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 rusty 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.
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!
POST SCRIPT TO THE POST SCRIPT-
I just got back from skiing at Jackson Hole, Wyoming for a week last night- a trip back in time for me, haven’t been there in thirty years, having replaced skiing with surfing, and found that that place has maintained a lifestyle similar to wagon train explorers, hunters, trappers of days gone by, people living there in raw pre-sissification America (ok, so I exaggerate). They live there now like we used to before lawsuit-happy parents (and fearful municipalities) determined how the rest of us would live... twenty years ago it started getting crazy. Half an inch of snow coming? Cancel school and go to the grocery store to stock up. Salt the roads until our cars are rusted to oblivion and the only thing left is the steering wheel.
I am 100% absolutely serious when I say that from the time I landed till the tear-laden departure hour, I did not see ONE person who had more than 12 ounces of unnecessary body fat attached to their rib cage. Nobody there (as far as I could see) was fat or out of shape. Not one. Maybe just me. Every single person there is there in the raw physical pursuit of happiness, always something to do. Walk. Cross country ski. Snowmobile. Hunt. Wrestle wooly mammoths! Make love!!!! Ohhh- down hill ski on the best mountain in the universe!
Ten below zero??? No problemo! Strap on the skis (extra t-shirt needed tho) for a trip up the tram from 6,000’ to the 10,000’ peak (about a mile vertical drop!) in ten minutes into the purest powder Mother Nature ever sprinkled upon the earth. New snow every week, sometimes falling out of blue skies- incredible raw unmolested landscape.
Afraid of what you see (better yet-don’t see) at the top? Slink and scraggle back down the tram to the bottom for the walk of shame in front of everyone else waiting to go up (just kidding- lots of people go back down, actually the smartest move because you can’t see what the runs look like from the top... no shame in going back down, I’m just being theatrical). Once you gather up the ummph to dive into the abyss, you’ll see it’s just one HUGE steep bowl with no trees descending into multitudes of other trails that are just as steep or steeper.
All the signs do a great job at warning people about the dangers, putting the fear of god into people to the point where people who could totally navigate their way down actually chicken out and ride back down. I’m sure they got sick of rescuing people though. Better safe than sorry!
FREEDOM. Flying there frees the soul! Leave it all behind. Look down to see no roads or buildings. Hopefully I can leave behind all the drama in Washington DC- tRUMPS lying corrupt presidency... where to go to escape the news? JH I’m hoping.
Jackson Hole has the highest tech most professional mountain in North America, with the most dangerous terrain, the most challenging trails, and the best skiers, as a whole anywhere in the world. Behold raw nature, with gigantic moose lying in the middle of the trails with their curious calf investigating bushes nearby. Photo- Kay Pearce, friend from Britain!
In JH, it’s all about fitness, toughness, nature, and maintaining the environment for future generations. No retail there that you will recognize the name of- no Gap stores, McDonalds- their zoning is way too smart for that. Such cool stores though, really interesting walking around. Cigarette smokers are an endangered species there- as rare to see as live jackalopes. No trash or litter anywhere. When litter escapes people’s grasp, they chase it across the snow to recapture.
Looking back at these pictures makes me almost cry. Why the hell do I live here? Roots are a mixed blessing.
I love nature with all my soul. I love people who love nature like I do. Who was walking on the mountain one cool autumnal morning and saw this red cedar twisted agonizingly around some nonexistent center, yearning skyward? How did this person transform this obviously ancient tree into a light for some great house? I can tell you from my experience that trees like this growing on cliffs are centuries old. Not a lot of essential materials for plant growth, so to get this big takes a long, long time.
Article from a paper I read whilst there. Helicopters are seen frequently flying to and fro with cables hanging underneath on their way to help someone in need- always ready to aid the foolhardy who don’t obey the laws of common sense and mother nature’s warning signs. Sure wouldn’t want to surf a snow wave.
When you go to Jackson hole, the people there have zero tolerance for slovenly humans. If you can’t keep up, you are left behind to be eaten by wolves (artistic freedom for sure here).
They do their best on the sidewalks, but their best means uneven packed ice, lumpy and dangerous with huge ice patches waiting for you at each intersection. Giant piles of snow lining all the streets with previous foot steps for you to use to get up and over.
Sidewalks get you in the Wild West spirit- keep an eye out for the next gunfight in the middle of the street! Whilst slurping a strawberry milkshake at the pharmacy the sheriff kept coming in announcing that someone had parked illegally in a handicapped spot and she was looking for the owner so they wouldn’t get a ticket. She went all over town for forty five minutes then gave up and put a ticket on the windshield. Name one other town in America where they do that!!!
This was a superb milkshake. I didn’t know one could still buy them in a pharmacy.
Fire is everywhere for the shivering. Fire also soothes the soul, like a primordial lap dog, keeping visitors company at all times of the day or night. We ate snake river trout for breakfast by this fireplace, where they burn 40 cords per year at $350 per cord PLUS cost of stacking!
