by Corky Carroll
With all the talk about the new wave pools that produce perfect waves all day long, all the new surf destinations around the world that are reported to be incredible and all the videos available showing people getting insane rides on insane waves over and over I thought I would touch on the other side of the coin. Surfing really bad waves. This is something that people don’t really talk about much yet is a pretty interesting subject.
There is a saying in surfing that goes, “if you can ride really bad waves then you can ride anything.” And it’s true.
Let me regress to when I was a little kid and first learning how to surf. I lived in Surfside colony, just south of Seal Beach. Surfside, at that time, actually had some decent surf. But, as is the case in that area, the wind would get on it early every day and it would get what we would call “blown to smithereens.” Or full on “Victory at Sea,” (reference to a television series with that name that showed massive wind-blown seas in the credits.). So, surfing in the afternoons was marginal at best. But for an over energized surf stoked gremmie like me it really didn’t matter. I would go out in anything. I would try to convince my pals that it was worth going out, but they rarely would go for it. I probably spent 80% of my surfing time in horrible conditions, but learned how to figure out how to deal with gnarly twisted thumpers with little or no shape. The upside was that when I got in good surf it was like pullin’ onto the freeway in a 911 Porsche.
The most perfect example of this would be eleven-time World Champ Kelly Slater. Kelly grew up surfing at Cocoa Beach, Florida. Another place that can have good waves but usually doesn’t. When he and his brothers where young I used to watch them surf horrible wind-blown chop and look really good doing it. I knew that one day this kid was gonna be something very special because he would stay out all day in waves nobody else even considered “surfable.” The knowledge and skills learned from dealing with crud surf came in very handy when he got on the World Championship Tour and had to deal with different conditions all over the globe.
Another guy who rose to the top and had the foundation of surfing sub-par conditions is Tommy Curren. Now, in his case, it was a bit different. He grew up in Santa Barbara and had the luxury of surfing spots like Rincon and other perfect point breaks in that area. But what people don’t realize is those places are not good all the time, especially in summer. Tom would wind up surfing tiny nothing waves at places like Carpinteria. I was out with him and Al Merrick one day when he was maybe 12 or 13. Al and I sat there talking for about an hour and no waves came in at all during that time. Of course Tommy had been surfing the entire hour, shredding these ripples that barely could be called almost one foot. Totally amazed me. Same deal as Kelly, he grows up and becomes a multi time World Champ. This stuff is what makes for a solid foundation to your surfing skills.
Riding bad waves is hard and it takes a long time to figure it out. But if you do and take the time to really understand chop and ledges and side bump and all the other aqua obstacles then you not only will be a better surfer, but you will enjoy surfing on days when nobody else wants to go out. Everybody talks about the crowds these days; it’s really packed out there. You can beat that by picking a nice blown out peak somewhere down the beach in the middle of the afternoon and have it all to yourself. Bad waves can be a good thing, if you are willing to put the time into embracing their nasty goodness.