General blog posts

Blog article: The Four Do’s and Don’ts of Taking Your Boat to Mavericks (Part II)

Mavericks is hectic and scary for both surfers and people who operate a boat out there. I learned a few things about the boating part some years back and have shared these with you all. In part I we talk about how to avoid shallow water (aka likely destruction) and why the fog is not your friend at Mavericks. Now here’s part II.

Blog article: The Four Do’s and Don’ts of Taking Your Boat to Mavericks (Part I)

The Four Do’s and Don’ts of Taking Your Boat to Mavericks (Part I)

Mavericks needs no introduction. It’s a big, scary wave that requires full attention and respect from both the people who surf it and those who take boats out to it. Thanks to my friend Zach Wormhoudt I had the amazing opportunity of taking my old boat, Maria May a 21 ft Parker wheelhouse, out to Mavericks for a few occasions. First in 2011 for a zero-visibility surf strike, second in 2012 as support boat for filming of the Chasing Mavericks movie, and third in 2013 for the Mavericks Surf Contest as board caddy for a few legends. 

How many days total have I been out at Mavericks on my boat? Four. Does that qualify me to give advice to other would-be boaters at this scary surf break? I’ll let you debate that answer after you read the rest of this article. If nothing else, four days of boating at Mavericks is very much trial by fire and more than enough for me to learn a few very key do’s and don’ts. Three sets of key do’s and don’ts in fact 🙂 

Do #1: Go around the buoy

Pull up a map showing the Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay and you’ll see that it’s a straight shot from the harbor mouth out to Mavericks. Looks like a no-brainer to run straight out from the harbor, right? Now pull up a map with bathymetry (ocean depth) and you’ll see a different story. It’s shallow. Very shallow. A reef, rightfully named Blackhand Reef, extends from the harbor entrance out toward the surf break. Guess what washes over this shallow reef when the swell is pumping 18 feet at 15 seconds? Very big waves with very big whitewash. On their way out to the 2011 Mavericks contest a couple of friends on a Boston Whaler just barely turned around in front of a detonating 10-footer on Blackhand Reef escaping catastrophe. 

So you do not cut across the reef unless you are on a ski and can easily run to the shoulder to avoid serious harm. The alternative is to head south down coast for ~1 mile to the can buoy. This marks the safe channel and your best friend; deep water. Big waves struggle to break or reform in deep water so it’s your safety zone. Once you round the buoy you take a diagonal path out to Mavericks 1 mile+ out, staying in deep water and watching the chaotic scene unfold on Blackhand Reef from afar. Deep is safe (remember that). 

Don’t do #1: Don’t go in the fog

This lesson is best told in a story that would take way too long to tell properly in this blog article (I’m hoping to actually do a podcast on it one day). The cliff notes go something like this: Myself and 5 friends (including Zach) took my boat out to Mavericks one early morning where the swell was 12 ft at 14 seconds with fog so thick we had to navigate through the Pillar Point Harbor by GPS (basically zero visibility). We somehow found the wave (heard it before seeing it), rode a few waves while my buddy hovered the boat like a ghost somewhere in the channel, got all of 4 of us back on the boat, and made it back into the harbor safely. All with <25 feet of visibility in the fog and before a big clean-up set blew out the other few surfers, scattering them onto the rocks (which we heard about later in the parking lot). 

So needless to say, don’t do this. Don’t take a boat out to Mavericks in the thick fog. Pretty simple. Looking back, we were a bit younger and definitely more stupid than today but more than anything, extremely lucky. Mavericks is sketchy enough surfing or boating on a calm, clear day let alone with almost zero visibility.  

Do #2: Watch your depth sounder, not your surroundings

Deep is safe. Remember that? This is exactly the case while hovering your boat on the shoulder of the wave while your crew is surfing or the photographer on board is doing their business. You can pilot your boat while shifting your focus between the horizon and landmarks, like the famous radar dish, to stay in a seemingly safe zone but just a couple minutes of distraction can be costly. A change in wind speed or direction can quickly put you in the last place on earth you want to be with your boat — in the bowl. No boat that I know of is meant to take a draining 15-footer on the bow. So while you think you’re safe one minute, the next you may look up to see that your a touch inside with a set swinging wide causing a very sick feeling in your stomach (pray your motor doesn’t hesitate). 