My Trumbull elementary teacher friend sent this to me- Trumbull kids are forbidden to go out at recess if it’s under 32f! Against the school laws! We are raising a generation of wimps, probably because of some suing-happy parents of the past. Thoughts of “what’s happening to our civilization” swirling through my head. JH wipes the slate clean- they live the way we used to. Schools are never cancelled here, and if it’s snowing- NO DELAYS, kid, get up and get dressed! Oh- isn’t “outdoor” one word??? Just illustrative of the lunacy prevailing our school systems today- lowest common denominator.
Go to Jackson hole out of shape- you are in TROUBLE. I ran for weeks to get in shape to come here, couldn’t persuade my kid to join me. His mistake! Next year he agreed he needs to work out before going there to make JH skiing more enjoyable. It stinks skiing with rubbery legs, not to mention dangerous (that’s when you get hurt).
Average JH physique. Muscles needed here in order to get the most out of JH. Fat is a hindrance to be worked off, easier said than done everywhere but here!Felt like one more week of JH and I would be in great shape again. Everyone looks like this here- from the kids to the 75 year olds. Sometimes you can see a guy shredding the moguls only to see him stop near you, take off his goggles, only to discover it’s not a college kid, it’s an “elderly” woman! Great athletes here of all kinds!
Steepest and best bowls in North America. Wanna get off the tram and go back country, no prob. Just don’t go alone, bring your beacon/airbag/first aid kit and tell people your plans. They use dynamite in the mornings for avalanche control. People die here all the time (but they get rescued all the time too).
Dont confuse all my fear mongering, with notions that Wyoming people are burly hunters rude to the core. They aren’t at all! Au Contraire! With zero exceptions, each and every interaction I had with every human being during my entire time there was exceptionally pleasant. Everyone there seems at peace with themselves, and that peace is tangible as soon as words start to flow. It’s even better in the tram/gondola/chair lift. Like-minded people are there from every corner of the universe. I met my first Turkish Kurd, my first Uzbekistan man, a couple of Russians. All people there look like future/current/past Olympic cross country skiers.
Wildlife in Jackson hole is otherworldly- like Halloween in Greenwich village. Check out the jackalope hunted yearly in fall- a cross between (you guessed it) a jack rabbit and an antelope. Don’t scoff- I’ve had late night encounters that worked out well also... you gotta keep your options open in the wilderness!
A full blown moose trotted twenty feet away from us when we were walking to dinner in -15f frozen nostril-sticking air one night. He/she stopped to decide if we were worthy of destroying. I guess logic prevailed and we were allowed to pass. Must have known we were touristas, and were given a free pass. They are known for their foul temper- shredding humans with nary a thought.
Long line waiting for lift to open- guy behind us said “worse than killington on a Sunday.” I said “nothing’s worse than killington on a Sunday.” Guy in front said “what state are you from?” Connecticut. Where in Connecticut? Trumbull. He said- “IM FROM TRUMBULL!” I told him about the nursery, and it turns out he was a customer of mine before he moved to JH, now getting rich (seriously) growing micro greens for the restaurants around this great town!
Clearest road in Wyoming. All other roads covered in 3-8” of packed snow turned to ice. They do not use sand or salt because the salt attracts big mammals to the roads and everyone loses. Don’t know how to drive on ice and snow? Uber, or the free busses that work like clockwork here- every twenty minutes- FREE!
This place puts living in Connecticut in perspective. We are sissified. Salt on roads. Sand on roads. Plows removing every flake until the steel sparks on the asphalt. Why do we need to be babied like this?
Today there was a two hour delay because there was an inch of slush on the roads. Prob because some parent slipped on a patch of ice twenty years ago and sprained their wrist- pathetic!
Slip on ice in Wyoming and try to sue... just watch them laugh at you.
The True American spirit is found everywhere here, in the shops, the architecture, the creativity of even the simplest things- from the menus to the elk antler arbors found everywhere in town. There is no place like Jackson Hole. Once you go JACK, you never go back (to any other ski resort), a rhyme that popped into my head on the chairlift one day.
Pic of me from 88 or 89- from one of the guys at the top of a lift selling picture taking services before cellphone cameras. Before cellphones! Before snowboards. Back in the day when skiis were taller than I was, and helmets were for motorcycles. Now they are cheater skiis, or that’s what it seems like- too easy!
I have re-read this blog entry about Jackson hole a lot, I just can't stop reliving this trip- the vacation that never ends. I am going to say that without a doubt, this Jackson Hole trip was the number one best vacation that I ever had, and I've had a lot of good ones. Can't really put my finger on the reason why...
Maybe it's because I rediscovered skiing... maybe its because vacationing with my son is different now that he is older. Could be because I LOVE JACKSON HOLE... or because I might have found a place to move to when I am no longer doing the nursery thing.
This song is a good place to finally end the longest blog in history- yawn. It's my "Jackson Hole Song."
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.