Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mission Creek Water Show!

On what may turn out to be the last idyllic day of an Indian summer, sea lions, pelicans and other diving and wading birds provided an unusual water show in Mission Creek yesterday.

From early morning a large sea lion was spotted swimming and leaping in the water. His antics drew houseboat residents out onto their verandahs, and as the day progressed, creek walkers lined the bank to watch and take photos.

For some who regularly walk the creek, it was their first sighting of sea lions there, whilst others said they had often seen them. But to see such a large sea lion playing in the water was more unusual.

A second, smaller sea lion bobbed up and down, and pelicans, more in number than usual, swooped in aerial displays and dive-bombed for fish.

They were joined by ducks - this pair below chasing each other - wading birds like the Great Egret, and Western gulls.

Temperatures were recorded at being in the high 70s in the city, but were more likely just tipping 80 degrees at the creek.

The sea lion population lives at Pier 39 at Fisherman's Wharf. There has recently been a huge influx with numbers swelling to a record 1,585. The Marine Mammal Center who help care for the animals are investigating the cause. Early thoughts are that it is due to food supplies.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dreams of Mavericks Surf Contestants 2009/2010

The Mavericks Surf Contest, a battle of the titans of big-wave surfing, is not just about heroes, its about those who dream of one day conquering the mighty waves with equal dare-devilling skill.

Like 19-year-old Colin Dwyer of Pacifica, who stands in the shadows on the Alternates list for the second year in a row. Described as 'one of the newest hard-chargers!' at the opening ceremony of the 2009/2010 season - see previous blogs - he knows his chances of competing are slim.

Colin - pictured with Mavericks 'Test Pilot' Grant Washburn - is honoured to be on the list and ranks 15th out of 15. With the contest dominated by so many of the mighty, Colin would like to see an age break with waves of opportunity for younger surfers.

Change is blowing through the organization, so he is hopeful.

Would that mean veteran surfers stepping off their boards to allow younger ones in, or new categories? Colin doesn't know. He just hopes that one day his feet will be on his board on the water and not on the beach.

'In a new age of democracy, hopefully sooner rather than later,' he said.

Colin's success would also mean family succession: his father, Steve, is a veteran surfer of Mavericks the place, who twice rose into the ranks of the contest. He would have competed more, says Colin proudly, only the contest was then not held for a few years.

Dreams of competing inspire the other Alternates, like Hawaiian Kealii Mamala - right - who has been surfing the North Shore of Oahu.

'I've been, you know, trying to put my time in as much as I can. It's always been a dream for me to get into this contest sometime...whenever it will happen,' he said.

Perhaps two of the most rueful Alternates are Brazilians Alex Martins, now living in San Francisco, and Danilo Couto, who top the list. They made it onto the competitors' roll call last year when injuries plagued Ben Andrews and Nathan Fletcher - who are now back on form. Dreams of displaying their skills were shattered by a perverse Pacific Ocean that flat-lined during the season window of January 1 to March 31.

Alex - left - is doubly pleased to have the contest running for another year and to see the extended opening of the season - from 1 November - 'because we missed the best swell of the year!' he said. As last season rolled pitifully to an end, the surfers could only stand and reflect on some of the best Mavericks days that had fallen over Thanksgiving.

As for living in San Francisco, Alex said, 'I love it, I kinda got used to the weather, it's different from Brazil!' The Pacific Coast is not a surf scene, the water is brutally cold, it doesn't have perfect point breaks, and that makes it a 'very unique' place, he said.

His replacement, Ben Andrews, had injured an ACL ligament in his knee. 'It's been a long haul trying to get back in shape,' said Ben - pictured with legendary surfer Dorian 'Doc' Paskowitz. He started surfing again in June.

How does he feel now?

'I'm stoked! I feel better than ever!' he said.

Other competitors, who don't have to dream of being in the contest but are looking forward to the challenge are Kenny 'Skindog' Collins, pictured holding two-year-old son, Koa, with 'Doc', and Darryl 'Flea' Virostko - below.

