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Cory Lopez bailed yesterday. He pushed it til the last possible moment to make his US Open heat on Tuesday morning. It pained him to leave before this last swell, and he did everything he could to make it work, but sponsor pressures mounted and he finally caved in. "That's cool," he said. "I'm buying property over here and bringing my girl over. I heard there's an even bigger swell, like, three Mondays from now."
He was only half-joking.
So, as Lopez tied his boardbag to the roof of his rental and set off for the four-hour airport drive along a lonely, two-lane highway, we regrouped and took a headcount. Pete Mendia and Hank Gaskell are still here – they rearranged their tickets a couple of times just to get this next swell. Google Earth Challenge winner Brian Gable and his soon-to-be-dentist cousin Mike wiped out their entire J-Bay plans and have dug their heels firmly in the African sand here. And photographer DJ Struntz and I missed the final day of the Billabong Pro at Jeffreys because we're so mesmerized by what we're witnessing at this left point.
It's so close we can taste it now.
Last Wednesday through Friday saw a decent amount of swell in this region. And the left point, the one identified via satellite and later verified by a local who's surfed it alone or just with a friend or two his whole life, gave us some legitimate appetizers. Yes, it was painfully inconsistent. Yes, the tides affected size and shape and the wind continues to be a wildcard. But there are times, when four or five head-high waves stack up in a row and start unfolding down the point, when I'm convinced this could be the best wave in the world. When it's clear that there is a real possibility of driving in a tube for the entire length of the 2 km point.
Friday afternoon around 4 p.m. produced the best set we've seen yet. Unfortunately, we were on the beach changing in our wetsuits, but we feel privileged just to have seen it. From way up the point, perfectly groomed, precision lines peeled and grinded without a single flaw or kink in them. One, two, three, four lines barreling in harmony, each just 15 seconds ahead of the other, creating a holy trinity of swell, wind and sand. As if the set weren't enough, a southern right whale decided to breech a quarter-mile offshore at the same time, hurling its 50-ton body up and out of the ocean and creating its own head-high swell. From the beach, we were convinced unicorns and rainbows would show up next and we were about to have the session of our lives.
But it wasn't to be. As the tide shifted, the swell conveyor belt slowed down to first gear. Still, Lopez got four barrels on one wave, Mendia was going Mach 7 til his legs gave out and Team Google – Brian and Mike – both found hundreds-of-yards runners that made their trips. But the number of "special" waves we've ridden still can be counted on one hand.
If the proper swell hits on Sunday and Monday, I imagine we'll stop counting after the first hour.
We'll let you know if those unicorns show up.
[Stay tuned to surfingmagazine.com for the final update from the Google Earth Challenge 2, plus winner Brian Gable's personal account of the trip. Check SURFING Magazine's December 2008 issue for the full feature]