It is 4:44 am and I wake as if shocked by some internal surf alarm. Peering out the window, I see it is still pitch black. The sun is sleeping and has yet to caress the earth with its light. I fidget and try to fall back asleep. The struggle is useless. I hop out of bed and begin stretching and assuming yoga postures preparing for the day's adventure.
A burning deep within the center of my stomach grows with the gaining strength of the sun as it rises in the east. I hear a wave crash in the distance. The rumbling echoes over the land, inviting my soul. It is time to go surfing.
I throw on my 3/2 mm wetsuit and my 4 mm booties, the necessary equipment for the 49 degree water. I do fifty jumping jacks, grab my 6'4" surfboard and break off a small chunk of surf wax. Mounting my green brakeless cruiser, I head towards "the Lane: Steamer Lane."
Located next to the Lighthouse Surfing Museum on West Cliff Drive, "the Lane" is one of the best and most difficult surfing spots in the world. To devoted local surfers, Steamer Lane is more than just a surf spot --it is the center of our surfing community. It is a place where we live out our dreams of the future and remember dear friends we have lost.
As I power-ride across town, the frigid air bites at my skin sending chills down my spine. Random locals wave and beep their horns. I flash a hang loose sign, "Right on, dude", and keep on crusin'. I approach West Cliff and my heart races as I see the lines of swells rolling in to Cowell's Beach. The breeze whispers offshore and the low tide is rising. My legs shift into "turbo-speed" as I see how the swell has increased tremendously since last night. Large sets are rolling into Middle Peak--the outside underwater reef that makes the northwest swells break into surfing waves. Perfect waves peel through Indicators and barrel in front of the landmark surf statue. The waves are pumping. I am stoked!
I toss my bike at the Lane stairs and sprint out to the point. Running to the cliff's edge, my body pulses with anticipation. I skip down the slippery rock surface in view of the basking sea lions.
Standing on the furthest reach of land, I glance out at the vast horizon. This sight of epic beauty before me is so incomprehensible, I wonder... "Is this Heaven on Earth?" Golden light turns silver as it reflects off the vibrant abyss as shades of blue and green dance to the rhythm of the swirling current. Large eddies of white water circle in crazy revolutions. I bow my head to give thanks.
I strap the leash cord of my surf board onto my right foot--it won't get tossed away from me now. Leaping off the cliff's edge, I plunge into the icy Pacific. The cold ocean engulfs me and I open my eyes underwater and peer out at the light streaming through the surface. I swim to the top, "Woo hoo! That feels good!" I shout climbing on to my board. Paddling into the bowl, I am granted that one gift I always long for - a set wave.
I turn into the pocket and make a couple hard strokes. The fluid strength of the wave picks me up and shoots me eight feet into the air. I leap to my feet, putting my right hand into the water attempting to steady my descent as I drop in. The wave jacks up steeply and I focus on the nose of my board that hangs parallel to the face of the wave.
Suddenly the base of the wave sucks out and I face a tunnel of brilliant turquoise and emerald green water. I fire down the line as the lip of the wave falls to the left, covering me in complete bliss. Time stops now -- all influences from the outside world cease. All pain, confusion, and frustration drop as I am relocated to a distant planet governed by love, calmness, and positive direction. Only one sound may enter this foreign land: the roar of the barrel.
The deep rumble of the surf all around brings a feeling of joyful meditation, and I experience ultimate peace. Pushed out of the tube by a thick gush of white water and mist, I fall flat on my board; overwhelmed by it all: this thrill of surfing.
Glossary of Surfing Terms
cruiser: a one-speed bike. Back
wetsuit: tight-fitting but flexible neoprene suit allowing a film of water inside that is heated by the body. Back
booties: wetsuit foot accessories. Back
surf wax: creates a sticky surface on the top of the board for better traction. Back
stoked: deliriously happy. Back
kook: what you don't want to be
set wave: perfect wave; best wave of the "set" of waves. Wave sets often occur as three waves to a set. Back
bowl: a half circle created by a wave going over a reef. Back
pocket: the ultimate take-off position, or center of the bowl. Back
swell: train of waves" taking shape" but not yet breaking as deep ocean energy waves approach land. Swells/waves are primarily storm driven. Earthquake driven waves can be enormous and are known as "tidal waves" or "tsunamis." Back
lip: the top most edge of a breaking wave. Back
face: the wall of the standing wave
barrel: the sought-after space in the hollow of a wave that has arced over but not collapsed. Back
tube: same as barrel
piping: a wave that is "barreling" or curling over; very fast and hollow
jacks up: as waves near shore, they become more vertical and grow "larger," this can happen within seconds, as if someone has a tire jack and is lifting up the wave. Back
sucks out: when the lower half of the wave drops out right before it rolls and crashes over. This results from the wave passing over a submerged reef or raised bottom. Back
down the line: rapidly moving across the face of the wave horizontally. Back
Indicators: a spot midway between Steamer's Lane and Cowell's Beach. The spot straight out from the surfing statue on West Cliff Drive. Back
The various local surf spots vary in difficulty and crowd size depending on the swell direction and size of the wave. Another factor is the amount of sand present in the surf area. Waves will break on reef rocks, sand bars, or off of points or man-made objects, such as the Santa Cruz Harbor mouth or the Wharf.
The ocean is powerful and ever-changing. It is both beautiful and unforgiving. With bigger swells, it is important to use extra caution whether surfing at Cowell's Beach or the Lane.
Become familiar with the site conditions and be courteous to other surfers. Ask advice from local surf shops, lifeguards, or park rangers.
Jamilah is a Santa Cruz born and raised surfer. She competes regularly in surfing contests, thanks to a number of commercial sponsors, and works as lifeguard instructor in the summer Junior Lifeguard Program.
Jamilah's Surfing Etiquette
Always paddle to the outside of the line up when a set of waves is coming in.
On a right-breaking wave, paddle to the left.
When a surfer is coming at you, stay calm and do your best to paddle out of the way.
Always hold on to your board.
Cover your head as you break through the surface of the water. This will help save you from head injury.
Watch out for your fellow surfers.
Trust your instinct and understand that the ocean is very powerful and unpredictable.
Love the ocean and always keep in mind that surfing is a privilege.
Guide to Local Spots
Key for Surf Spots
B=Beginner; I=Intermediate; A=Advanced only;
R=Reef; S=Sandbar; P=Point; O=Object
|Cowell's Beach--S, B
Steamer's Lane--P, R, A
Mitchell's Cove--A, R
Natural Bridges--A, R
|Hook--B, I, R
Pleasure Point-- R, I
28th Ave--S, B
26th Ave--S, A, I
Sewer Peak--A, R
Harbor--O, A, I
Wharf--O, A, I