Surf League Inspiration

1) What’s possible on midlength surfboards

Beau Young and Leah Dawson prove that midlengths which aren’t quite longboards and aren’t quite shortboards can be ridden with radical, playful style.

2) Solid fundamentals and refined technique

Tyler Wright and Matt Banting exhibit near flawless surfing technique in relatable sized surf. We believe that with dedication you all can surf like anything you see.

3) Pros in Florida waves

In the winters of 2018 and 2019 some of the worlds best surfers traveled to compete at Sebastian Inlet in Melbourne, FL. Surf Asylum was there and we created these videos to show the basic elements of intermediate and advanced surfing. Mirrored for Goofy or Regular.

Advanced Week 2020 Homework

Homework: Featured below are links to 6 videos representing different styles of surfing. Watch each video, choose your favorite and write one paragraph why. Due date Wednesday July 29, typed or handwritten.

1) Late Morning –

2) Involvement Test –

3) Caroline Marks –

4) Coffee Break Session –

5) Peanut Butter –

6) Funfetti at the Jetty –

Extra Credit: Watch the 4 additional videos below. Choose your favorite and write one paragraph why. Due date Wednesday July 29, typed or handwritten.

1) Yours Truly, Mateus Herdy –

2) Ladybirds –

3) Mikey February’s Quiver –

4) Paige Alms’ Barrel at Jaws –

Recommended Reading: John John Florence’s ideas about surfing align very closely with Surf Asylum’s core values in his piece below:

“The Ocean is Everything”

Bring your paragraph (and optional extra credit paragraph) with you on a piece of paper, printed or handwritten, by Wednesday (July 29) of Advanced Week.

2019 in Fernandina Surf

Aside from the slow movement of the extremely powerful Hurricane Dorian, 2019 was a fairly typical North Florida year. The water never dipped below 50 F, there wasn’t a July hurricane, and there were slightly more days of North wind than South.

Disclaimer: This data is still subject to personal bias and small errors here and there. It’s become the story I tell myself about the year from the perspective of a surf instructor working with surfers of all ages and ability levels as opposed to an intermediate or advanced surf enthusiast.

Notable observations and surprises from 2019

  • During February there were no swell periods of 12 seconds or longer. Winter is usually a time where coastal storms in New England can move out from behind Cape Hatteras into the open Atlantic and produce swells of at least 15 seconds.
  • In 2018 there were 3 days with 17+ second swell periods. In 2019 there were none. The best days of surf from Dorian and Humberto featured swell periods of only 10 seconds. On a related note 2019 recorded 17 more days (93 total) of short period wind swell.
  • There were almost 40 (38) head high+ days in 2019. Of those 38 days, 15 of them had offshore winds. This year more than half of the head high+ days had strong onshore winds. Between Hurricanes Dorian and Humberto September accounted for 12 head high+ days, 5 offshore and 7 onshore.
  • Late August (8/21 – 8/25) featured a severe jellyfish outbreak. These have become a regular occurrence for us in late August or early September. The tides, direction of wind and waves, and location North or South along the beach all affect your likelihood of being stung. Murky water that has been flushed out of the marshes or intercoastal waterway seems to contain the highest densities of jellyfish this time of year.
  • 2019 was a year of extremes. There were more flat days, more waist high or below days, and more head high and over days.  As many head high+ days as 2019 produced there were none in May, June, or July.

Top 5 days of 2019 – in descending chronological order.

  • 12/23 – Low pressure developed right off the coast of Florida and after two days of onshore winds everything came together for a full day of sizable, clean surf. Two more days of sizable, windy surf followed.
  • 11/18 – Broad low pressure set-up far enough South and offshore to be fully positioned in Florida’s swell window. The waves were good across the entire state this day. At 15 seconds this was the longest period “Top 5 Day” of 2019.
  • 9/17 – The clean-up day of the Humberto swell. Hurricane Humberto combined with a long fetch of NE wind to give us nearly a full day of waves when the wind finally went offshore.
  • 9/5 – The clean-up from the passage of Hurricane Dorian. The swell dropped quickly this day but as far as form goes sunrise revealed some of the most classic waves of the year.
  • 3/21 – For 2 years in a row March has turned out a “Top 5 Day” of surf. A fun morning with a light crowd and a powerful 10 second swell. Every “Top 5 Day” except for 11/18 featured a 10 second swell period.

