To sand or not to sand? Tippers and the great sand apocalypse…

Nestled snugly between a newly built lifeguard tower that looks majestic, (practically out of place for the surf break it oversees), and an older, not quite dilapidated lifeguard tower, is a break called Tippers. This surf break sits roughly 50 yards from its neighboring break “Cardiff Reef,” which is even more popular and congested than its neighbor. Best surfed on any westerly break (SW/NW), Tippers produces both left and right breaking waves, that can be very shifty depending on tide and wind.

Last week, making my way back in, the inner breakers carrying me closer to the shore, I reached a point where I could stand and wade slowly back in. The tide was approximately around 1 foot low and the reef was starting to show from where the sand recedes. As I looked to gain traction and then started to walk, gingerly, my foot instantly fell into what appeared to be a large hole. Thankfully, because the water temp was in the mid to upper 50’s, I had booties on and didn’t cut my foot on the sharp reef. This has almost become a daily occurrence, especially on a low tide.

I started surfing Tippers around 2013, about a mile and a half from my job. It’s a convenient spot from my condo in Oceanside, where I can park on the Coast Highway, and then walk through the campground and down a small set of stairs right down to the beach. The break is fascinating because it has remained virtually unchanged since I started surfing it. It’s also remarkable because the people I surf with have also remained in place. It’s truly a “local spot” in this bustling town of Cardiff.

But one thing has changed: the sand is disappearing. A cliff bank surrounds the break, and in the beginning years, the sand would sit against the cliff in abundance, only washing out to sea on high tides and large swells. Now it’s almost barren, the cliff stripped slightly (erosion from the higher tides), and the sand barren. It alarms me almost every day during a low tide to see how much erosion has occurred. So I decided to do some research…

I can’t decide which strategy is the way to go. Even the experts seem to be crossed on the decision. The most arbitrary strategy (by terms of the Southern California consensus and financial strain) seems to be installing sea walls, something similar to the images you might see on the East coast. But how would that help Tippers? From the top of the stairs down to the shore, you might see less than a 100-foot distance between the breaking ocean on a high tide and the safety of the top of the cliff. There’s not a lot of room, and of course, you would risk putting the entry point into extinction. That might make a lot of my surf buddies very disheartened.

So what’s the other option, then? Sand replenishment. It seems like the only logical plan. For years, I watched routine dredging around the Encinitas and even Oceanside area. So this seems feasible, right?

In Thomas Larson’s article, “Will sand save San Diego North County bluffs?,” he writes:

“After an initial 2024 sand nourishment of 700,000 cubic yards in Encinitas and 340,000 cubic yards in Solana Beach, the Corps will dredge and dump 290,000 yards of sand every 10 years in Encinitas and 220,000 yards every five years in Solana Beach. This is far below the transport rate, Jaffee says, which is the near-shore traversal of sand via ocean tides. He estimates the sand flowing by at two million cubic yards annually. Again, this may mean the Corps’ fix is a finger in the dike: The Corps would need to deposit three-and-a-half times more sand per year at both locations just to keep up. Call it throwing good sediment after bad.”

I think we have learned time and time again how powerful and unpredictable the environment is. Merely trying to play with it, even try to artificially affect it may prove, as Larson points out, a futile effort. But it may be the only option in terms of combating an erosion issue that is only precipitating out of control. Further, in Larson’s article, another fundamental point stands out, distressingly:

“The predicted incremental range for sea-level rise in the county by 2100 is between five inches per decade, roughly 3 feet, and 1.2 feet per decade, nearly 10 feet. These estimates do not include storm surges’ frosting on the disaster-cake. In 80 years, hollowed-out cliff bases, beach-stripping backwash, and a 10-foot-high inundation of saltwater would all combine to damage, perhaps ruin, our present-day coastline.”

So with this, we might ask ourselves, is it relevant to even try to halt this climate change disaster from occurring? Would we better off continuing our global efforts to combat climate change as a whole? I don’t think so. I’m sure I stand in unison with most of the North county beachgoers and surfers, that we must find a way to curtail the erosion disaster on our coasts.

Finally, Larson brings up another pivoital concept, especially in regards to my beloved Tippers:

“Madelaine Cavalieri, statewide planning manager and sea-level-rise team member at the Coastal Commission, tells me by phone of three coastal protection strategies: engineered barriers, to replenish the beach or build seawalls; accommodation, to raise structures; and managed retreat, to remove them. I ask her to summarize the nub of coastal erosion. “How do we manage the coastline,” she says, “in a way that continues to afford Californians and visitors access to the beach? Some coasts have very narrow beaches, dense residential development, on high cliffs; we know that when we put up seawalls and the sea-level rises, those beaches disappear. We have time,” she continues, “a number more decades to do it right. We also are at risk of not doing it right. Maybe protection and accommodation” of coastal property “will work for a certain period of time.” But, “options for relocation” are in the works.”

Cryptic, but honest. Perhaps Tippers, like numerous other breaks are simply on a timeline with mother nature and our climate’s inexorable past. While we can slow down the effects of C02 emission, we cannot stop it from happening. I know it may take a long time for the effects of the coastline erosion to take away my cherished surf break, but it will happen. And should I choose to start a family, will they have the chance to surf Tippers? God willing.

So engineered barriers or sand replenishment? I say do both, where appropriate. Maybe sand replenishment works for Cardiff and maybe sea walls for Oceanside. Of course, I say that with only scarce knowledge I have tried to absorb. This is not, in any way, a proclamation. Only an idea. I’ll be the first to say: we need to get creative with our strategies to combat the destruction of the very things we cherish.

So the morning sesssion on another picturesque, sunny Wednesday, brings chest high to shoulder high sets. As I paddle out back to the lineup, and I smile joyously at some of my surf mates, and I look toward the cliff, in which I see the brillant landscape of the Cardiff mystique in the distance, the affluent homes at the top of the hill, and the palm trees in the distance, I think: I don’t ever want this to change.

Works Cited:

Larson, Thomas. “Will sand save San Diego North County’s bluffs?” San Diego Reader, 13 January 2021, https://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2021/jan/13/cover-can-sand-save-san-diego-north-countys-bluffs/. Accessed February 9, 2021.

CA-based, perpetually hopeful for the progress of society… Follow me on Twitter @andrewnintzel22

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