Desperation drives the truck to rake in the remnants from a huge storm. Absolutely nobody on I-95 at four am on a Sunday morning. Hopefully all the drunks are passed out behind dumpsters so I arrive alive.
Exciting arrival at my favorite surf spot. Tons of fishing boats speeding to and fro, bro. Their lights lit so I can track their progress.
Car lights illuminate that which needs no illumination. Morning scene is unforgettable. I told my son tonight that these views will be forefront on my mind when I am gasping my last breaths before my one way trip through the pearly gates.
The sun crept up ever so slowly for all of us as I watched the anemic pathetic waves crawl slowly but noisily towards shore. Looks like a wasted trip to me!
Driving to another break revealed the conclusion that the waves SUCKED but I was not unhappy! Views like this keep one’s soul alive and the heart beating. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world except.......
Back to my original spot where I actually suited up and got in the water. Waves STILL sucked but I was happy being in the water. I got a chance to speak with Henry (one of the top five surfers around) who said that this past storm created the biggest waves that he had ever seen at our spot Thursday and Friday. Look below to see the sizes in the following blog entry.
I left the house around four am and got there before the sun. Lots of people staring at but not getting into the water. I had just driven for a long time with the plan of getting in right away then going to work, and had no intention of lazing around in the parking lot waiting for everything to be “just right,” less wind, smaller cleaner waves...so I said “FUCK IT” and suited up and walked past the onlookers and sat on the shore for a few minutes. What I saw when I looked at the waves was a battle ahead of me- total warfare. Survival would depend upon knowledge and skill. Ok, so I exaggerate but makes for better storytelling.
Dawn patrol is awesome. Less cars on the road, less surfers in the water, more waves and more fun in general. I like getting in first, makes for a great start to any day. There’s a price to pay though, around five or six that night- “why am I so tired—- OHHH YEAH, I surfed this morning, that’s why!”
I sat on the shore and the three footers smashed themselves upon the rocks just feet away from me as I contemplated where I was going to surf and how I was going to get out there. The conditions were not ideal- lots of close outs (when the huge waves flop forward all at once- unsurfable) but every now and then there were HUGE well-formed perfect waves with giant barrels that makes for a great session. The wind seemed like hurricane force which was great because that condition keeps fair weather surfers out of the water- leaving the place to me and a few others.
As I sat there on the wet rocks buffeted by the fifty mile an hour winds I wondered how the hell I was going to get out there. The day before I had been “denied,” a rare event for me (incoming waves prevented me from getting out to surf). I just went west half a mile or so, found a rip that made it easier to penetrate the incoming waves so I could go to my spot, then had to paddle back over to where I love to sit waiting for waves.
The strong winds were getting me cold so I just said “fuck it” again and hopped in. I paddled straight out but got swept west in one of the strongest sideways rip currents I’ve ever been in. As hard as I tried I couldn’t get out through the breakers, so I just literally “went with the flow” and paddled over towards where I knew they were not breaking anymore so I could start heading out to sea.
I know this place like the back of my hand. I knew I was going sideways really fast, I could tell by the kinds of waves that were in front of me. First the big right, then the bowl (not a place you want to get stuck in front of because you sometimes can't get out), then the BIG left that goes on and on and on forever. When I got to the side of the big left break I turned around to ascertain my position in front of the land and saw that I was a few tenths of a mile past the restaurant- NOT a good place to be with an unknown future for anyone getting swept away from there. Didn't feel good about this development.
I wouldn't be stretching the truth to say that I was scared. You would be too if you were there. The incoming waves towered above my head and imploded upon themselves with thunderous explosions right next to me. I did not want to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, so I paddled with a worried look on my face. I was alone, and it was not even seven am yet- nobody was out watching the waves. If something happened to me- tough shit, I was on my own, that's what you get for disrespecting mother nature.
