#50: A chill in the air suggested fall. The suddenly macking sets rolling in also hinted that serious swell is not far away. I pulled up to a washed-out channel and chunky overhead waves – not fun overhead, but overhead by a few feet, gathering dark, threatening gloom as they rose, before collapsing over into an explosion of whitewater. A few black dots confirmed people were out. Tired and leery, I picked my way out the jetty for a better view.

OK, not so bad. Less pitching than they’d looked and some fun ones in between the sets. What was I going to do, not go? By NorCal standards, these were middle-of-the-road.

Suited up, paddled out on the retro board, dodging whitewater and flopping down over cresting waves breaking in the channel. Water iced through the ever-splitting seams of my suit. The current swept me out, no turning back. I’ve surfed bigger waves and shouldn’t have been so troubled, but I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in days. My brain ached from exhaustion. My body wanted to lie down on a bed, not a board. I knew I needed to catch something right away to snap me into a groove.

Well, that was the idea.

I did catch a wave right away – the problem was, I stood up too fast, too tall, just like I always do when concerned I’m taking off too late. The board hung on the lip for a split second before gravity reclaimed it. Helpless, I followed it down, unable to keep my footing, catching my hand in my leash somehow. The wave jerked the board away. The leash burned around my fingers. Came up for air only to see the rest of the set about to land on my head. I dove down, felt the leash tug on my leg, climbed it back up to the surface, clambered on the board, aimed for the channel.

Caught my breath.

My hand stung. My ring finger had started swelling. “You okay?” a friend asked. “Are you comfortable out here?” I wasn’t, damn it. But I should’ve been. I plunged my hand into the water, trying to numb the pain and waited for another chance. A right reared up. I went. Slid into position just in time for the wave to mush out into the channel. At this point, the sets were no longer sets, but a seemingly endless parade of waves I was no longer in the mood to catch. My hand throbbed. I was done. I worked my way over to where I could catch whitewater and slumped in on my belly.

#51: The swell had dropped to something more fun and easily managed. Unfortunately this brought out the crowd. Well, not “the” crowd,  but “a” crowd, some of whom I know and like and surf with often, and some apparently new to the spot because why else would they park like assholes and surf like assholes and never say sorry for being an asshole even once? Making matters worse was my own inability to surf with competence. I don’t know what was wrong with me. Cranky attitude throwing me off? Whatever it was, I caught only a handful of waves and mostly demonstrated what not to do on them.

#52: Redemption. The swell dropped even further, so I didn’t get to redeem myself completely – surfing waist-to-chest high sliders on a longboard surrounded by people you know and like doesn’t exactly provide a fair measure of skill, but in my subjective experience, I enjoyed every wave, marveled at the fog-muted greens and browns of the dunes, the matching gray of sky and water, black-and-white sea birds bobbing along an ocean that couldn’t be any glassier. Surfed for over two hours, till my feet froze and my arms turned rubbery. Wonderful.

Note: Big fat bait balls out there. Definitely a sense of the buffet table set and a sharky, sharky vibe.