Honorable Mentions

  • 11/15 – Part of the run of surf leading up to 11/18.
  • 9/23 – The best day locally from the Hurricane Jerry swell.
  • 9/16 – The 2nd best day of the Humberto swell.
  • 9/4 – The day Hurricane Dorian made it’s closest pass to the Florida coast. The biggest surf of the year.
  • 4/19 – The wind went from strong South to Southwest by evening. At 8 seconds this was the shortest period excellent surf of 2019.
  • 2/20 – There was one standout day in February.
  • 1/24 – The second swell of 2019 but the first that really cooperated locally.
    Bailey Riggan (pictured below, Photo Credit: Jensen Bell) was ripping.

Data

1) Wave heights

Flat – Shin | Knee – Waist | Chest – Shoulder | Head +
Jan. 11 14 5 1
Feb. 5 17 4 2
Mar. 5 19 4 3
Apr. 4 19 4 3
May. 0 28 3 0
Jun. 5 25 0 0
Jul. 0 27 4 0
Aug. 2 23 5 1
Sep. 0 10 8 12
Oct. 3 11 12 5
Nov. 1 16 9 4
Dec. 7 11 6 7
2019 43 220 64 38
2018 35 188 116 26

2) Water Temperature

Below 50 F | Below 60 F | Below 70 F | Above 70 F | Above 80 F
Jan. 0 21 31 0 0
Feb. 0 20 28 0 0
Mar. 0 2 31 0 0
Apr. 0 0 19 11 0
May. 0 0 0 31 11
Jun. 0 0 0 30 30
Jul. 0 0 0 31 31
Aug. 0 0 0 31 31
Sept. 0 0 0 30 30
Oct. 0 0 0 31 12
Nov. 0 0 18 12 0
Dec. 0 8 31 0 0
2019 0 51 158 207 145
2018 12 67 166 199 141

3) Wind: Onshore vs. Offshore (Choppy vs. Clean)

Onshore (All Day | Offshore/Light (At Some Point)
Jan. 14 17
Feb. 15 13
Mar. 14 17
Apr. 15 15
May. 11 20
Jun. 11 19
Jul. 7 24
Aug. 7 24
Sep. 16 14
Oct. 18 13
Nov. 14 16
Dec. 16 15
2019 158 207
2018 133 232

4) General Wind Wave Direction

North | South | Neutral (Straight)
Jan. 18 8 5
Feb. 10 7 11
Mar. 16 10 5
Apr. 10 16 4
May. 3 19 9
Jun. 5 18 7
Jul. 9 17 5
Aug. 10 16 5
Sep. 21 7 2
Oct. 15 12 4
Nov. 22 3 5
Dec. 18 8 5
2019 157 141 67
2018 119 167 80

5) Swell Period in Seconds

< 8 | 8 – 11 | 12 + | 17 +
Jan. 13 12 6 0
Feb. 7 21 0 0
Mar. 11 18 2 0
Apr. 10 17 3 0
May. 11 10 10 0
Jun. 8 20 2 0
Jul. 4 20 7 0
Aug. 5 15 11 0
Sep. 2 15 13 0
Oct. 7 9 15 0
Nov. 7 14 9 0
Dec. 8 21 2 0
2019 93 192 80 0
2018 76 212 76 3

2018 in Fernandina Surf

In order improve our season planning and make better scheduling decisions Surf Asylum kept a wave log for the entirety of 2018. We thought we’d share some of our findings and data here. Disclaimer: This data is subject to personal bias and small errors here and there.

Notable observations and surprises from 2018

  • Our winter water got as cold is it gets, for 12 days in January the water temp was below 50 F. Nearshore water temps as low as 47 F were observed 1/19, and 1/20
  • July was extremely consistent. In addition to fairly steady mid-period ESE trade swell a decent North angled swell from Hurricane Chris peaked on 7/10. While there were 5 near flat days in June, July had something ridable everyday. The most challenging aspect of surfing in July was finding somewhere that broke at high tide, the swell was there.
  • In 2018, there were slightly more days of South short period wind swell than North short period wind swell. South wind may have been the story of 2018
  • More than half (14 out of 26) the head high + days of surf had offshore winds.
  • December had more near flat days than June.

Top 5 days of 2018 – in descending chronological order.

