Pulling on the wetsuit listening to NPR-finding out what kind of idiocy our fearless leader will pull today, or what new crimes they think he and his crew are being accused of... I’m tired of sitting on the edge of my seat. Millions of people just like me can’t wait for the “I” word proceedings to begin.
I thought about going yesterday when it was bigger but there was a chance the wind was wrong so I waited till this am. It’s going to be big all day long but biggest now till 11, with high tide at ten-ish. Less crowds, no traffic, place to myself and the other crazies.
Seems kinda cold but once you start moving around all the discomfort goes away... for a few hours anyway. Then the inexorable march of numbness creeps into toes and fingers then not-so-slowly moves towards essential body parts that are hard to do without.
Ok... time to get in! In order to get into the water you have to hop the fence and jump from huge boulder to huge boulder then carefully place your feet on the progressively more dangerous ones- those that occasionally get wet where some slimy growth looks stable but ain’t even when dry. Lower down are the boulders that get sprayed at every high tide and below those are the ones submerged at every high tide. Every single one is a broken bone in the making- a smashed cranium or a jammed pinky toe- possibly a broken femur. The severity of your injury depends upon your carelessness and your lack of luck quotient for that particular moment in time and space. All of this is in the front of my mind each and every time I get into and out of the water, and me figures that these paranoias are what keeps me from jamming my pinky toe, smashing my cranium, and breaking my femur.
Its probably really funny to watch us get in at low tide because we all slip on rocks and almost always tip over and fall like drunks on prom night. Happens all the time. Slipping forward with weight on your leg is a two week pinky toe crunching excruciating experience. Mother Nature divvied out pain sensing nerves as evenly as she could when making human beings but one might figure the pinky toe doesn’t really need or have that many nerve endings. WRONG.
I chose a suitable rock almost in the water to sit on to put my stuff on and the teentsy remnants of the monster waves rolled themselves quietly up to my toes until they died out with a whimper into smooth dark water. Eerily quiet sitting there on my rock.
As I sat there in the darkness it was like I was sitting on the shore of an ocean on Mars because of the various strange sights and sounds. The sky above me was still black as night but the horizon behind the waves that were hundreds of meters away from me was an intense brilliant burning orange. Sitting where I was (at absolute sea level), I was actually below the surface of the water where the waves were. Waves stand up over sea level, so above and behind me was the cliff, to the right of me was a twenty foot tall concrete wall with a fence on top both of which had seen better days. Above and in front of me were the endless rows of waves with the tiniest remnants of waves a few inches tall closest to me and the fifteen to eighteen footers farthest away from me backlit by the orange horizon. I felt like I was sitting in a hole in the earth, lowest point around.
The waves closest to me were benevolent beings, quiet puppy dog creatures, innocent and friendly. When they died out it was almost sad. The white waves in the middle increasing in size incrementally as they got further away, were charging violent swaths of anger lined up with malice in mind roiling towards me. And (yeah, I know- not supposed to start a sentence with “and” but I’m going to anyway!) behind them were tall dark walls blotting out most of the light occasionally then lowering themselves down again.
The strangest waves of all though, were the ones that popped up with no regularity at all. Every five to ten seconds from eastern horizon to western horizon would be an angry monster furthest away from me towering above the rest with wind-whipped arms splaying skywards- angry!!! Pissed off!!! Ready to kill me!!! Anyone who has ever seen ancient Japanese art illustrating huge angry waves knows what I saw. It really looked like these waves had demonic personalities. To see them I had to look up at them from my sea level vantage point.
I spent so much time describing this because I’ve never seen it before and it will probably be a long time before I see it again.
The stiff wind and it’s buffeting noise that was blowing in the parking lot was totally eliminated by the cliff that I had just descended, and strangely, the violent roar of the monstrous waves was drowned out by the backyard stream-like trickling sound of the piddly little tiny waves licking my fins as if those sounds butted their way to the front of the noise line just because they were closer.
When I got in at first I thought that I would be able to paddle straight out but that vision was quickly erased when I got pounded by freight train after freight train after freight train of tumbling freezing white water and really strong currents.