So while lineups and watching the horizon are key, what’s most important at Mavericks is depth. Mavericks breaks so suddenly and violently because the water is really deep then suddenly jacks up onto a plateau-like reef taking all that deep-water swell and unleashing Niagara Falls. The safe zone for your boat is 50-60 feet of water (just outside of the reef) with the danger zone being anything under 40 IMHO. If you remember the scene in Chasing Mavericks when the boat almost rolled over from a big set wave (main picture above), I was there about 20 yards outside of that guy and was just able to get around the shoulder of that wave, still in about 45 feet of water. 

Chew on this for now and we’ll look at the rest of the do’s and don’ts in Part 2.

This Ocean Life Podcast Mavericks in the fog
All here, but not all there 🙂

Blog article: Legends Never Die

Legends Never Die: They Live On Within Us

By Mike McDaniel – July 18, 2020

The passing of Big Dave King on July 3rd 2020 came as a gut punch to the surf and waterman community of Santa Cruz. Dave embodied everything good about the surf and paddling lifestyle, and had a big smile for everyone he met. Full of pure Hawaiian aloha, he was more than loved—he was beloved—by an entire town. And at six foot nine (or ten?) he was looked up to—literally and figuratively—by everyone. He was the guy we all hoped we could be, someday; a grounded, genuine, surf-stoked grom. In his middle sixties.

This Ocean Life Blog Dave King

He was the guy we all hoped we could be, someday; a grounded, genuine, surf-stoked grom. In his middle sixties.

Dave had a stroke back in March of 2019, and although his road to recovery was going to be long and bumpy, nobody doubted that Dave would endure that journey, and emerge victorious. But sometimes, fate has other plans. Big Dave passed at home on July 3rd, surrounded by his loved ones.

Only a few days later, I heard of the passing of another surfer/friend, Chuy Venegas. The name might tip you off; Chuy was a friend from Mexico. He lived his entire life in a small surf/fishing village in the Mexican state of Nayarit, that I happened to inhabit for eleven years. In those years, my relationship with Chuy evolved from fear to tolerance, to some sort of compatibility and eventually, to friendship. It was another long bumpy road, punctuated with tense exchanges and middle fingers. But as is often the case, harsh words and puffed up chests sometimes hide soft hearts.

I purchased my first prone paddleboard from Big Dave almost twenty years ago. We were introduced by our mutual friend Zach Wormhoudt. At the annual Pier 2 Pier race in Santa Cruz Zach called Dave over and said “Mike is looking for a used paddleboard, do you have one for sale?” Dave said he had two boards for sale, and asked if I wanted to follow him over to his house to check them out. Thirty minutes later we were in his back yard, checking out his quiver, five beautiful boards racked neatly. I knew very little about prone boards at that point. Dave gave me a quick education, and suggested I try out a couple of them. That was easy because he lived two houses away from the beach. Dave was a realtor, and said “I have to go show a house, but I’ll be back in about an hour and a half. Just help yourself to my boards, even the ones not for sale. Figure out if you like it, first. Then we’ll talk when I get back.” I went paddling alone.

We made a deal when he got back, and I had my first prone board, an 18 foot Richmond that looked like a giant ocean-piercing spear. I had almost enough cash on me… I was a hundred dollars short of the thousand that he hoped for. I offered to run to the ATM, but he said “Nine hundred is fine, it’s a deal.” I considered him a friend from that day forward, the day I met him. And I looked forward to all the Santa Cruz paddleboard races and events, at least partially because I knew Dave would be there. Dave was impossible not to like.

