January 26, 2014

If It Swells, Write It

Good morning and greetings, Mavericks fans. Yes, due to cooperation from the father, the sun and the holy coast, the Body Glove Mavericks Invitational was a go on Friday, as 24 big wave chargers from around the planet got together for a little party in Half Moon Bay. For big waves surfers, in the words of Santa Cruz’s Shawn Dollar, “Mavericks is the place where it matters.”

Earlier in the week, surf forecasters were talking about the scoring exploits of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, along with the strongest storm of the season heading for the west coast. It would be accompanied by light offshore winds and a huge swell coming in from a westerly direction, which would be ideal conditions for one of the world’s premier big wave surfing contests.

As westside thrasher Zach Wormhoudt says on what it takes to surf this break, “Big heart. Mavericks demands a lot of desire and passion to do what common sense dictates otherwise.”

As longtime surf scribe Bruce Jenkins reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, when a swell like this hits Mavericks, there is a combination of excitement and anxiety. For me, it would be nothing less than total terror, as the only time I like to be in water over my head is in the shower under a waterfall. These days I get my adrenaline rushes from body surfing in the hot tub.

As Jenkins noted, “northwest swells produce the most powerful, compressed waves at Mavericks, and they are especially dangerous because they produce a south-to-north current. And that is why I always dog paddle east to west.”

What happens a half mile off shore at Half Moon Bay is terrifying, because if you lose your board or get caught inside the pounding, churning, burning chamber of white water insanity, you end up taking a sea cruise through a dangerous jagged rock formation. At this point we’re dealing with life and death issues. It’s not like the danger of fouling out of a basketball game.

So why do it? Why risk life and limb for this gigantic rush of adrenaline? In the words of Maui-based, tow-in legend Laird Hamilton, who’s married to the lovely Garbriella Reese “For those searching for something more than just the norm, we lay it all down, including what others call sanity, for just a few moments on waves larger than life. We do this because we know there is still something greater than all of us. Something that inspires us spiritually. We start going downhill when we stop taking risks.” That’s what’s called preaching to my choir.

The excitement continued to build throughout the week, as there were 20-foot waves on Tuesday with 40-foot faces and 60-foot noses. But it did not come without a price, as one entry rider, Alex Martins, was involved in a severe wipeout and ended up in the hospital and out of the contest.

So Friday’s surf prediction was cloudy with a chance of paradise. We’re talking about a gathering of the best and the brightest big wave surf riders from Santa Cruz and from across the planet. When the word got out that a storm was brewing, our local contingent of all-stars flew back from Maui after surfing the break at Jaws.

So what does it take to surf this bad boy, whose waves and fury have sent big-time surfers to their graves? South Africa’s Chris Bertish, winner of the 2010 Mavericks Big Wave Invitational says, “Courage hardly sums it up. You have to be completely motivated to overcome your fears, especially when everyone is telling you not to do it.”

And how do they measure the size of the waves at places like Jaws, Mavericks and Coney Island? According to big wave pioneer Buzzy Trent, “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear.” Added Laird Hamilton, “Surfing’s one of the few sports that you look ahead to see what’s behind.”

So Friday’s contest went off as planned, with sets that we close to 40 feet in size. But according to Jenkins, “The dreaded southeast winds came up a little before noon, putting chop on the water. The swell was out of the west, focusing all of the ocean’s energy onto a narrow section of reef known as the “bowl,” producing waves so thick, fast-moving and hollow, only a world-class surfer would even think of taking the drop.”

The winner was South Africa’s Grant Baker, who put on a clinic under the most treacherous of conditions. This was Mavericks at its most dangerous, and world-class wipeouts were the featured item on Friday’s menu along with sand dabs and macadamia crusted mahi mahi.

“The conditions made it so nerve-wracking,” said San Francisco’s Ryan Seelbach. “Some of those waves – I mean, you’re right there, but then you look down, and whoa … I don’t want any part of that.”

So although I did not make the trip up the coast to Mavericks, I did manage to get into the spirit of the occasion by spending some quality time down at Steamers Lane last week. So for today’s photo funhouse we are going to the sunrise from Friday morning, as the feeling of big wave competition was in the air.

The early sky was not in a cooperating mood, but it eventually opened up and allowed the sun to shine through. And to get a little flavor of the competition going on up the coast, I posted a couple of shots from earlier in the week at Steamers.

