Alan's Endless Summer 2003
The Ocean Beat Me Up! (10/12/03)
The good news is, The Pit is still standing and Pea Island is more or less still there as well. It was in the upper 70's and sunny so we decided to take a drive down to the Outer Banks and see if my old surfing spot was wiped off the planet during the hurricane. The water temperature was in the mid 70's and the wave forecast was bigger than any I've seen through the summer. The surf forecast was predicting 5 - 8 ft overhead.
Holly came with me again to take some pictures for my first time back in the waves since The Standing. I'd been dying to get out there and really ride for the first time. However, my trip to Cedar Point, the hurricane, my general laziness and weekend movie watching addiction had kept me away from the shore for almost 6 weeks.
Although the weather was beautiful, the fall is a time of year when the sea is angry. Hurricanes far out in the ocean create a larger more violent surf and the riptides and side currents are treacherous. We stopped to check the Kitty Hawk beach conditions before we got to The Pit and the waves were huge. I mean these were big waves that were actually forming mini-pipelines. There was one person on the whole beach trying unsuccessfully to surf.
Holly is afraid of the ocean so she was immediately concerned that I would drown instantly if I tried to go out. I decided that I would try anyway since this was the second time I'd driven down and I was going to get in the water this time no matter what. I asked Steve what he thought about the conditions and he told me that any practice is good practice. I asked him about safety concerns for an amateur like me on a day like this but I could not get him to say I should or should not go. He said I'm the only person who can gauge whether I could hack it or not and if I was hesitant then I should probably listen to myself.
Since I couldn't get a straight answer out of Steve I decided to spring for the board rental and drive down to check out my secret spot on Pea Island. After I crammed Holly, the board and my gear into the car we drove the extra 20-30 minutes down to the island. Parts of the roads on the cape were still flooded and washed out. Any roads near the water had to have the sand steam shoveled off so there are these giant piles of sand on corners and along the sides of the roads like up North after a snow storm.
The road that cuts through Pea Island is pretty much just a strip of pavement with a mini-mountain range of dunes along each side that leads down to the ocean on one side and the sound on the other. The only landmark that designated my favorite spot was a little strip of pavement off the side of the road where you could park a non-4-wheel drive car. Unfortunately as we cruised down the Island, no such pull-off remained after the storm. The dune range was totally transformed by the hurricane. Huge dunes were cut down and new ones were created.
So we drove right past my spot without even realizing it. Finally we were almost all the way to Rodanthe and there was a spot on the ocean side where you could pull off that was only marginally flooded. I climbed the dune to check out the surf conditions. It looked a little tamer than Kitty Hawk so I decided I would give it a try. There were no others on the beach except for some surfline fishermen and a few old people surveying the hurricane altered landscape.
I carried my board onto the beach, suited up in my boardshirt, strapped on the board leash and headed out into the waves. High tide had been about 4 hours previous so it was well on it's way to low tide. The waves were breaking about 40-50 yards out. As I walked out into the waves I immediately knew something was different. Typically there is a side current that effects you as you surf. After a few rides you invariably have to get out of the water and walk back up or down the beach to your starting point or you have to paddle the board back up or down the beach. The side current today was so strong I could barely stand in it without being knocked over.
I decided to try and forge out further. If I could just get to the front of the wave breaks I could at least ride the waves after they broke. It's not as fun but it's easier to catch them. I wanted to at least confirm that I could still stand up on the board like last time.
I soon realized I was not going to be able to do anything at all. The waves were much bigger and stronger than usual and every time one knocked me off balance the side current would grab me and drag me right or left. It was like being caught in a giant flushing toilet. Then I lost my grip on the surfboard when a huge wave flipped me. I came up to the surface and the side current had grabbed the board and was dragging me by the leash attached to my ankle into the shallows. I was eventually able to recapture the board and haul myself back up onto the beach.
I walked back to Holly and told her it was just too rough. I was only out there for about 5-7 minutes but I was totally out of breath from struggling against the waves and the muscles in my arms and legs were strained from the effort. Later that day I felt as if I had been beaten with baseball bats or something. We hung out on the beach for a while then loaded up the car and headed back to The Pit. I returned the board and we had a nice lunch of fish tacos at Goombays.
It was a depressing day surf-wise but it was nice to see that The Pit and Pea Island were more or less still intact. Steve said the surf conditions are pretty rough throughout the end of the year so I don't know if I'll be able to go out again until next Spring. I don't have a wet suit yet so I can't do the winter weather Christmas time surfing thing and I'm just not skilled enough to ride a high performance short boards that can cut through the heavy surf. It's been a good first year though. I got off to a late start and I still have to buy my own board but at least I got the whole standing up part out of the way. Next year I'll work on the steering. Later Dudes!
