photos and words by Justin Mehren
October marks the beginning of the Santa Ana season in Southern California. The natural phenomenon that gets a surfer’s blood boiling in anticipation of epic surf is also the nemesis of homeowners and firefighters. These dry, hot, and powerful winds that travel from the desert to the sea, leave a wake of destruction behind. These are the Devil Winds.
These are not your typical offshore winds, as it takes 25 knots for the Devil to come out as he whips through the canyons, gusting at 50 knots toward the Pacific Ocean. The horror is what can happen as those gusts come through the hills, separating Malibu from the desert. Santa Anas have fueled wild fires through out Southern California destroying many homes and land over the years. A short drive north on PCH towards Mugu will remind you quickly what devastation the Devil can do. There is a tension or even an anxiety that comes with the Devil. Think of it as a ball of static electricity that can explode at any moment.
It seems as if the energy, which brings out the Devil, creates a magnetic pull that draws in swell from the northern or southern hemispheres. The result can be dynamic. The intersection of gusting Devil Winds and pulsing groundswell create a tubular paradise with peaks as far down the beach as you can see. These are magical days that local surfers share for years to come and some never stop talking about. It only takes one wave to be hooked and after one good session it is easy to understand why surfers worship Devil Winds.
One day in early October, the Devil Winds blew from the desert and a solid southern groundswell marched up the coast, creating perfect conditions at the local beach break. In the early morning, the sun shined on wind-groomed perfection as surfers scrambled to get into their wetsuits and out into the surf. The foamy white water quickly filled with paddling surfers as they rushed the lineup, attempting to time the sets and make it out the back. This is critical on a day like this and the pack is divided. A little more than half make it and the rest…well the rest better take deep breaths. Getting caught inside on these days can make you think of paddling to the beach.
In a short time, the lineup is peppered with surfers battling the current and the once empty peaks, up and down this stretch of beach, have been claimed. Most of the surfers struggled to get in position and the majority had problems negotiating the barrel. The regulars seemed to always be in the right position and as the morning goes on, a small group dominated the lineup. Their knowledge of the break gave them an advantage as they paddled under the lip, freefalling into the barrel and avoiding being held up by the wind and tossed into the flats. As the morning went on, more surfers challenged themselves and the ocean dished out its’ fair share of beatings. The power of these waves can break boards in half with ease and on this morning at least three were sacrificed. The waves pumped consistently until late morning and then just as quickly as the magic came together at sunrise, it ended before noon. The wind changed direction and the tide bottomed out, the line up cleared and it looked as if it was over for the day.
The parking lot froth levels were at all time highs with animated stories of the morning’s escapades. As the crowd disappeared, a car load of local groms pulled up late yelling to each other to “check out the ramps and wedges.” A few of us bite our tongues, deciding not to spoil the moment for the groms, and let them amp. That might have been the karma that turned everything in our favor. Within minutes of the groms paddling out, the flag on top of the lifeguard tower went dead and the wind stood still. There was that feeling in the air, a weight as the pressure built, and BAM it happened. The Devil Wind’s kicked back in and the swell pulsed on the rising tide. The few lucky souls, that stuck around quickly suited up and paddled out into the best conditions of the day.
The increasing winds molded the emerald green barrels as they peeled down the shallow sand bottom. Translucent lips detonated, sending shock waves to the sand, as unsuspecting beach goers frolic along the shore, unaware of the raw power of the waves on the outside. The waves were pumping. The surfers challenged themselves by taking committed lines, driving deep, and racing to the end. As the session ended and the crew called it a day, there was a sense of calm that was not present at this morning’s post surf froth fest. What had just gone down was special. A Devil Winds moment was shared with a handful of good friends. DZ