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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 61  |  July 30, 2021

Dennis’ Tidbits


July 20, 2021

The day I became the master of my universe

Dennis 5On this date, July 20, 1960, I rode my very first wave on a surfboard at Doheny Beach in Dana Point. That little two-foot wave changed my life forever. 

That feeling of stoke instantly imprinted itself on my being; happiness and fear, exhilaration, speed, and conquest all melded together into one rush of sensation. And the view, that overview of land, looking over and above it all, racing along on an invisible band of energy three inches above the water, separated by just a little sliver of glass fiber. 

For a brief moment, I was a master of my little universe. Surfing right then and there gripped me hard and fast and just never let go. Sixty-one years later, that stoke is still very much there every single time I paddle out. That stoke will stay with me until I drop! There’s no feeling like surfing and just being in the water with all that energy is a freedom like no other.

So why is an El Nino the surfer’s friend and La Nina the enemy? I use those two terms with a tongue-in-cheek attitude to refer to the generous helping of surf that Hawaii and the U.S. mainland West Coast receive during El Nino, while the opposite occurs during La Nina with longer and more frequent flat spells in both areas, as swell producing storms and their movement are greatly affected during both events. 

When it comes to winter swells during an El Nino, the North Pacific storm track is displaced significantly to the south, as much as a thousand miles during a mega El Nino, similar to that found in the winters of 1957-58, 1972-73, 1982-83, 1997-98, and 2009-10. Those years, Hawaii’s Waimea Bay on Oahu’s North Shore came to life in a very big way, with mammoth swells for weeks on end. 

Instead of wiggling and wobbling, the Pacific jet stream moves in a straight west to east line for thousands of miles from east of Asia all the way to the Pacific West Coast, creating a huge fetch that is much stronger than normal, as the lows are not only moving much further to the south, the cyclones are much stronger too. As a result, Waimea had waves as high as 35 ft on a very consistent basis during the epic winter of 1982-83 for several months. A few days later these same nonstop waves would reach the West Coast of the U.S., lighting up winter breaks on a weekly basis for several months. There was one stretch in January of 1983 when Rincon was double overhead every day for two straight weeks. 

Not only was the surf affected by El Nino that winter of 1982-83, but the weather was deeply impacted as well both in Hawaii and California. Honolulu on Oahu saw less than six inches of rain that whole season, while California enjoyed one of its wettest winters ever with Laguna collecting over 31 inches. 

The summer of 1983 was incredible weatherwise and surf-wise here in Southern California, with swell after swell from an endless procession of Mexican hurricanes that were much stronger than usual with lots of storms reaching Cat 3 or stronger status and water temps hovering in the mid-70s. More on the friend and the enemy on Friday. Lance Carson’s bold prediction in July of 1982 was right on the money and then some!



Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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