  • 11/24 – A lot of fetch and strong wind passed by from South to North just off the Coast of Florida and though the day started out a bit unruly it managed to clean up by mid morning.
  • 9/16 – Swells from Helene and Isaac started to pulse a few days after the original swell from Florence providing for nearly a full day of solid surf for beaches that could handle side-offshore South wind.
  • 9/13 – The peak of the Florence swell. This day was really mixed up but the largest surf of the year came through the morning. Visiting pros put on a show.
  • 4/24 – This day was a slightly smaller but cleaner and more organized version of 11/24 with a very similar source.
  • 3/5 – Strong swell from the North Atlantic hit the South Hatteras buoy (41002) the day before. The set waves this day were thick. Another day that was pretty unruly first thing in the morning.

Honorable Mentions

  • 10/11 – South “suck-up” windswell ahead of front with well timed morning offshores. Not huge but hollow.
  • 3/28 – A couple heavy ones before dark. The one that got away spit down the beach right before I paddled out.

Data

1) Wave heights

Flat – Shin | Knee – Waist | Chest – Shoulder | Head +
Jan. 1 15 12 3
Feb. 0 12 15 0
Mar. 5 19 7 5
Apr. 3 12 12 3
May. 0 17 12 2
Jun. 5 25 0 0
Jul. 0 23 8 0
Aug. 6 22 3 0
Sep. 0 12 14 4
Oct. 2 13 13 3
Nov. 3 10 13 4
Dec. 10 13 6 2
2018 35 188 116 26

2) Water Temperature

Below 50 F | Below 60 F | Below 70 F | Above 70 F | Above 80 F
Jan. 12 31 31 0 0
Feb. 0 19 28 0 0
Mar. 0 2 31 0 0
Apr. 0 0 30 0 0
May. 0 0 1 30 0
Jun. 0 0 0 30 26
Jul. 0 0 0 31 31
Aug. 0 0 0 31 30
Sept. 0 0 0 30 30
Oct. 0 0 0 31 22
Nov. 0 0 15 15 0
Dec. 0 15 31 0 0
2018 12 67 166 199 141

3) Wind: Onshore vs. Offshore (Choppy vs. Clean)

Onshore (All Day) | Offshore/Light (At Some Point)
Jan. 19 12
Feb. 14 14
Mar. 7 24
Apr. 16 14
May. 22 9
Jun. 2 28
Jul. 10 21
Aug. 4 26
Sep. 13 17
Oct. 13 18
Nov. 9 21
Dec. 4 27
2018 133 232

4) General Wind Wave Direction

North | South | Neutral (Straight)
Jan. 20 5 6
Feb. 8 8 12
Mar. 10 12 9
Apr. 12 12 6
May. 3 25 3
Jun. 2 21 8
Jul. 6 21 4
Aug. 4 26 1
Sep. 6 10 14
Oct. 13 11 7
Nov. 20 8 2
Dec. 15 8 8
2018 119 167 80

5) Swell Period in Seconds

< 8 | 8 – 11 | 12 + | 17 +
2018 76 212 76 3
Jan. 8 21 2 0
Feb. 3 21 4 0
Mar. 6 4 20 2
Apr. 8 21 1 0
May. 10 21 0 0
Jun. 3 25 2 0
Jul. 0 29 2 0
Aug. 11 11 9 0
Sep. 4 9 17 1
Oct. 8 9 14 0
Nov. 7 20 3 0
Dec. 8 21 2 0
2018 76 212 76 3

Women of Waves 2016

Is there anything more delightful than time dedicated to celebrating women and their relationship with the sea? (If you happen to be a man, bare with me here, please) That is exactly what Women of the Waves, held annually in Cocoa Beach, is all about. Female surfers of all ages and all skill levels are invited to join together in Cocoa Beach for a weekend of community, friendship and sharing in the joy that is a life spent in the sea. Naturally, it is one of my favorite surf events of the year!

Despite having to be rescheduled once (Thank you Hurricane Matthew) and a somewhat dismal forecast for the new dates, this year’s event was just as special as years past. A less crowded event simply meant an even more intimate experience than usual and the opportunity to spend lots of time catching up with old friends. I dearly missed many of the friends who couldn’t make it this year, but was thankful for the chance to meet new ones and expand my growing network of surf sisters.

