The mid-October groundswell that brought opening day to Mavericks also ended a months-long streak of fog and dribble at San Francisco's Ocean Beach. The water hovered in the upper 50s, mornings saw slight or offshore winds, and the evenings enjoyed golden sunsets. It was the best the weather had been in ages and shapely peaks peeled up and down the beach. This Southern California-like scene may be what the Rip Curl Search organizers hope to meet November 1st, but it's certainly not what locals want for them.
Exiting the water the evening of October 16th, where he'd been tearing up a head-high wedge in Kelly's Cove, a local named Trevor said, "If it's small and rippable like this during the contest, well, you could find that anywhere in the world. Everyone wants to see those guys tackling big, Outer Bar."
Ocean Beach is a challenge of layers. Michael, a transplant from Hawaii said, "Right now it's breaking all over the place, but when the Outer Bar is working, it's a different story. Outside it's more defined. You can't surf the inside, the white water is like waves of concrete coming at you." Other hazards sited by the locals include the infamous Ocean Beach rip currents, localized winds, frigid water, shifting, close-out sets, and the creature known as the "landlord" -- Great Whites. The biggest hurdle may be San Francisco bay itself, as one of the largest bays in the world its tidal fluctuations and affect on Ocean Beach is unavoidable. Rodger Eales, who moved from Ocean Beach, San Diego to Ocean Beach, San Francisco, noted the difference. "Tide is the only reason I can find for why it turns on and off so drastically," he said. "I would paddle out, get tubed on my first three waves and then be sitting in a whirl pool it seems."
While areas at the south end of this four-mile long stretch are considered the best, California State Parks, which issued the contest permit, limited the event to the northern sector. Further, jet skis will be deployed in a safety role only, so the elite 34 will have to bring their paddling skills as well.
Many may recall that the Rip Curl Search is a mobile event that had previously been held in exotic and sometimes secretive locations. This aspect of the contest has been met with varying degrees of welcome by host communities. Locals shut down plans for a Search event in Western Australia, but it was warmly received in Arica, Chile. Rip Curl caught quite a bit of criticism for exposing Barra de la Cruz, a former Mexican secret spot, but Rip Curl's event in Peniche, Portugal was so popular it became a World Tour mainstay.
The local sentiment surrounding the Search in San Francisco, however, has been both complicated and evolving. In May, just after the 2011 location was announced, an employee of Mollusk surf shop on Irving Street opined that the event would "Come off great, that is, if their tents don't get burned down."
"There's mixed feelings about the contest coming to Ocean Beach," explained Michael. "There's an idea that Ocean Beach is underground and that a big contest would expose it to people who wouldn't normally come here. Personally, I'm looking forward to watching the best surfers in the world surf our beach, but if the contest exposed other spots that I love, that would be bad."
Rip Curl went so far in its outreach as to host a kind of meet-an-greet at a local bar. This might have done the trick as the conversation has shifted from one of over-exposure to one of viability.
A twenty-something local, Jack Murphy said, "I think it will be awesome to see the tour hour here, but on a selfish level, I also want to see them get shut down the same way we get shut down most times of the year."
Trevor added that he's not in the least worried about the exposure the Search could bring. "Ocean Beach is never going to be a destination spot. It's too fickle," he said. And as far as the success of the contest goes, Trevor suspected it might be a pretty tall order to run heats consistently. Although he estimates that Ocean Beach gets world class a couple dozen days out of the year, Trevor said, "There's no such thing as a 'surf day' at Ocean Beach. It'll be barreling in the morning and complete mush by noon."