Surfing Manresa and Cowell’s

When I was last out at Pleasure Point, a seemingly nice local had talked to me about my board, my skill level, and had suggested a location that I hadn’t heard of (since it’s not on Surfline).  The beach he’d suggested is a shore break called Manresa State Beach, and he seemed to suggest it would give me a regular production of waves with less demand on my paddle out.  “You could easily do 20 waves in a session,” he said.  Manresa was at the top of my list of places to check out.

I got to Manresa this morning to find it mostly deserted.  Two surfers were packing up when I got there.  No lineup.  No crowd.  LOTS of waves, just as advertised.  This was going to be EPIC!

It certainly was epic.  It was an epic beatdown.  The beach is very steep beyond the water line.  The waves were coming in constant and fast and, thanks to the steep bottom, each wave was its own wall of water.  I am still learning the skills I need to paddle and to fight waves on the trip out, and practically every wave that hit me threw me from the board.  After only a few minutes (and maybe 30 yards from the shore), a wave hit me so hard that it dragged me under and held me there for a bit longer than my breath found comfortable.  I’m very grateful that I’ve got years of experience in rough water to keep me calm in situations like that.  I dragged myself to shore and rested and watched the water for a channel.  There wasn’t really one, and it was then that I noticed the rather shocking frequency and strength of the rip currents at this beach.  They were frequent, sudden, and obviously powerful.  Despite this, I headed out again, sure I just needed some time to regroup.  Another complete pounding ensued, and I again dragged myself to shore.  Again, I rested and looked for a clue where the channel might be.  I tried another spot, and yet another pummeling ensued.  On the way back to shore, I was actually caught in the turbulence behind the wave, sucked into the curl, and dragged on the bottom on my face.

That was enough, and I started to pack up to head back to the car.  A local stopped to tell me he’d been walking by and actually hung around to make sure I was okay because he’d watched me struggling.  I asked him if the surf was typical, and he said it was actually big for Manresa but that Manresa is an intense beach in general and always has strong currents.  He could not explain why anyone would send a beginner there.  Now, Pleasure Point is known for its localism, but I always figured that would be dickish elitism, especially since I may be a beginner but I’m incredibly polite, respect right of way, and in general stay safe, act humble, and listen.  Clearly, localism also comes in the “kindly advice that can kill you” format, too.

For the record, I was so battered that my ears were full of sand.

With no other major plans for the day, I bopped over to Santa Cruz to hang out for a while.  Surprise…Volcom was hosting a tournament, so I watched some top talent deliver mad science to the water.  There’s only so long you can stare at strangers surfing, though, so I decided to head down to the pier for some retail therapy.  After some purchases and some refreshment, I noticed that the falling tide at Cowell’s was starting to bring out some swells.  I’d been planning to go home, eat an indulgent dinner, and maybe go see the Sharks play, but that quickly gave way to the desire to suit up and try putting a more positive experience in the day.  Cowell’s is the go-to break for beginners, and I really wanted to actually try some surfing in my day, so I got out for the second time in the day.

The crowd is huge, but I really love the vibe and conditions at Cowell’s.  Everything is relaxed and recreational.  The swells are much easier, and thus the paddling is easier.  There aren’t any hard waves to face, so it’s more forgiving as you learn techniques for fighting surf.  On top of that, it’s pretty shallow throughout, so it’s easy to rest.  All of that is quite wonderful.  Unfortunately, there’s a downside, too.  My board, at 7’6″, is on the short side of beginner boards.  It’s got a pretty sharp rocker, and it’s not all that thick.  All of these things make it more work to paddle, and I lose the race against 8=10′ thick funboards and longboards.  Longboard riders barely have to even paddle to catch a wave.  I need to start sooner and work harder, especially at Cowell’s where the waves have very little energy in them.  At bigger breaks like Pleasure Point, I can use the higher amplitude of the waves to drop down, giving me the speed to ride.  At Cowell’s, even if I got on a wave, I’d lose it, which I’m guessing is a result of my board’s drag.

Ultimately, I love just being in the water, but I can recognize being in an in-between place.  I need to be a LOT stronger to paddle competitively with the more floaty boards, but if I had that level of strength and skill, I’d go to a different break.  At the same time, though, my board isn’t well-suited for effortless surfing.  So, I have to get better about taking my lumps or investigate a different board.  No rush.  I’ll likely rent something at Cowell’s next time, though, to see if it’s me or my gear.

Either way, it feels great being in the ocean again.

One thought on “Surfing Manresa and Cowell’s

  1. Manresa is a great place for a beginner when the waves are smaller (generally during the summer months). I took a bunch of first timers out there a couple months ago and they had a blast. It looks like you went out on the wrong swell :(.

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