aimed at its proponents. But people like Chuck are rare in any sport. He is so level, so polite. He reminds me a lot of Garrett MacNamara in his exercise of restraint when SUP surfing a break. As senior watermen, they have it down, and are diametrically opposite of the more novice surfers who use the board’s superior paddling power to dominate a break.

We picked off a few good ones, surfing alone for an hour and a half, before Fred Viela and Jake Kelley showed up. There not really being room for all of us, we opted to reliquish the wave to them as we had already gotten a good turn. I grabbed a couple images of the two before we left. I like the fact that Fred and I always seem to be in synch. I was stoked to get an image of him at his home break.

As the day waxed long, and afternoon waned, we all found ourselves at another seldom surfed, fickle spot. It was 3 PM and we had been going since 6 am. But Chuck he had been going since the day before. Hans and Lars opted out of the third surf and we said our goodbyes. Happy boys.

Chuck and I lolly gagged, hemming and hawing about whether we would shoot, in spite of seeing some really good, oily glass, golden green waves, roll perfectly through. A smallish group of guys plied the break. But off to the side, we kept seeing a  solitary peak pop up.

It hit us both simultaneously. The realization. We both saw the light go on and grinned. “What are we doing? You are here, I am here. Lets do it!” And we laughed. I hand held the 600 again, as I perched in the  rocky blind of a jetty that lay below Coast Hwy 1, and Chuck put on an amazing display of balls out SUP, alone on one of the more beautiful days that we will see this year.

Then up the beach as the light waned, I saw it. A beaut of a backlit swell, wandering into the reef, where a solo surfer paddled for it. I trained my lens on the surfer, as he dropped in and stumbled to his feet somewhat clumsily. Three frames clicked off as he slid through the barrel. Perfect. In many ways.

In surfing, many of us strive to be what we consider best, We do exploits which increase in difficulty as the years go by. Here was Chuck, a best case example of a waterman, surfing alone, while someone with  a  fraction of his ability, scored the wave, and likely shot, of the day.  I say that because I know that the wobbly surfer’s wave was obviously a peak moment. A high. While Chuck was just playing. It was the rarest of the emerald gems collected on that day as a result.

As sun set, and darkness settled, a dramatic frontal band darkened the horizon. Chuck and I parted. He to his wife, and me to a birthday party that my girlfriend Donna had organized for me. A long day, a good day. As the car’s turbo spooled and I swung into the sweeping turns up Coast highway, it occurred to me how blessed that I was. My friends define me. I am so lucky that they call.

That night, 60 or so, gathered at my house. An amazing collective of some of the most talented people I have ever seen gathered in one place.

Marathons can be a good thing.

You can find an account of Chuck’s excursion to Cortes at Hobie, right here. and on Chuck’s blog here.

Seth Godin has some interesting observations pertinent to this blog and our lives and careers here.

Donna Von Hoesslin posts something beautiful about the New Year, on the Betty Blog here.

On this eve of the start of a new decade, it is not just a wish for a happy New Year I offer, but one of encouragement, and a challenge to include yourself and your own talents in what goes on within your own community, what ever, and where ever, those may be.

Here is something sweet, sent along by Suzi Ryder. Well done!

Below is that sole surfer’s great wave and image.

Sole Peak Moment

Click on any images in the gallery below, for a larger view. 56 of 250 images from the final file.

The Gift

Friday, December 25th, 2009

A Christmas Card
It is Christmas Eve 2009. Christmas means a lot of different things to many people. The transformative and renewing aspects of the holiday have always struck me with the most repetitive sort of impact. Each year it is the same, yet different.

This season was a case in point along that theorem. I pondered that earlier this evening as my girlfriend Donna and I hummed along upcoast in our little Mazdaspeed, under the fading amber afterglow of a brilliant day, this eve before Christmas. The Channel Islands stood in purple shadow relief, as bright streaks of warm color stroked the deepening blue hues of sky.