Too Chicken (9/14/03)
I probably could have surfed today but I probably also would have drowned so I decided not to. The waves were much bigger than I have seen all year and they were breaking all over the place and on top of each other. It was wavy chaos out there. There would be a good wave and I could envision myself riding it's surging face but then another bigger wave would come up behind it and swamp it. Then another wave or two would wash out that one. It's possible that even if I got to my feet today I would have been toppled by waves that broke over top of the one's I was riding. The OB/ESA Contest was cancelled again due to strong side shore currents (rip tides) & a high tidal surge. It was definitely not a day for long boards either. In fact, there was no one surfing the tourist beach in Kitty Hawk and after a drive out to the rainy storm washed roads of Pea Island on Cape Hatteras I found that no one seemed to be surfing today at all.
I took Holly with me for the first time to see me surf, take pictures and shoot video. She's never seen me do it before and I was excited about getting some good photos to post here on the website. We got off to a later start than usual but that was OK because the tide was predicted to be high at about 10:30am and I remembered that last time I went out the waves were best about and hour or two after the high tide. The wave height was predicted at 2-3 ft. which is what I've been accustomed to. The weather forecast called for a sunny day in the mid 80's.
When we got there it was sunny and about 11:30 am. We decided to eat first but the restaurant at The Pit was closed and the guy at the store said to try back at noon. So we walked over to the public beach access (where I took my first lesson) to check out the waves and kill some time. The waves were huge and sloppy as I described above. Bigger than the predicted 2-3 ft. and more like 5-7ft. Plus the tidal surge was crazy. It was high tide so the water was way up on the beach but this was not like any high tide I had seen all summer. When the big waves would break on the shore they would surge way way up onto the beach. There was hardly any beach at all. At this point though, the day still looked do-able.
We went back to The Pit and up to the store to check on the status of the restaurant. After some calls to the guy who runs the kitchen, we found that they wouldn't be open today. No bean taco's for Alan. The first sign of trouble. Apparently after Labor Day on the OBX, store and restaurant hours are unpredictable. The guy working the surf shop (who I had never met before) suggested a place down the beach road a couple miles called Goombays. He recommended the fish tacos. I asked him about renting a long board and if it would be a good idea for a beginner to go out today. Although he said "sure" and checked the computer for current surf conditions, I could see a hint of uncertainty and fear in his eyes and a hesitancy that made me question his judgment. This guy obviously didn't know I was a "regular" at The Pit and apparently had no qualms with sending a stupid tourist off to a watery death.
We drove down to Goombays which actually does have the best fish tacos I have ever had. (This was only the second time I've had fish tacos but these were better than the ones I had out in Moab, Utah.) On the way back I stopped at the public beach access to check out the waves again. The sun was blocked and the day had gone cloudy. I could see South in the distance that it had begun to rain. The waves were even more mixed up than before and the surge had not subsided. The waves out on Pea Island are always bigger than Kitty Hawk and I imagined the conditions would be the same or worse out there, so I decided not to surf today.
I did want to show Holly my secret spot out on Pea Island because she'd never seen it before so we drove out anyway. It started to rain as we crossed the Herbert C. Bonner bridge, a three-mile span over the Oregon Inlet. The road was already partially underwater and washed out from last weeks storms and hurricane Fabian. The tidal surge was evident here as well.
We hopped out of the car and ran up to the top of the dune to survey the conditions and see if anyone was out riding the waves. There was no one. The beach was deserted except for a few old people on late summer vacations who had stopped to admire the view. There was a huge hurricane run-off drain traversing the length of the beach and a gigantic steel buoy chained to the end of the pipe. There were tidal pools and lagoons formed by the storms and waves all over the strip of beach and I am certain that the larger dune that separates the beach from the road had eroded significantly. We returned to the car and drove all the way back home to Virginia Beach. It was a disappointing day but the tacos were good.
Hurricane Isabel predicted to hit U.S.
Hurricane Isabel is predicted to hit the U.S. on Thursday and may or may not wipe Cape Hatteras and Virginia Beach off the map! Currently Isabel is 320 miles (515 km) east-northeast of the Turks and Caicos Islands, moving west-northwest at about 13 mph (20 km/h). It is switching back and forth between a category 5 (the most powerful) and a category 4 hurricane. The last Category 5 hurricane to strike the United States was Andrew in 1992. Andrew -- which stands as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history -- killed 43 people in Florida and Louisiana and caused $26.5 billion in damage. In 1998, Category 5 hurricane Mitch hit Central America, killing about 11,000 people.
Current predictions have the hurricane making landfall just about right where I live here in Virginia Beach at the South-East corner of the State along the border of North Carolina. Steve, the owner of The Pit is seriously concerned that The Pit may not even be there come Friday. My precious Pea Island may be washed away as well. A hurricane of this magnitude hasn't hit this part of the East Coast since around the time of the Civil War. The U.S. Navy is evacuating all ships and planes from the area starting 9/15/03.
The picture below predicts the path of Hurricane Isabel. Note that at about Noon on Thursday it will be smashing it's way right through Cape Hatteras and the Outer Banks and then at 2pm it is expected to smack right into the border of North Carolina and Virginia. That little dot on the map marked 2 PM Thu is actually the exact coordinates of where I live here in Virginia Beach! Yikes!