It was definitely possible to not like Chuy. But even though he was the grouchy enforcer in a surf town known for producing talent, and often had harsh words for tourists and expat gringoes living in ‘his town’, or anybody that rubbed him the wrong way, I wanted to like him. That took effort. He was fluent in multiple languages including English, profane in all of them, and his edges were perpetually rough. At times, he seemed like a grenade, ready to explode and take out the whole beach.

I came in from a surf one afternoon, where I caught a bunch of waves. I was stoked on my session. I made some critical (for me) drops, made some nice turns, and kicked out cleanly on most of my waves. I was pleased with myself. As I crossed the sand, Chuy—who had been watching from the beach—blocked my path and he looked irritated. He said “Hey pinche gringo, if you’re going to keep doing that shitty pop-up, go surf another break. It’s ugly.” Now, I knew my pop-up was less than textbook; I had struggled with it for years. But the fact that I could still make a drop and hit a bottom turn, occasionally make a clean, open-face cutback, and find speed on a mushy wave made me feel better about my surfing overall. But Chuy zeroed in on my weakness, and scolded me.

But he also wanted to help me. He and I are built the same; short and barrel chested. And mutual fondness for beer made us both kind of doughy. I tried to blame my clunky take off on my physical limitations, but that was a flawed strategy with Chuy. Despite his stockiness and rock-star-party-all-night lifestyle, he could ride a longboard in heavy surf and make it look natural, even beautiful. His pop-up was flawless. And he could throw an old-school headstand on an open face at will. He gave me some suggestions on getting my knees up under my body more quickly and efficiently. A guy who had never EVER been to a yoga class in his life, or even considered it, suggested I might try it, to improve my flexibility. And then he slapped me a ‘chocala’—the Mexican equivalent of a high five—and said “you owe me a beer” and walked off. That was the day I realized we were some version of friends. All my experiences with Chuy after that were much more pleasant, and some of them included post-surf beers.

Despite his stockiness and rock-star-party-all-night lifestyle, he could ride a longboard in heavy surf and make it look natural, even beautiful.

I’ve been thinking about Dave and Chuy a lot the past couple of weeks. Despite the very obvious differences in the types of people they were—polar opposites, really—the feelings of sadness and desire to see them both again, even just one more time, are strong and equal. I’m going to miss Chuy as much as I’m going to miss Big Dave. I know the the next time I visit Sayulita (usually about once a year) it’s not going to feel the same without Chuy there on the beach, drinking a ‘ballena’ and sneering at kooks. And when I drive up to Santa Cruz on August 8th for Dave’s paddle out celebration, it’s definitely not going to feel the same. But I hope to feel Dave’s loving presence when I get in the water there. They both offered their versions of friendship to me, and those are gifts. They both had an impact on how I ride waves, how I treat others, and how I see and interact within our waterman community. Despite their distinctly opposite personalities, they both had positive impacts.

For all of that, I am grateful. Chuy and Dave… rest in love and peace, brothers. Maybe they will meet up on the other side? I assume there’s a nice wide, sandy beach there, with clean water and peeling waves, and whales breaching on the horizon… and a cold cerveza when you come in from the surf. Under those idyllic circumstances, they could even become friends.

About Mike McDaniel

Mike McDaniel is a surfer, prone and SUP board paddler, creative genius, and all around rad guy. He runs Mile 22 and is the mastermind behind Monster Straps as well as a collector of snowboards and Jay Race t-shirts. Find him on Instagram @miletwentytwo or Facebook.

Blog article: Coming Full Circle with Surf Cams

Coming Full Circle with Surf Cams

July 9, 2020

When Surfline first introduced surf cameras on their website I was not into it. Not at all. What were they thinking? Making surf checks possible from the comfort of the couch would pull more people to the ocean and clog the best waves on the best days. Not only in my town of Santa Cruz where it seemed like almost every day more, new surfers were in the lineup, but across the world. 

I even boycotted Surfline and went elsewhere for my wave forecasts. I think it was Wet Sand and then Magic Seaweed. I’ll show Surfline they can’t ruin my local breaks without losing my very valuable eyes on their sponsor advertisements. Yeah, right.

