The most time consuming part about surfing is undoubtedly the planning, forecasting and making excuses to those in your life so you can actually surf. I know this because I surf and I have a life I try and fit around my addiction (in that order).
To the ‘wave swept’ among you, this might seem like a given. What if I was to tell you there was a way you could more accurately predict the conditions for sliding down waves?
There is a man, I have mentioned in previous articles, who holds information within his cranium that will make gathering knowledge about the acquisition of waves a little easier. His name is Dr Tony Butt. He surfs big waves, is a huge advocate of eco consciousness, works with Patagonia, has a PHD in Ocean Science and occasionally imparts his knowledge to other humans via the medium of books and workshops.
As I may have mentioned, my wife bought me one of Tony’s books about 10 years ago as she thought (and rightly so) my ramblings about waves need to be at least based in fact. It turns out this would fire me off on a quest to know more and a thirst to understand.
Stage 1: Get Tony’s book. It’s called Surf Science and fits, conveniently, inside any wrapping paper making it good for Christmas and birthday presents. I have it and can ‘hand on my heart’ say it changed the way I read a forecast, check out new surf spots and look at a ‘line-up’.
Stage 2: Attend a workshop of Tony’s. I have just returned from an one day intensive workshop with Tony at Magic Quiver surf shop in Ericiera. Would I recommend it? Yes, in the same way I would recommend a 3 hour surf session in flawless waves and nobody else out.
Understanding the Ocean from a Surfer’s Perspective
This, my wave dependant friends, was the day I would understand more.
I will try to draw an analogy. Try to imagine that you needed to wear thick glassed spectacles but you are oblivious to the fact. You had never had your eyes tested and instead just take it for granted that the world is… fuzzy. You learn to cope without seeing the detail and the nuance and after a while it is just normal.
You meet a man called Tony who plonks some ‘knowledge-specs’ on you which let you see clearly for the first time. The world makes sense, the noises and colours relate and all the dots are joined in understanding. One thing causes another.
Interlude: I am a dude who has crossed the middle point in existence. I will not grow any taller or get better at surfing, instead I watch on as my mullet gathers a greyer hue daily. Keeping that in mind it would conceivable to imagine that I had not sat in a classroom type environment for a stretch. I was not a massive fan then or now.
When I saw that Tony Butt was to be gifting some of his knowledge to normal people via the medium of a workshop, the intellectual part of me (which is quite small) started to salivate. The icing on the cake was that the chosen knowledge emporium would be a mere 20 mins drive from the place I call home. I was in. Signed up.
Mario, the owner of the Magic Quiver Surf Shop and Lodge has a geeky craving not dis-similar to my own in the regard of collating and consuming knowledge about surfing. It just so happens that he was organising the time, place and audience members for Tony’s talk and I was on the list. Stoked doesn’t cover it.
The days and weeks ticked down, as they did my anticipation intensified. The promise of knowledge was there, was palpable. Soon I would know more. More than most and that knowledge would undoubtedly lead to… you guessed it. More and better waves for me.
The Course Itself
A full day of listening, note taking and asking questions, open discussions and discovering how the information was relevant to all of my fellow attendees. I do mean a full day.
There were around twenty of us, all searching for the same answers but to be used in very different ways. Various levels of surfers, journalists, statisticians, film makers and of course a random Australian. We all had different reasons for being there but right from the beginning there was a feeling of cohesion, excitement and a real thirst.
Tony (I feel I can drop the Dr now), small in stature and big in knowledge and personality, has a tremendous wealth of knowledge and is interested and engaging. The sort of person it is impossible to dislike.
I will not attempt to replicate exactly what we all learned on that glorious day only to say that, having already had a vague idea of what to expect due to consuming Tony’s aforementioned book, (on which the course is based) I still came away with my brain reeling.
Why not just get the book? Why should you attend the workshop?
In the perfect scenario; you would purchase the book, read it, digest it as much as you can and then attend a workshop with Tony. I can’t recommend this enough as only through open discussion within the group, quizzing Tony’s knowledge and finding out how it was relative to ME did I really understand. The fascinating thing is that we realized we still only have a basic understanding of how to interpret the ocean from a surfer’s perspective. It was the tip of the iceberg.
As you have a chance (during the workshop) to ask questions, I decided to ask one that had been bothering me for a while. And boy did it open a can of worms. The questions was this:
Why is the water temperature in Portugal colder (in the summer) than South West France despite being further south? Conversely, why in the winter, is the water temperature in Portugal warmer than the South West of France?
I can hear the virtual scorn from some of you. “It’s the gulf stream… duuuuuuhh.”
Well, it’s not. Well, mostly not. During the process of finding out the answer, we also stumbled across answers to other questions I had not asked. It is all to do with (among other things) something called ‘upwelling’.
I will keep this short.
Let’s start with trade winds. The trade wind in Portugal is called the ‘Nortada’. It comes from the north and is often unrelenting. As the north wind blows it takes the surface water with it creating a current of surface (warmer) water going from north to south. Due to the Coriolis force that bends the wind to the ‘left’ (in the northern hemisphere) the wind and current of warmer water with it veers to the west. This effectively leaves a kind of ‘water vacuum’, there needs to be water to replace the warm water and that comes from the depths (which are colder) thus creating colder water in Portugal. The Nortada, due to sea breezes and land temperatures, is more prevalent in the summer and answers the first question. Cold water in the summer.
Interlude: As a side effect of upwelling, the cold water from the depths brings with it many nutrients that keep the Portuguese coast abundant with different varieties of fish.
Converse the Bay of Biscay (south west coast of France) being surrounded by land on two sides has much lower movement of water and is more heavily influenced by the land temperature which is high in the summer and low in the winter. Seems simple now you know, right?
In summary and to get back to the point, the knowledge we gained of waves, how they are formed, behave across the open ocean and, particularity, when they arrive at our shores dispersing their energy via different gradients of the ocean floor, I found invaluable. I look at the forecast and conditions in a different, clearer way now and have a fantastic desire to learn more.
I can’t recommend this enough as a way of ultimately getting more decent waves as a surfer. Thanks to Tony for his knowledge and time also to Mario from Magic Quiver in Ericeira for organising the event.
A word of warning. I have found that since I gained this extra info, I am now the boring one at dinner parties, BBQ’s and social events. People nod as I spout this stuff and then move on quickly, my wife shoots me a look as if to say, not that again! It just goes to show you knowledge can be dangerous.