'I'm ready this season to go again. It's been a while since I've been in the winners' corale!' said 'Flea.'

The only Mavericks' hat-trick winner - in the first three contests in '99, '00 and '04 - he has been shaping up in Santa Cruz.

What lies behind his surfing image of 'the crazy man!'

It's raw courage. There isn't a wave he won't launch into, he said. 'I don't limit myself when it comes to surfing.'

pics by Chris Flowers

Bay Bridge Now Open

The Bay Bridge opened at about 9 am today, after being closed for emergency repairs since last Tuesday evening.

But by 4.30 pm tonight - pics above - the bridge was still

quiet with a much reduced flow of traffic. Many commuters had travelled to the city this morning by BART or on ferries.

Early this morning KRON4 reported that repairs to the bridge were being tested and that Caltrans were 'very optimistic' of it opening later today. Though not in time for the the morning commute.

Camera shots showed vehicles being driven on the bridge as part of testing.

The problem engineers were working on, reported KRON4, was preventing steel rods from rubbing against each other once the bridge is back in use.

During the closure BART trains have carried record numbers of passengers and have run overnight services on Friday and Saturday. Ferries across the bay have also had increased numbers of travellers.

For further info:

Judging Mavericks 2009/2010 Surf Contest & Heat Selections

Holding the Mavericks Surf Contest is one thing, judging who on a given day out of the world's top big-wave surfers is the best performer, is another matter.

'It's an honour to be chosen to head the judging and pick who's going to be the winner. It's one of the most challenging big-waves in the world,' said Head Judge Gary Linden - pictured

He was on Mavericks Beach at Half Moon Bay on Friday, taking part in the opening ceremony of the contest's Waiting Period - see previous blogs - and at the celebration party afterwards when heat selections were drawn.

With all the indications with warm water this late in the year, he said, 'I think it's going to be a great year and I think it will give us ample opportunity to pick big waves and great conditions.'

'Anyone on a given day could end up a winner!' he said, of the 24 invitees. Defending Champion is Greg Long of San Clemente.

Their performance on the day depends on a combination of skill and Mother Nature. Points are not only given for the way the surfers ride the wave, but on the size of the wave itself. Ten for a great wave, but half that with the wrong wave, said Gary.

They need an 'uncanny ability' to get the most critical take-off on the biggest wave possible.

In the first-round heats, six surfers at a time have 45 minutes to 'be in the right place at the right time.'

Without the right wave, 'you're cooked!' said Gary.

(Jamie Sterling of Hawaii pic left)

While Gary has his eye on the contestants, another man with a different eye on the scene will be Deputy Harbourmaster, Cary Smith, who will be one of those responsible for policing the event with its expected 40,000 crowd.

Cary was quietly patrolling and chatting to people at the opening ceremony. There are hundreds, maybe even a thousand, people working behind the scenes to organize this event, he said. Basically, its 'crowd management' including provision of medical teams, he said.

But, he pointed out, even with 1,000 people, that makes one person per 4,000 people. 'It gets pretty crazy!' he said.

One restriction they have to enforce is to stop fans getting onto the top of the cliff behind the beach, as in a past year rocks fell down on someone.

Cary's primary responsibility is on the water, to ensure everyone's safety from the contestants to the flotilla of rescue jet skis, and small craft bearing media and safety equipment.

He's confident those plans are 'pretty good!'

Heat 1: Evan Slater, Darryl 'Flea' Virostko, Ion Banner, Dave Wassell, Grant 'Twiggy' Baker, Tyler Smith
Heat 2: Peter Mel, Shane Desmond, Zach Wormhoudt, Nathan Fletcher, Matt Ambrose, Anthony Tashnick.

Heat 3: Brock Little, Tim West Jr, Kenny 'Skindog' Collins, Josh Loya, Greg Long, Carlos Burle.
Heat 4: Chris Bertish, Grant Washburn, Ryan Seelbach, Ben Andrews, Shawn Rhodes, Jamie Sterling

pics by Chris Flowers