I hunkered down and resigned myself to the fact that I had to paddle out and to the left instead of the easy straight out route. It was just too big with no break in the chaos. As I paddled I had to acclimatize myself to the cold water splashing me in my face and the instant increase of beats per minute of my heart from 60 to 150... huffing and puffing lungs, freezing water going into teeny holes in my wetsuit, insane pounding every 13 seconds as each wave pulverized my ego... and you wonder why I really didn’t want to get in?
Tiring (pace yourself...) tiring (pace yourself). Anyone who partakes in crazy sports knows exactly what I’m talking about. I’m NOT stretching before I get in-that’s stupid. I’m not doing yoga before I get in- way embarrassing. I see people doing that stuff and I can’t help scoffing (quietly to myself). When I get in at first I just usually take it easy and slowly increase my effort level as I get comfortable. That usually works unless huge white water pounds me upon entering. Then... it’s every man for himself. Such was the case today.
When I got to the point where I was no longer pounded by the white water, I knew I could start heading out to sea and was relaxed enough to notice that the jet airliner con trails had formed above me towards the southern sky. They looked like they had been drawn with a straight edge and the broad flat part of an orange magic marker against the dark blue-black early morning sky with the sun still beyond and way below the horizon. There were three perfectly identical lines really close to each other and it looked like they had been there for some time. “How perfect” I thought to myself as I paddled out. How abso-damn-lutely beautiful. This is the stuff I believe most surfers fail to see when out there.
As I angled back over- out and to the right towards my takeoff spot the steepness of the wave faces and their size increased sharply. They were each huge, organized, perfect waves. I looked behind me to see two other guys paddling out, enduring the same exact experience I just went through. The immature side of me wished that they HAD TO because it wouldn’t be fair if I had to paddle way way way over then back out then these guys get to paddle straight out. Well- they got crushed by the waves just like I did, and my immature self was satisfied, and I had/have no guilt at all.
It was then time to figure out where to sit waiting for waves. In front of the parking lot was where I was and that’s where I stayed for a while. Usually that’s where the beginners, longboarders, old folks sit but when it’s big like this, it is a superior place to be with regular huge waves rolling in and one can go left or right on them, something that’s dangerous to do over in front of the guard house. Going left in front of the guard house deposits you directly in the inner side of the “inside,” a difficult place to extricate yourself from. One can end up in front of the guard house in moments if not careful with the tides and rip currents manhandling us without our knowledge. All of the sudden you look at land to ascertain your relative position and you realize that you are hundreds of meters away from where you thought you were. Gotta pay attention and NEVER turn your back on the ocean.
Each and every single time I surf its a completely different experience. The winds, tides, currents, company, wave size and direction are never the same-ever. Sometimes it’s good sitting in the same place for a while, other times you gotta slide to the left or right, go out further or in more.
I dont like to sit in the same spot for long waiting for waves, especially in the winter when lethargy quickly breeds numbness. Gotta keep moving, so sometimes when it’s too long a wait for the larger sets I go closer to shore to ride the more numerous yet smaller waves. That’s called “sitting on the inside.”
Inevitably, that approach results in regret because almost as soon as my internal clock directs me to go towards the “inside,” the long-awaited for huge sets roll in and crush me. Either the thick unbroken lip jumps skyward and lunges forward directly towards me and on top of me or the twelve foot tall wall of tidal wave-like white water tumbles towards me ready to crush me. Deep breaths, wait till the last half second then DIVE AS DEEP AS YOU CAN!!! Hold on for dear life to my board, try to maintain orientation with up staying up and down staying down. That doesn’t always work.
Sometimes I’m tumbled incoherently along with the white water like gambler’s dice till the energy of the wave subsides. Keeping every molecule of air in my lungs helps for buoyancy, holding tightly onto my board helps pop back up to the surface faster. NEVER let go of the board or the leash snaps and your board can kill someone else behind you or you gotta go chase your board only to find it bashing up on the rocks destroying itself. Costs a lot to let go of one’s board either way.
Must have been about ten years ago at the same spot that I hadn’t truly learned that lesson yet. It was another big wave day in the winter and I had already surfed for hours and was tired but it was a nice day and I wasn’t numb yet. I was paddling back out to my spot after surfing one wave and got stuck on the inside, pummeled by huge wave after huge wave, not a nice feeling. TIRING. After the third or fourth abusive wave I said to myself “dude, just dive off your board and go deep without your board, it’s easier.”