I had to paddle way way way out to get past the huge swells- didn't want to get caught by surprise by some humongous set then get pushed back towards shore and have to start all over again. I paddled for a VERY long time back towards my starting point. I saw another guy waiting for waves ahead of me and felt a great deal of relief knowing that I wasn't alone anymore. As I got closer, I saw that he had not one care in the world about me. Closer and closer I got..... then I realized that this is one of those guys with either such intense focus he had no time for interpersonal interaction, or such minimal personal skills that he just did not have any interest in the comfort another person brings to this type of event. WHATEVER, I paddled past him without waving, shouting hello, or anything of the sort. Paddled past him uncomfortably realizing that my own focus had shifted from fear to comfort. When one no longer worries about survival and instead thinks about people stuff, you know you are going to be ok.
Once I had paddled past the silent guy I was closer to where I like to sit waiting for waves. I saw a guy paddling out who I had surfed with there the day before and I was very much relieved. We hung out there for a long time, basically had the entire surf spot to ourselves. After a few waves, I got REALLY cocky and paddled over to where everyone sits all the time- where the break is the very best and biggest. I sat there for a few hours taking any wave I wanted to.
The wind was right up there with the strongest wind that I have ever surfed in, and the waves were incredibly strong. I got rolled over the falls and abused repeatedly. I got destroyed on multiple occasions, and once was rolled and tossed about and held under for a long time until my body was shoved onto the rocky bottom for the first time ever in my life. It didn't hurt, but sure was a wake up call. You can get hurt doing this!
After I touched down on the rocks, I had to pull myself up back to the surface using the leash attached to my board. I felt strange doing this- I had heard about having to resurface using the leash before, but only in Hawaii- Waimea bay and the like, but have never had to do it myself. Sobering experience, especially when your breath has almost run out. Because I had been shoved shorewards and held under for so long, I was on the inside, so I had to paddle all the way over then back out then back to my takeoff spot which took, I dunno, twenty minutes...not fun, but all that is part of the deal. When you eat dinner, you gotta clean up after yourself; the good always comes with a little bad. That's all part of the deal, and if you don't like it, find some other sport.
My surf session ended early, unfortunately, when my leash broke. I actually do not remember how it happened but I was on a wave and when it decided to destroy me, it also decided to separate me from my board by snapping my leash. HOLY SHIT!!! I swam like hell after that board and had it in my hands just as another wave landed on top of both of us and took the board away. I swam like hell again and caught up to it before we got separated again. I lay on top of it and rode that thing all the way back to the beach where I got out after hours of exerting 100% and worrying during the entire experience. It's saturday now, and as I type this I realize that my body is still really sore, and has not yet converted from sore muscles to the endorphin high that for me lasts about a week after intense physical efforts like the past two days.
What a lucky guy I am for being able to navigate in big water like this. I again tip my hat to the world-class competitive swimming experiences that I had in my life that enable me to do this sport, and to walk past onlookers standing on the beach as I am getting into the water (although looking back at the beginning of this little story I wasn't so sure of my abilities the entire time).
I got back to the truck and fidgeted with my equipment, got dry boots on and was prepared to go back out when I realized that I also have a job that needs my attention. I got dressed into street clothes and backed out of my parking spot feeling like a million bucks!!!
14-18’ surf coming this week- that’s what models say anyway. Believe it when you see it
These predictions change each minute... downgraded a bit since last night.
You absolutely cannot better Friday’s surf conditions- full sun, temps in the seventies, clear skies, light westerly breeze for organizing the waves, and six feet at twelve seconds. PLUS, it was a weekday with few people.
Huge waves came in at thirty minute intervals, normally big waves every twenty minutes, and average sets every ten. The power of hurricane waves from an unseen storm that got no press attention was striking.
I hopped in with my shortboard quad. It was THE PERFECT board for this day, performing sharp bottom turns, lefts and rights on steep wave faces propelling me quickly down the line for never ending rides on uncrowded waves. I shared the day with one or two other people- nice, because I shouted “go ahead, take this one” to the guy I was sitting next to. “THANKS!!!”
