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5 Minutes with 'da
Blakestah

 

by Hank Ten

Big Central Cal
Big, December Central California. Photo: Mo Kulata

If you are a Bay Area surfer, and especially a fan of Ocean Beach in San Francisco, you've undoubtedly checked out blakestah.com/surf to get an idea about surf conditions at the beach. Dave Blake, a.k.a. the blakestah, has been "providing surf-related weather info since 1996. This free service is provided only for good karma." A big fan of both his reporting accuracy and style, we decided to talk to the person behind the forecasts.

G-C: First things first. Where'd the "blakestah" moniker come from?

DB: It was a college nickname. It also was easily available as an online nickname - no one else ever used it to my knowledge.

G-C: You seem to posses"above average" skills for interpreting weather charts and coming up with some pretty darn accurate forecasts. Did you study weather somewhere? Have you ever been a "pro" forecaster?

DB:I am strictly amateur. If you'd been reading my forecasts about four years ago you'd really see this. I've always been "into" weather, and, well, I do have an engineering Ph.D., so the rest I've sort of picked up. I suspect there is still plenty left to learn. Mostly, I think that compared to someone else, I am a lot less intimidated by the amount of data, and a lot more willing to try to make sense of it. The last 2-3 years I've tried to create new tools that make life easier. The raw buoy plot pages at blakestah.com are an example, and they help me a lot. I've got other ideas for tools to create too, which will
only require more time.

G-C: You seem to be a big fan of Ocean Beach surfing. How often do you get on it?

DB: It varies with the job and home life. Fall and winter I am usually on it four or more times a week (surf permitting). In the summer it is sometimes one or two times a week.

G-C: What makes Ocean Beach such a unique place to surf?

DB: The constant state of change is the biggest lure of Ocean Beach to me - that and usually plenty of juice. It can be two foot or twenty foot, and at each size may be mushy or top-to-bottom. I really can't think of any break that shows as many faces as Ocean Beach anywhere. Sometimes if I surf a
well-shaped point break I feel like it lacks drama after a few rides.

G-C: Seems most everyone who surfs OB, or Fort Point has one or two harrowing tales to tell. Any experiences of being sucked out to Sea? Broken boards? Long swims?

DB: I think none more harrowing than others. I've been sucked out at Fort Point and had to paddle 45 minutes full-on to get in, and gotten tendinitis in my elbows as a result. I've broken leashes on big days and swum in. I've smashed my nose on my board duckdiving and seen stars. I've split the skin on my forehead open on a board-ditch. Almost all of that happened while I was
getting used to the beach here. Now I go out on much bigger days much more often, and it is comparatively uneventful.

G-C: Biggest OB you've surfed?

DB: I dunno. I've gone out routinely on big days for about 4-5 years. After a while I stopped keeping track of what was the biggest.

G-C: Favorite swell direction and size at OB?

DB: 290 degrees, anytime the outside bars break top to bottom and peel. Light offshores.

G-C: Favorite board for OB?

DB: I have four, for different size days. All are reasonably narrow with beefy glass, from 6'3" to 9'10".

G-C: Do you have a favorite part of the beach? Where do you like to surf at the beach (maybe too revealing?)

DB: Everything changes at Ocean Beach, including where I surf.

G-C: Favorite place to surf outside of California?

DB: I haven't traveled nearly enough to answer this one. Northern Oregon, probably. But really, I am pretty much a surf-trip novice. I've never been in decent Hawaiian surf, or surfed Australia, or Europe, or Indo. Just the east and west coasts, and Baja.

G-C: What do you do in the Spring and Summer when there is no surf at OB?

DB: There is still surf - just 1-2 days a week. Some years I bike a lot. If you live close to the water it is easy to take advantage of small windows of opportunity for surf in spring and summer.

G-C: After a fantastic November, we've had a pretty wild, wet, windy December with tons of swell. Care to go out on a limb and make a prediction for the remainder of the surf season (Jan, Feb, March)?

DB: The high pressure that sets up over land is what usually
makes for good surf at Ocean Beach. It was there in November, and
we had a really good month. But now, there is just no sign of
high pressure anywhere, and storms are rolling through at a high
rate. This change in weather pattern occurred as El Nino
deepened. The 97-98 El Nino was not good for surf at the beach.
We had tons of beach erosion, and nearly non-stop too-large swell from
mid-October through to March. I don't think it will be as bad
this year, but it seems like the days of high pressure may become
more rare. And we'll go through periods of high storm activity,
and the breaks in between storms will be times to seek swell,
which will often be large, and raw, without offshores.

In short, the rest of the year should be dramatically improved for surfing Mavericks, and worse for the beach.

Thanks to the blakestah for all the great forecasts and this interview!


Hank Ten has been surfing for over 16 years. He enjoys juicy beach breaks and clean, offshore, winter mornings the most. He has surfed Ocean Beach since 1996. He currently surfs and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. Questions or comments? Send an e-mail to Hank Ten at, hankten@golden-coast.com

Golden-Coast Productions, 2002