This GIANT KOOK was getting out after getting WORKED. Grocery store board, no fins, no wetsuit! Hoped his insurance is paid up and that he has no kids. Strong current zipping past him and behind him forever. One had to go all the way around past the far side of the wave to get out- no duck diving under those freight trains.
Hurricane Maria pounding Rhode Island with the biggest waves anyone had ever seen- ever. Waves breaking out in places nobody had ever seen them break before. We got waves from Maria from Friday all the way to the next Friday, when Maria was still down destroying Puerto Rico. Unimaginable force of nature, to produce such violence from a storm thousands of miles away.
Tuesday was EPIC. Fluctuating heavy fog most of the day that lifted for periods of time then came back really really fast. Now I know what they mean when they warn that on the ocean the weather changes really fast, something that I always had heard but never experienced.
When I paddled out at about nine thirty, it was foggy but you could still see the sun through the haze. No wind, and really warm- almost shorty weather but I had a 4/3 on for buoyancy after crashing. Not a day where I could take any pictures with my phone that did that day justice. I got in at my normal spot and planned on doing what I always do which is to paddle out and to the left, waiting for a lull in the big sets. There was none so I just hopped in and prepared myself for the pounding that was about to happen. Who cares, it's only water, and if you cant take a good whoopin' then you don't deserve to surf.
I got pounded, wave after wave, pushed in and to the left for what seemed like forever but I just kept paddling over to try to get around the place where the waves aren't breaking anymore so I could then head out to where I like to sit waiting for waves. The fog set in and I thought that I knew where I was and that was good enough for me. I finally got out past the point where I needed to be and paddled out and caught some monster waves with a few other guys out there with me. The waves were expert-only waves breaking where on a normal day the beginners sit waiting for the smaller gentler waves. The sun beat back the fog, and the motionless air started moving and when the fog had lifted I could see that I was sitting in front of a row of houses that I never surf in front of. I had been pushed east for... I dunno- a mile???
I said "SHIT," and started paddling. I had to paddle again way over to the left and way way out to get outside the huge set waves that were breaking in a place where I have never seen them break before and when I got to my spot I was finally comfortable because the sun was shining and there was absolutely zero wind, the water was smooth and glassy, and there were about eight other guys within shouting distance. There wasn't much talking, all eyes and focus was southward, straining for the monster wave that can crush human flesh, hyper-prepared for fast evasive paddling. It's what we usually do anyway, but Tuesday was on a scale never experienced before by any of us.
One guy looked at me with a panicked look on his face and said with a French accent (Canadian guy) "where do you go to get out of the water?" I looked at him quizzically yet politely and pointed to the land. There are spots we usually get out but that day, one had to be prepared to walk because you sure weren't gettin' out at the normal spot. I never saw him again.
Waves went by, the crowd thinned, and eventually I was sitting by myself with one guy to my left about two hundred meters away, and one or two guys about the same distance to my right.
About two or three in the afternoon, two jet skiis could be seen zipping around jumping waves, having fun. One of them came over to me and asked if I was having fun yet, and I sarcastically said "NO." He shouted "YOU"RE FUCKING NUTS." I should have said a whole lot more than what I said but it wasn't worth it and he floored it and departed with a huge gas-powered rooster tail. It was with happiness that I saw them leave for good after ten minutes or so. I talked to another guy after everyone got out and apparently the jet ski guy said the same exact thing to him. LOSER!
Tuesday made everyone out there push their limits, myself included.
I got a little cocky around two o'clock and decided that I would take waves bigger than the ones that I had been on all day. I dropped down one gigantic wave as the lip was coming over me and the bottom dropped out and I fell through the air for a very long time. Who knows how far I fell or how long it took but I got spanked by mother nature for toying around with her and disrespecting her. It must have been funny to see. That fall did not stop me from pushing my limits though. I just adjusted my takeoff spot a hundred feet eastward and then resumed taking huge waves successfully for the remainder of the day. The waves were perfectly formed, with rights going on and on endlessly to the point where I ditched the wave before it ended because I didn't want to paddle for half an hour to get back out. I dismounted waves prematurely that had ten foot faces that could have been ridden for another who knows... half mile???
Earlier that morning, sun shining, three people out there only (?!?!). I looked over and saw Peter (one of the best surfers around) take a humongous wave, biggest wave of the day for anyone out there. I raised my arms and screamed as loud as I could with excitement. This wave was Hawaii 5-0 sized, perfectly formed, sun shining, no wind, GUTSY Peter sliding down the face... magazine cover quality wave+surfer. Well, they say that all good things must come to an end but neither Peter nor I thought that that phrase would be applied so quickly for this wave...that his epic ride would end so soon! One or two seconds after he was on the wave the tip of his board went into the wave face and Peter turned into a human pinwheel literally inside the barrel, spinning around once then another half turn before all I could see was a human/wave blender, arms, legs, black wetsuit, white violent water, then roar, there goes Peter and his wave off into the distance, a marriage that had seen better days. I've known Peter for about fifteen years and only seen him fall a handful of times.
I switched to the boogie board later in the day because I then also had legs to help propel myself through the surf, my arms were getting tired and also because my level of comfort in such big surf is much greater. Lying on that board closely resembles swimming, and on that sponge I stayed the rest of the day.
After I slid down the faces of those monsters, I was going FAST. So fast that my right arm's long wetsuit sleeve was forced halfway up towards my elbow and each time I paddled back out I had to fidget it back down to my wrist with water infused inside my wetsuit's chest and arm. I made a note to tuck my right arm closer to my ribs to keep my body from touching the wave on the inside, destabilizing me and slowing me down. I tried doing 360s a few times because it's boring and kinda stupid to just be like a sack of potatoes on a sponge going straight, but what ended up happening each time was similar to what happens in NASCAR races when they have high speed accidents- cars spinning in the air, parts flying all over the place. Trust me, I decided to save those efforts for some other kind of day when there is less to lose. I especially wanted to try to do a barrel roll, speed down the face, do a quick bottom turn, head up the face at full speed and hit the lip and spin laterally then land back on the face going the same speed and direction. I mentally "bitch-slapped" myself (learned that phrase on the Howard Stern show) at that thought. If I couldn't manage an easy 360, then even trying a barrel roll is out of the question. In my own defense, at least I was thinking about it. I had to settle for just being out there in huge epic surf conditions with two or three other guys. Where the hell was everyone?
I adjusted my position all day long to accommodate my strength level and cockiness factor. After hours, the waves became normal for me and not so scary. Don't get me wrong, I was scared the entire day. But being scared might be translated into maybe more like hyper-aware/scared/respectful.
Periods of calm did exist also, with glassy water, total solitude, total awareness of the event's magnitude and rarity. I paddled through countless bait balls, baby fish swimming as one to thwart predators. Nice strategy. Hundreds of flashes of light from silvery scales in a swirling ball. A sight to behold in the middle of such huge waves.
I was going to stay out until I had absolutely no energy left at all, and that's exactly what I did. And as long as I am alive on this planet, I will always remember that day for what I described above, and will always wonder why more people did not paddle out and surf there with me.
Maybe the guy on the jet ski was right!
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.