After a ridiculously fun surf session at home Friday morning, I jumped in the car and hit the road for the longest three hours of my life. Surf fatigue and driving are not friendly with each other! I did eventually get there, meeting up with my friend and weekend roommate Allison, just in time to head to the Friday night surf movie. This year we were treated to the Sisterhood of Surfing by Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, a film that captured the essence of what it means to women when they get to share waves with other women, completely comfortable, without competition, communing with each other and the ocean. The film heavily featured women from around the state of Florida (with a pit stop in Sayulita, Mexico) and the audience cheered and clapped whenever a familiar face graced the screen.

We awoke Saturday morning to the glaring reality of that dismal forecast and could see the tree tops blowing from our hotel room, but we were here and would not be kept from the highlight of the weekend, the surfing social. This is usually a time to jump in the water with about a hundred of your closest surfing girlfriends and trade as many stories as waves. Mother Nature decided to mix it up this year by throwing hard NE winds across the surface of the Atlantic, creating choppy surf conditions and a swift drift that swept almost everyone down the beach. I opted out of the drift session and was thankful that I did as I ended up making a couple new friends who also chose to relax on the sand. Mid morning someone suggested we might check out Jetty Park, a spot just north that had a jetty and might block some of the wind. The waves were smaller, but much cleaner and Allison and I, our new friend Ana, and a handful of others ended up having a fun surf session.

When the afternoon came around and Ana suggested lunch with some other surf sisters at Surfinista, Allison and I jumped at the opportunity. Surfinista is a funky, surf themed place in downtown Cocoa Beach with a menu filled with juices, smoothies, sandwiches and the adored acai bowl and walls filled with surf art. They also have a little retail space with boards by Tom Neilson and Stu Sharpe on display. We had a great time sharing stories of surfing and traveling and finding out what each others different interest were (three out of six have had very good luck growing eggplant!). We followed lunch with a quick stroll around downtown and a bit of shopping before heading back to get ready for the Saturday night potluck.

This year’s potluck was at Manatee Sanctuary Park, overlooking the sunset on the Banana River, with plenty of oohs and aahs to go around. The tables overflowed with an assortment of dishes and music from local band, The Aquanuts, filled the air. The raffle and silent auction are always a hit, with participants anxiously clutching their tickets and waiting to hear themselves announced a winner. At this point in the weekend, we’re all old friends, laughing and story telling the night away. Smartphones were pulled out and selfies galore were snapped to commemorate the fun of the evening. With stars twinkling overhead, plans are made for one last surf the next morning. The wind was still not cooperating, so Jetty Park was the call.

A perceived extra hour of sleep (thank you time change!) was more than welcome after a full weekend and allowed Allison and I to make the agreed upon 8:00 a.m. meet up time for the surf. Unfortunately the weather would not listen to our pleas for light winds and cleaner conditions. If anything, she persisted in blowing harder than the previous day, adding more chop to an already tumultuous ocean. It was our last day and we were all together, so in we plunged and despite the conditions, marveled in the beauty of the sea and the powers that be that brought us to gather, in celebration of ourselves and the sea.

My deepest thanks to Melody De Carlo and Sharon Wolfe Cranston for their commitment to this event and for the work they put in each year to provide us with an opportunity to come together in the name of women’s surfing. Thank you to Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski for her work on the Sisterhood of Surfing and sharing it with us and to Teri McCutchen for the beautiful artwork for this year’s event. If you are a sponsor or donor to this event, thank you too! Sandy Lee, Ana Joly, Meredith Hackwith-Edwards, Judy Taylor-Gorman and Patricia ‘Sissy’ Dittrick, it was a pleasure to spend extra time with you this weekend. Allison, thank you so much for being my roomie, an all around awesome person, and hanging with me all weekend!

Frustrating Fall

Often when we have big surf whipped up by strong local winds I tell people there are a lot of waves, just not a lot of good waves. The same could be said about Fall 2016 in Northeast Florida. If you happened to inquire about surf lessons this fall and we told you that “there’s a lot of wind in the forecast” and that conditions would not be fun, safe, or conducive for learning during your stay you weren’t alone. In fact, with a very uncertain forecast for Hurricane Hermine we cancelled all of our Labor Day weekend surf lessons. Before that we had the swell from Hurricane Gaston arrive simultaneously with persistent onshore wind that created less than optimal surface conditions. We had at least twice as many good teaching days last fall.

