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issue 1.1

You Shall Know Our Velocity

By Ed Hewitt

From the Internet:

"Timex has this new watch that uses GPS to track how far/fast you move. They put one on Dean Randazzo and sent him out on various surf craft in shoulder-high, semi-mushy Mission Beach surf. Here are the results:

6'1" shortboard: top speed 21.4 mph
Longboard: top speed 18.1 mph
Bodyboard: top speed 13.4 mph"

Or, if you prefer a more prosaic, slacker approach:

"We had a radar gun at the beach one day for some top secret scientific BS. I was clocked in ~2ft surf at just over 14 mph."

So 15-20 mph is pretty routine on a wave face around these parts; 30 mph+ (32 feet per second) is likely the minimum for guys tearing down the face of a 60-footer, although with so much water coursing up the face toward them, their surface speed could be even greater. But fuck the radar. It's the instantaneous acceleration that amuses most; even on a head-high wave, a late drop-in is enough to make your belly leap; that's all most of us need to know. Perception of time, speed, and distance is always skewed in the water; without instruments, you're pretty much lost. Encountering an apparently wandering North Star mixed with brackish waters, Christopher Columbus thought he was sailing upriver in the middle of the ocean, which he interpreted as the river to Shangri La. As it turns out, this notion is not much more ludicrous than the number of people who claim 300 yard rides at New Jersey beachbreaks (save for that one where it's actually doable, just down the way from the other spot where it's possible on rare occasions, and usually terrifying).

While surfing Boca Barranca in Costa Rica this summer, to add some intrigue to connecting sections to grind out one long ride after another, we started hitting our wristwatch timers as soon we got to our feet on each wave. My longest ride: 94 seconds from takeoff to falling off. The wave was overhead at takeoff, tapered off to shoulder high down the line, and was about waist high by the time there was too little energy to provide enough speed to remain standing. If one estimates, then, that the average speed was around 15 mph, I traveled about 600 meters, which is pretty much what it looked like from the bay the wave pours into, and what it felt like paddling back out.

The most entertaining part of the experiment: hearing all the beeps every time someone took off on a wave.

I suppose that gets the inevitable David Eggers and surfing thing out of the way.

Ed Hewitt writes a weekly travel column and surfs mostly weekdays; visit his surf conditions page at

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