Surfing at sunrise does a body good. Or in the words of the Hawaiian surf legend Duke Kahanamoku, “Out of the water, I am nothing.” Or as the bumper sticker says on my car, “Geoff would never go.” Aloha.

On to some late night humor. “Chris Christie is getting a lot of support from New Jersey’s Hispanic community. Some Hispanics like his moderate conservatism while others believe if you hit him he’ll break open and spill out candy. The former president of Trader Joe’s is opening a store that sells only expired food. The new store will be known as 7-Eleven.” – Conan O’Brien

“According to a new study, smog is drifting across the Pacific Ocean from China and polluting our West Coast. Can’t we make anything in this country anymore? Kanye West is in trouble after allegedly assaulting an 18-year-old. You know, if Kanye is going to beat up a teenager, couldn’t it be Justin Bieber? This week in his inaugural address, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke of wanting to bring the people of New Jersey together. He wanted to bring them together by having them all try to merge into one lane.” – Jay Leno

“When Governor Christie was sworn in, he put his right hand on a menu. Immediately following the ceremony, Christie closed the Holland Tunnel.” – David Letterman “Yesterday the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks advanced to the big game, which means this year’s Super Bowl will have teams from the two states where recreational marijuana is legal. Or as pizza delivery men put it, ‘Pray for us.’” –Jimmy Fallon

So that’s our surf report. We’ll catch you posting up 62 points and breaking the Madison Square Garden scoring record. Aloha, mahalo and later, Carmelo Anthony fans.

January 19, 2014

The Resolution Will Not Be Televised

Good morning and greetings, warm weather lovers. At the time of year when we’re supposed to be battening down the hatches and bonding with our umbrellas, summer has broken out in the Bay Area. Last Wednesday was the hottest January day ever recorded at the San Francisco Airport, as the runways hit 73 degrees. Santa Cruz had record breaking high temperatures, as the thermometer on my rain gauge hit a comfortable 82 degrees. Yes, it was hot. How hot was it? When the temperature dropped back down to 75 I felt a bit chilly.

I’m not saying that I mind Indian summer in January. Last week, as I was lounging around in my swimwear while bodysurfing the web, I ran across an article written by Nicholas St. Fleur for the Mercury News. This story was right in my wheelhouse. According to four out of five scientists, because of the lack of wind and rain, the skies along the west coast have been putting on tremendous aerial displays at sunrise and sunset. And the key to it all is the increased pollution particles in the sky. Kansas was right. All we are is dust in the wind.

Now as you know, I’m a sunrise and sunset chaser and a part time hand model. I’ve taken an solemn oath to try and record all the early morning and twilight action along West Cliff Drive and serve it up on a cyber platter. Last Saturday and Sunday I photographed two gorgeous back-to-sunrises down at Lighthouse Point, but since then the skies have gone dry and I’ve not shot a look, nod or glance since. So for me the lack of rain is a two-sided coin, as no clouds equals no breathtaking, mind-blowing, thank God I’m alive moments. All clear and no clouds makes Geoff a dull boy.

But let’s get back to why it happens, why at dawn and dusk the sky puts on a celebration for the middle-aged. These particles of pollution create a collusion of colors which are responsible for the confusion that scatters the light, which then brings on the fireworks we observe in the sky. Yes, pollution is the solution.

Without any weather patterns in the region, tiny particles of soot, dust and rust from cars, rickshaws, fireplaces, sweat lodges, construction sites and men’s gentlemen clubs hang around in the atmosphere much longer. These articles of particles bring us the exotic skylight canvases that have the smartphone phone boys and girls clicking away at dusk like it’s candy. Or as young poet Mattie Stepanek once wrote. “Sunset is my favorite color, and rainbow is second.”

Weather forecasters say that there is no rain on the horizon because of a high-pressure ridge that has been double parked off the West Coast for more than a year. This prevents Pacific weather storms from moving through and screws with my HBO reception. This giant zone of high pressure in the atmosphere is huge, even by Orson Welles standards, at nearly four miles high and 2,000 miles long. Try finding a pair of sweat pants to put around that.

We are also experiencing offshore flows, which are not the usual wind patterns that blow clean air inland from over the Pacific Ocean. If you add the atmospheric inversion that occurs at night, when a level of warm air rises above the cold air and remains trapped like rats near the ground, then the pollution has no place to go, which creates more fun with contaminants.

