With the big winter surf, here is some info on currents. Hope it helps!

Currents are your friends. Get to know them and embrace them.

Why, you may ask?

1) They spread the crowd out.
2) They make the waves good by changing the contour of the sand, making beach breaks “peaky.”
3) They are what shaped our point breaks. They eroded the coast and spread out the cobble-stones nice and even at spots like Rincon, Malibu Surfrider and Trestles.
4) When you have to paddle against one in order to get back into position (and you will have to at some point), you get a good workout and strengthen your paddling muscles.
5) They make you pay attention to where you are in the line-up. Currents will push you out of the line-up to the places where you can’t catch waves. So guess what...pay attention.
6) They spread the crowd out...oops, did I say that already?

There are two primary currents you need to be on the lookout for:

Long-shore currents -- These are currents that follow the contour of the shore. At beach breaks they simply push “up” the beach or “down” the beach. The direction they're going depends on the direction that the swell or waves are coming from. As a rule of thumb, summer time south swells cause the long-shore current to push to the north. Winter time west and north-west swell push to the south. Strong westerly winds (SoCal’s prevailing wind), like the ones we experience in the springtime, and the wind waves that go along with them will also whip up a nice southbound long-shore current.

At point-breaks the longshore current generally flows from the top of the point (furthest out spot) to the bottom of the point, ie, down the point. The only place in the world that I have surfed where the current flows “up” the point is at Punta Roca in La Libertad, El Salvador. This makes it hard to stay in position, but it really helps the waves to barrel!

**Whichever beach you are at, before you jump in the water, check which direction the long-shore current is going and adjust your entry point and paddle-out to compensate for the current.

Rip-currents -- Mostly found at beach breaks, these notorious currents form when waves push a bunch of water onto the shore. This water has to go somewhere so it forms something of a river flowing back out past the waves into deeper water. This mini-river pulls sand, seaweed, surfers and unsuspecting swimmers out through the impact zone and out past the breaking waves. To spot the rip-currents, look for rippled/textured, sandy water going through and past the breaking waves. Sometimes it is very subtle, but sometimes rips are so strong that lifeguards will not let swimmers enter the water. To most surfers, rips are not dangerous because we can swim and have boards to easily paddle away from them. We need to know about them because they can make the waves break weird right around the rip or pull us out well beyond the breaking waves, making them difficult to catch.

Hint: if you are a good swimmer and competent surfer, jump right in the rip-current to paddle out. It will suck you right out past the breaking waves. Once outside, paddle left or right to get out of it and find your spot.

If a surfer, body-boarder or swimmer is stuck in a rip-current and needs to get out of it, they simply swim/paddle/kick in a direction directly parallel to the beach. A good sign that someone is in trouble, or will be in trouble very soon, is if you see them in the rip-current trying to swim straight to shore. This is like trying to swim up a river. It doesn’t work and they will get tired.

There is no current that will pull you under the water. Rip-currents will not pull you under. People die in rip-currents because they panic, get tired and drown if the lifeguards or other surfers aren’t there to rescue them. Be an aware surfer and help people out of a rip-current if you see them struggling to get to the beach.

Effective Surf Paddling: Maximizing Your Power and Stroke

Effective surf paddling is critical to a surfer's progression. It helps you get through the waves without being totally exhausted, but most importantly, it helps you catch that perfect wave!

This is why, at ZSS Training, we focus on paddling in every lesson we do. For the first-time and beginner surfer, we work on the basics, such as how to properly position your hands and elevate your head off the board. With intermediate surfers, we spend time working to master that crucial "S" stroke and develop the power necessary to get those shorter boards moving.

Surfline.com just did a good article on effective paddling. I especially like Jamie Mitchell and Greg Long's (big wave surfers) descriptions of technique, although they differ a bit in hand positioning, which I found interesting.

JAMIE MITCHELL [Paddle board champion/big-wave surfer]

"Hand position. People ask me all the time how I hold my hands and fingers when paddling. Do I keep them close together or have a slight gap? I personally just relax the hand and it tends to have a slight gap. If you keep your fingers together, it feels unnatural -- like you have to try to keep them like that."

GREG LONG [Big Wave Champion]

1. Position yourself on your board correctly. Where you actually lay will be different depending on what type of board you ride, but each board has a sweet spot. You don't want to be too far back on the board. This causes the board to be too high and makes you push through the water. If you are too far forward your nose will pearl into the water. You want to be perfectly centered so when you do start paddling your board is on a nice, even plane.

2. Get a full arm extension with every stroke. I often see people who do an awkward, chicken-wing paddle where their arms enter and exit the water prematurely. Your hand should be entering the water at the full extension of the elbow and never before.

3. When you are at the full extension of your stroke, your fingers should be held tightly side by side creating a cup or paddle with your hand. Do not slap the surface when your hand enters the water. It should enter in a graceful diving fashion.

4. As you pull through your stroke, try and get your arms as deep as possible. I like to create a slight "S" motion with my stroke bringing my arms down the centerline of my board. Try and keep your wrist and forearm in one line.