The forecast track for Hurricane Matthew was much more reliable but the storm was almost always going to come in too close to produce much in the way of good surf. We at Surf Asylum evacuated Amelia Island on Wednesday to avoid traffic in anticipation of Matthew’s approaching Amelia Island Friday night. The storm needed to be several hundred miles further out to sea to create anything like the surf we saw from last year’s Hurricane Joaquin. If there is a silver lining to this season it’s that even with the constant onshore winds and the close passage of Hurricane Matthew our surfing sandbars have remained remarkably similar and intact. When the swell arrived from Hurricane Nicole, another unfortunate mix of windswell and groundswell similar to Gaston, we were still surfing the same spots at the same tides as we were before Matthew’s 20 ft. seas took out sections of both our piers.

It has even been a struggle to schedule surfs with our more advanced students who have been surfing for a year or more. If there was a succinct way for Betsy to describe the 2016 Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic it would be “challenging.” Two of our Fall 2016 First Coast District – Eastern Surfing Association contests were also held in the large choppy surf that has come to typify this season. We start Surf League early because we know the Northeast winds are coming but they usually run on weekly cycles with a few days of calm or offshore winds in between. This fall it feels like onshore winds have been blowing for weeks on end. If you’ve been surfing for a year and you’re fit and confident you can paddle out in these conditions. However, you’ll be learning a lot more about surviving than surfing as you can expect your wave counts to be quite low. It takes about 3 years of being fairly committed to the sport before you start catching many waves in choppy wind swell. I often find myself having to wait anywhere from five to fifteen minutes for a good wave in these conditions.

Fall is still the time when you are most likely to get surfing conditions that match the conventional idea of “good.” On one of the very few decent days this fall a musician from Cape Town (who had been living in Nashville, TN for two years and was in town performing at the Ritz Carlton) paddled up to me and asked “Is Florida always this good!” I had to be honest, by South Africa’s standards the surf in Florida isn’t always this good. At this late juncture we’re looking at maybe two magic days which were glassy but a bit too powerful and steep for learning. During our best fall seasons we get at least a week’s worth of such days. If you’re dedicated to improving your surfing you have to supplement your water time with the windier more chaotic days. If you’re new to the sport our best advice is to take advantage of every available summer morning (before the sea breeze picks up) to build up the paddling strength, endurance, and quickness to your feet required to enjoy the Fernandina Fall surf.

Betsy gets a… shortboard?!

2016 is my ten year ‘Surfaversary’. What is a surfaverasary? Well it’s when you celebrate your relationship with surfing! I even gave myself a surfaversary present. I’ve spent my first decade pretty dedicated to longboarding, telling people who harass me about getting on a shorter board that I’ll move to a smaller board when I master my log. Then I follow that by explaining that I don’t think I’ll ever do such a thing as there is too much to learn and even when you think you have a decent grasp on it, the creativity you can bring into logging never ends. From lines to footwork, where you can go with your longboarding is limitless. Plus, I could talk all day about how beautiful, graceful, and timeless I think logging is.

All of that being said, three things happened over the last year that put a couple of fissures in my rock solid devotion to logging. The first was having some local girls come to Surf Camp, get super stoked on surfing and (mainly due to their stature and definitely NOT because longboarding isn’t the coolest thing around) promptly start riding short boards. Technically I suppose they’re mostly funshapes and midlengths, but still they’re all at least two feet shorter than anything I’ve ever tried to ride. Striving to be the best coach I can be, I wanted to be able to relate better to these girls and their experience in the water. It was easy to talk with them about looking for the peak and determining wave direction, but I couldn’t relate to their struggles with simply paddling into the wave. I would try to paddle with them in an attempt to set a paddling pace, but two strokes on my 9’2 and I was five yards ahead of them on their smaller boards. I started to paddle out on our 7 ft camp board in order to be closer in board size to the girls. And then, to my surprise, I started to have fun on it.

The second thing came about from that Surfaversary gift to surf with the lovely Leah Dawson in Puerto Rico. Leah spent most of her time on a singlefin shortboard, drawing the most beautiful lines and showing me that shortboarding doesn’t have to comply with what the surf media tells us it is. I thought of shortboarding as fast, tight turns with lots of ugly pumping in between sections. Leah showed me that with the right equipment, you can draw really smooth lines on shortboards and get just as creative with your surfing as you can on a longboard. As inspired as I was by Leah on her shortie, I came home and ordered a new, but very traditional longboard, still focused on improving my logging. I’m stoked on my new log, but I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the potential of a smaller board and all the days I could surf that aren’t conducive to longboarding (because we all know that I don’t surf enough already, right?!)