But then one day, there I was at work. Stuck. By checking the buoys, tides, and winds I could imagine what The Lane looked like and could theorize if my most favorite barrel spot, Natural Bridges (NBs), was actually working. But I really couldn’t know because I couldn’t see the surf. And with a couple hours of daylight available when I left work I had to make the right call — go straight to The Lane (save time, more waves) or swing by NBs for a check and then fall back to The Lane if needed (possible barrels, risk fewer waves).

These first world surfing problems can really wear you down 🙂

So you can guess what I did. I caved. I checked the Surfline camera. I gave in to the new world order where any armchair surfer could make a very well informed decision to ‘go’ based on real-time visuals of swell, tide, wind, and crowd. I saw The Lane camera and it looked good. NB’s had/has no camera (fortunately) but The Lane was pumping enough that I knew I could score NBs — and I did. I made the call to go straight there. It’s amazing how a clean barrel or two mid-week makes the work and family life treadmill incredibly more easy to run on. 

And I had Surfline to thank for that.

So I bought in. But not entirely — not yet. I wasn’t willing to give Surfline my hard earned dollars just to get uninterrupted video streams. I would still show them how well I could decide when and where to surf with just a few seconds of their camera streams. Yeah, right.

Sometimes the first world struggle is real, especially when you are too cheap to pay for the premium, uninterrupted video stream forcing your tired hand to click refresh on your browser every 30 seconds. Especially on those long-period south swell days when there are zero waves for 3-4 minutes at a time and you haven’t yet seen a real set go through on the camera. Am I really supposed to refresh like 6-8 times waiting for the next set? 

I guess Surfline doesn’t care about carpal tunnel syndrome of their freemium users. But there I went again. I caved. I signed up for premium membership, devoting $12.99 each month so Surfline would let me view uninterrupted video streams of their surf cameras.

With no refreshing required, I found myself entering a whole new realm of remote (lazy?) surf checking. With the refresh method, I would tire out and close the Surfline browser tab after a few minutes. Who can keep refreshing for that long? But now with no interruptions I was able to keep that browser tab open, even minimized in the corner of my screen, so I could causally glance over any time to see how the crowd was growing, where the swell angle was now hitting the reef, or if the wind bump was tossing it up yet.

It was incredible. Not only could I see my best home breaks, I could watch glassy Pipe go bananas or perfect Snapper Rocks peel off. I could watch waves anywhere in the world. This was so rad. I was in love.

Then the honeymoon phase faded. At home I found myself staring at the video stream more and more while riding my bike down to actually check my local surf less and less. I was becoming super picky about making the decision to surf then ever before based on my remote viewing. This translated into fewer surf sessions for me, and that wasn’t cool. There is something to be said for throwing your board in the car and driving down to the beach for a hands-on surf check — it’s a scientific fact that you are way more likely to actually surf when you’re standing on the beach then sitting on your couch watching camera video 🙂

I found myself becoming way too reliant on the camera (more lazy?) and started to kind of despise it. But that wasn’t fair. I was abusing this great tool and using it in a way that wasn’t healthy for me so I had to adjust and learn to live in harmony with the camera, not in strife (first world problems strike again). So I’ve met myself in the middle on this and now use the camera for a quick check AFTER I look at the buoy readings, tide, and nearshore wind. Once I paint that picture of surf in my head I fire up the camera and almost groundtruth my perception of the waves with a visual look and add in the fourth, very important, crowd factor to my go/no-go decision.

This model helps me stay sharp on the key elements of the ocean that dictate so much of our activity there — swell, tide, wind — while the camera validates my thinking (or not) and let’s me make incremental checks while I wait for some change in the conditions before running out. It’s a nice balance.

And I surf more (again).

So nowadays I default to jumping on the bike or loading up the car to make my surf checks. While the camera shows quite a bit, so many times actually smelling the water, feeling the wind, or seeing the distribution of the crowd first-hand provides a much stronger feel for what the waves have to offer me. I surf more and have fewer surprises when I hit the water than I do from my less frequent camera-only checks. 