Judging from the way the landscape was altered out on Pea Island today I would not be surprised if the place was unrecognizable by next weekend. The surf wave forecast for Wednesday and Thursday is insane as well. Typical wave height in VA beach is between 1 and 3 ft. or 5 to 7 ft. during stormy conditions. The current wave forecasts for this week are listed below. Note Thursdays forecast:
Swell 6-Day Forecast for Virginia
51 to 72 foot surf is insane! That's like scary Perfect Storm or Deep Impact movie waves. To give you a bit of perspective, each floor of a house or hotel is usually about 10ft. If these waves reach 70ft. even the houses along the coast propped way up on stilts will be completely washed over. Seven story buildings, like my old apartment in East Lansing, could be completely covered by waves like this. Pictured below is the American Falls & Bridal Veil Falls at Niagara. Although the actual height of the cliff is 176 feet the height from the lip of the falls to the top of the rocks piled below is about 70 ft.!
In addition to the waves and the tidal surge, Hurricane Isabel currently has wind speeds between 140 and 150 mph with gusts up to 190 mph. Most buildings cannot tolerate winds like this. If you don't hear from me after Thursday you can assume that Virginia Beach is gone and I was swept out to sea by the 70 ft. waves, epic tidal surges and the big winds of Hurricane Isabel. Hopefully this won't be my last journal entry.
Rock You Like Hurricane - Fabian (9/6/03)
I was out of town for the last two weekends so that's why there's been no new updates. Summer's still in full swing down here in sunny warm Virginia Beach and this time of year brings hurricane season! As I sat and watched CNN all week I became more and more excited as I followed Hurricane Fabian's trek up the coast. I heard the waves were going to be huge. I checked the surf forecast and the wave predictions for the weekend were 6ft -12ft! Those are the biggest waves I've seen listed all summer. I was stoked.
The first sign of trouble came on Friday when I called The Pit to find out their opinion of the weekend conditions. I was a little worried that I was too inexperienced to ride these big hurricane waves and I was also reading numerous strong current and dangerous rip-tide advisories for the weekend. The guy I talked to at the surf shop said that the conditions on Friday were OK but they expected Saturday and Sunday to be poor. He also said that these surf conditions were really only accommodating to the smaller high performance boards and were not conducive to paddling in on the long boards.
It's 11:30pm right now on Saturday night and the waves are big but the wind is breaking them into sloppy and bumpy chop. Conditions today according to Surfline (the website where I get most of my tide and swell reports) were "4-6 ft. - shoulder high to 1 ft. overhead and poor conditions." I also checked the report from Corolla, a little to the North of Hatteras, and they were saying "Yes the surf is big but it is very difficult to paddle to the outside. If you are considering going out, I would wait until high tide. Make sure your leash is in good shape. High performance equipment only! We had to cancel our OB/ESA contest due to the high tidal surge. "
High tide isn't until 5:55pm tomorrow so I would be there at low tide which goes against their recommendation. I also don't have high performance equipment (a short board) and honestly, if they're canceling a surf contest for the pro and semi-pro surfers in the area the I should probably stay out of the water. I would probably get bonked again by my long board, snatched by a rip-tide and end up washed up dead on the coast of Spain or something. Better to sit this weekend out and live to surf another day. Summer doesn't really end down here until the end of October and if I want I can get a wetsuit and keep surfing through fall and into early winter. At the very least I'm already getting psyched for next weekend. It's been 3 weeks now and the surf is calling for me.
I Did It! (8/17/03)
I finally did it! I can stand up! After four weekends, about 16 hours and hundreds of unsuccessful attempts and wipe-outs I can finally stay on my feet and ride the wave to the shore. I am now officially an amateur surfer. Hurrah! But that's not all...It was a day of many "firsts."
I woke up around 8:30am still unsure if I really wanted to make the drive down N.C. again. The weather did not look good and the surf report called for dinky waves. On the other hand I would be there right at high tide which has provided the best conditions in the past. I decided that I didn't really have anything better to do and Holly was going to be visiting with her friend "New Chad" all day so I packed up my gear and headed off for another day at the OBX.
I arrived at The Pit at about 10:30am and rented my board. Steve commented that I should probably seriously consider buying one since I've been renting for the last 3 weeks in a row. I'm a "regular" at The Pit now. It's the place where everybody knows my name. I walk in and they all go "Alan!" I considered just buying one of the Epoxy boards that I talked about a few weeks ago but I haven't really saved up enough money for one yet and the new shipment doesn't arrive until next week anyway. So I just rented a 9ft. Bic as usual and stuffed it in the trunk.
I arrived at my usual spot on Pea Island and unloaded my gear. It was cloudy but there was no rain and it seemed like it would be an good day. As I topped the dune a guy walking back to his car with his friends said I "just missed the waves" and everything was "dying out." I told him I didn't really need good waves for what I needed to do. He glanced at my board, looked at me again with a puzzled expression, and said "well good luck then."