The third and final breakthrough was meeting Justin Laird. I met Justin, of Laird Surf Craft, in the water last year, right around the time that Surf Asylum Surf Camp decided to set up at Log Cabin, basically taking over the spot closest to his house (and shaping room). He was kind enough to let me try one of his displacement hull boards one time which piqued my curiosity about his shaping. I’d never ridden a hull and didn’t appreciate the differences between his longboard and mine until I paddled for a perfect wave, spun out on the take off and lost the board. What was this hull and how did it manage to toss me off on a glassy thigh-high peeler? Justin gave me a couple of pointers and I managed to hang on to a couple of speedy lines, but was more than happy to hand off the board, still trying to wrap my mind around how a board could be SO different than anything I’d ever ridden. Since that day we’ve always taken a few minutes to chat about waves and boards when we see each other out. I knew Justin was making his own boards and was really enthusiastic about the hulls, but recently I had noticed him and some other local surfers on other less traditional shapes, mainly fishes and weird, short, stubby looking things that he was making. That’s when it crossed my mind that Justin might be the guy to make my first shortboard. So I asked him if he was interested. Five minutes later we had a design plan.

A week later I was in his shaping bay, watching him bring my 6’6 Wayne Lynch inspired singlefin (You didn’t think I was going to get one of those potato chip thrusters did you?) to life. He told me before we got started that he believed in positive energy and vibrations and that he felt really good when he was cutting the initial outline of the board. I told him I believed in the same types of things  and watched, mesmerized, as Justin took a barely recognizable chunk of foam and turned it into a functional piece of art. It’s apparent in each stroke of the planer and brush of the sandpaper that Justin is not only really talented, but genuinely loves shaping. He had a smile on his face the whole time, pleased with the harmony between his movements and the resulting shape of the foam. I had a smile on mine reveling in how cool it is when being in the right place with the right people and being open to new experiences can bring about great things.

Justin’s gonna put a cool acid splash on the bottom and the board should be ready for the water soon. Stay tuned for more as I try to chronicle my attempts at learning to ride a (MUCH) smaller board. Deepest thanks to my students and Leah Dawson for the inspiration, to Justin for being genuinely excited to make this board and putting some heart and soul into it, and last, but never least to David for always encouraging and supporting me, wherever surfing take us.

Expanding hearts and minds at the Earth Missions/Leah Dawson Next Level Surf Retreat.

Mindlessly scrolling Instagram a month ago, I was notified that I’d been tagged in a comment on a post announcing that one of my favorite surfers, the inimitable Leah Dawson, was hosting a ‘Next Level’ Surf Retreat in one of my favorite places, Rincon, Puerto Rico. I casually read the post to David who immediately asked, ‘When?’ followed by ‘How much?’ I read him the dates and then dismissed the whole thing by stating that it was probably more than I could afford on short notice. The next day David asked me again how much it would be and again I mumbled something about probably not being able to afford it. Thankfully for me, David insisted that it was an investment in myself and my surfing, as well as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and affectionately kept pushing me to find out more details. Long story short, in a matter of a few days, I went from planning out the next few months for Surf Asylum to planning a five day stay in Puerto Rico.

I’ve been a fan and follower of Leah on social media for a few years now. Her style is hers and hers alone. She balances grace and strength with creativity seamlessly. Social media told me that we shared a few other passions and interests, namely clean eating, clean oceans and promoting a platform for women’s surfing outside of the current industry standards. Still, you never know what you’re going to get in person once the online filters are removed. When I was contemplating the retreat, I knew that it would either be ‘okay’ or ‘EPIC.’ You can’t really go wrong with spending a few days in Rincon, so I knew it wouldn’t be terrible.

It was EPIC! It was beyond EPIC. From the first embrace, seconds upon meeting, it was clear that Leah was the real deal. She walks her talk. I spent the first forty eight hours in a bit of fog as I couldn’t quite believe that I was living and surfing with one of my heroes. Nor could I believe the late season swell that showed up the day we landed. There I was, in one of my favorite places on earth, with one of my favorite surfers and the waves were a Florida loggers dream, starting out waist to chest high, peaking a little over head, hovering waist to chest for two more days and fading to one of the funnest knee high sessions I’ve ever had. Celebration inserted itself as the theme of the trip as every session became more about deepening our personal relationship with the sea than trying to out perform our sisters and brothers. The whole trip ending up feeling like a non stop party and not the kind of party you regret the next day, but one you never want to end.