In coming full circle, I really like surf cameras again. I use them when appropriate for my local breaks and let them make me feel somewhat connected to exotic waves that I may never get to surf. And like any other ‘habit’, things in moderation seem to work out best 🙂

Blog post on surf cameras
The surf cams can’t give you this view…

Blog article: Simplicity of the handline

Simplicity of the handline

We all have our fetishes for certain ocean equipment. Some are obsessed with their surfboard, others fixate on spear guns or flip-flops, while some feel that a pair of good swim fins are all they need in life. I’m pretty sure I’ve obsessed on all of the above at some point in my past but today my ocean gear of obsessive choice is the handline — fishing line with lure wrapped around some cylindrical device that you hand-over-hand fish with.

The hand-line has been around for a long, long time so by no means do I claim any aspect of its origination. The Polynesians were using bone hook and a plant-fiber line to hand-line back around 300 AD. Tons of other ocean-going civilizations used the hand line to catch their fish all the way up to the commercial cod fishery around Georges Bank of the 1880’s and beyond. The handline has been getting it done for men and women for a 1,700+ years now and there’s no end in sight. Cruisers let out meat lines while they make their sailing passages, subsistence fishing persists today from dugout canoes with the handline, and recreational tuna fisherman will add handlines to their rod / reel troll set-ups.

When you look at fishing in general, technology has changed much of the way we do it today. From electronic depth sounders, satellite imagery of sea surface temperature to composite materials and electric reels, the sport and life of fishing has changed. But not the handline. Not much anyway. 
At its core, the handline is a roll of fishing line with a hook tied at the end. That’s it.

The material used in the handline has changed — I use tuna cord instead of woven plant fiber — but the simple concept of the hand line has not been touched. And that’s what I love most about it — the simplicity.

To use the handline, just unwind your line into the ocean. Jig your bait or lure up and down. Get bit. Then slowly and gently pull up your catch. Repeat. Anybody can use the handline effectively and I’ve seen my kids catch fish with it when use of ‘advanced technology’ rod and reel set-ups were too difficult for their young hands (and minimal patience).

While usage is simple, so is the set-up and maintenance. My current handline is about 80 feet of tuna cord (200lb strength) with 8 feet of 50 lb mono leader attached to a 32 oz water bottle. The bottle is multipurpose as reel, float, and carry case for fishing license, granola bar, and extra lures.

That’s it. Simple.

I use my handline exclusively from my soft top surfboard and compliment it with a small gaff, knife, stringer, and bungee cord. Add in a pair of mesh gardening gloves to protect against fish spines, teeth, and gill rakers and you’ve got yourself a highly mobile and effective fish catching set-up.

What you tie to the end of your handline is of personal preference. I always work with heavy jigs that go straight to the bottom with minimal fuss. Steel and glow diamond jigs are all I use on my Northern California reefs where various species of Rockfish, Lingcod, and Cabezon struggle to resist a bite.

Don’t be fooled though, there is some elegance required to fishing the handline effectively. This includes giving big fish line when they make a run without letting them take it all or tie you in knots. It also requires gentle looping of line coils on your lap or boat as you bring the line back in. Winding the line back onto the water bottle while fighting a fish is tricky and I’ve lost more fish than I care to admit trying this. Instead, coiling your line neatly in a hygenic pile while bringing in a fish will allow you to give line if needed while also allowing you to quickly send your jig back down once you’ve finished fighting your fish.

There are few things more frustrating than having to untangle a rats nest of tuna cord on your lap — it requires full focus but, if you are fishing in a sharky area, tends to distract your mind from the shark attack possibility (silver lining). 

So go build yourself a handline today. Even if it’s a spool of mono line with a swim bait tied to the end — it’s so simple to get in the game. Fish that thing from a dock, boat, rock, surfboard, kayak, or anything and catch a fish like how our ancestors did 1,700 years ago. Only keep what you will eat, throw back what you won’t

Simple 🙂

This Ocean Life Podcast blog -- handlining