Dude, Somebody Stole My Waves

When is a world class surfing event not a world class surfing event? When the ocean looks a lot more like a pool table than a scene from The Endless Summer.

Action at the ASP World Tour’s Hurley Pro had started out frenetically on the first day of the event, enabling the completion of Round 1 and almost half of Round 2 in near ideal conditions.

But when Day Two arrived, it forgot to bring waves with it. Day Three…the same. Day Four…Ditto. The break between the 5th and 6th heats of Round 2 had stretched out farther than anyone could have imagined.

At the end of the third day of little to no surf though, optimistic reports of a building swell had ASP World Tour officials hopeful that competition could begin again the next day – which coincidentally was also known (albeit unofficially) as “It’s Game Time Somewhere Day At The Beach”.

By sunrise, the swell they had been waiting for had improved to the 3-4’ range – with the expectation of improving conditions as the day progressed. Word was posted on the Internet that at 9:00 the event would at long last restart.

By that time I was already well on my way south.

The home of the event, the Trestles, is actually just an area within San Onofre State Beach, which straddles the border between San Diego and Orange Counties. Each of the five “surfing trestles” of San Onofre is named and rated for its surfing opportunities and skill level required. To the international surfing community this is all irrelevant – the venue is known simply as The Lowers.

Since it occupies only a portion of San Onofre, the shoreline of the Lower Trestles is not overly large. In fact, the competition is conducted in an off-shore area little more than a few hundred yards wide. It’s plenty spacious enough for the surfers, since they are alone in the water save for a couple of officials and a small camera crew. Up on the beach…it’s a different story.

Upon arriving, I found myself thankful that the less-than-ideal surf, the heavy marine layer, and the early start time had combined to limit the size of the crowd. All of that made it possible to stake out and plop myself down on a soft, sandy spot that would be the satellite HQ for the IGTS Tour over the next few hours.

I’m fairly certain that I will never again attend an event with a more unique entryway. I have driven by San Onofre State Beach on Interstate 5 more times than I can count, rarely failing to glance over and wonder, “How the heck does one actually get down there?” On this day I would finally find out.

The buildout of the Hurley Pro was visible on the horizon as I exited the freeway, but reaching it involved a route every bit as circuitous as I had imagined. A two-mile drive to a remote parking lot. A shuttle bus ride back. A path that wound through scrub dunes and a small forest of overgrown beach grass. And a stroll across a set or railroad tracks – an active set of railroad tracks, no less. But the trek was pure SoCal Beach, and I enjoyed every bit of it. Well, except the parking lot and shuttle thing.

    

When I finally rolled on to the beach, things were pretty subdued. Actually, they were almost eerie. Bright summer sunshine was literally only a few hundred yards inland – I could look behind me and see brilliant blue sky not too far away. Right along the coast however, it was grey and a little misty, with an event atmosphere to match. Fortunately the air was free of any heavy fog, so the surfers in the water were clearly visible. That is to say they were clearly visible not doing much.

In fact, little was happening anywhere. People for the most part sat and stared vacantly out at the water. I had to think that this was not too uncommon a situation for the Tour, because the event production team seemed totally unfazed. It struck me that the role of the P.A. announcer in this type of environment is immensely important – otherwise the whole scene would be more like a séance than a sporting event. And the man at the mike was doing an excellent job.

As a spectator sport, surfing in general (and especially when the waves are “inconsistent” – the most commonly used description throughout the day) requires a talented announcer/emcee, not only to describe what’s going on, but to hold people’s interest levels during potentially lengthy periods of inactivity. There is no place, both literally and figuratively, for mascots, cheerleaders or “Some Lucky Fan” type contests to engage the crowd.

There is however, a captive audience that can be educated on the sport, the ASP World Tour, the history of the venue, etc. And the guy doing this “play-by-play” handled all of the above flawlessly. It was like listening to a radio broadcast of a baseball game, in which a soothing voice both sets the stage and calls the action.

Surfing, like any other sport, has a language all its own, but there is a certain artistry to phrasing that is unique. For example, the surfers bobbing on the surf scanning the horizon were “looking for a little texture in the water” according to my play-by-play guy. And a heat with little action was referred to as “wave-starved”.

This guy could turn a phrase for sure, and while listening to him I alternated between admiration and juvenile petty jealousy. I leave it to your imagination to decide which eventually won out.

To be continued…

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