I’ve been working really hard in the last year to refine my style and improve my positioning on the wave, so when I booked the retreat, I did it from a purely selfish standpoint of wanting to improve my own surfing and get critique and tips from a pro. One of my best friends was coming along, but aside from her I never gave another thought to who else might join the retreat. I was surprised and then stoked to meet two other participants while we were boarding our plane. Turns out they were from Jacksonville and we had surfed together before though we didn’t really know each other. It only took a couple of hours to realize that one of the highlights of the trip would be connecting with like minded men and women from all over the U.S. and Caribbean. The surf sessions were a blast, but the meal time round tables were an unplanned treat as we all bonded over incredible food and enlightening and entertaining conversation. Each person had their unique passion and information to share and I got up from each meal with a full belly and even fuller heart. It was so inspiring to be around such a caring group of individuals who put aside self and cared for issues bigger than themselves.

The daily routine was to get up as early as possible and get the longest session possible before the trades (and late sleeping Rincon crowd) got on it. If you haven’t been, most of the spots are reef breaks and break faster and a tiny bit steeper than Florida. There were many, many Maria’s sessions, but we also got in a few hours at Surfers Beach and Domes. On the biggest day, with Tres Palmas breaking and Maria’s in the 8 – 10 ft range, Kahlene, my best surfing friend/travel partner/sister and I went up to the bay in Aguadilla and scored chest to head high perfection at one of our favorite spots. I only ride my log and I find the conditions to be great for noseriding as long you can manage the speed (I’m still working on it). I had some really epic hang fives though I bailed on a few as the waves quickened and steepened up on the inside.

It was a joy to be in the water with Leah and the other surfers. Everyone had their own style and approach to the waves, but we all shared the same positive energy in the water. Each session was full of laughter. Everyone cheered for each other. There was no ego. Everyone was appreciated for who they were and where they were in their surfing. Simplicity was applauded. Stoke radiated in the air.

I learned more than I could ever put in this blog, but I did have a really profound moment that will me make a better surfer and a better coach. We were lucky to have someone film a few of our sessions and even luckier to be able to review the footage with Leah. It was late afternoon on the last day of the trip when myself and three of the other girls gathered around a table as Leah went through each of our waves and offered up her praise and gentle suggestions for improvement. She was talking with our youngest member, Becca, about positioning when I heard her mention to try getting closer to the heart of the wave. “The heart of the wave.” The words echoed in my mind. I mentioned I’ve been working really hard on positioning. I know I need to be deep on the take off to set up a noseride. I know it’s useless to try and walk the board out on the shoulder, that the most technical maneuvers can only be pulled off in the steepest part of the wave… but I’ve always thought and used the terms ‘peak’ or ‘power’ and though I knew I needed to be close or quite literally in this spot, I’ve always been wary of it. In the back of my mind, the peak or power has been a bit of a scary place. I knew that’s where all the energy was, but I’ve been afraid I might not be able to control it. When I heard Leah replace ‘power’ with ‘heart’, I felt my fear crumble and fade away. My mind expanded. Hearts are for loving. Hearts are life givers and safe places. Now instead of inching closer with caution, I’ll embrace moving into the heart of the wave, a loving spot that can help me surf my best.

I’m filled with gratitude for this trip. I’m thankful for the incredible friends I made, for the conversations and laughs we shared, for the beautiful environment we played together in. Thank you to Leah Dawson and Tom Werner of Earth Missions for putting this together and giving so much of yourselves. Thank you to the sea herself! We celebrate you!

Wetsuit Season Part 2

Once you’ve decided on and purchased a wetsuit you’re going to want to take good care of it so it keeps you warm for as long as possible. There are bargain prices for children’s wetsuits but if you’re a young adult or older you should expect to pay around $200+ for a decent suit. Throughout my two decades of surf wetsuit ownership I’ve learned a lot about what not to do and I can share some of that here:

1) I put my first wetsuit on like a pair of jeans pulling it from the waist or thighs until my feet popped through the leg. The problem with this was that I carved out a trench below the calf area of my wetsuit that eventually wore through into a gaping hole. I learned to push my feet through the legs as far as I could without forcing and then stretch the material over my heel so it wouldn’t dig into the material every time I put it on. (A wet wetsuit can be a lot harder to get into than a dry one).

