Guest Column


Malibu madness

All is quiet on the southwest-facing front. Looking at the Surfline Web cam, there are two people scratching around at First Point on a Monday while the rest of the world has gone back to normal. The surf line at Malibu is finally taking a breather after three weeks of an almost nonstop south swell. Realtors are getting back to reality, firemen are back on their regular shifts, workers are back in their cubicles with one of their screens tuned to the surfcams, and a whole lot of Valley cowboys are back in the Valley, all of them with tired arms, stronger backs and sunburned faces from a suspiciously long stretch of spring Southern Hemisphere action.

The surf came from deep in the Antarctic, crossed thousands of miles of open ocean and showed up in Malibu, ranging from small and perfectly shaped over that winter sandbar, to double overhead and about as good as Malibu gets. Tuesday and Wednesday of last week were the “Big Workdays;” the swell showing up as predicted with the incoming tide on Tuesday and filling the point with lines from Old Joe’s to the pier.

The surf was nuts, but the crowd was nuttier.

There was a time when the first day of a big swell came from out of nowhere and was enjoyed by local surfers before the squares saw it on the news. These days, someone can sell their house, divorce their spouse, quit their job and learn the rudiments of surfing in the time between a big swell is hyped up and when it arrives.

In this modern world, surf forecasters can extrapolate the size and direction and timing of a swell just after a leopard seal burps in the Antarctic. Surfline, Wetsand, Wave Watch and about a half dozen other surf forecasting companies now compete to do the headwork that used to be the responsibility of the lone surfer. With their satellite inputs, computer models and ship reports, and many years of experience, online kahunas can give two week’s notice of an incoming swell to millions of surfers in the Southern California Basin. Or, surfers can get a real-time overview of the surfline at Malibu from multiple cameras and spend a long day at work fiending over the surf, leave early, drive like a madman along PCH and get even crazier in the water as they join another hundred off-work fienders.

There was an aggro mix of beginners and fienders at Malibu on the biggest days, which created trouble with a capital T right here in Surf City, and that rhymes with C and that stands for crowds.

There is something about a pumping south swell that drives surfers a little crazy, and Malibu was more than a little crazy on “Big Weekday.” Every set wave had at least a dozen suitors, surfers of every age and ability, were dive-bombing each other-completely ignoring all the long established etiquettes of surfing -just to get a little piece of that Antarctic action.

On a day like last week, people will do things to each other in the water that would get them arrested on land for reckless endangerment, assault, etc. Most of this behavior goes unpunished. There are harsh words but very few fights at Malibu, because no one wants to risk their surf time to go to court for assault. But there was at least one instance of bad behavior that was met with vigilante retribution.

A young surfer took off outside, came into the bay and was confronted by septugenarian Malibu local “Mysto” George Carr taking off on the inside. Everyone drops in on everyone at Malibu and this was age having a go at youth, but the kid made the mistake of grabbing the rail of Mysto’s board and causing him to fall.

If you did that on dry land-pushed a 70-plus-year-old man to the ground-you would go to jail. Apparently, this was more of a defensive gesture than offensive-Mysto shouldn’t have been there-but more than a few longtime Malibu surfers took offense, and they met the kid at the water’s edge and punched the fins out of his surfboard.

The kid later apologized to Mysto George and everyone felt bad, but it’s amazing that dozens of pairs of fins aren’t punched out every day.

Amid all the carnage, there was some great surfing by longtime locals and visitors.

A Hawaiian surfer named Kalani Robb shot the pier on Wednesday, always a sketchy proposition but even more so with his back to the wave. That was one of many great rides where a good surfer managed to break out of the pack.

Gene Rink took a day off from Los Angeles County Fire Station 71; he drives those big red engine trucks.

“People ask me which is more dangerous, weaving through traffic on PCH or weaving through the crowd at Malibu, and I have to say that Wednesday was more dangerous,” Rink said. “My nerves were so frazzled the next day I flew with my cousin in a small plane down to Baja. The waves were smaller, but there were only three of us.”

Allen Sarlo was in Mexico too, having chased the swell with Dave Ogle and his family to a Malibu-like point in central Baja that he described as “fantasyland.” One of the main surf forecasters was at that same point during the swell. He is way too smart to surf Malibu on a big swell.

Malibu gets big south swells in the spring because the Antarctic icepack is reduced at the end of the antipodean summer. The ice pack exposes as much as a thousand miles of open ocean, which gives those powerful storms more water area to blow over, and that extra fetch is why Malibu gets big swells like this every spring.

If the global warming deniers are wrong and the Antarctic icepack is as permanently reduced as Al Gore and the scientists predict, then the Southern Ocean could become a non stop wave machine, sending out giant swell after giant swell to cross thousands of miles of open ocean and bring joy, mixed with frustration, to the surfers of Malibu, and thousands of outsiders in the greater L.A. basin.

Now if global warming would only flood those surf cameras.