Monday, June 13, 2011


Oh where has the time gone???

It's now June and while I've been charging life full speed ahead as usual, I just paused for a second to look back and realized I haven't updated this blog since February. Holy dolphin farts!

A few comments by some awesome bloggers on some of my old posts (thanks to Jes at Begging For It and Heidi at TriAngel) made me realize how negligent I've been at sharing life's adventures.

The simple fact is I've been slammed. I work in real estate and this winter was crazy in this part of Florida. For whatever reason, the northern winter vacationers all decided to buy this year. It's a good thing because it means I'm not going in the direction of bankruptcy anymore, but the downside was definitely less time to write blogs, which I enjoy.

We did manage a few adventures between the chaos and I'm stoked to share them with you!

Keep the stoke ya'll and I'll promise to try and keep my blog a little more up-to-date in the future. I've obviously got a ton of reading to do in my Reader as I feel like I've lost touch with everyone.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Blue Grotto & Devil's Den (Scuba Diving)

Two of my best friends are both named John. I call them the Johns. They are very much alike, yet very different at the same time. Both of them love the water and everything about it... fishing, surfing, diving, you name it. Myself being a waterman, there's no wonder we all get along!

The other day one of the Johns call me up and said, "let's go diving!" That's all I needed to hear and I was game.

The plan - leave early in the morning and drive across the state to the tiny city of Williston and dive Blue Grotto (an ancient sink hole) and then drive across town to Devil's Den (an underground cave entry spring with ancient fossils. Both offer crystal clear visibility and a glimpse into Florida's massive aquifer system. Neither require divers to be cavern certified and are open-water diver friendly, yet offer a feeling of diving in a cave. Both of these locations have been bucket list items on my dive list since I got my certification at 12-years-old.

Here's a few pictures!

The entrance to Blue Grotto. We were a few of the first ones there!

At about 45-feet there is an "air bell" with oxygen being pumped into it (as seen in the top of the photo) under the ledge or ceiling of the underwater opening to Blue Grotto. It offers divers a chance to have a conversation. In this photo I was trying to capture the large size of the grotto while also showing the visibility. It's very low light so it's not an easy exposure.

Another shot of a diver right on the edge of where the light fades at about 50 feet deep. Blue Grotto is about 96-feet deep and it's super dark at the bottom!

Myself and one of the Johns pulling a funny on me near the bottom of Blue Grotto.

The entrance to Devil's Den. Divers walk down into this cave to get to the spring.

A view of the inside platform at Devil's Den.

A large catfish that was following me around.

I really wish some day that those that are addicted to smoking would realize that the world is not an ashtray! Finding a cigarette butt at the bottom of Devil's Den is not a laughing matter.

Finding a fake human skull at the bottom of Devil's Den is a laughing matter!

I think myself and the Johns were the only divers at both locations wearing surfing wetsuits and not ones designed for scuba diving. This is me after diving Devil's Den and being totally stoked!

It's contagious and I'm infected with S.U.P.

