A solid day before last week's south swell lit up San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles Counties, it was already unloading its 20-second interval sets down the point at Baja's Scorpion Bay. "Today was truly the wave of waves," said the Scorpion Bay campground manager, Kory Roberts on Thursday, July 23rd. At least one surfer, Alex Thompson, amazingly connected Fourth Point all the way through Third, Second and First, ending his ride at the beach called Pangas right in front of San Juanico. Fourth-to-Town just might be one of the longest, highest quality rights in the world, a distance well over a mile with defined barrel sections and enough wall for a tequila shot and a few beers. Colin Jones connected Third Point to Town (San Jaunico) five times out of his six attempts. This might have been one of the best swells to hit the area in a decade.
By Friday morning, Southern California's premiere summer-time breaks were under siege by consistent lines with winter-time power. Spots linked to the fabled history of Mainland surfing broke with simultaneous perfectionWindansea, Trestles, Topanga, Malibu. Meanwhile, organizers of the U.S. Open of Surfing at the Huntington Pier were forced to use "jetski assist" for the first time in the contest's 50 years. The Open hadn't even seen waves approaching this size since the '90s, and suddenly the biggest names in the sport (drawn as much by Hurley's $100,000 first place purse as the waves) found themselves competing in overhead beat-downs. Kelly Slater's 10-point tube ride, more or less, was simply a close-out navigated by one of the world's best tube riders.
The log jam that is Surfrider Beach in Malibu became a mash-up of every known surfboard genrealias, single fins, twinnies, fishes, thrusters, Liddle hulls, air mats, balsa replicas, learner boardsand at least a 50-year retrospective on surf fashion sauntered around the parking lot and beach. Geek chic is in, and the Marshall brothers (wearing hokey aloha shirts over their wetties), made laps from the take-off at First Point to the inside, where they exchanged logs for learner boards, or a mat, and ran back up to the paddle out. San Diego's Richard Kenvin showed up with a serious quiver, a couple of La Jolla groms and a date with history. It had been nearly 60 years to the day that Bob Simmons was photographed descending a macking Malibu wall on the now-famous twin fin of his own mad creation. Kenvin's goal was to re-capture that image with one of his La Jolla test pilots and a balsa Simmons replica. After Lucas Dirkse nailed the stunt, Kenvin's entire crew put on a revolving First Point demonstration on one of the most progressive quivers around.
Tragically, by 12:30 p.m. on Friday Newport's Wedge claimed it's first fatality in 20 years. The legendary bodysurfing spot magnified the 10-foot swell into 20-to-25 foot faces. The Los Angeles Times reported that others in the lineup spotted 50-year-old Monte Kevin Valantin's body immobile and drifting toward the rock jetty as a multi-wave set approached. Both lifeguards and other surfers understood the critical danger of his position but were unable to reach him before the set struck the lineup. His body disappeared under the first wave and wasn't seen again until several waves washed through. A lifeguard boat collected the man, but Valantin later died in the hospital.
What made this swell unique wasn't so much it's size, but it's direction, consistency and powerqualities normally found in winter's northwest swells. It met frenzied crowds of beach goers, tourists and summer-time traffic and chaos ensued. Pods of surfers moved up and down the coast attempting to score each spot in its prime. La Jolla, in particular, saw pros and up-and-comers in town for the U.S. Open descend on name breaks as well as a few secret spots. Jack McCoy and Derek Hynd graced the coast. San Diego locals Joe Ropper and Joel Tudor showcased how to get kegged at a few world-class lefts. Damien Hobgood lucked into waves that haven't seen this kind of shape and power since the legendary days of Chris O'Rourke.
For a swell that produced prime conditions at spots emblematic of the Golden State's hallowed age, it met a population of surfers ready to ride it with the largest variety of equipment and style everbut a new era entirely.