I ran down to the shore and was instantly disappointed. The waves were not just small they were almost nonexistent and they were breaking right at the last minute on the shore. This is not good because I need the waves to break further out so I can (in theory) ride the break. In retrospect, low tide appears to have better surf conditions since the waves break about 50 yards off shore. Strangely, in all the time I've spent down there no one has told me what ideal surf conditions are yet. I'll have to figure that out for myself I guess.
I noticed a spot about 50 yards down the shore from my usual spot where the waves were breaking about 20-25 yards off shore on a sandbar. I walked down there and decided I would try to catch these waves. The water was chilly but not frigid like last week. I waded out and caught a couple of the bigger waves and tried in my now typical unsuccessful fashion to stand up. I couldn't do it. One time I rode in on my knees which I decided was a triumph and possibly the best I could hope for of the day.
I decided that I needed to focus more. Remember my training. Last week Steve had showed me that sway-back thing and the hands flat on the board advice. I needed to remember these things. I was frustrated and kind of angry that I was still sucking so bad. I caught a wave, pushed up into the sway-back stance and then is a sudden reckless furious leap, I threw my legs forward and somehow landed solid right underneath my chest. I was standing! In a squat position, but my stance was correct. I even stood up into an almost full stand as the board coasted on what was left of the wave. I couldn't believe it. I looked around to see if anyone saw me but the place where I was surfing was deserted. The closest people around were the few I left behind 50 yards back up shore. I wanted to call Holly and tell her but I left my phone in the car.
I decided to try again. Perhaps it was just a fluke. A one time combination of concentration and anger that I would never again be able to duplicate. I caught a wave and snapped into the stance! My stupid brain remembered how to do it! I could replicate the combination of movements and do it over and over now. I was incredibly happy. I was laughing out loud like a lunatic and surfing. I was out of control and unable to steer at all but I could now catch the wave and ride it to the shore just about 3 out of every 5 attempts.
The way I surf at this point in my training is what I call "jumping" or "hopping" a wave. I stand in the water up to my waist or chest deep with the board at my side. When a good wave comes I hop on the board, paddle a few times to get up to speed with the wave and then try to stand. This is how Trey, my original instructor, showed me how to catch a wave without paddling into it. I don't wear my glasses but I can see the waves fine and that's really all I need to see while I'm out there.
Now that I was actually able to stand I didn't want to stop playing so I stood in the water and waited to hop another wave. My adrenalin was high and I didn't feel tired yet. I looked out over the waves and tried to scope out my next ride. All of a sudden a big black fin emerged from the water and slowly lowered back down about 20 feet out in front of me. I froze. "What the hell was that!?" I said out loud to myself. Did I really just see what I think I saw? With the waves almost at eye level it's hard to see over the top as they rise and fall. I told myself it was just a pelican. They're always flying back and forth along the shore diving into the water and catching fish. Sometimes they float on the water like a duck as they swallow their catch. It was probably just a pelican. I looked back at the shore to see if anyone was frantically waving for me to come in but I was still all alone on this part of the beach. I squinted my eyes to focus better out over the waves again and tried to find the stupid bird. Then I saw it again! The black dorsal fin rose out of the water for a moment and disappeared again. This time a few yards to the left of where it was before. I screamed like a little girl, grabbed the surfboard under my arm and ran for the shore as fast as I could. I was like Roy Scheider in Jaws. Running toward the shore and waving my free arm to tell everyone to "get out of the water!"
I reached the shoreline and stood about ankle deep in the water. I turned around to get another look. I was now standing well above the water level and I could see down over the waves easily. As I watched in horror 3 or 4 black/grey dorsal fins broke the surface in an arching motion and dove back under. It was a family of dolphins! Dolphins! How could I have been so stupid? There are always packs of dolphins swimming up and down the shore around here. You can even see them at the tourist beach on the strip in Virginia Beach! I've seen them a bunch of times! Thank God no one was around to see my panic induced splashing dash for the shore. I would have probably become some sort of hilarious local legend that all the townies would laugh about at the bar.
After the excitement of my near death shark/dolphin attack I decided to take a break and read my book for a while. The whole shark thing was stupid anyway. I don't even think about sharks when I'm out there. There really are no shark attacks this far North. The ones in the news always happen down in South Carolina, and Florida. As I read the sky cleared, the sun came out, the waves picked up and about eight more surfers came down to my spot on the beach.
A couple of the newcomers were really good but at least 5 of them were "hoppers" like me. They could ride better but at least they were at or around my skill level. There was even one guy who couldn't even stand up on his board! What a loser! At one point I tutored him a little and told him to come in closer to the shore and work on his standing.
I was now consistently getting to my feet in a crouching stance or a full bent knee stand at least half of the time. During one of my "pearling" nose-dive wipe-outs I got bonked by the board for the first time. This is one of the greatest fears of the surfer - getting knocked in the head by your board. At best it hurts. At worst it could knock you unconscious and you could drown. Typically when you crash you curl up into a little ball with you hands and arms wrapped around your head and try to stay under water for a few seconds. I've been pretty good about remembering to do it but this time after the fall I stood straight up and got hammered right on top of my head like a nail. Lucky for me I ride a plastic Bic board and it didn't really hurt that bad. It was more embarrassing than painful. If I had a real fiberglass board or a wood one I'd probably be retarded now.