Knock them all you want (Lord knows I have). Call them what you will. Stand up paddle boards are here to stay. In the past decade these boards have gained popularity and seem to be spreading across the nation and world like a virus. From Hawaii to California to Florida to a random lake in Kansas the concept is absolutely brilliant. Simply put, you have the billion dollar plus marketing machine that is the modern day world of the surfing industry (although it seems only a small percentage of the people involved in that industry "actually surf) and NOW there's a way for EVERYONE to surf... well... kind of surf. The allure of "surfing" that this mass marketing machine has created across the globe is NOT something everyone can do. First off, you've got to have a beach geographically in reach. Then that beach has to have ridable waves and favorable conditions to learn. And finally, you have to have a little bit of athletic ability in conditioning, balance, strength and stubbornness. Learning to surf waves is not easy no matter who you are and a lot of people get frustrated and give up!
Now take a large stable board with a massive amount of floatation and give someone the ability to have a higher amount of environmental control -- the paddle -- and calm flat water for beginners and just about anyone can enjoy it on their first time. Just check out this picture! BRILLIANT! It looks like a surfboard. You stand on it. It must be surfing, right? I don't think so, but... well, that's the marketing brilliance of it.
Stand up paddle boarders take a lot of shit from surfers. This is probably in part because of a few SUP guys getting into situations where they don't belong. There are a lot of SUPs at my local break (one of the most crowded and territorial in Florida). I talk to the regular ones. They're nice guys and mean nobody harm. The trouble with SUPs is when they allow a beginner to get into a situation where nature would not allow them on a traditional surfboard. Then chaos soon follows and an out-of-control 11 or 12-foot board, paddle and out of shape human in the line up is bad for everyone. I will say in defense of SUPs. Anyone that knocks stand up paddle boards and says they don't belong in the surf needs to watch Laird Hamilton rip the hell of a few waves in this video here. Perhaps watching that very video influenced me.
After careful consideration and a lot of thought I decided to finally give it a try. My idea was simple; get two stand up paddle boards and Jenny and I can use them to explore the river while getting another type of cardio/core workout other than running and most importantly, it's on the water. Jenny was sold on the idea instantly when I pointed out to her some of the endurance SUP races held around the country. Something to train for!
We asked around, did research and eventually decided to buy a couple of SUP ATX boards. They are by far not the best boards ever made, however, for our budgets they get the job done. We got identical boards with different paint jobs. They are epoxy and they included the deck pad, fin and carbon fiber paddle in the discounted price. As popular as these boards are I know that I can always sell them on Craigslist without losing much money and buy different ones if needed.

As I clicked the "order now" button on the website I felt as if I was betraying the brotherhood of surfers. I was excited and weirded out at the same time.

Jenny was 100-percent EXCITED when she clicked the order button!

We had them shipped to my office. You should have seen the look on my co-worker's faces! The box was so big it hardly fit in my truck.

Later that night we opened them up in my living room. Jenny is ready to go! Each board is 11' feet long and 4.5" thick and 28-pounds light.

We picked a calm, wind-protected canal for our first attempt. Neither of us had ever tried it. The plan I devised was to push off on our knees and paddle around for a bit on our knees to acclimate and then stand up. I was shocked to see Jenny hop up to her feet only after a few seconds on her knees. It was even easier than I thought!

In only a few weeks we've been exploring all sorts of waterways. I own a touring kayak and I can confidently say I'm going to sell it and never kayak again. You can see SO much more on SUPs. So far I've paddled within a few feet of redfish, flounder, manatees, dolphin and even a bonnet-head shark. It's also been a great learning tool for Jenny and her surfing. She has practiced her paddle and pop-up on the SUP in a controlled environment and is now taking it to the waves on her normal surfboard. It's helping and I'm stoked!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Half Moon Bay!!!!

Monterey Aquarium and Santa Cruz/Half Moon Bay

Growing up I was always coast bouncing back and forth between Florida and Northern California. I have family out there so we were always visiting. I learned to ski and snowboard at the ski resorts around Lake Tahoe and Lake Donner (amazingly, I didn't ski the east coast until I was in college). I even drank my first alcoholic beverage in California. Berkley, Sonoma, San Francisco, Sacramento and Richmond were all hot spots for me. In recent years I've returned to visit friends living in the area along with the same family members. A few weeks ago I was stoked to be bringing my girlfriend to the area for the first time. When she mentioned the Monterey Bay Aquarium and how she'd like to see it I realized that I never have explored south of the San Francisco Bay area.

A plan was formulated and we were off! Landing in San Jose, my aunt's hometown, we rented a car with my cousin (Robert and his girlfriend, Athena, both down from Portland, Oregon) and headed south to Monterey. The plan was simple - start in Monterey and work our way north through Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay and finish in San Francisco for the Bay to Breakers 12K 100th year race.

Sometimes it's best to tell a story with photographs. The following is my story.

