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Weathering Fall PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Pu'u   
Tuesday, 04 January 2011 23:42

We don’t get seasons here in California in the classic sense, where each turn of the page has a huge and definite tone, as in latitudes further North or South. But in spite of a more balmy and temperate nature, we have certain patterns that Californians come to expect, each Fall.


As the artist Robb Havassy and I sat with long time waterman, fisherman, and surfboard industry icon Reynolds Yater recently, I thought to ask Rennie about this fall and whether he had ever seen anything like it? His answer: “Never.” That said a lot to me.

Weather is one of those things that most surfers are very in tune with. Rennie is actually a historic template for how we all are, having lived his life and been successful by virtue of his ability to read weather. I am no exception. What I learned as a surfer enables me to continually be in the right place and time to meet the collision of good weather conditions, tides and swell which make for that rare thing for surfers: The Perfect Day.

It is a perpetual source of glee for me that I can carry a camera in my work, and when special moments occur, I am able to bring back more that just a great surf story. I document junctions of time where unique things occur at the hand of nature, and when someone is right there in the midst—a part of the vista—even better. We need that in a culture that seems to have become quite removed from our place in creation. It is a reset button of sorts.

California has seen massive shifts in weather this year, no doubt due in part to some significant volcanic activity. In 1783 an Iceland volcano (Laki), which was substantially larger than this year’s eruption of Eyjafjallajökull (Which is purported to have injected more pollutants into the atmosphere than 20 years of industrial development.), created massive livestock death and respiratory illness and substantially cooled the earths atmosphere and altered rainfall patterns and weather globally. Weather conditions resulting from that eruption were described in historic records as being “severe.”

Earlier in the 20th century, this process had been initiated by the Katla Volcano, and the U.S. had in fact, that next winter, suffered an exceptionally cold season, where even a portion of the Mississippi River froze over.

Meteorologists had taken note of a La Niña weather pattern which is indicative of cooler Equatorial water temperatures and typically a dry season for us here in California and the rest of the U.S.  But instead, this fall has offered a procession of majestic storms, accompanied by unusual weather phenomena, all following the coldest summer in recent history.

In fact from July 8 through July 12, the National Weather Service reported 84- and 98-year record cold temperatures at LAX and San Diego. Then fall wound up giving us heavy rainfall, wild swinging weather which went from scorching heat back to winter-like conditions; and for surfers and water folk, a real sensation of delight from time to time as things were, well, perfect.

On Sept. 27,  Los Angeles temperatures just after noon set a 20-year record high by hitting 113 degrees, surpassing the prior record of 112 set on June 26, 1990. Wild weather swings. Weird.

On Oct. 23, I watched the development of a large storm east of Japan, and in the ensuing days saw something develop that was very unique for that time of year: a storm that if it were to progress along established patterns would create a historically significant swell. There is nothing particularly unusual about big storms and swells. They happen. It is just that I had never seen one happen this time of year. Typically one sees this sort of storm in the mid-to-late winter months.

So I scheduled a bunch of work for the San Francisco area and headed up. On Sunday, Oct. 31, I stood on the bluffs at Ross’s Cove right at Pillar Point and shot a pregnancy image for Carey Smith (Pillar Point Harbor Patrol) and his wife, Deniece. In spite of a brisk wind, it felt like Hawaii out. We were all laughing about it. Surf was near flat.

Later that day I stood with Jeff Clark in his shaping room and we discussed the swell we both knew was headed in. The consensus was that it was going to be big, very big,  (Buoy 059 had peaked at 37 feet at 21 seconds) and we were both sort of laughing about the guys who had run up to Nelscott Reef for the large wave contest there, as we knew what sort of carnage this swell would wreak. We were both very stoked to be at HMB right then and there.

The following day did not disappoint, and there were maybe five sets of three waves each where that rare 60-foot mark was hit. Neither Jeff nor I had ever seen that in the fall. I mean, it is very rare on a big winter. But fall?

This season so far, I have experienced an incredibly alive ocean. A massive swell at Mavericks and multiple perfect days, all inter spliced with dramatic bouts of weather.

As we look at our weather history, keep in mind that weather is not climate. It is the fool’s choice to look at local weather and see it as climate shift and change. But get ready, this may prove to be a very interesting winter globally for the water tribe that thrives on the planet’s pulse.

So here is the evidence. These are a few of the images from fall 2010. All captured on the Canon 5D Mark 2 system. Small samples of a massive amount of motion and stills work produced in harmony with one remarkably unique fall in California.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 05 January 2011 22:16