5. Pull through your stroke in one continuous motion until your arm is fully extended behind you. Again, do not prematurely pull it from the water. In doing so, you lose power and your stroke is ultimately much less efficient. Not to mention you look like a chicken.

6. When you pull your hand from the water, do so in the same graceful fashion as when you entered. Splashing or throwing water behind you is wasted energy.

7. As you become a more advanced paddler you can get even more power from your stroke by implementing your core strength into the paddling motion. As your arm reaches forward your torso will slightly lift forward with it. As your arm pulls back, so does your torso adding even more muscle and power into your stroke.

Check out the full article on Surfline.com here.

Sharks and other dangers while surfing

I’m sure that everyone has heard about the fatal shark attack in Solana Beach. Our condolences go out to the family of triathlete David Martin. As seen from all the news and press coverage, this is a tragedy that really taps into our primal fears as human beings. Obviously there is reason to be scared or nervous about being attacked by a shark, but this shouldn’t keep you out of the water, or keep you from enjoying your surf sessions.

Think how many millions of people were swimming in the water on the west coast last weekend, and think how many times David enjoyed his ocean swims over the many years of his life. Also, the last fatal shark attack in San Diego County was in 1994, but this was not a confirmed attack. Before that is was 1956.

I think it’s important to look at the big picture and realize how improbable it is to be attacked by a shark. However, we must acknowledge that the ocean is the shark’s home, and we are only visitors.

Here’s some more info from a recent online discussion of mine about these amazing creatures that we share the ocean with:

The question was, “It seems like there's been a lot of shark sightings reported on Surfline over the past couple of months. I don't ever remember hearing about so many. Is this a seasonal thing?”

I'll start with great whites. Traditionally, in southern cal shark (great white) activity is not very seasonal. In northern ca however, the time of the year when most great white sightings and attacks happen is in the fall. This corresponds to the time of they year when the elephant seals are on the beach or close to the coast. Great whites congregate to the coast to feed during this time of year.

In southern ca, it is possible that due to the extra cold water in the spring time and heavy grunion runs, that different types of sharks might tend to come closer to the coast during this time of year.

I think it also seems like there are more shark sightings because we have increased access to information. If there is a sighting or an attack...we will hear about it.

Now, enter global warming and increased animal protection.

Due to increased protection of seals and a ban on gillnetting in coastal waters, great white sightings have increased in the last several years. There are more great whites around. This is a good thing. I also truly believe that they are beginning to become familiar with humans in the water and know that humans/kayaks/surfboards do not make good food. Most attacks in the past have just been test bites anyway.

Southern California:
1. Due to global warming, we now have huge populations of Humboldt Squid off our coasts. This could be a source of food for the sharks that attracting more to the area.
2. The Southern California bite has recently been recognized as a great white birthing ground. Most of the juvenile great whites caught by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium for study have been off southern California. http://www.mbayaq.org/cr/whiteshark.asp Maybe with more study they will find out if a specific time of year sees more great white shark births in our waters.

I too have seen the reports you are asking about.

Things to keep in mind:
1. Not all the sightings are great whites. We have many other types of sharks around that are relatively harmless. Lemon sharks, thresher, seven gill, mako, and of course the leopard shark. Not that these sharks aren't scary to think about, but they will not attack you thinking you are a seal. We've seen many of these while diving and most of the time they take off before you even have a chance to check them out.
2. People could be reporting dolphins.
3. We kill hundreds of makos and other sharks in our local waters each year for sport fishing. The sharks are the ones that should be afraid.
4. Think of the hundreds of people that are out surfing and swimming each day on our coast compared to how many attacks we see. Personally, I'm way more scared of the 405 fwy!

However, there are things I do to protect myself:
DO: Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes peeled. See a strange splash or a seal acting weird, just paddle in.

Don't: Surf or swim around large seal populations or large schools of baitfish and diving birds.

Know: If you're surfing by yourself at dusk, your chances are higher of having a shark encounter.
Know: Spots where sharks have been documented can be avoided if you want.

More common surfing dangers and things we should really watch out for while surfing:
  • Our boards. Probably the greatest danger is surfing is getting hit by a surfboard, either ours or some other surfer’s. It is important to always know where your board is. If you are paddling out and let go of your board due to a big wave, please make sure that nobody is around you. If you are taking off on a wave and do a nose dive (pearl), know that the board is most likely flying out of the water behind you and could land on your head. Hint: If I can’t feel the board pulling on my leash, indicating that the board might be close to you, I have my hands covering my.
  • The Bottom. The second greatest danger while surfing is hitting the bottom. You might hit the bottom on a wipeout, or put your feet down and cut them on a rock. Either way, hitting the bottom can be treacherous. Never dive off your board headfirst. Hint: Always assume the water is shallow. Whenever I fall I try to fall flat, and not touch the bottom to stand up. If you are at a beach break, you might put your foot down on a stingray, if you are at a point or reef break, you might cut your foot on a rock. Just fall flat and swim to your board.
Most importantly...just pay attention and have fun out there!!