We started in Monterey, famous for fish canning and Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck amongst many others. . .

The Monterey Aquarium is truly epic or any ocean lover. I've visited Sea World, The Atlanta Aquarium, The New Orleans Zoo Aquarium, Marineland, the aquarium in Atlantis on Paradise Island and even one of the world's largest in Osaka, Japan... but Monterey is my favorite so far! It's not too big. It's not too commercialized. It has a meaningful purpose. And I would go back again.

The Aquarium is located right on the coastline and draws nutrient rich water straight from the ocean. You might recognize it from the movie Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

There are many ocean species here that an east coast surfer like myself has never seen. For example a leopard shark (pictured), a seven gills shark, sea dragons, sea otters, etc.

It wasn't long before Jenny found her dear sea turtles (green turtles pictured). Before going to graduate school she did sea turtle research in the Caribbean and Florida.

I've never seen a sea horse that looks like this. Amazing.

Just outside the Aquarium we found plenty of real wildlife including these harbor seals resting on some rocks. . .

And one of the reasons we really came to the Aquarium was for Jenny to see real sea otters. What we didn't expect was to see some in the wild along the coast line.

Next we visited Santa Cruz. This was VERY exciting for me. I didn't expect my travel companions to fully understand my excitement (Santa Cruz should be a pilgrimage for any surfer), but they were excited about the boardwalk. Robert and I decided to do hand stands and continue the tradition we started last year in Hawaii.

Santa Cruz is rich in surfing history. It's everywhere. Home of Pat O'Neil amongst many others.

Probably one of the most famous breaks is Steamers Lane (a right point break north of town). It wasn't very big the day I was there, but there was a decent lineup of all types of surfers.

I immediately climbed over the guard rail (knowing it's the way surfers get to the cliff to jump off when it's firing) and Robert, Jenny and Athena followed. We were soon able to watch the surfers directly below us. I soooooo wanted to rent a board and suit and paddle out, but there were more exciting things for all of us ahead.

There's a little tiny building right at Steamer Lane that has a free surf museum outlining the history of surfing in Santa Cruz. Definitely worth a visit and they appreciate donations!

The Pacific Coast Highway is awesome! Heading north from Santa Cruz is like driving in a car commercial most of the way. It dips into valleys and rises over cliffs of a jagged coastline bearing hidden paths to isolated beaches.

I need to learn to kite surf! It's apparently the thing to do when it's blown out and choppy.

Alas! Half Moon Bay, California - Home of Mavericks! This town is so unlike most coastal cities in California. In a way it hasn't lost it's charm. It reminds me of New England for some reason. The population is fairly small and the homes look more like Northeastern homes than west coast. I dig it.

Jenny, Robert and Athena really couldn't understand my excitement, but the followed me in support as I homed in on Mavericks like a cruise missile approaching its target. After a short walk along the harbor we came upon this shrine remembering Mark Foo.

I walked out to the point below the cliffs. I felt the freezing cold water run between my fingers. I looked out at the rocks protruding out of the water directly offshore. It was flat - hello... it's May. Just what I expected, but in my mind I imagined a January swell with 30' faces crashing down and sounding like thunder. Oh, how amazing it would be to watch from this beach?
After a few minutes we hiked back to the car, bid farewell to Half Moon Bay and continued on to San Francisco and the race awaiting us, but that's a different story.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bay to Breakers 100th Year 12k Race

100th Anniversary of the Bay to Breakers 12K Race

Quote of the Race: "Now I am really a Russian Hero," - after playing around with fake accents to talk with while in costume and thinking of the movie Armageddon. Yeah... it's strange, but it's also Bay to Breakers!

