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Surfing world faces the good and the bad

Well there is big news in the surfing world this week - both good and bad. High surf hit the North Shore of Hawaii producing good waves at Waimea bay and Pat Weber owner and operator of San Diego Surfing Academy was accosted and robbed at gunpoint while on a surfing trip to beautiful (but apparently dangerous) Baja Mexico.

We will start with the bad news. Weber, who is a veteran Baja Mexico traveler, was camping in his R.V. at a surfing spot just south of Tijuana.

Sometime in the middle of the night, Weber and his girlfriend were awakened by bandits who demanded they come out of the R.V. Weber was staying put until a bullet fired into the R.V. made him change his mind.

Weber and his girlfriend came out, at which point the bandits stole more than $10,000 worth of film equipment, computers and money. Worse yet, Weber’s girlfriend was sexually assaulted. Robbery is bad enough, but sexual assault on top is heinous.

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To rob a person of physical objects is one thing, to rob a person physically is another.

This story was big news across the country (CNN has picked up on it), and more Baja California nightmare stories are coming to light. Chat rooms are buzzing with a lot of experienced Mexico travelers, surfers and non-surfers alike, and including Pat Weber, saying they will not go back.

Weber has taught surfing on both sides of the border and led many Baja surfing tours for years. But after this experience he compares Mexico to the lawless wild west of old, and believes it’s too dangerous to go south of the border.

It seems doubtful Mexican authorities will ever catch the culprits, and chances are they will brazenly strike again. As word gets out, fewer and fewer tourists will want to travel to Baja, causing an already impoverished economy to suffer more. Most of the citizens of Mexico are law abiding and friendly, it’s sad a few creeps can cause a whole country’s reputation to be tarnished. Granted, the U.S. and other countries have more than their fair share of crime.

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Well, now the good news. With Waimea bay reaching heights of up to 18 feet, the big-wave season in Hawaii has officially started, which means the California big-wave season is right around the corner. When the waves rise in Hawaii, generally a few days later they rise in California. News services across the country recently ran stories of “huge waves” hitting the North Shore of Oahu.

Huge is a matter of perspective. To an experienced, in-tune big-wave surfer, 18 feet is just getting started. One spectator witnessing the higher-than-normal waves was amazed at the high number of surfers riding each wave.

In truth, when the surf gets really big it’s hard as $%^# for one guy to catch a wave, let alone five to 20 guys at the same time. On the really huge days, 25 of the world’s best big-wave surfers would find it difficult to paddle into a wave.

And when the waves reach heights of beyond huge, more than likely 25 of the world’s best big wave surfers wouldn’t be out. Maybe one or five would go, at the most.

Guys get weeded out; every surfer has a ceiling. And the bigger the surf, the fewer takers there will be.

Lifeguards are preparing for the larger-than-normal surf to hit Southern California beaches by adding extra staff. Marine safety captain Larry Giles of Encinitas is calling in seasonal back-up lifeguards to patrol Swamis with a personal watercraft and also man the staircase screening surfers as they proceed to the waves. Though as of yet there is no law that says surfers who appear not to belong in the high surf cannot go out, lifeguards will strongly recommend that they come back another day.

Lifeguard supervisor Brian Ketterer for the north San Diego state parks sector is almost doubling the number of lifeguards in anticipation of the high surf expected at Cardiff, Carlsbad and Torrey Pines beaches. Despite beefed up lifeguard staffs, surfers should practice safe surfing by watching out for one another as well as anyone near the high surf. High surf can be dangerous for experienced and neophyte surfers alike, it can also be dangerous for spectators.

Some helpful tips for watching high surf are: 1) never turn your back to the waves and 2) always maintain a safe distance from the shoreline. Many times the high tide line will move out, allowing spectators to get a closer view and then swiftly come back even higher when a series of waves sweep back in.

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Let the big-wave and holiday season begin! Play it safe, watch out for one another. Aloha.


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