I’m not one to argue so that’s exactly what I did. I dove off the board and went down ten, twelve feet till the rumbling tornado wave went over my head tugging hard on my leash the entire time. The leash went slack and I resurfaced and looked all around for my surfboard... nowhere in sight. I figured that my leash broke but then BAM!!! Baseball bat swung hard right against my face. WTH!!! I hopped back onto my board and put my wetsuit mitten on the spot where the board smashed my face after the wave released it from its swirling grip. The board’s buoyancy shot the board right back towards me like a loyal boomerang and the fin or the rear end of the board punched me in the cheekbone an inch from my eye. BLOOD.
I paddled back out to where the guys were and they all looked hard at me shaking their heads as if to say “noooo, go home now!”
I lay flat on my surfboard all the way back to the slippery rocks and wobbled my way up to my truck and got dressed. The cold salt water must have had some cauterizing effect on the blood flow because I wasn’t bleeding anymore but after I warmed up I realized something else was wrong with me. My brain was messed up...sobriety was dubious. My sight wasn’t clear and focused and I wasn’t sure about driving but I did. Me, my stuff, and my wounded ego (not the best company) drove home together with the slowly crystallizing idea that I must have been given one hell of a concussion. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that my fully aware consciousness was not returned to me for about a week. I’m pretty sure that that was my last “DON’T DITCH YOUR BOARD” lesson. Refresher courses are offered to me each time I forget and go inside on big days.
So there you have not two but three reasons to hold on to your board under waves, just in case you find yourself on a surfboard some day.
I guess every surf session offers up a lesson. It doesn’t take long to learn the DONT ditch your board lesson, but I’m still learning the “don’t sit on the inside” lesson. It’s always a battle in my mind... I just don’t like sitting for ten or fifteen minutes waiting for waves! I guess if it’s really big then sitting on the inside is stupid- way too much to lose but if it’s smaller duck diving under waves isn’t so bad- it’s different every time.
Yet after I get crushed by big sets charging at me sitting on the inside waiting for the smaller but more frequent “inside waves” because I lacked the patience to wait for the “set waves” on the outside, I say to myself “you’re SUCH A LOSER.” You couldn’t wait for the waves on the outside, had to be impatient and go inside... it happens EVERY TIME! When the hell am I going to learn?
I’m reminded of Charlie Brown in his stupidly trusting moments when Lucy offers to hold the football so he can kick it. Every damn time she pulls the ball away just as he is going to kick it and every time he falls painfully on his back. Doesn’t stop him from falling for it each time that mean girl bully offers to hold it for him again. That’s what I think of each time I get crushed on the inside!
When I'm sitting in the right spot though, it’s heavenly bliss. I can develop a new relationship with Mother Nature without getting crushed. The waves roll towards me jacking up at the last second and lift me up all at once ten, fifteen, twenty feet in the air then lower me back down again. If they are breaking to the left or right of me, I can witness one of nature’s most unforgettable sights- peering into the wave’s barrel all the way through to the other side with me unmolested by the violent fury... just sitting there on my board up in the air- one with the wave looking at it about to destroy itself. I guess it’s kind of like the feeling a bullfighter gets when the beast charges by but doesn’t touch him.
If the sun is low in either direction the water, sun, wind, sounds, colors and violence conspire to form memories that are impossible for anyone conscious enough about their surroundings to forget.
Sliding down one of these monsters is a feeling hard to describe, and I’m tiring of writing so I’m not going to now, but suffice it to say it’s analogous to that bullfighter grabbing the bull’s horns and hopping on then holding on for dear life till the bull can’t run any more.
After waves like that sometimes I’m paddling back out and can’t remember one detail about the wave I just rode! I can never figure out how that can be but it’s true, and happens A LOT.
I exerted myself hard today keeping in mind that my Jackson hole ski trip with my son requires absolute conditioning, and exert myself I did, but I guess all good things must come to an end. When I was kicking. I realized that my legs did not have feet or fins at the ends, they had numb frozen blocks of feelingless corpse-like logs incapable of sensing the world around them.