Its unusual to be polite in hurricane waves. Usually, it’s a cat fight to see who gets to ride each wave.
Before I started writing this tonight, I re-read my 1-25-19 description of a great surf session when I had the entire place to myself and three other guys. As I was reading it, my entire being was sucked back to that moment. Not just the surfing experience, but the writing experience also. I was HAPPY.
Im not sure which one brings more satisfaction to my life- seriously. Sure, I surf all I can, and have great memories of doing so. I get to research upcoming events, decide where to go, think about it during work, etc.. After the surfing and picture taking, I get to write about it.
Discarding all that I didn’t learn in school, I rely on vocabulary gleaned almost exclusively from decades of reading the NYT, where one can find the best of the best authors who have ever lived, and proximity to those works of art rubs off, inevitably, on even the worst students.
Months or years after writing my blogs (more aptly considered an online diary), I still get to enjoy this or that particular session. I urge you to find your passion, forget your age, and act like a kid until the undertaker lowers you down into your tomb. To do otherwise is to condem you to a life of decrepit aging. I find that unforgivable, and a waste of a perfectly good long life span.
If you love your passion enough, figure out how you can write about it. Share it with others. But most of all, record it for YOU, for Later. Otherwise, you’ll forget about it, which essentially is the very same thing as it never having happened to begin with.
I looked forward to Dorian the entire summer. What did I do to prepare for it, you ask? Absolutely Nothing! So, it was with great apprehension that I first paddled out after waiting in the parking lot for hours for waves to be good enough.
How long would I last? Too tired too quickly? I have techniques to combat fatigue, but they are only good for so long-if I get too tired then I have to retreat into the truck and go home, wasting a perfectly good hurricane.
There I sat watching the crummy surf build and the clouds darken and the wind buffet the beach erosion-control grasses in front of my truck.
A stranger came to my window and said “if I go in will you go in too?”
I wasn’t rude. We talked for a while then I saw the impatient guy suit up and paddle out. I watched him sit and sit and sit and catch an occasional waist high wave then tumble over sideways and paddle back out for more waiting.
Been there, done that. I figure I’m gonna employ experience every step of the way in this sport... otherwise I will not have learned from all my previous F-ups, and when one gets to be my age, that is an unforgivable crime.
I’ve done that before (improperly analyzing surf events), and I’ll do it again, but not an hour before hurricane waves hit. You gotta be smart, time it right, conserve energy, and have fun. It’s not fun when you surf hurricane waves but can’t really because you blew your load on crappy little worthless swells that aren’t even up to your shoulders.
That dude got a workout, but it sure as hell wasn't worth driving down from wherever he came from to surf poorly for 60 minutes.
An hour after he got in, he got out and went home. I think I got in about an hour after he left, stayed in for four hours until the sun’s descent below the stormy horizon had almost but not quite made it hard to see. I was SORE AS HELL.
One’s relationship with the sea can be equated to interpersonal relationships. You need to know when to get in and when to get out. Timing is everything in life.
If you’re comfortable in either, you can stay in forever, always the ultimate prize.
Yet sometimes, at some point, one can sense trouble brewing. Comfort levels waver, things feel good, things feel bad. When there’s more bad feelings than good ones... turn your life’s board towards the beach, and ride the next one in.
Save yourself for another... or for another swell.
I have discovered that if you stay in for too long in an iffy relationship/surf session, someone’s gonna get hurt, and it’s usually, if not always, gonna be you.
I've also learned another valuable lesson. NEVER go backwards. If you got out once, trust your judgement and stay out. Going backwards is an act of defiance against the previous you, the prior decision making process. Do not doubt yourself. If you got out back then, it must have been for a very good reason, and you gotta stick with your choice once you made it. Keep driving and don't look back. I’ve gone back in before only to get back out for the same reason as the first time.
I paddled out Friday on my short board and as the waves jacked up to decent sizes, so too did the population of surfers. Knowing that Saturday was going to be HUGE, I got out, got dressed, and backed out onto the street and got dinner.
