Junky Junk

Surfing 21: Thursday Lunchtime at Indian Beach

In a gray drizzle, on a day with middling winds and ugly, junky surf, I returned to Indian Beach for yet another mediocre surfing session. The tide was very gradually falling towards a mid-day low that would come in the late afternoon. But there was plenty of water. And Indian Beach was crowded with newbies and others playing in the slop zone inside the breakers.

The buoy data said the main waves were coming from the northwest, at five feet plus, at 7 seconds. Waves with short periods like that are called wind waves, and are driven by local weather systems. They can be unpredictable, ill-shaped, and difficult to ride, and this day was no exception. These kinds of local wind waves also lose energy quite rapidly. Between the Columbia River Bar buoy, 20 miles off-shore, and the cove at Indian Beach, the waves had lost at least a foot in height. Swimming out among them, I could see: they just weren’t that big.

Confirming my observations, the much close Clatsop Spit buoy had been reporting four foot waves at 7 seconds. Also, the Spit buoy reported a SSW cross-swell of two feet at 17 seconds. These waves I didn’t see at all.

Long period swells are generated by distant storm systems, have traveled many hundreds of miles across the ocean, and are called groundswells. They can be great surfing; they make the water look flat when they are the only waves. But today, the groundswell was swallowed up and undetectable by the wind waves. Together, the bad weather, rising winds, and mixed direction ground and wind swell meant that the waves were junky junk.

But it was still fun. Isn’t that crazy? I am tempted to complain, because this entire summer has been so messed up, combining often crappy surf conditions and a really lousy series of unfortunate health events for me. But I really can’t complain about having the privilege to just suit up, paddle out, and match my wits and skills against the random energies of the Pacific Ocean shore. I got in some rides, I got some exercise, and I felt like things might be returning to normal for me, physically speaking. We shall see.


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