Monday, May 26, 2008

Barcelona surfing

This year so far has been pretty rubbish for waves in Barcelona. I had one excellent session back in February, and a couple of hairy blown-out sessions in March, but since then the sea has been flat flat flat. Very disappointing, especially considering last Autumn, when there was a rideable wave more often than not, and I was getting in three times a week.

So you can imagine how excited I was on the ride to work this morning, when my eyes alighted on perfect 3-4 ft groundswell and a very very light offshore wind. Result! Lunchtime couldn't come round quickly enough and, come 1.30, I was sprinting off back home on my bike, jumping into my wetsuit and paddling out by 1.50. Check out the photo above, grabbed from the coastal monitoring station webcam here in Barcelona. The second beach up from the bottom is where it's at - you can even see a nice wave peeling from the groyne.

I haven't really talked much about my local wave on this blog, so I might as well give you a quick description. Obviously, Mediterranean waves are not worth travelling from afar to surf, but they do exist, along with a healthy local surf scene. My local break is Bogatell beach, a five minute walk from my flat in Barcelona city, and on days like today...well, quite frankly it's a little bit gnarly. Context is everything of course, I'm sure Kelly Slater's description would be something along the lines of "a disappointingly short, yet reasonably fast wave which closes out too often*". Needless to say, Kelly Slater I am not, and so I think of it more as vertical drop from hell straight onto a churning sandbar in inch deep water. Basically the waves come from deep water and dump straight onto a shallow sandbar (or series of sandbars) which lie about 30-40 metres offshore. Slow, fat waves hit the sandbar and suddenly jack up to three times their height, sucking up vast quantities of water before chomping their jaws shut.

From a surfing persective it makes it all rather unnerving (for me) once it reaches 3 feet or so. Basically you have to paddle like crazy man to try and pick some speed from the slow approach of the wave, then time your pop** to split second perfection. Too early and the wave won't take you, too late and the jaw will open wide with you right at its very top, and your board pointing vertically downwards. Ouch. Get it right however, and you'll be up and riding in the split second before the jaws open - enough time to angle the board down the wave, pump a bit for speed if necessary, and then when the jaws open, slash down the face at a million miles an hour, heart beating at 10000bpm, and occasionally releasing an involuntary shriek of terror/joy. Within a couple of seconds though it's all over, the wave passes the sandbar into deeper water and either closes out or backs off again. If you're lucky you get something inbetween the two which is my cue to try and pull off a couple of turns. Most times I fail after one off-balance attempt - I'd like to say I'm a good surfer but the reality is that I am still a little bit shit (and probably always will be!).

Anyway today was typical good conditions at Bogatell, in an hour I had four good rides and about three ohmygodimgoingtodie wipeouts. The last one of which saw me stuck on the sandbar while a set of four of five big waves broke straight over my head, one after another. Enough is enough, I thought, after being tumbled for the umpteenth time. Homeward bound. And back to work to finish off my paper for SIGGRAPH. I will be back though!

* non-surfer's note 1: when a wave 'closes-out' it means that the whole length of the wave breaks at the same time. This is not so good for surfing, as it turns the whole wave into white water mush, and leaves no nice clean faces for turning on.
** non-surfer's note 2: the 'pop' is the bit where you push from a lying/paddling position and up into a standing position.

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