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Surfing the Big Blue

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

When I was a schoolkid back in Jersey learning about how the US was settled they told us that the ‘crazies’ went to California. I always thought this was a funny idea and that my teacher must never have ventured beyond the Mississippi to come out with a generalization like that. Well having lived here for almost 15 years I would now guess that the guy may have been born in the state and knew it well…

Yes, that is Tahoe. No there's no boat!

Yes, that is Tahoe. No there's no boat!

Although other parts of Cali let this weirdness come out in all sorts of ways many are social such as scenes you may see in the cities – Bay to Breakers in SF, and Oakland Raiders game, and just about anything that happens in Venice, LA. Well the ‘crazies’ here in Tahoe don’t get too funky out on the streets or at the high school football games. We get weird in outdoorsy ways. One of the stranger ones around is the crew of mutants who surf Tahoe every chance they get.

Powerful Pacific storms and our location high in the mountains can generate pretty serious winds. They can happen on bright blue days when folks are out on the beaches. All of a sudden there’s a rustle in the trees, a subtle wind line appears a couple miles out on the Lake and next thing you know it’s whitecapping just about everywhere. The prime place for surfing on Tahoe is the North Shore. Most of the winds we get are southerly (because of the way storms spin when they approach) so when you let them run rampant over 20+ miles of light water you get an incredible fetch.

Waves here are sloppy in most places although there are some gem spots where it doesn’t even feel windy nor choppy when conditions are right. Generally, though, it’s like a mini-Ocean Beach (SF) with multiple lines of whitewash to contend with while paddling out. There are so many surreal things about the surfing experience on Tahoe and here are a few:

No sharks!

The water is so incredibly clear and fresh that it’s unlike anywhere you’ve ever surfed. You can mistakenly get some in your mouth and doggedly decide to swallow…because you can and it tastes great!

On the coast when winds pick up, it’s over. Here you keep hoping that the wind sustains all day

Even if you surf back east in the snow, it’s even weirder when you look west and catch glimpses of Squaw as it braces for another pounding today which you know means a good pow day tomorrow

When surfing at Sand Harbor on the East Shore you’re directly under the Bear Claw which rises 3000’ out of the Lake. Some of us ski this backcountry-style in the season and seeing it from the water is quite the unique perspective


One of my favorite things about a good surf day at Tahoe (and we had two of them last week) is also one of the elements of a surf break anywhere in the world: people stopping and looking, taking about the swell and how it is there compared to other nearby spots. Some folks living in Tahoe sacrifice things like quality shopping, culture and diversity to be here. For me, not having these regular surf ‘meetings’ is one of the little ‘misses.’ So even if you’re not into surfing but you’re up here when the wind is whistling feel free to pull up your hoodie and get into the chatting circle because having people from out of town ask about conditions is also a part of the worldwide surf meeting….

Litttttle Surfer Gurrrrrllll......

Litttttle Surfer Gurrrrrllll......

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