- San Francisco, California
Cost - Varies by date. See website here.
Year of Running - 100th Annual
Sponsor/Race Directors - Zazzle, Mich Ultra, Virgin America, Volkswagen, T-Mobile, Barefoot Wine, American Red Cross, Hyatt Regency San Francisco and many others.
Charity - Breathe California
Number of Participants - 55,000 (officially registered), 65,000 to 75,000 estimated total including bandits.
Available Races - 12 K or bust!
Course Condition - Concrete and asphalt street with a very steep incline.
Pace Groups - Unknown.... perhaps alcohol pace groups.
Expo - Yes, but kind of a joke compared to other races of this size.

ORGANIZATION, SUPPORT & SPECTATORS: - Organization is priority when you've got a race of 50,000-plus partially or fully intoxicated runners on your hands and Bay to Breakers has done this year-after-year adapting with the times. This year the big new rule was "no floats." In previous years decorated parade style floats were allowed to be pushed, dragged or kicked along the course. Often times these floats served as transportation for moving alcoholic bars. Also new for the centennial race was a stricter crack down on public alcohol and drug consumption, although alcohol was officially banned several years ago. This year race organizers hired private security forces along with law enforcement to help regulate this rule. San Francisco being the city it is still was slack on enforcement when compared to other parts of the country. From what I witnessed if you were drinking blatantly out in the open you were asked to pour it out. If you were drinking some Gatorade or Redbull that smelled suspicious you were told to carry on.
There is more than enough support along the course with multiple aid stations handing out water and sports drinks. The spectators are usually just as spectacular as the participants, however, the number of house parties along the course were drastically down this year when compared to the previous year. This may have been a result in the city's crack down on alcohol. Despite the "man" trying to put them down San Franciscans still showed up along the course to cheer on runners, dawn crazy outfits and be just as much a part of the event as the participants.

Like any major city this race takes some strategic planning. There are major airports in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose all within striking distance. Sacramento is another option. Plan for traffic if you're driving into the city no matter which way you come from and be prepared for crowds. There are the MUNI and Bart public transportation systems and they are efficient. The race sells transportation vouchers for after the race on its website and they can be purchased with race registration. There are road closures and public transportation schedule changes on race day so reference the website and parking is extremely limited.

Mediocrity at best. The expo is more focused on wine tasting and automobile manufacturers than the sport of running. With a standard registration you get a cotton T-shirt that is low quality and will shrink after washing. For about $30 more you can get a short sleeve tech-shirt that is also poor quality in the world of $30-price-range technical shirts. This year's logo and design on the shirts was 300 percent better than the previous year, but the shirts still lack quality. 2011 was also the first year race organizers awarded medals to all finishers. That was a nice touch being the 100th year. Participants can also print out a personalized race certificate from home after the event on the results page of the website.

Excellent. The full gamut is available. The only drawback is the three-quarter mile up hill walk/hike from the finish line to the post-race celebration area. This was not a big deal for me as I like to walk a while after a race, but for a lot of the intoxicated runners it can be a struggle. Plus, it always seems to be chilly at the finish line so be prepared.