These three factors come together with sunlight to create a trilogy which results in the sunrises and sunsets, with God, Chris Christie and the Port Authority of New York cast in the supporting roles. It’s a fabulous show. I’m just hoping I make it into the credits.

So after that explanation of why the skies have been so deliciously inviting, I feel it only right that I take you to a recent photofest along West Cliff Drive. The day was January 6, which started off in spectacular fashion, as the sunrise was NBA fantastic. There were tremendous clouds in the sky all day, as sunset watchers were licking their lips in anticipation of the evening festivities.

But when the witching hour came around the clouds suddenly stifled the sun, and what once looked like an all-star Saturday petered out. I was surprised and momentarily disappointed-how could I have misread the signs? It was turning into anticlimatic city. Why would a loving God allow this to happen?

But patience has its virtue, and as I waited, all of a sudden the sky started to light up, with brilliantly vivid colors filling the horizon. It was unexpected, even though I should know to expect the unexpected. It was a wonderful culmination to a full day of light and anticipation. Or as novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson might have described it, “The sky broke like an egg into a full sunset and the water caught on fire.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

On to some late night humor. “We’re learning more about this George Washington Bridge scandal. During the traffic jam, a two-block commute that would normally take five minutes took 45 minutes to an hour. As we call that in L.A., ‘making pretty good time.’” –Jay Leno “Christie apologized and promised the bridge will stay open for cars, trucks, and the buses he’s throwing his staff under. New Jersey Chris Christie is still digging himself out of this Bridgegate scandal. In fact, some experts are now saying he could be impeached. When he heard that Christie said, ‘Mmmm, peach.” –Jimmy Fallon

“A new report found that more than half of the people who have signed up for Obamacare are older than 45. Which is no big deal until you find out they were 25 when they first tried to log onto the website.” –Jimmy Fallon “Police are searching Justin Bieber’s home for evidence in an egg-throwing vandalism scandal. You know you’re a real gangster when the police raid your home looking for something from the dairy aisle. Justin Bieber reportedly caused $20,000 in damage to his neighbor’s home by egging it. It’s being called the most pointless use of an egg since the fertilization of Justin Bieber.” – Conan O’Brien

“The White House announced that President Obama will visit Pope Francis in the near future. Pope Francis thinks Obamacare can be a success. Sure, he’s the Pope. He has to believe in miracles. They say that most airline seats on planes today are meant for 170-pound passengers. The last time the average American weighed 170 pounds, the Wright Brothers were flying the plane. Health officials are now warning that pot smoking can cause apathy. In fact, a recent poll shows that most pot smokers couldn’t care less.” – Jay Leno

So that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. We’ll catch you scoring a new career high of 54 points last week while showing NBA fans why you’re the second best player on the planet. Aloha, mahalo and late, Kevin Durant fans.

January 12, 2014

So How Cold Was It?

Good morning and greetings, NFL playoff fans. Well, if you like watching football played inside a freezer, there was a game for you last Sunday, as the San Francisco 49ers took on the Green Bay Packers on the frozen tundra called Lambeau Field. Temperature at kickoff time was 5 degrees, as 70,000 fans braved the icy conditions to root on their Packers. The team handed out free hand warmers, coffee, hot chocolate and blast furnaces you could put down your pants. But there was not joy to be in frozen Mudville, as San Francisco prevailed in the NFC wild card game to move on in the playoffs.

So why was it so damn cold, and why was 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick not wearing any sleeves, gloves or mittens?

The cause was the polar vortex, which I mistakenly thought was the material in the lining in my jacket. What swooped down from the north is what some might refer to as rare air, which are the strong winds that circulate around the Arctic Circle, that come with a smooth aroma with touches of vanilla and patchouli.

This dense, frigid air, which had everyone but native Hawaiians shivering last week, came down from Santa’s place at the North Pole, where I purchase the ice for my annual Super Bowl party. We’re talking about extreme cold air brought down by the jetstream that hadn’t been seen in decades. We’re talking weather history here, folks. Word on the street has it that if you were under 40, you would have never experienced this kind of bitter cold. Or have an appreciation for ‘The Honeymooners.’

The coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere flooded half the nation with record breaking low temperatures. This arctic cold front affected 187 million people and a baby. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in sub-zero temperatures, I tend to get a little cranky. I hate it when I have thaw out my pajamas.

This little vortex party that engulfed the nation also came with deadly snowstorms, that had residents digging out in bitter cold conditions. Combine this with icestorms, the constant blowing of dangerous winds and the image of Al Roker in snow pants and you have a week that had the Weather Channel throwing a party to celebrate their Neilson ratings. It was so cold champagne was being served in slices.

So let’s look at some of the extreme lows from last week’s hypothermia festival. Chicago smashed a subzero record with -16 below, with a wind chill factor that made it seem like -40 below. Records fell in Indiana, Oklahoma and Texas, as three states had wind chills of 40 below. Virginia and West Virginia shattered marks that had stood for 60 years. It was 30 below in Vermont, where there is, believe it or not, an ongoing heroin epidemic. North Dakota was so cold it seceded from the Union. It was so cold paramedics were checking houses for people trapped under the weight of blankets.

New York City’s Central Park broke a 118-year-record last Tuesday when the temperature dropped to 4 degrees, a record that had stood since 1896. International Falls, Minnesota had a wind chill factor of 55 below last Monday. Residents in Embarrass, Minnesota thought they might break their record-cold temperature of 64 below zero. When you live in a place where the thermometers go to 100 below, you better be tough. The radio was broadcasting iceberg warnings to motorists.

When it’s colder in Tennessee than it is in Alaska, something is wrong with this weather picture. On the set of the television drama ‘Nashville,’ rival country singing stars Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere were hugging each other just to stay warm. It was so cold in ‘Music City’ that parents were encouraging their kids to play with matches.

Last Tuesday, all 50 states saw freezing temperatures at some point. That included Hawaii, where it was 18 degrees atop Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano and the company which provides me with a constant flow of macadamia nuts. It was so cold that surfers were de-icing their boards on the North Shore.

In Chicago, the zoo’s lone polar bear had to be brought indoors, as she was missing the extra layer of blubber she’d have developed in the arctic. I wish I could say the same. At this point in life all my favorite food are seconds.

Just so you know, according the National Weather Service, exposed flesh can freeze in as little as five minutes with wind chills colder than 50 below. We’re talking rapid frostbite and that’s why tank tops are never a big seller at the Arctic Circle.

And finally, in the midst of this polar vortex invasion, the U.S. set a record last Tuesday for demands for natural gas. It was a day burrito lovers will never forget.

So since I would consider being in 50 degrees below conditions a semi-religious experience, for our photo follies today we are going back to a morning which has religious significance. I’m referring to Christmas, the day that they NBA has now made all its own, with five consecutive nationally televised games, which basically means 13 straight hours of NBA bliss.

I was shooting the sunrise from the cliffs above Fair Avenue along West Cliff Drive. As you can see, the backdrop was decorated for the holiday, as the morning sky was filled with red and orange streaks. Not a bad way to start off the day, as I was happy with the gift Santa brought me, although I was hoping for a pony.

On to some late night humor. “Chris Christie is dealing with a scandal after it was revealed that a top aide shut down access to the George Washington Bridge to get back at a mayor for not endorsing him. Christie was furious when they blocked the bridge. He thought they said they were blocking the fridge.” –Jimmy Fallon “Apparently someone in Governor Chris Christie’s office closed the bridge. This is what I don’t understand. You’ve got a major political figure and the busiest bridge in the world. Don’t put anything in writing. Do what I always do when I have something top secret to discuss. I go to a bowling alley and use the pay phone.” –David Letterman

“It’s warming up a little bit here in the northeast. The polar vortex has departed. It was supposed to leave Monday night but it got stuck on the George Washington Bridge.” –David Letterman “In advance of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Russian government announced that, contrary to popular belief, people in Russia will be allowed to protest. But only in a special protest zone – known as ‘Siberia.’” –Jay Leno

“Dennis Rodman took six former NBA players to North Korea to play against a local team in celebration of Kim Jong Un’s 31st birthday. I guess after years of playing alongside Michael Jordan, Rodman is very comfortable with totalitarian dictators. Dennis Rodman is like the uncle that Kim Jong Un never had killed.” –Jimmy Kimmel “Dennis Rodman has brought some former NBA stars to North Korea. Not to promote diplomacy – to avoid child support payments.” –Conan O’Brien

“Mayor de Blasio says he wants to get rid of horse-drawn carriages in Central Park, saying they are inhumane. Meanwhile, thousands of unemployed New Yorkers are saying, ‘I’ll pull the carriages. How much an hour?’” –Jimmy Fallon “The postal service is now saying that they are raising the price of a stamp from 46 cents to 49 cents. They would have made it an even 50 but that would have made the line at the post office go too fast.” –Jimmy Fallon

So that’s weather and sports. We’ll catch you averaging 32 plus points over the last five games and being the top lefty scorer in the league. Aloha, mahalo and later, James Harden fans.

