THE KIDDIE POOL?
If you took a poll of long time San Diego surfers asking for their opinion of the most dangerous breaks in the county, your top ten would certainly include places like Blacks, Big Rock, and Tijuana Sloughs. Placing about 643rd on the list would be Tourmaline Surfing Park. Even the name sounds innocuous… it's a city park fercrhissakes! A "surfing park". The kiddie pool of San Diego surf spots. Its very name conjures images of merry-go-rounds and flying kites and family outings and whatnot.
A quick StartPage search for "tourmaline surfing park accidental death statistics" brought up only two recent stories of any consequence: one a well publicized 2013 incident that was deemed a likely suicide (followed by a post-mortem shark attack), the other a tale of a gnarly leg injury sustained by a surfer who readily admits that they probably stayed out much too long after sundown.
Still, compared to Hawaii's famous Banzai Pipeline, or even many local spots along nearby Sunset Cliffs, "Tourmo" is a walk in the park… usually.
This is my story of one such day at The Park.
MASH THE GAS
I got up and out the door a little earlier than usual today to get down to the beach before it got blown out. There have been some fairly meaty south swells running, but the past few days have been pretty beat up by the wind. With warmer weather on its way, I am hopeful that the winds will start to shift and there will be some cleaner faces to work with for a change.
Arriving at Tourmo around 7:30, I am greeted by consistent 4'-6' sets with a little bit better shape than the past few days. It's still pretty lined up and section-y, but at least there are some shoulders to be found. Old Man's is a bit more consistent, but the best rides are at the Pumphouse - as long as you're choosy. There are some really mind bending sections, including opportunities for quick drops into fast, reeling lefts and rights that may or may not work out as planned. Best of luck to you, buddy.
On goes the full suit and the brace I've been wearing since trashing my right knee chasing down Billy "Lightning" Snyder on a Pumphouse left a few weeks back. I wax up the longboard, lock the leash and valuables in the trunk of the car, and hit the water. The conditions aren't great, but I quickly pick off a few insiders with moderate success - meaning I make a clean drop, get in trim, try not to get my feet tangled up too much, and get out cleanly before something breaks.
Or the wave.
Or my board.
After three or four of these little adventures, one of those "oh shit, get your ass outside!" moments soon arrives. You know the kind… when you suddenly realize what it is you're really dealing with today… OK, no problem, let's hit it!
Scratching full speed for the horizon, I make it over the first wave and come face to face with the next one, which is a good 30-40% larger. It's already breaking to both sides of me, but there is one unbroken trough straight ahead that I am sure I can get up and over with just a punch through the lip. I have a way of duck diving my longboard by rolling off the side of the board, putting it vertical on one rail while keeping a tight grip on both rails, and then knifing the nose of the board through the lip of the wave. I find that I can often pull off this maneuver safely and more quickly than a complete 180° "turtle", and I've used it so often that it's now second nature.
Rick Kane's I & II are both gunning for the same trough I am shooting for - only from above - and both have looks that say "THIS IS MY MOMENT TO SHINE!"
With the punch through the lip maneuver hard wired and all set to go, my consciousness is now quickly consumed with the drama unfolding right above me. I have this weird sensation that suddenly shit is not in my control, not at this moment, and that I had better get braced for whatever is about to go down.
It is clear at the point of impact with this wall of water that I am going to safely take its full force and make it safely out the other side. I've been creamed by much bigger and more powerful waves than this one at other spots and made it out unscathed.
The problem is, RK I and RK II have both decided to stare down death and go for it, and my head is directly in their path - which is the only path possible, straight to the chaotic bottomless pit that we three are suddenly entangled in, and all in a brief flash that seems to go on for eternity. It is surreal how such situations have the ability to warp one's perception of time.
I suddenly become fully aware of the scope of this predicament with a stunningly powerful blow to the left side of my head by a very hard object that comes from nowhere and seems to be made of granite, but is in reality RK I's board. It hits me with such force that I am sure it must have snapped my head clean off, or at least crushed all of my neck bones into a fine powder and made a tangled mess of the underlying wiring.
The right side of my head promptly responds to this blow with such force that my eardrum ruptures. (After the fact, my first thought was that it was the impact with the water that did this damage, but later on as things progressed (regressed?) my right ear started to feel like it had been smacked with a roofing hammer, and I now believe that my ear actually got violently slammed against my right shoulder.)
But for now, there is no time to process this, only to react.
RULE #1 FOR SURVIVAL:
No matter what, hold on to your board.
Through family connections I have become quite familiar with the works of a Hungarian born Parisian artist named François Fiedler. And as I look up through the foam with my hands holding tightly to the rails of my board (that is oh so close to being ripped from my clawing fingers), this is what I see:
Oh well, if I'm going to die, at least I'll go out with a nice piece of art to look at.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE!
I still have about 10% of my faculties as I finally float to the surface. Clawing my way back onto the deck of my board, I feel hampered by something other than the after effects of the impact I've just taken on the head.
