How Does Sunset Beach Work? - Page 11

Anecdotes and Personal Experiences - 4

The View From The Long House

It's always better to be lucky than smart, and luck was certainly with me in a big way when it comes to getting a proper chance to examine the workings of Sunset Beach, long-term, as regards the fine-detail elements of the place that surround where and when it breaks.

I came down out of the bunker some time in January, and moved into a room in the "Long House" on Ke Nui Road, and although I did not properly realize it right away, a more perfect location for long-term scrutinization of exactly how far outside, and at what sorts of intervals, Sunset Beach will be breaking on any given swell or swells, can not be found.

Overview of the break at Sunset Beach, as viewed from the Long House.
The View From The Long House

As with so very very much that has happened to me over the decades, I just sort of blundered into it by accident, but at least had the minimal good sense to immediately take full advantage of things, once they had occurred.

The Long House was, I think, originally two separate homes that, at some point along the line, had been connected together into one great big long house, and, if memory serves, the damn thing had a total of nine bedrooms, and although the sound of a nine-bedroom house might bring images of fancy-schmancy high-dollar living to mind, it was nothing of the sort.

Rent was collected, as much as possible, anyway, by some local haole or other who desperation had forced into such a thankless task, and for some reason, the name "Nicholas Sumango" is not only stuck in my memory as the real owner of the place, but also that Nicholas did not even live in Hawaii, but instead resided in Philadelphia of all places.

How true any of that may really be is not for me to know.

What I did know is that it was ratty-ass old Hawaiian single-wall construction, flimsy, and filled with a bunch of ratty-ass hippy surfbums such as myself along with other, even more exotic, creatures, and that it was ocean-front.

Out in the back yard was a derelict swimming pool, that had obviously not been cleaned in years, filled with a serious biological science experiment of horrid green water and mysterious arthropods, surrounded by a flat deck of concrete.

The pool was the last thing you got to before you got to the beach, and it was being sorely encroached upon by the ocean, with part of its lower portions plainly visible, exposed in the face of the dune. I would imagine that today, the ocean has very likely completed its task and it's long gone, no more than a fading memory in just a few folks' minds.

I think I was paying twenty-five dollars a month rent for my room, which was pretty low-class poverty level accommodations at the time.

There was nothing pretty about any of it. Not one single thing. The kitchen was always a mess, people were loud and rowdy, and my room was cramped and tiny.

And I could not have possibly cared less, because when you were out in the back yard, sitting on the concrete deck and looking over toward the right, there, in all of its magnificent glory, that stupefyingly beautiful wonder of the world known as Sunset Beach fumed, rumbled, sparkled, snarled, spit, sprayed, roared, funneled, and peeled right at you, from close range.

As it just so happened, the view from the Long House placed you such that you were looking right down the barrel of the place, and there were no obstructions of any kind to reduce or limit that view in any way at all. From the beach sprinkled with people in front of the parking lot, all the way out to the farthest cloud reefs (I know, they don't call them cloud reefs now, but they did back then) and beyond, it was all right there in front of you, all arrayed in its finest splendor for your viewing pleasure.

And I got to stare at it, hour after hour, day after day, every day, for a full half-winter.

I stayed in that room until the following May when the ocean finally laid down for good, and since I was only working part time in the evenings baking whole-wheat bread at Vim & Vigor Natural Foods in Kailua, I was well-endowed with the requisite time (after having surfed myself silly, first, of course) to sit, stare, time sets, watch, wonder, consider, question, ponder, time cleanup sets, note shadings and colors, closely meter locations, angles, and aspects, and attempt to fathom no end of other nuance that no single other place anywhere could have given me the opportunity to do so.

So yeah, I had a pretty good view of the place, and since the place fascinated me to no end, and since it was no easy thing to understand at a glance, I tried my very best to learn at least a little something about the place while I was there.

And without the slightest doubt, the most important thing I learned is how the cleanup sets work at Sunset Beach.

Number one item.

And I suppose the most important thing about that, is that the concept and the process even exists in the first place.

Sunset Beach will clean you up.

Sunset Beach will lie in wait for you.

Sunset Beach is patient, persistent, crafty, and horrifyingly powerful.

Sunset Beach is a worthy opponent.

In spades.

So you sit there on the concrete deck with the softened light of the late-afternoon sun coming in from over your left shoulder, Lisa Shepard (hope I spelled that last name right, Lisa) slowly nursing her small glass of white wine next to the privacy fence on the north side of the property, Patty Henoch laughing somewhere nearby, and perhaps a few other folks, coming and going, and you learn to find a line, to strike an angle, to do some damn thing or other, to permit yourself to locate, with accuracy and reliability, exactly where that little knot of folks who are sitting farthest outside, are actually sitting.

Maybe go back to the top of this thing and click that image and get a better look at the exact angle that blue arrow makes with the wider world that surrounds it.

Take note of the fact that, from the position of the Long House, you've got yourself a pretty good view of just how far inside or outside things are located, across the channel, over there at Sunset.

This is important.

If you can get at least half an idea of just how far outside a wave is going to be coming over, then you also get a fighting chance at not being in the wrong place when it does so.

And at Sunset, being in the wrong place when it does so, is no fun at all.

Sunset, as it turns out, might just be the worst place in the whole world to surf when it comes to cleanup sets.

Sunset Beach is notorious for cleanup sets that come marching in from the abyssal depths of the open ocean and just blow the whole goddamned crowd out of the lineup, en masse.

So it would behoove one to attempt to understand the workings of those cleanup sets if one was able to, yes?


And probably the first thing you learn about cleanup sets at Sunset, is that they will invariably break farther outside than is humanly possible to paddle beyond, after they first make themselves apparent, dimly, on the farthest horizon.

If you're sitting in the "normal" place, and one of those things shows up outside, well then, that's it, game over, you're done.

And once you figure that out, then the next bit of realization is that they've got to be breaking somewhere, so where, exactly, is that?

And that's the place you want to be sitting.

Which sounds like simplicity itself, in theory, but turns into one of the knottiest problems you'll ever be tasked with solving, in reality.

Those cleanup sets don't all break in the same place, for one thing.

You're dealing with a probability distribution, not some kind of solid object that's either here or there.

So the place has you at a disadvantage, right off the bat.

Also, how long are you willing to wait, to catch the next wave?

Five minutes? Ten? Twenty? An hour? Two?

Everything revolves around your level of patience.

And if you can cause the harmonic of your patience to come, more or less, into line with the harmonic of the cleanup sets.....

Well then..... then you get to play a few notes.

And while all that's going on, is the swell holding? Is it rising? Is it falling? Is this lull that's been going on for forty-five minutes now going to continue? Should you, perhaps, move inside some?

And are you sitting in the right place for when the waves do finally come, or are you too far off to one side or the other. West? Northwest? North?

How the hell do you line this sonofabitch up, anyway?

Will the outer reef come over like fuming pale white death itself, but back off before it gets to you?

Or will it just steamroll the whole place from a mile out there?

By now, I'm sure you can see that there's a lot going on with this stuff.

There's nothing easy about any of it, just on an academic level, and when you toss in the fact that it's your own physical ass that's on the line here, well then, things really do start to get interesting, don't they?

So you ride the place.

You do the best you can.

You take your punishments, just like everybody else takes theirs.

And then you go sit by the pool with Lisa, and you watch.

And then you watch some more.

A lot more.

From your splendid and unmatched viewpoint behind the Long House.

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