After running this race last year with my cousin, Robert and friend Jeanie, as a bucket list race I knew immediately after that I must return the next year. For one, it would be the 100th year and for two, I wanted my girlfriend to experience it. Fast forward 365 days and we are back! This time with Jenny, her friend Tracy and my cousin, Robert. We definitely learned from our mistakes last year and got a nice hotel room. Note to the wise: It's well worth an extra $50-$100 a night for a good bed in the city. Those $100 per night hotels pretty much suck when you want a nice night of rest before a race. We went for the guarantee and stayed at the Omni Hotel in downtown San Francisco, which provided only the highest service.
For costumes this year (a MUST at Bay to Breakers) we collectively decided on "Bathrobes" as the perfect outfit. It allows for you to look like you might be naked under it (we were wearing running clothes) and at the same time can be warm enough for May weather in Northern California, but also opened up if it gets too hot. For whatever reason, Robert and I almost got identical robes completely separate from each other. We both went for the satin kimono-style robe decorated with dragons. Jenny and Tracy both opted for nice and warm cotton robes. As we were getting dressed at 5 a.m. and drinking the standard hydration fluids for this race (RedBull, Gatorade & Vodka followed by a champagne toast), Robert and I started goofing around and somehow came up with the idea we were Russian douchebags. Robert's girlfriend, Athena, helped us draw pencil-thin mustaches on us and we slicked our hair back with gel. I don't know what got into us, but it was down right hilarious. Between this point and the race start we talked to everyone with our horrible fake Russian accents.
The race start line was epic. 50,000 plus people spanning about six city blocks starting at Pier 1. The normal tortilla tossing was happening everywhere along with beach balls and "other" inflatables. Being in corral C it only took us about 10 minutes to get to the start line, but for the first time this year they wave started the corrals behind us and that took nearly an hour from what I heard.
Bay to Breakers does a great job with this race, but my only real gripe about the race itself are the corrals. If you're going to have a race this big with this many corrals then organize them a little better! The race organizers simply state on the website what pace time you should run in each corral and leave it up to the people registering to pick their corrals. This would be great if all runners were responsible, but in a race like this with a lot of the field not even being runners it simply does not work. Instead the corrals fill up and sell out in alphabetical order - A - B - C - D and so on. The end result is a mix of all types of runners and walkers in each corral. In other words, unless you're an elite you're going to be doing some weaving.
Jenny and I had decided to split this race up; her running with Tracy and me running with Robert. We would rendezvous at the finish line. My cousin took off from the start just like last year caught up in the excitement of the moment and began frantically weaving and passing, weaving and passing. I followed in fast pursuit. Our splits increased the entire race, but the crowd did not decrease. Just when I noticed that there were very few corral C bibs around me we encountered the slower crowds of corral B. We passed people for the entire race from start to finish. In fact, the only people I noticed passing us were three Spartan warriors in the last half mile running in perfect formation with each other. It was almost as if they were marching a 7 minute pace. Every so many strides they would bang their swords upon their shields and yell a chant from the movie 300. I was impressed.
We saw the normal chaos throughout the race like the dozen or so people dressed up as salmon running the wrong way down the middle of the street. Or the posse of smurfs cheering people on from the side of the road. Naked people here and naked people there. The funniest one I saw was a middle aged man completely naked standing in a grass field about 40 yards off the race course talking on his cell phone. He was waving his free hand around as he talked. It was so retarded looking that I couldn't stop laughing for a full minute.
This year Robert and my mothers both decided to come watch. We found then a mile or so from the finish line in Golden Gate Park along with Athena. After the race we found Jenny and Tracy and headed up the hill to the post race celebration area. Jenny and Tracy both had an equally insane race experience. We found our mothers and tromped through a few hidden trails to the edge of the park were we had a rented mini van waiting for us. This beat the shuttle transportation 100 fold. From there we drove down to the Cliff House, which is an amazing restaurant with 100+ years of history just north of the park and finish line along the beach. We had the most glorious breakfast/brunch of all time! If you're ever in San Francisco make sure you go eat at the Cliff House!
And that about wraps it up! I'm not sure if we'll do Bay to Breakers again as there are so many more races to do, but I'm completely stoked I got to be part of the 100th year running. Next year I think we will make our way to the Bay area again, but hopefully to run the Dipsea. I'll leave you with some pictures!

The best part about the running expo? Seeing Meb!

Standard Pre-Bay to Breakers Hydration fluids!


The start line!

La la la la la.... la la la la!

Check out Pooh Bear... no really, I was taking a picture of Pooh Bear!

A look behind me from atop the Hayes Street Hill.

Our magnificent supporters!

This is Sparta!
Momma TallGuySurfing and Me at the Cliff House looking back toward the finish line.

My official stats:

2,806th out of 43,913 finishers
714th in my age division (30-39) out of 5,222 (top 13%)
Chip Time: 1:04:09 (a new 12K PR!)
Average pace: 8:35
Zazzle Bay to Breakers 12k TallGuySurfing grade = B+