Orange and blue, sistered each other in the dappled surface of a very calm sea.  It is my favorite color combination, and something I always enjoy capturing in my photography. Warm and cool: polar opposites in the energy spectrum. They complement each other, and in the realm of human emotion signify harmony. I won’t get into it here and now. You either get that or you don’t. It is fine either way.

I begin to meditate on the world and my affect in it each season. It is an accelerative process that slowly begins and follows a thread. Then things begin to drop into place confirming my line of thought. This year it was all about friends, and how mine define me. Without their light, I am not too great. I actually sort of suck. At everything. My one redeeming virtue however, seems to be that I recognize greatness, even when that remarkable thing may be hidden within an extravagantly formed, carefully wrought disguise.

I made a list yesterday, of all the people that I know whose light defines my path and art. I stopped counting at around sixty but the troop is far larger than that. In the past couple weeks, many have come to mind, and when they do, I ponder them and what they bring to the world and the table of my life. I give thanks, and ask for God to bless them, and pray that I can be a better friend.

There are far too many to ever physically touch on this very sacred holiday.

Umm, holiday, holy day, set apart day, sacred day: the celebration of the sacrament of gratitude. By grace and gratitude the entropy of this world sees the only real flow that it can. This season saw me get a special gift. So I now pass it along, as in doing so, the sacred nature of the gift will continue, and in its flow, transform and bless others. That is really what my work is about, the transference of blessing. I refuse to hide that light. It is probably why I am a photographer: the affinity for light thing.

Stanley Frantz and I met in the small surfboard factory of Dave Johnson in Goleta California around 1977. We entered the surfboard industry simultaneously. Over the years, our paths have repeatedly bisected.

Stan is unique, in that he has an artistic ability that allows him to communicate emotion in virtually any medium. Let that sink in. Painter, actor, writer, model, whatever form he eschews, Stan can make you feel. He has an innate ability that any aspiring artist would kill to possess.

But here is the interesting thing: he does not know it. I think this may be why it works so well. His mindset allows for him to portray a subject in complete honesty.  All that he does is uncontrived, and comes from an inner passion which burns with an intensity that few artists know.

He showed up almost capriciously here, in Ventura California this week. So I got to spend some time with him. We walked my town,  sat, stopped, I talked a little, but listened a lot. I learned many years ago that I would much rather sit and listen to a savant, than chatter about my own life and time. And Stanley obliged.

He told me a story. It did not come out all in one straight ahead tome, but in bits and pieces, in little glimpses proferred over the course of a 24 hour period. And as Stanley Frantz shared his life and world of the past 12 years since we had seen each other last, the story he told leveled me.

It was something America needs to hear, told by the son of a steel worker. The emotion, the breadth, depth, scope, and the timeliness of the story is transformative in its ability to generate hope. It gives a crystal clear view of how we affect our world, and how wonderfully crafted a human being truly is.

Stan Frantz was my Christmas present this year. I hope that by next year, the story I sent him back home to write on his idyllic farm in Pennsylvania, will be ready, to strengthen your heart and lighten your soul, and give you renewed hope for the future.

The experience sort of summed up Christmas for me. In this vignette, I saw the truth in the Bible verse that says: For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten son, that who ever believes on him, will be saved.

Everybody needs salvation. Especially those who think that they have already earned it.

Silent Night. Beautiful.

An encouraging Merry Christmas note from Seth Godin is here. (Always surprised at how he manages to be so timely.) Thanks Seth!

Merry Christmas friends. Thank you for the light you bring on a cool dark Christmas Eve, in Ventura California.

Life is Seasonal

Life Renews

Life Ornaments

Life Ornaments

Stanley Frantz at Kiley's

Stanley Frantz at Kiley's

The Gift

The Gift

Swell 4

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Arrival

The latest in our wave makers arrived innocuously enough with a soft and barely perceptible pulse arriving late in the evening. I had watched the shoulder high lines stacking up at California Street at last light, under yet another masterpiece sunset. Yet not much pulse showed on the weather buoys.

The next morning at 3 am saw the East Channel buoy climb 3 feet in the interim before dawn. A straight West swell, and not too big. It was the proverbial Goldilocks and the Three Bears storybook combination of swell angle, size and weather for the Gold Coast’s multiple breaks. It would be “just right”.