I got out to warm up and decided that as much as I wanted to stay, I was done for the day. Feet numb to above my ankles... calves semi-numb. The waves were still big but waning. Wind stiff still as you can tell by the backspray in this pic.
Hard to see but this guy is walking back to his car carrying not one whole board but two half boards- the price you pay for ditching your board and diving without it below a flesh-crushing wave. Sometimes you come to the surface to find your prized possession a shadow of its former self- because you didn’t follow the rules. Happens.
Video instructions: earbuds in/volume on highest level- brace yourself!
At some point your body retrieves all the blood from extremities for use elsewhere. I’m pretty sure if someone hacked my feet off at the ankles with a hatchet I wouldn’t bleed, nor would I feel it. Certainly wouldn’t wear flip flops into the mini mart- GROSS! It takes over an hour to return to normal.
The white water itself was twelvish feet tall, rumbling violently shorewards. Gotta dive deep to escape. Don’t want to be at the wrong place at the wrong time on a day like today- ain’t fun.
Larger sets broke further out on occasion (as they always do) making one pay close attention. The third thing I taught my son just after he was born was “NEVER TURN YOUR BACK ON THE OCEAN.”
Please don’t ever ask me what the first two bits of advice were- that’s between a father who has been around the block a few times, and his son.
The randomness of the appearance of lumps of water that turned into decent surfable A-frame peaks was interesting but tiring as we repeatedly positioned ourselves to be in the right spot at the right time.
Waves like this are to die for. They are BEAUTIFUL. They are SEXY. They are FUN. I’m extremely lucky to be able to go out into water like I do-experiencing ocean love the way only surfers can. I have competitive swimming and my physical lifestyle to thank for that, and when I was out there in that surf this song came into my mind and stayed there reminding me how lucky I am:
Post script written days after this original blog entry- against my better judgement:
I’ve read this post several times after originally writing it looking for grammar mistakes, and listened to this song a lot. I close my eyes and listen to the song playing as my story rolls like a movie in my head. Driving up into the parking lot, wetsuit on, sitting down on my rock on the edge of a Martian ocean, paddling out, surfers getting pounded, lines in sky, board smashing my face, caught on the inside, bullfighter riding the bull, looking into the barrel... numb limbs, going home. It’s a struggle to visualize the whole movie before the song ends.
At the same time my surf session unfolds, Collie Buddz is doing shots, rolling joints, frolicking with almost naked beautiful women on a tropical beach... the parallels are there for me.
Our lives are offered to us once, for a short time only, and in the grind of today’s cultural shallowness it’s important to keep searching for that place where we can discard all that we’ve become and return to the simple and essential “ME.” The “me” that you used to be. Once you find that place where you are happiest being that simple you, cling on to it with all your might, and protect your relationship with that activity at all costs.
Lauren, grab your sneakers- Trust me.
When I closed my eyes and had that song playing with my story, I was really happy, and I’m not letting anything get in the way of surfing, good music, and my appreciation of nature- unless Collie Buddz and those two girls need some additional company!
Big storm= BIG WAVES! Such is the case Sunday and Monday. I’m still achy and sore from last last Wednesday, but almost healed. Holy shit- what a workout! Sore for over a week. Lots of cold, snow, and wind..... meaning nobody will be there but a few hard core guys(like me)!
Water temp is 44f- 6f higher than the normal winter temp of 38f and when it’s like that in the winter I always think back to global warming. As much as I’d like it to be more comfortable, I’d rather have it the way it’s supposed to be-FREEZING. Let’s see if it’s possible to surf when it’s 9f like it is going to be Monday. Might not be worth the drive.
When I drive towards surf I have a difficult time with the speed limit and when I drive home afterwards the speed limit could be half of what is posted and even that would be too fast.
After I surf I’m high as a kite with what I think are exercise-related hormones coursing through my veins for days afterwards. Feels GREAT.
I always knew that working my body to the max was good for me in more ways than one, and I love it when I stumble upon articles like this that seem to put a more specific detail towards what’s happening inside me when my heart is pumping at 110-150 bpm for a few hours.
One customer told me a me a few months ago as we talked surf that someday soon I am going to need to “age out of surfing.” When I heard that it really bothered me. Is that what people do when they get older? Do I have to also? Will I have a choice?
