Rob Gilley’s 07/08 Winter Journal

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Editor's Note: SURFING Senior Photographer Rob Gilley has seen it all when it comes to California winters. He's seen El Nino mayhem. La Nina freezing flatness. Bold claims and busted predictions. And through it all, he's grown to acquire a damn good perspective on how each winter rates in the big picture. And while 07/08 wasn't necessarily a record-breaker (unless you count the waves heights at Cortes Bank and Todos Santos), it certainly was the best we've seen in at least five year. Here, Gilley gives us a blow-by-blow account of some of his more memorable days. Here's to a short, painless summer.

October 10th – Drive to Rincon on the first north swell of the year. Medium crowd, swell on the rise. Tons of sand in the cove. As I'm suiting up, I see two stand-up paddlers try to sneak a few waves on the very inside section and both get obliterated by the lip.

Surf from 11 to 3. The Wave Killer is up and riding on every set wave I want. He's been haunting me for my entire point break career – I guess this year is no exception.

Gets crowded with the dropping tide. A few 10-foot face sets push through. Check El Cap before dark for the hell of it: 2-foot with 40 guys out.

Call ahead and pick up Pumpkin Curry at Zen Yai on State Street. Go to Joe's house and check his Canada photos. He greets me at the door with a post-pterigia surgery eye patch, and we eventually settle down to a conversation about Southers. Sleep in car in Joe's driveway.

Get coffee. Take wetsuit to the Carpiteria Laundromat. 4/3 fullsuit is dry and toasty in ten minutes. Crack Rincon – half the size, weak and fairly crowded. It's a 12 hour swell. Run into Chris Brown who said that it was good "up north" yesterday. Drive home.

October 20th – Today there were many wildfires up north, including a big one at {{{Malibu}}}. Many homes burn down, including the guy's from the Chili Peppers. An on-scene radio reporter interviews one Malibu resident who talks about seeing her neighbor fill up his convertible {{{Jaguar}}} with Picassos and then evacuate. They also interview a surfer about surfing during the fires and….it's the Wave Killer.

Humidity in the single digits. By the afternoon, fires are getting active in East San Diego County. Ramona fire jumps the I-15 in 2 hours. Flames spreading as fast as 60 mph.

October 21st – Sitting outside the house as the warm winds wail. It's been a long day. Shoot photos at Oceanside Pier again this afternoon. Variable winds, variable waves. Sit in a giant wad of green gum on a Pier bench. Drive most of the day.

Check Black's mid-day, but it's literally too smoky to see from the Glider Port. Can barely make it out, but I'm pretty sure I see some of the best waves I've ever witnessed at Torrey Pines and Del Mar. Also see a crazy one at Suck-Outs.

Spend all morning at the Pier. No Santa Anas at first, then the fog recedes right on cue and the offshore winds come. This reveals a triple threat: north-west wind, north-west ground, and south swells. Goofy vs. Regular contest on south side of the pier. A south side tube-fest ensues. Beautiful but not as hollow on north side.

Drive to La Jolla to check it. Too many swells from too many directions. Pick up French Toast Sticks at Jack in the Box, and immediately drizzle maple syrup on shorts. Go back to Oceanside.

Not too jonesing for a personal surf session today because of getting 3 great sessions 3 days in a row at Pickleweed point. Head high peaks with 6 guys out.

October 24th – Our neighborhood is still covered in ash. Unload some of the car after spending 2 days in Orange County after evacuating: a suitcase, four 8-inch thick files of photographic transparencies, a half eaten bowl of dog food, a small collection of surf art, water bottles, and a parking ticket from the City of Laguna Beach. Most fires seem to be dying down now. A light north-westerly flow is finally changing the dynamic of the weather. When we evacuate, the normal 45 minute drive to San Clemente takes 3 hours. This is my second trip to the O.C. in the same day. A bad dream.

Drive to Newport in the morning to get away from the smokiness. Find 54th street to be straight offshore, overhead, and throating. Nice orange glow for photos. About 2 in 5 waves are makeable, but guys are getting extremely barreled. Crowded. Get a call from my wife that the fire is moving fast – I better get home. Shoot the sunrise in the morning – a new south swell, apocalyptic skies, and four A-list surf photographers.

November 9th – There's still waves – good waves – and I'm not stressing a bit. I'm not surfing today. I've surfed three 3-hour sessions the last 3 days in a row. A big late season south-west lights up a North San Diego reef that's a world class wave when it's on. This wave is often lambasted by the unknowing. I feel more confident in claiming this wave because I talk to a guy in the lineup who says, " oh yah, when it's on, this is one of the best waves in the world". Ok, maybe that's a little much.

The surf community is buzzing. A big south-west is perhaps the most satisfying direction for California because it lights up the south swell spots, and is west enough to get into the winter points as well. The whole swell is mired in a marine layer produced by a coastal Eddie. This soupy weather allows me to surf and not shoot.

This is perhaps the best start to the California fall/winter season in 10 years, and is reminiscent of the 1980 "Roctober" launch.

November 23rd – Back at the tent trailer in Petaluma. Reveling in a beautiful Nor Cal day. Drove out to the beach this morning and traversed the coast from Bodega Bay to Jenner. Magnificent scenery. Looked like New Zealand. Watched guys surf a perfect rivermouth peak, with seals basking on the river bank as head-high A-frames unloaded right out front. This place is obviously a snack bar for Whitey but with close-to-shore pits, I can see why guys take a chance here. On land, the offshores blow heather pods and the day warms to 70 degrees.

Drove up the coast from El Capitan, where the family and I camp for 3 days. Cold nights, but epic days. Pristine bike trails and daily runs to shoulder high Rincon which is perfect for my daughters. Brought the dog down there too, and my eldest daughter forced her to surf. The fear of water caused the dog to get great rides all the way to the beach.

December 6th – The south wind begins to pick up as I write this. Another major storm approaches. With every passing week, it feels more and more like a 'regular' year. Yesterday was the biggest day of surf in 2 years. Shot Black's. Checked it from the bluff at 6AM. Not that big, not many canyon sets, but nice strong south-east offshores.

Walk down the hill to get a better look. By 7AM, it jumps from 6' to 8'-10' and pouring out of the canyon. For the size, it's as crowded as I've ever seen it. 40 guys out. Most severely under-gunned. Festival atmosphere in the lower parking lot. Dylan Slater gets the biggest wave of the day, one of the biggest I've seen ridden at Black's. Mike Todd also makes a huge barrel, redemption for a couple he got clipped on during a similar swell a few years ago.

Also see a couple of the dumbest things I've seen in a while. First, in what might be the nadir of this whole retro Fish thing, a guy tries to surf this huge day at Black's with a 5'6" twin fin. His session amounts to a fart in a windstorm: he doesn't even come close to catching a set wave. Second, a photographer has a scaffolding assembled at the foot of the road. This same angle could have been achieved by walking 20 yards up the road, and setting up his tripod there. Absolutely brainless.

Also witness a 15 foot freak wave that breaks way outside of the normal North Peak lineup and steamrolls Off-the-Wall style all the way through Middles. Never seen that before. Luckily no one is caught inside. A bunch of broken boards, a few stiches, but no major injuries today. News of the death of Peter Davi at {{{Ghost}}} Tree spreads a pall around the lower parking lot, however.

Go straight to the color lab and get my film processed in 2 hours. This is less time than it takes a digital guy to organize and tag his images. Talk to Evan on his way back from Todos : 25 foot, the biggest he's ever seen it.

A memorable day.

Gilley’s Journal continued on page 2