2) If you change out of your wetsuit or rinse it in the shower don’t use piping hot water. Luke warm is usually okay. Glue and seam tape are just as important as stitching when it comes to how warm your suit is and generally glued and taped seams weren’t designed to hold up to hot water which can melt, crack, or break them down.

3) Unless you have a really broad shouldered hanger like one for a tailored suit or one that came with your wetsuit you shouldn’t hang your wetsuit by the shoulders. I’ve actually even noticed this with rashguards but most standard plastic or metal hangers will cut through the wetsuit material over time just like my heel did. Patagonia recommends doubling your suit over and hanging it at the waist and we’ve adopted this practice for all of Surf Asylum’s wetsuits.

There are a few other things like no direct sunlight or dryers (these cause cracking), don’t leave front zip wetsuits (or any wetsuit for that matter) balled up somewhere, and try to fasten any velcro back up to its proper place when stowing your suit so the hard side of the velcro doesn’t start softening and working away at the neoprene near it.

Creating tight, proper fitting wetsuits that can hold up to being peeled off and on your body on a daily basis is a significant design challenge for the manufacturers and it’s true that in climates where you wear your wetsuit year round you’ll be lucky to get two good years out of it. However, here in Fernandina Beach, FL where you usually only need a wetsuit for less than half of the year, if you surf regularly but take really good care of your wetsuit you might be able to get four years out of it. You might be hoping for a mild winter during that fourth year though.

Wetsuit Season Part 1

Fernandina Beach, FL has some of the most dramatic seasonal shifts in air and water temperatures that I know of. I’m not saying that it get’s particularly cold, just that temps vary widely. In Southern California there is a distinct summer and winter outside but the water temps seem to hover in the 60’s (Fahrenheit) occasionally dipping into the high 50’s or rising into the low 70’s. In a typical year on Amelia Island you can experience everything from water in the low 50’s to brief foray’s into the mid 80’s. This makes it hard to keep the right temperature rated surf wax on your board. It also means that the decision of whether or not you are going to surf through those first few winters becomes a decision about whether or not you want to invest in a decent wetsuit.

This is an even bigger problem for young kids who are still growing. Wetsuits aren’t something you want to “grow into.” A wetsuit that is even just a little too big can take on cold water faster than your body can warm it up, getting flushed everytime you duckdive for instance. A properly fitting wetsuit lets in and retains a small amount of water that is then warmed by your body heat. It will cycle small amounts of water at the neck and cuffs but this should never dramatically reduce the overall temperature of the water the suit has taken in. A little too tight is better than a little loose and kids who might be spending only one season in their suits might look to participate in a hand me down cycle to surf through those early winters.

After fit one of the most important considerations is thickness. Anyone who has been surfing for more than a decade has usually experienced some level of astonishment at how flexible and light neoprene has become. Today’s 4 mm is just as stretchy as yesterdays 3mm. A suit’s thickness is recorded with two numbers, 3:2 or 4:3 for example, where the numbers are thickness in millimeters. It’s a little different for each suit but the smaller number usually represents the panels of the wetsuit that need more flexibility like the ones used in paddling. Your traditional performance wetsuit is a 3:2. However, I’ve chosen to go a little thicker (4:3) in hopes of getting away without having to wear accessories like booties, gloves or a hood. I also hope to get an extra season or two out of my suit since it feels like a little too much for all but the coldest handful of days (or weeks during the harsher winters). I will say that my first session back in the 4:3 after putting it away for the summer is a tough one even with the advances in materials.

Everyone has different tolerance levels for cold water but my general comfort is as below (Fahrenheit):

High 70’s and above – I’m skinning it
Low to Mid 70’s – Skinning it if the weather is nice, springsuit if the weather is cool.
Mid to high 60’s – Springsuit if the weather is nice, fullsuit if the weather is cool.
Low 60’s and below – Fullsuit

These are for comfortable multi hour sessions. If I know I’ll only be out for an hour I can go a little lower on everything (skin it in the high 60’s for example). The closest to realtime estimate for our shoreline water temperatures can be found at the National Data Buoy Center’s Fernandina Buoy Station 41112.