Stranded By The Tide
Words by Jeff Mollencop. Photos by Jarett Juarez
Leading up to our scheduled day at Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch, we noticed the following weeks surf report was looking great for the Central California Coast. We made plans to leave the Ranch and head straight over and spend a few days riding the famous point breaks along this stretch of ocean. The reports were calling for good winds and solid swell. The boys agreed that it was worth taking a few extra days off work to make this happen. We couldn’t have been more stoked to get a shot at the man-made perfection of the Wave Ranch followed by some classic California point breaks. With such a good-looking forecast, we were guaranteed to get waves, right?
The day before we were scheduled to be at the Ranch, we loaded up the truck and began the long drive to Lemoore, CA. Read all about what happened during our time at the Kelly Slater Wave Ranch in our blog post here. Needless to say, we had a blast and were blown away by the wave and overall quality of the experience. We got a good night’s rest that evening and woke up early to make the 3 hour drive over to the coast. The forecast was holding steady with favorable winds and a solid swell of 5 feet at 17 seconds. We couldn’t get there soon enough!
We pulled into town and it didn’t take long to realize that we had missed one crucial detail of the “perfect” forecast. Every single surf break in this area likes low tide, and we couldn’t have timed this any worse. High tide was not only in the middle of the day but was several feet above normal heights. By first light in the morning, there was already too much water on the reefs to make them break properly. Likewise, by the time the water had pulled out in the evening, the sun was setting, and we had a very short window before it was dark. We were so excited to see that the unpredictable factors of the forecast had lined up, we forgot to check the only predictable one. Rookie mistake….
We spent all day driving around searching for some place that would hold this much swell and work at high tide. No matter where we checked, it was the same unfavorable story. It wasn’t until late in the day that we were able to find something worth paddling out for. One day, we passed the time waiting for the tide by exploring an old abandoned Mill just outside of town. Entering its old tunnel system by sneaking past a broken gate and exploring the dark corridor by the light from our cell phones. Who knows what craziness has gone down in these graffiti covered walls over the years? Other days were spent hiking into potential surf spots and sightseeing along this stunning stretch of coast. Mostly however, we were left counting the hours till the tide was back in our favor.
Our moral had gotten pretty sour by the last day of the trip. We had surfed several times, but nothing came close to reaching the potential had low tide been during the day. Knowing we were so close to scoring great waves but instead surfing mediocre mush was a little disappointing. We decided to give the evening session one more shot and set out to see what we could find. As expected, nothing was looking great until the final 2 hours of daylight. As we were driving between two well-known breaks, we spotted a wave breaking in an unexpected area. We quickly pulled over and jumped out of the car to see if this was a surfable wave. To our surprise, it was not only rideable, but one that raced for several hundred yards. It had a couple different hollow sections and if it hit the reef just right, would link up to the more well-known break around the corner. It was by far the best wave we had seen during our trip and was arguably better and longer than the Surf Ranch.
The tide had pulled out and swell direction changed just enough to bring this rather fickle wave to life. Talking with some of the locals, we found out the wave hadn’t broken like this in more than 3 years. They also said it was the best waves they’ve seen so far this winter. For the last few moments of the day and our trip, all the conditions lined up perfectly. Several unbelievable rides went down that evening, with hoots and hollers echoing along the cliff. It was a magical evening that no wave pool could ever replicate. Surfing is still unpredictable, as good as forecasting conditions has become, you still aren’t guaranteed anything. If we had picked up on the unfavorable tide schedule before we left and had canceled our trip, we would never have scored this wave. It’s a wave that might not break like this again for years, and we would certainly never be able to time a trip for it. It was a once in a lifetime score, and even though it was for only a couple hours, it was more than worth all the effort. In the end, that’s the magic of the ocean that can never be replaced!