I surfed for a couple more hours. Around 4pm I was too tired to get to my feet anymore so I decided to call it a day. I had stood up and that was a major accomplishment. I had done what I came here to do today.
I drove back to The Pit and returned my board. Trey was there so I chatted with him for a while about how I was a standing surfer now. Trey was pleased that his slow learning student had finally reached this first crucial touchstone. I bought a Pit baseball cap and received the "regular" 10% discount. I am now an official Pit Surf-rat or whatever they call themselves. Team-Pit?
I went up to the restaurant, ate my bean tacos and watched the cool surf video's playing on the TV screens. It was a good day. As I left, Trey and the restaurant guys said "Bye Alan!" I told my pals that I'd be back in a couple weeks, popped on my new Pit hat and drove home.
Low Tide, Cold Water, and a Guy from Jersey (8/10/03)
The weather was going to be overcast and rainy this weekend but the surf report forecasted great waves for Sunday so I decided to ride the rain. Last weekend ended up being the best day ever for waves and the weather was lousy again so perhaps this would be a repeat.
I was excited all week and couldn't wait to go. I even went to bed early the night before so I would be well rested. We surfers are a crazy breed. Early to bed and relatively early to rise. I remembered that The Pit doesn't open until 10am so I took my time and left the house about 8:30am. It was cloudy and sprinkling rain all the way down to the OBX but when I pulled into Kitty Hawk it was a deluge. There was no way I was going to surf in rain like this. I could barely see where I was driving. The Pit is built up on stilts like all the buildings on the coast and you can park underneath it so I hid there in my car reading for an hour and waited for the torrent to pass.
Finally the weather calmed down to the drizzle that I surfed in last weekend so I rented a board and took off for my new favorite spot on Pea Island, Cape Hatteras. Before I left Steve, the owner, gave me a few more pointers to assist in my quest to "stand up while riding." One of the things I was doing wrong was I was grabbing the sides of the board as I tried to stand. The correct method is to lay your hands palm down like your doing a push-up on the top of the board near the edges but not curled around gripping it. Then you sway your back so that you are palms down arms extended and head and shoulders up. Then in one fluid and fast motion you pull your legs under you so that your front foot is planted right where your chest was between your hands and your other foot is behind and back. Keep knees bent in a squatting stance and then slowly stand but never to the point where you lock your knees in a full stand. This sounds easy and I'm great at doing it on my bed or in the middle of the living room but when you're being pushed by a wave on a big slippery board that can shoot right, left, backwards, forwards, up or down into or under the water it's a bit more difficult. Steve was pleased with the abilities that I demonstrated on the floor at the store and he was certain that this was the day that I would finally stand up.
I thought for sure I would too, but this day it wouldn't be my loserly suckiness that prevented me from standing - It would be Mother Nature herself that was working against me.
The rain still continued but I was not deterred. I pulled on my board-shirt and ran out to the waves. The first thing I noticed was that the shoreline was about 50-100 yards further out than it was last weekend. This was low tide. I had never surfed low tide. The wind was blowing and the rain spattered. There was another guy who showed up when I did as well as an older guy and his little daughter. We were the only 4 people on the beach.
I stepped into the water, squealed like a little girl and hopped out again. The water was freezing cold. I don't mean cold like all water is when you first get in, I mean it was stupid insane Lake Superior cold! The guy next to me was pulling on his full body wetsuit and the kid with her dad also came prepared. It was like I had missed the surfers meeting earlier that day or something. I commented to Holly when I got home that the water was unusually cold but she just thought I was being a sissy. Then I was vindicated on Monday afternoon when the weather woman on CNN did a story about the unseasonably cold water all up and down the East Coast. The story focused specifically on North Carolina and explained that the cold water was probably the result of run off from all the summer storms, as well as wind conditions along the coast. What is happening here this year is the wind is blowing straight South to North along the coast instead of the usual South Westerly direction. This causes the sun warmed shallow water on the coast to get pushed North and replaced by colder water from deeper out to sea. This is known as "up-welling."
You're probably saying to yourself, "Whoopity-doo Professor Science. Get on with the story!" I just wanted to make sure everyone understands that I was not exaggerating the temperature of the water. It was really cold. I would not have been surprised if a dead frozen penguin floated by.
Anyway, I steeled myself against the frigid water and stepped in. I walked out to the spot off shore where I had caught waves last weekend and I was only up to my ankles deep. Because it was low tide I had to walk like another 100 yards out into the water before I got to the place where the waves were breaking and the depth was surfable. The guy with his daughter stayed close to shore for her lesson, the other guy in the wetsuit paddled out pretty far and waited for the perfect wave. Another guy showed up in a wetsuit, commented on the cold water and went out looking for the good waves too.