January 5, 2014

In One Year And Out The Other

Good morning and greetings, New Year’s fans. Someone asked me last week if I had made any resolutions for the upcoming year. Up until that point, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind, as New Year’s resolutions for me have always gone in one year and out the other. Or as Jay Leno once said, “New Year’s Eve, where auld acquaintance be forgot. Unless, of course, those tests come back positive.”

But I thought I would give it the old junior college try, as I usually look forward to the new year to get a fresh start on old habits. I wanted to do something significant to really challenge myself and prove that even at this advanced age, there were still some frontiers I could conquer besides walking more and watching less.

I was thinking about for some self improvement, and if that wasn’t possible, just doing something nice for people. There were so many directions I could go in, like eating healthier, exercising more or stop biting other people’s nails.

I could attempt to be a more positive person, to laugh more often at the news, to just enjoy life a little bit more. I could work on my career, or perform better at my job. But that would entail getting a job, and thus lied the problem. That would putting the cart light years ahead of the horse.

I could try to improve my inner and outer self by becoming more organized, as at this stage of my life, 98% of my time is spent looking for something I had in my hands just moments before. That might help reduce some stress. It’s not like I’m in a hurry, or as Mohandas K. Gandhi once tweeted, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” Personally, I’ve always ascribed to the Chinese proverb, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. Chow fun is where you want to be.”

I could volunteer to help others, try new foods or stop procrastinating, but I think I’ll start on that one next month. None of these resolutions felt right. So I decided to just go with what felt natural and stop eating chocolate for a hour each day. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but over a year’s time the numbers add up. That’s a two week, all-expense saved vacation from chocolate.

I’m just following the theory that chocolate slows down the aging process. It may not be true, but who am I to argue with science? Or as French actress Brigette Bardot once remarked, “It’s sad to grow old, but it’s nice to ripen.’ I’m just worried about being left on the vine too long.

So the holiday season has come and gone, and it will be missed. I got to see two movies, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ which I reviewed last week, and ‘American Hustle,’ which took us inside the world of a brilliant con man, a Congressional sting operation and Amy Adam’s cleavage. As she said, “You’re not nothing to me until you’re everything.” Everybody hustles to survive. I enjoyed this flick, although I was hoping for a little better.

So this being the first blog of the new year, I wanted to start it off in star spangled banner style. So we are heading back to the evening of December 17, when fire was burning in Big Sur and skies were torched with color. The previous evening’s sunset (which I posted back on December 22) was off the charts in beauty, or as my friend Bill Babcock described it, “the best sunset I can recall on the coast.”

So we were coming off a spectacular night, and this was to be the second half of a back-to-back, off the wall, plastic fantastic experience. For me as a sunset chaser, the only back-to-back evenings to surpass this experience came in January of 2008, when there were two nights of explosive color and light that set the bar. It was two nights of magical brilliance that I will never forget. But these December nights came awfully close to challenging for the gold.

I was shooting from Stockon Avenue along West Cliff Drive, and you can see early on that something big was underway. This night was a 360 degree viewing experience, as the entire sky was filled with glowing clouds. To the east it was pink city, to the west golden orange and ridiculous red. I was spinning like the Four Tops taking in this marvelous show.

If you look up world-class sunsets in the dictionary, you might see photos from this night. Moments like this is why I got into this business, being I’m a sunrise/sunset guy. It’s nice putting your arm around a memory.

So my resolution to my cyber audience is to bring you the best of what I see on land and in the skies above Monterey Bay, along with a little something to make you laugh and think. And not necessarily in that order.

Enjoy the NFL playoffs. We’ll catch you showing the basketball world why the Warriors are in a roll and you were an NBA all-star last season. Aloha, mahalo and later, David Lee fans.

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