In the dimmest dullest section of my brain it has occurred to me at times that I am the oldest person surfing out there in big waves. One kid came up to me once and said “hey, I thought that this was a young persons surf spot but you are the oldest person I’ve ever seen out here.”
I sat there for a while as my neurons processed that comment wondering if I had just been slighted or complimented.
During Hurricane Maria surf week I was the oldest person by 6 years, and when I asked one local surfer why he wasn’t there, he said- “dude, I’m 65years old!” Wow.
All I can say is I’m going to my grave with my wetsuit on and a leash around my ankle. I’m not “aging out of surfing” into water aerobics at the local YMCA, and I’m not going to stop surfing in blizzards and hurricanes. I guess I will always have the swimming skills that I developed over the decades of competitive swimming to keep me alive, and the smarts to choose the right equipment when it gets dangerous- and when to get out and go home based upon fatigue.
Here is a link to the article from the New York Times that triggered this blog entry:
In this video you can hear the hard blowing wind, you can see the violent white water, and the swirling tidal stream, with the charging lip blown backwards off each wave.
On the backside of the wave, one can feel the sensation of riot hosing when the wind and spray pulverize each surfer with buckshot-like pellets of water. It’s exciting!!!
I stood in the parking lot when I got there trying to decide whether to surf or boogie board. Since I’m going to ski for the first time in 20 years at Jackson hole this feb with my kid, I realized I had to get my legs in shape, so out came the fins and the sponge, despite the ribbing that was a certainty when people who know me saw me. I get made fun of when I bodyboard. It’s perceived as a wimpy surf choice by surfers, a sensation not lost on me.
Its easy for me to understand how they think, because often I am one of them, looking down my nose at people who aren’t on a short board, silently criticizing those who choose other forms of ocean love... but my attitudes are changing slowly in and out of the water.
Here is the surfer’s hierarchy:
top dog= short boards
second= hybrids (between long and short board)
down the ladder= long boards (beginners/old ppl)
elder care = paddleboards
body boards= child care
knee boards= assisted living
inflatable body boards= one foot in grave
When I body board, I do it for a reason... ITS FUN!!! I catch an insane amount of waves, ten times the number of waves as anyone else. The wind does not affect me at all, I’m not afraid (at all) at late takeoffs or gigantic monsters, I can power myself through the water no matter how violent with four limbs instead of two, alternating between tired arms and rested legs, and visa versa. I can power back to my spot with less effort, and my body is totally wrecked/ruined for a full week afterwards, sometimes not able to get out of bed the next day. Duck diving is twice as easy.
The thursday after this surf session which lasted three hours I took off from work, stayed home, and just hung around the house, incapable of moving, cleaning, doing dishes... went to bed at 6pm because of the toll it took on my body. Totally wasted shell of my former self- no good to anybody.
So even though bodyboarding is perceived as the “children’s choice “ in the surfer’s hierarchy here on the east coast, I challenge any short board session to surfing in comparing the attributes of each. After I surf I’m NEVER as tired afterwards as I am body boarding.
Here it is Sunday morning, and I can still feel the ache in my neck and the soreness in my thighs from the pounding I took Wednesday. Feels damn good!
As a result of the above, I am increasingly more tolerant of the choices others make in choosing equipment when they surf. To each his own, live and let live- blah blah blah.
Parallels (I’m always looking for a moral to each story) can be found in this experience to racism and intolerance in general, I believe.
It is usually not until one feels the scorn of others in any group or society directed at oneself (not a good feeling) that that person begins to feel empathy towards others in the similar situations.
My theory might possibly be of some benefit to the world if the current occupant of the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC could experience it. That lesson might take several decades to penetrate his consciousness but eventually it might sink in. I’m not holding my breath for that to happen.
I didn’t take any good pics of waves but yesterday was 7’ @ 10 seconds in full sun with light offshore wind- ideal conditions for an early winter surf session.
Was kinda crowded and I found myself sitting for too long so I switched to the body board and swam really hard for three hours, caught tons of waves then scraggled back on spaghetti-flimsy legs back to my truck. What a workout.