Dude's leash is tied in a knot around my neck. Real tight.
He's at one end of it, his board is at the other, and it's trying to pinch my head clean off. I don't even know how I find the wherewithal to get that thing off my neck. And even days later as I type this, it still hurts to swallow.
With that accomplished and the ability to finally breathe again, the world is now spinning violently around me. The ocean seems to be one giant washing machine. PB Point goes spinning past Skeeter Malcolm's bench like Toto in a tornado.
Instinct is that little voice that takes over when you can't think for yourself, and right now that voice is telling me that I need to start paddling to deeper water NOW. It's funny how that little dude is so often right.
You know how they depict it in the movies when someone has swallowed a handful of barbiturates? That's how shit looks at the moment. And then as the pills kick in you find yourself at the county fair, and you're not sure how you got there, and you're going straight from the Zipper to the Cyclone and finally to the House Of Mirrors. Near total loss of balance, equilibrium, and judgement.
RK I asks me if I'm all right. I look back at him like he's a three headed from Jupiter.
A random guy goes knee paddling past me and I start yelling "Hey! Hey! Hey!" over and over for no particular reason. I think he hears me, but I can't be sure. Anyhow he just keeps going. Perhaps he thinks it's best to lead by example because there is more to deal with coming on the horizon.
By now I have put together enough brain cells to get my muscles moving in a coordinated effort to paddle in a somewhat straight line. Once that feat is accomplished, let's now move on to pace. Can we pick it up a little without going in circles? Wow, shit is still spinning hard… Is my neck broken?
Deciding that's not the case, I find that I may have just enough functioning brain cells to put together a package deal: paddle with both arms, in a straight line, with pace, toward the horizon, and all the while angling northward to less hazardous waters.
Wow, this whole thinking thing is starting to come back to me now! Today is Marsday, right? How many hands on my right finger?
Looking around at the handful of others who weren't washed ashore by the cleanup set, I expect to see looks of astonishment on their faces. Surely I must look like one of those figures in the funhouse mirror! I'm sure my eyes have become giant spinning pinwheels, like Wile E. Coyote after another run-in with that dreaded rabbit. The lack of any such reaction is oddly reassuring.
Now safely out in deeper water, a couple more sets roll through and I'm still alive. It's starting to occur to me that I may actually make it out of this alive, and without any assistance from anyone. "Just stay outside for a while and gather your senses" says the voice. Slowly I come to realize that riding one in on my belly and wading in to shore could actually be doable after all. I just have to pick my spot and go for it.
When all was said and done, the ride in was fairly uneventful. I actually caught another macker like the one that nearly did me in, only I stayed prone, sliding so far back on the board that the churning mass of white water briefly enveloped me as it launched me safely toward the rock strewn shore.
Stepping carefully off the board and slowly navigating my way through the small, slick boulders, shuffling my feet to avoid stingrays, I look around at the people standing safely on shore, and I wonder if they have any idea what I just went through. I must look pretty ragged and wobbly, and I realize how close I just came to losing it all. Had I not been able to hold on to my board, things would have been tenfold as hairy.
Shaking water out of my ear and cobwebs out of my brain, I tell this little story to some of my friends on shore. The consensus seems to be that Tourmo is getting more dangerous all the time. I hope you will share this little tale with others; perhaps it will help bring some small measure of sanity to our favorite Surfing Park.
Lesson #1: I could have turtled. But if I had, I would have put my big single fin right in the path of RK's I & II. Sometimes there's just not enough time to think things through.
Lesson #2: The larger lesson as I see it is that Tourmaline is NOT the perfect "beginner break" that it is made out to be. Sure, most of the waves in the cove north of the culvert and south of the point are more gentle than most, but most beginners don't venture out that far anyhow. And they don't like dealing with the rocks in the cove either.
The problem is that the further south you look, toward the Pumphouse and beyond, the waves break closer to shore and there are fewer rocks. And too many beginners find this attractive.
BEGINNERS, LISTEN UP!
Just because you see more waves and fewer rocks as you look south, does not mean that is where you should try to learn to surf. Pay a little attention and you will also notice that there are often some very skilled surfers riding these faster waves, taking them all the way inside and angling hard left or right. Don't just paddle out and sit right in their path.
Better yet, if you really want to learn to surf, go exploring with your friends for a less crowded stretch of beach anywhere along San Diego county's lengthy coastline, and learn the ways of the ocean. Go for a swim. Get used to the ocean's rhythms. Try some body surfing or Boogie Boarding. Paddle a board out and see if you can stand up. Try to figure out when to go left and when to go right. And most importantly, when not to go at all.
Or take a lesson.
Or better yet all of the above.
But please, don't come to Tourmo and think you're going to learn to surf just like that because it's a "beginner break". Sorry, it just doesn't work that way.
Please leave your comments below.
Aloha and mahalo,