The good waves were further spaced and slowing down by the time I was in the water, numb, and ready to ride. I toughed it out for about an hour. I caught a few good ones, got to my feet a couple times but never stayed up any longer than I did last week. I pushed the board into the shallows and practiced standing for another 30 minutes, mimicking the little girl getting lessons down the beach from her dad, and then I got out.
While I was trying to warm up in the wind and rain the first wetsuit guy got out and said "hi." His name was George. He was probably in his early 40's and was a high school gym teacher from New Jersey. He came down to the OBX a couple times each summer and had just returned from a surfing adventure in Costa Rica. He was really good and his board was totally hacked so that was cool. The front was taped with duct tape so you can tell he rode hard (or just dropped his board a lot?) We talked for a while. A couple of kids who were on vacation came up to talk to us. They wanted to talk to a couple of "real surfers." Apparently that hadn't seen me earlier falling all over the place and then trying to stand in the shallows like that little girl. George was cool and didn't betray my amateur lameness, so the kids thought I was this super-cool older surf guy. We chatted with them about "our sport" and encouraged them to "give it a try" next time they were down on vacation.
George decided it was too cold, the waves were getting mushy and he would come back later in the evening at high tide. I said "goodbye" and we said we'd look for each other over the next summers. Since I had only been in the water about 90 minutes I decided to go in again and try to practice for another hour or so. After about 20 minutes I had only caught about 4 waves and I couldn't feel my thighs so I called it quits. I packed up my gear and drove back to The Pit.
I returned the board and went over to the restaurant for my traditional bean taco after-surf lunch. Even though it was 3pm the restaurant was full and there was no place to sit so I just got in the car and drove home.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, this weekend did not go as planned. I didn't really improve my ride at all. The best thing I can say about the weekend is that I made a friend (who went back to Jersey the next day) and two kids from Northern Maryland think I'm one of the "coolest surfers on the OBX."
Surfing the Storm (8/3/03)
Surf was up today. Way up! The waves were huge and my plan was to ride them. I woke up Sunday, in the wee hours of the morning, to begin Surf Training Day-2. At about 8:15 I hit the snooze alarm for the last time, slept about 10 more minutes, and then suited up for another day on the OBX.
I arrived at The Pit (my new surf shop/restaurant/bar/club/hang-out) and they were still closed. I keep forgetting that they don’t open until 10am. So I drove over to Burger King to use the restroom. Originally my plan was take another 2-hour class with Trey today but when I called yesterday they said he was out of town for a wedding. I knew the surf was gonna be sweet today (I now have tons of websites and phone numbers so I can get up to the minute surf reports all up and down the coast) so I decided to go and practice by myself. My goal for the day was to stand on the surfboard for more than 2 seconds. I was gonna impress the hell out of Trey at my next lesson with my new “standing prowess.”
Anyway, I got back from BK and they were just unlocking the front door so I walked in and requested a board rental. Steve (the owner) told me to chill for a few minutes while he turned on the lights and finished opening the store. I was gonna rent the foam top board I used last time but Steve said I should move to one of the Bic boards. Eventually I’ll be getting an epoxy board (which is a better version of the hard beginners board that Bic makes.) Yes, it’s the same company (Bic) that makes pens and razors. Steve hates the Bics but he says they’re good to learn on but when I buy one it should be the new epoxy kind. The reason for the hardboards is that they are better equipped to take the bashing and smashing that a newbie like me is gonna dish out. Real surf boards can get dented, chipped, bent and broken so it’s best to know what you’re doing before you start riding those.
Surfboards are insanely expensive. A good fiberglass long board can cost between $800-$1000. Those short pointy stunt boards are cheaper, between $400-$700, but you really have to be good to ride those. They’re not for beginners. Most surfing purists also consider long boards to be the only real surfboards so I’ll just pretend I’m a surf snob instead of a sucky beginner.
So Steve gives me a hunk of surf wax and a 9-foot Bic board. I asked him if there was anyplace better than the beach behind the store to practice and he directed me to one of his favorite spots. The Pit is basically in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It’s almost across the street from the Wright Brother’s memorial hill where the first human flight supposedly took place. (Some claim that Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian inventor was the first to fly a heavier-than-air machine by means of its own propulsion. Others say New Zealand farmer Richard Pearse was the first to take to the air in his aeroplane. And there is also proof that Gustave Whitehead flew his monoplane two years, four months and three days before the successful flights of the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk.) The place Steve suggested was about 20-30 minutes further South on Cape Hatteras. The specific area is called Pea Island. Steve suggested the first beach access on the other side of the bridge that takes you to the island. Even though it was a beautiful hot summer day all the way down to the OBX it was overcast a starting to rain when I got to the island. I parked the car and hiked out to check out the spot before I unpacked my gear. It was really far from the car to the water. I had to climb over bunch of dunes and then walk around a little tidal lagoon before I got the shoreline. The area was completely deserted. There were tons of signs warning that the currents were dangerous and the water was unpredictable. The waves here were huge but they were breaking way off shore. Had Steve sent me to die?
