`Beep Me When the Winds Are Primo'
| VENTURA, CALIF.
MEET contractor Jim Martin, stockbroker Blake Biederman, and insurance salesman Mike Veseth.
With emergency precision worthy of a fire drill, these three professionals have converged on this remote location, dutifully summoned from their offices by the latest in pager technology.
The mood is serious. The tension is palpable. Battling against time, they are on a collective mission central to their well-being.
Translation: ''Surf's up!''
''I'm just thanking this beeper that I'm not going to miss these waves and wind,'' says Mr. Veseth, who at 1:03 p.m. was in an office five miles away, talking with insurance clients on the phone.
This windsurfing trio is part of the latest California trend: Grown mid-career men and women wearing beepers to catch ''primo'' coastal winds. Calls are cut short, investment portfolios are dropped, and cars suddenly bang U-turns on the Los Angeles freeway to respond to the ''Call of the Wind'' beeper service.
For $207 down and $21 per month, desk-bound yuppies are instantly notified when the wind conditions are right to ply the waves. Already, some 450 windsurfers here are subscribers.
Squeezing the corner of his new clip-on pager, on Monday afternoon Veseth found that the wind here at Ventura Beach was blowing between 11 to 25 m.p.h. (averaging 15), angling from the west-northwest, with an air temperature of 66 degrees.
''In five minutes I'll be gliding, bumping, and jumping,'' Veseth says.
So far, 14 windsurfing sites in Southern California and six in Hawaii are monitored. Other beaches are being added in northern California.
The ''Call'' grew out of a business started in 1993 by Mr. Martin. He devised a machine that could be placed at the beach and give up-to-the-minute wind reports for those calling in.
''We found that everyone was calling the beach every five minutes and the darn thing was busy,'' says Martin, a windsurfer since 1988. ''Now nobody has to worry -- when things are right, you hear about it.''
Martin points to a pole about 300 yards down the beach. Atop the pole, he explains is a miniature device known as an anemometer -- three, table-spoon-sized cups that spin in the wind -- and a computer the size of a box of Grape-Nuts, buried unseen at the pole's base.
Every two seconds, a new reading is generated, giving high and low wind speeds, a choice of 16 directions (north, north northeast, east-northeast, east etc.), as well as temperature.
IF the reading is 13 m.p.h. or above, subscribers are beeped, and if the wind-speed average is increased, subscribers receive a new signal every 10 minutes.
To the uninitiated, the service may sound elitist or extravagant. But observers here say the idea is well worth the price to those wishing to save time, money, gas, and hours or days of frustration.
''Windsurfers who are really into the sport are ready and willing to travel great distances at the drop of a hat,'' says Britt Horn, a lifeguard at Leo Carillo State Beach, one of the key surfing sites in southern California. ''They have spent a lot of time investing in equipment and learning how to use it -- this can save them hours of frustration and hassle.''
For decades, the alternative has been to depend either on scattered local weather reports, coastal marine radio -- which requires special equipment -- or a trip to the beach. Far too often, indicators such as visible whitecaps or trees bending with the wind do not give enough information.
''The low and high wind speeds on this gadget let me know if the wind is steady or full of holes,'' Mr. Biederman says. Depending on the weight of the user and his equipment, a difference of 1 m.p.h. can be crucial.
''At 12 m.p.h., I'm sailing smooth,'' says Martin. ''At 11, I begin to sink.''
Since the service began, subscriber Rod King has been beeped 200 times and responded 150 times.
''If I save just one or two trips from here to Leo Carillo Beach a month, that pays the cost of the service,'' Mr. King says.
Already the device has been credited with freeing up prime ocean-front parking lots that once filled with trucks and vans of waiting windsurfers. Now they remain empty -- until the wind speed has reached 13 m.p.h. or better.
Court Overin, publisher of Surfer Magazine, says a similar service is in the works for conventional big-board surfers, with added information about wave height, duration, swells, and frequency.