Damn. I knew at that point I would be on the road. I knew all other aspects of life would have to come to a halt. But it is, just what it is, and I wandered, viewing with rapt wonder at the 14-15 second interval swell that featured sets with so many waves in them that each spot became a lineup dream of pulse, spoking  into, around, and down each break.

The abundance was such, that even at the more crowded spots I saw innumerable waves spin by unridden.

Swell 4 lit every place up and the perfect disposition made it fit a diverse number of ability levels as almost every place became a diorama of rolling perfection. A holiday gift for all of us.

Lars Rathje

Click on any of the images in the gallery below for a larger view.

Swell 3

Monday, December 21st, 2009
Fred Viela

Fred Viela

Just when we all thought we were safe and no more responsibilities would be shirked, the life of the California based surf community turned on it’s axis from the arrival of swell three of the 2009-2010 El Nino Season.

The storm which spawned our most recent pulse, began in similar fashion to the prior. It was another early season storm. It began life as a series of somewhat unimpressive low pressures, which were all affected by a series of high pressures. The storm initiated at a latitude that gave it an ideal fetch angle for a 290 degree WNW swell track.

As the storm developed, the lows cycled into one deeper approx 959 MB low and as the winds peaked, a combination of strengthening high pressure over California and in the Pacific basin along with a rising Northern jet stream sent the behemoth spinning into the Bay of Alaska with the largest percentage of swell energy occurring at points North of Central Ca. As the angle of the swell cycled more northerly as a result of the storm path and coincided with increasing intensity, we really missed an epic swell maker due to the early season character traits. But some places did not.

My call from Chuck Patterson came as he wearily dragged home, after getting an amazing slab session in Central California. Jeff Clark sent word and images of truly epic NorCal as Mavericks broke at a solid twenty feet on the old Hawaiian scale with dead glassy conditions.

What we saw in Southern California, were warm, Santa Ana kissed days. Shirt sleeve weather bloomed, as the page on the calendar turned, and Winter fell upon us.

Another 750 images went through my Canon 5D Mark 2 body as I looked for and found some solitary respite.

The images below show some of what I saw, from the pulse created in the heartbeat of a storm which for a couple days two thousand five hundred miles away the energy of the sun injected into the North Western Pacific.

It is why I like shooting water really: those dawn images, sun hanging in barrel, when turning, spinning, swell transforms into a stained water chathedral, leaves me rapt, and frequently brings me to a place where it feels like I have been touched by God. And in a way, I have been.

Cathedral

Cathedral

Click on any of the images in the gallery below for a larger view of our new Winter, which is frequently the best Summer one could imagine.

Rinse and Repeat

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
Hans Rathje: Rinse and Repeat

Hans Rathje: Rinse and Repeat

I have had to watch weather a bit more closely than I usually would this season, because Garrett MacNamara, K38 Rescue, and a few other pals of mine are involved in big wave events and have sort of sucked me into the preparation that goes into being in the right place on the right day.

We are in the midst of an El Nino season. No doubt about that now.

So when the murmers about a potential swell maker began to filter through, I forced myself to take a close look at available weather telemetry and began my process of wind and fetch tracking and analysis.

What I saw was a deep low with two fetches separated by a high pressure gradient. The swell rumor hype started with “Epic best swell since 1959” and words to that affect.

The weather map said this to me: a good storm but NOT the kind that would make for epic conditions, because it was still what we call an early season storm. That is to say, that it would be impacted by the existence of too many high pressures in the storm track, along with jet stream issues, which would prevent the thousands of miles long fetch that one looks for in historic swell events.

The storm would pass close to Hawaii. The close proximity meant less than perfect conditions, but a LOT of push. IE it would be big, but in terms of the big wave arenas, Jaws would be best, with Kona conditions. There would be bump and wobble else where in Hawaii, and at 20 feet, that is not optimum. So NO epic swell, but big.

Most events were told to stand down. The Eddie Aikau memorial later went.