Two hours surfing, two hours bodyboarding. Sore as hell now.
Nobody was there except me and four other guys. 9-10’ 8 seconds, offshore 30-40 mile hour winds, 55f.
Waves were sectiony with occasional waves that went across the entire point unmolested by close outs. To be out there pretty much alone gave me a giant smile the whole time, most frustration to be found surfing, most fun bodyboarding.
Paddle like hell for a wave to find high tide messing with the faces making the drop sometimes elusive.
Want it a great workout? Strap on a pair of fins and bodyboard for a few hours. See what happens to your body. Neck, all muscles above my belly button feel like I got hit by a train. All muscles below my belt (except one) feel like I got tackled by an NFL linebacker.
If if I did that every day or even twice a week my body would revert back into what I looked like in college. Great way to spend New Year’s Day!
In the winter my nursery is pretty dormant. Not a lot of customers buying trees in the winter, so I take off a lot. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to do to prepare for next year, and I try to do most of those things, but I do it whenever I feel like it, inbetween surf sessions, visits, trips, etc.
I put the nursery plants in storage, so it pretty much looks like an empty lot and some people inevitably start rumors “I hear you’re going out of business!” It looks that way just because we pack away the plants to protect them.
Instead of having to explain winter protection to everyone who asks, I put these signs up. Settles all speculation about the health of my business. Surfing comes in handy!
People throughout the past twenty years since I began putting surf signs up have asked me “are you the one who goes surfing? Where do you go, do you really go?”
These silly signs intending to explain our dormant business are actually better and more attention grabbing than any other signs I’ve ever put out there.
Its probably because surfing in my area refers to the internet. Fat lazy Americans (what I am when out of shape) wasting their time doodling, researching, shopping... doing everything except what Mother Nature intended for our bodies.... exert/play/exercise/stress and near death exposure to risk.
So I always try to talk people into trying surfing, and to date I have been able to talk “ZERO” people into even trying. I don’t stop suggesting it to people but I don’t put a lot of energy into it anymore, not worth it. It would be like trying to get my son interested in keeping a life journal- total waste of time.
I used to to belong to a really good masters swim team and not one of those people tried surfing either, oh well. I guess it’s a specialized sport. Better that way anyway. Less surfers=less crowd.
Just thought it funny to find that the most popular page on my website has nothing to do with horticulture, and my most memorable signs by the road don’t have zip to do with the nursery.
Surfing rocks! Can’t wait to go this week!
Last Saturday I surfed for six hours. Three surfing, three body boarding. I’m still sore. My thighs, calfs, shoulders, neck. I know as we age it takes longer for our bodies to recover from exercise. In college, it’s measured in hours. Thirties in a couple’a days, past that it’s measured by how often one gets stressful workouts.
The more hard stuff you do in your life as well as how frequently you do it, the easier it is for your body. If you have a typical lethargic lifestyle, you will not be able to do in your later years what you used to be able to do when you were brand new!
Get off off your fat ass (easier said than done) and work that bod.
Im going to take my kid out west to ski in feb., and I want to be able to ski the whole time we are there. Gotta get in shape!
Holy shit, I’m totally exhausted. I surfed for three hours then paddled in n switched boards for a leg workout on the body board for another three hours.
Body boarders need to earn respect. If people disrespect you, they basically pretend that you aren’t there. As a result, when I’m body boarding, I always go for the biggest waves, the ones others shy away from. Once they see you sliding down huge waves, they usually don’t drop in on you, and back off if you shout at them as they are about to slide down the wave that you are already surfing on.
Some assholes don’t respect the rules, and need an angry talking to, like the kid who got a scolding from me after half a dozen drop ins. He deserved it.
Typical post-storm sunset beautifying my soul on the way home followed by a pure white full moon in a clear black night.
Winter solstice was yesterday so the days are going to get brighter and longer morning and afternoon from now till June 21.
I had this song stuck in my head the entire surf session. Good tune!
Hi, my name is
David Benjamin and I started swimming in Chappaqua, NY., swam for Badger swim team, Mercersburg Academy, NC State University, then Westport YMCA masters. I got bored of the ol' back and forth of competitive swimming and the high cost of skiing. Surfing took over and I never looked back.