I decided that I was too cool (ie. chicken) to surf here by myself. At this point in my surfing career, I still like my feet to touch the sand when I hop (fall) off the surfboard. I decided to venture further South down the island and found a small beach access after a few more miles. In retrospect, I believe this is the spot that Steve was actually directing me because as the day progressed many more surfers showed up here to ride. The mist drizzle of rain turned into a steady light shower and I sat in the car for a minute deciding what I should do. I got out and peeked over the dune to see what the few other people who had parked there were doing. There were about three people surfing and a few families packing up their beach gear and heading back to their cars. I had already rented the board and driven like 2 hours to get here so I decided I would surf the storm.
The waves were huge. As I stood chest deep in the surf, some of the waves were actually cresting about 6-8 feet over my head. Some were even bigger! The current was really strong and drifting so you could basically try to ride about 3-5 waves before you had to walk in to shore and carry your board back up the beach and then get back in the water and start again. The wind was really blowing hard too so when you were walking with the huge surfboard under your arm the wind gusts would sometimes catch the board and spin you like a big pinwheel.
I was happy to see the big waves because my theory was that last time I went surfing I was unable to stand because the waves were too small and the duration of the ride was too short to have a chance to really stand up. That was my theory anyway. Unfortunately I soon found that standing up on the board does not seem to have any relation to wave size.
The waves are easier to catch when they’re big and they were coming in rapid succession all morning and early afternoon. Basically every wave was rideable for a while. I tried to remember what Trey had taught me about standing up. After a few failed attempts I remembered the tip about not sticking my butt way up in the air first (which for me seems to be my natural inclination when standing from a prone position.) After I forced myself to control my eager backside I was able to get into a “hands and knees” position. I looked like one of those surfing dogs from a Sunkist or Spud McKenzie commercial. After riding a few waves doggy style, I switched to this “proposition” type stance. Basically I’m on one knee with the other foot planted on the board. For the next series of attempts I couldn’t get past this. When I actually stood it was usually after the wave had dissipated and I was just standing on a board that was not moving for a second before it flew out from under me.
Every hour or so I had to take a break. I would go sit on the beach in the rain and catch my breath. Fighting the waves and the current and the wind is exhausting. When the rain stopped I ran back to my car to get a chair and my paperback so I could sit and read during my breaks. When I was running back to the car I found Trey and his girlfriend standing on top of the little dune by the parking area. I said “hi” and then I said “I though you were at a wedding?” He said he was at one yesterday but I think he might have been lying to the guys at work so he could have to weekend off to play with his girlfriend at the beach. They quickly jumped in their car and took off after we were done chatting. Like I was gonna “tell on him” or something.
During the last hour or so there were about 10 surfers on my part of the beach. They were cool and didn’t seem to mind that I was a new guy who obviously didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Some of the guys were older than me and some were just kids. Some were really good and some were obviously tourists who had a little more practice than me since they were vacationing there for the summer. At one point I got really excited because this huge fat guy showed up with his friends. They were all surfers but I suspected that now that fat boy was there I would become the second worse surfer on the beach! Unfortunately he was the first one in the water and immediately began tearing up the waves like a master. He was able to go from lying on his giant belly into a crouched stance in one quick snap like a surfing sumo! He then started giving his skinny friends tips. I watched him with awe from my beach chair. I suppose the buoyancy of the water gives him an advantage that he wouldn’t have on land. I hope one day to be as good as he is. That fat guy was the king of the waves!
I went back in the water a few times but by about 2:30pm the waves were dying down and the day was clearing up. I got to my feet a couple of times and had one ride that I considered to be “good” but overall I was disappointed with my performance. On the way back to the car I saw Trey and his girl heading down to the beach with their boards. He told me to call him next week if I wanted another lesson and I probably will. I had a really fun day and the waves on Pea Island are awesome. I will definitely be doing the majority of my training there.
I dropped off my board at The Pit and had my traditional 3-pack of bean tacos for lunch while I watched surf videos. I told Steve about the problem I was having standing up and he told me to practice snapping up from my stomach to the crouching position on my bed. He said to do it like 30 times a day until it became an easy fluid motion. I need to get past using my knees and crawling up into a standing position on the board. I’m going to try to drive down there every weekend for the rest of the summer and practice as much as I can. My goal for the rest of the year now is to stand on the surfboard while it is moving. I must master this basic but essential part of the surfing experience. One day soon I’ll be able to gleefully shout to the guy surfing next to me “look at me! Did ya see? I’m standing all by myself! Dude…check me out! I’m standing!”
An Unfortunately Calm Day (7/20/03)
After a busy month of doing nothing I finally made it back to the OBX today and the water was completely without surf. I was very disappointed to say the least. I couldn't even really play with my Boogie Board much less surf. It was a really nice day and I like just sitting on the beach and playing in the water but I really wanted to work on my whole "standing up on the surf board problem." Maybe I'll drive back down next Sunday. Neptune had other plans for me today I guess.