It’s a two hour drive home, so instead I slept in my truck that night on the beach stabbed in the back by the seat belt thingys that ford makes stiff so they’re easy to find. The windows were cracked five inches or so so I could hear Dorian brag about what he did to Alabama all night long in "wave speak." The pickup is big- an f-350 diesel, but even that big truck was rocked and buffeted all night long by tropical force storm winds.
I'm not as good as that asshole tRUMP is at diagnosing, predicting, analyzing, and distributing information about hurricanes, so I can only guess HONESTLY at how strong those winds were- STRONG. The waves bombarding the boulders all night long literally exploded upon impact, and my happy thoughts of surfing the next day in those waves made it hard to sleep.
But eventually I did sleep, and I awoke extremely sore not just from the surf session the night before but also from the three poorly designed seat belt thingys. Took a little (a lot) of moving around to rid myself of the soreness.
Weekend surf is like weekend skiing. No can do. Too many people, so I always avoid the masses and think about where I can go to avoid the crowds. Wind determines that always. I chose the place where the waves would be the very biggest but the winds made it not so smooth and perfect, which keeps crowds away, which turns out to be PERFECT after all!
I saw Greg Levy walk, no, run into the surf. He is the best surfer, I believe, in our state. I got on my wetsuit and got in also, but because the wind was gusting at 30-40 mph, I chose the boogie board and fins. Very easy to catch lots of waves, and catch lots of waves I did. Greg got out at some point and I was out there by myself for hours before anyone else decided that it was appealing.
When the wind died a little, I paddled in to switch from the boogie board which had been EXTREMELY satisfying in not just the sheer volume of waves I caught, but also the sizes of them. They were, as you can tell from the pics, HUGE, and powerful demons that are not exactly on your side when things go wrong which they didn’t that day. I rode them with the attitude of a skilled pro (at least in my head I did), and caught wave after wave after wave with little rest in between. When you have a hurricane swell all to YOURSELF, you gotta take advantage.
But even that gets boring, so I paddled in, ditched the fins and board and pulled out my long board which I rarely use.
Longboards ROCK. They are a fiberglass magic carpet. Beginners, old folks, as well as really great surfers use them a lot. They can be ridden in the tiniest of waves, as well as hurricane swells, but getting out into the takeoff spots are harder- you cannot duck dive under the white water, you gotta go all the way around, or turtle roll when you're about to get crushed. All of that takes a lot of energy out of your body.
Paddling for a wave on a long board takes a little advance notice. You gotta get your speed up first, and it's kinda like getting an oil tanker or a long freight train moving fast- takes a LOT of energy either way, and you must be in shape, or you won't last long.
Looking down a very large wave, the steep face freaks you out sometimes. Fukkin' scary! The brain cells in the back formulate scenarios of destruction and one must overcome those thoughts in order to proceed. Once the commitment has been made and you start sliding down the face, you better be going diagonally, or you're going to be sorry. Crashing with a longboard in big surf is dangerous. It's a big baseball bat, and it HURTS when it hits you, so control, caution, and experience are needed to survive unscathed. Plus, they're expensive, and if your leash breaks and you have to paddle after it and find it bashing on the rocks, fixing the damage can cost as much as the board did when you bought it. My 9' Stewart was $1,300. Each ding costs $80-$200+.
Once up on the board, however, riding the wave, you find a unique experience waiting for you, slower in response than any other board, but really fun at the same time. More stable and comforting esp for the elderly and the beginners.
I have another surfing/relationship similarity.
One day whilst waiting for waves sittin' on my board, I thought back to all the boards that I have ever had. They're all different. They ride differently, look different, feel different, behave differently... no two are the same. Then I realized that it's kind of similar to girlfriends/relationships I've had. Some boards I rode just a few times and decided I didn’t really enjoy, A few were always fun no matter what. Some I lost and really miss. It’s strange where the mind goes at times of ennui.
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.