I watched. And worked. And waited. You could see the storm developing and a nice high pressure that would keep California in great weather started to drop into position. Things began to line up.

What we are calling Swell 2 of the El Nino season hit here in California, and I found myself watching some breaks be flat, and others go off at size. I opted for the sizeable places and set out to create a broad spectrum of work with some people that I like to hang out with, due to their water ability.

Day one of the swell saw me in Ventura and Oxnard, at places the swell focused on.

Day two, I was at Rincon at o dark thirty and swam Backside as the tide dropped, after seeing some of the prettiest Queen in a while, go off with a light crowd post dawn.

The Backside swim was hilarious as we broke two boards, bodysurfed, got slammed, spit out of barrels, went over the falls, and generally just had a great time being watermen. The joke level was high and it was often difficult to keep my head above water as I laughed, seeing Larry get pitched into mid air sans board in a body launch, or Lars sliding into the barrel since he broke a board and opted to bodysurf sans fins.

We would be sitting out at the end of the rip and one of the boys would intone; “Surfers in the rip, throw away your board and wave your arms, someone will be along to help you presently.” (The guys are lifeguards).

Then we would reposition and 1000 tons of solid blue North Pacific swell would rear up and a spinning emerald green slab would beckon and challenge us to “do something” while the others taunted and-or, encouraged the person in the saddle.

At the end of the swell, as I sat in the office processing what was a best case scenario for combination of swell and weather and sand position, I watched the Pipe Masters go down in flawless 4-6 foot ultra clean conditions. In fact, it was VERY similar to here. Because by the time the swell dropped, and weather moved away, it was an 8 of 10 possible on the scale of swell and weather for Hawaii. What I saw as I processed these images below, which are a small segment of the 120 image final file, blew my mind.

A lot of the guys I know were having the performance showcase of a lifetime in a format designed by Kelly Slater that is incredibly innovative and performance encouraging, as it downplays the hassle for wave factor that occurs in most competitive formats.

So as it turned out for Swell 2, the true and only real history, was made in small surf, not large. Not to take away from the big wave events that did go down, but the real story occurred at Pipeline and at some other spots in California, that maybe only you and a few friends knew to be at, because well, you just know when your spot is going to deliver. Because you are a surfer.

And we all now watch to see what the Earth will deliver, having had a couple dress rehearsals. I find myself sort of holding my breath, as I believe we could see something big. But that IS why they call it weather. (whether) You have to watch it, then be there.

My hope is that people are responsible and that no one does anything “for the camera”, but because they are surfers, and that is what we do.

Here is the blog of Hobie waterman Chuck Patterson, who was at Jaws for a marathon of very clean big wave surf. I am not sure I could have done 4 days in a row at sea filming. He did 4 marathons back to back to back riding. Lost no boats. Came back safe once again.

Here is some amazing work posted to Facebook by cinematographer Michael Prickett. It is from the Eddie Aikau Memorial event. Eddie went, and so did the event! Stoked and many thanks to Michael for his fine work. He was all over at Pipe, doing water POV as well. Just outstanding.

Frame One

Frame One

Slab

Slab

Big and Bright

Big and Bright

Anticipation

Anticipation

Larry Ugale: Slide

Larry Ugale: Slide

Hans Rathje

Hans Rathje

Empty

Empty

Dolphins

Dolphins

Keoni Cuccia

Keoni Cuccia

Day 2 Rincon Dawn

Day 2 Rincon Dawn

Pristine Queen Lineup

Pristine Queen Lineup

Backdoor Defined: Lars Rathje

Backdoor Defined: Lars Rathje

Larry Ugale: Blue Careen

Larry Ugale: Blue Careen

Backside Definition: Hans Rathje

Backside Definition: Hans Rathje

Larry Ugale

Larry Ugale

Jake Vail: Slide

Jake Vail: Slide

Larry and the magic bearded clam

Larry and the magic bearded clam

Sliding the bearded clam: Larry Ugale

Sliding the bearded clam: Larry Ugale

Click on any of the images below for a larger view of some of the swell’s select images.

© 2009 David Pu'u. All rights reserved.

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