The First Try (6/15/03)
The weather's been pretty rainy here for the last couple months, especially on the weekends so I kept putting off my surf training. I decided that before I buy a board I would take some surfing lessons. Most places don't start their lessons until June anyway so actually I'm pretty much right on schedule. I had scouted out the surf shops on the Outer Banks of North Carolina where I wanted to take classes and decided that the guys at The Pit were the coolest. I was just going to buy a board that day but the owner, Steve, told me to take a few lessons first to get the basics and determine my skill level. This turned out to be good advice.
I finally got around to making an appointment. The first sign of trouble was when my surf trainer, Trey, asked me over the phone what sports I played and what kind of shape I was in. I had to tell him that my shape could best be described as a "pear with two legs." I've pretty much been watching TV and movies as well as working/playing on the computer for the last 10-15 years. The last physical activity that I engaged in was skateboarding when I was about fifteen. I've gained a bit of weight in the last year since I quit smoking and now that I work at home my physical activity is pretty much limited to walking back and forth from my computer to the kitchen for ice cream and potato chips. Trey must have assumed I was joking because he told me to meet him the next morning at 9:30am.
I woke up at 6:30am that day and made the 90 minute drive down to the OBX (Outer Banks.) I was nervous but Trey was a cool guy who didn't laugh out loud when he saw that I was this fat old bald guy who just wanted to learn how to surf. We grabbed a foam top training board and he loaned me one of his board shirts. I was glad that the skin tight board shirt was a size extra large. My gut still popped out a bit but it pretty much covered up my flabbiness without making me look too stupid. Trey is probably about 22 years old with about 1% body fat and perfectly honed surfing muscles. People probably thought he was my son.
We went out to the beach and did some stretching exercises. Trey can do all kinds of impossible warm up exercises, like for example he can bend over and touch his toes. I tried to copy what he was doing but I'm about as flexible as a petrified log. He then showed me on the sand how to lay on the board and snap up into a crouching stance. I could do this but not very well so he also showed me how to crawl up into the stance and encouraged me to master this method first. Then we went in the water.
It was a pretty mild day as far as waves were concerned, but Trey said that they would do fine since we were just going to work on standing and possible steering. The way we would start is I would lay on the board and Trey would push me into the wave. This would eliminate my having to paddle into the wave to get up to speed. I could work on that later. The only thing I had to do was stand up. This is when I learned about "pearling." Pearling is when the nose of the board dives down into the water as you try to stand and you fly off the front of the board as it gets caught in the wave behind you. It took countless tries and about 30 minutes before I was able to position myself far enough back on the board to prevent this from happening.
My lesson was only 2 hours long and I pretty much spent the next hour trying to stand up. Out of about 50 attempts I probably got to my feet about 10 times and the longest I stayed up was for about 2-3 seconds. Eventually I started to get really tired so we took a break, sat on the beach, and Trey taught me about how waves work and what to look for when trying to ride them.
I had the board rented for the rest of the day so we went back in for about 15 minutes so he could show me how to try and catch a wave by myself. Basically what he wanted me to do was catch the wave just before it breaks like you would with a boogie board and try and stand up and ride it to shore. He made it look simple but I never really mastered it in the time we had left.
I was still tired so I went back to The Pit for lunch and had some great bean tacos. Trey stopped by to say hi and to encourage me to keep trying. He said he could tell that I was getting it and it was just a matter of getting a feel for the wave and putting it all together. I told him I'd come back for another lesson with him and then he went back to work at the shop. I finished my tacos and went back to the beach.
The waves were a little smaller but it was only about 1pm and I figured I'd stay and play until about 3pm. I found a spot on the beach with the least people to run into and tried over and over and over to catch a wave and stand up. I got to my feet about 3-5 times out of about 30 attempts but the waves were small and it was hard to time it correctly. Eventually I got tired again and called it a day at about 2:45pm.
I returned the board and Trey's shirt and bought a board shirt of my own. Trey said he would put one of the new "hard boards" into the rentals for next time since he believed that was the kind of board I will eventually buy to train on. The hard boards can take all kinds of punishment that would break a normal board and since I'll be training close to the beach, this will be board for me.
I drove home slightly disappointed that I never got in a good ride but confident that I will learn how and stand up next time. It was fun trying so it's not really discouraging. It took me a whole summer to figure out how to ride that stupid unicycle when I was a kid but I eventually accomplished it.
The next day my balding head was sunburned as red as a dodge ball and every muscle in my body was bruised and sore as if I'd been beat up while I slept. Obviously those stretching exercises Trey showed me are more important than I thought and I am in much worse shape than I ever imagined.
I will be a surfer one day. One of the reasons I moved down here was because I've always wanted to surf and I swore that I would spend my 30's learning how. I'm only 32 right now so I got at least 8 more years to practice. One day you will all be able to say "See that guy out there riding that wave? That's my loser friend Alan. He's a surfer."