Sunday, September 18, 2016

Good Friday And The Lesson In Humility

Friday, the 16th day of September in 2016 was predicted to be a very good surf day on the east coast of Florida. If Florida has anything to boast about, it would be the largest surf shop and the great number of days you can surf without a wetsuit. It would not be about the quality of waves. So, when a tropical storm forms in the Atlantic and passed by the state just the right distance from the coastline, the surf forecasters were in a frenzy.
This year I knew Good Friday was coming almost a week in advance, and had everything ready, or so I thought. GoPro charged, wristband remote charged, extra leash, lotion, first-aid kit, I was really prepared. I packed my board and headed to the beach with Sam, checking the surf cams on my phone. It looked glassy at the pier, so I knew my new, short SUP surfing board would get it's first day to shine. The board is great for everything but one: standing up between waves when it's bumpy. The first two occasions I had to try the board had been semi-choppy and I struggled like a greenhorn just to stand up while paddling in the ocean. Good Friday was going to change all that. The prediction was for head high waves with light wind. Picture Perfect and I was going to capture all of it.
I need to be clear about one surfers, a day like this is not like a bigger bowl of ice cream, I mean it's not more of something that you like, it's more like the hunter facing a grizzly bear with a pistol, a lot of us aren't sure how we are going to handle it and we don't get many occasions to find out.
As we got our boards ready for this epic day, I found that the mount on my board was missing the nut that holds the camera photos of this day were ever going to exist. Looking back, that may actually have been a good thing.

On this particular day, a few surfers were having the time of their lives, some stayed on the beach and watched, and a great many paddled out and sat there watching the waves go by. Mostly it was older guys that could get off work on a Friday, a few really good paddleboarders getting the stink-eye from the surfers, and the infrequent girl in a bikini, looking like this was just another summer day.
Sam brought the right surfboard and was having fun on a 9' performance longboard. In spite of the surf cams, the ocean had a cross chop on it and the wind was at times holding the waves up, and at others closing them down fast. I paddled out fast, but not fast enough and spent about 15 minutes with my new board in the impact zone before I got things going and got out to join the lineup with my newfound surfer buddies. After assessing their looks at me, I quickly moved north where I couldn't steal all of their waves. It was during this time I began to realize that I had brought the wrong board and could barely stand up at all. After I had fallen in 3 times for no apparent reason, most of the surfers had crossed me off as any kind of threat to their quota of waves they were going to catch that day. It got to the point that one of the paddleboarders headed my way to see what in the world this old guy was doing out here when he was clearly not able.
It was at then I learned something new. I merely sat on my board until I saw a large set coming and stood up and quickly took off on one before I fell off my board. That effort seemed to instill some respect from the other surfers, or at least fear of where my board might go when I fell off.
I was out there for about 3 hours, and it seemed plenty long enough, and for some strange reason, my last few waves were the best ones. The thing you remember about a day like this is not the ride, or the number of good rides, it is the tingling down your neck when you take off on a big wave thinking...what I have just done?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Chance Visit To Saint Augustine On The Best Day Of September

Early on Wednesday morning, my thoughts were on the storm that had passed us, leaving us with big waves and windy conditions. We decided not to pursue surfing because of the wind and instead I drove with my wife to St. Augustine to discuss a future backpacking trip with my brother, the seasoned hiker. We got a late start and got there in time to hit Obi's Filling Station,  usually a great place to get a burger near the beach. Wednesday was not the best day for Obi's. The orders were wrong, and the food wasn't steaming hot either. I'm blaming it on a bad cook that day, and one can hope this was an anomaly.
We soon moved on to taking my backpack apart and seeing what things I am missing and what things I cannot take along. My brother is a minimalist backpacker and among other things, I was told my knife was too big. His idea was something more along the lines of a fingernail clipper, which I assured him, would not present much of a threat to a charging bear, or serial killer seeking a lonely stretch of woods for his next victim. Truthfully, after listening to my brother's exploits, it sounds like the only two things I have to really worry about are freezing to death and starving to death. Apparently there is plenty of water around, so dying of thirst probably won't happen. As my brother reminded me, he has hiked 700 miles and it hasn't killed him yet. There was great comfort in those words...
Before we had even gone to Obi's for lunch, we had stopped at the St. Augustine pier and saw the waves going off. I was surprised because it didn't look that choppy, and there were more surfers than I had seen in the water before at this spot. A weekday in St. Augustine, I expected maybe one or two surfers, but I saw more like 30. We drove back to the spot before leaving for home and I took my board out for a while. I think I was a bit of a surprise there, this old guy in a floppy hat on a paddleboard while most everyone else was on short surfboards. There were some powerful waves in the lineup, but it was a little deep and hard to catch the outside sets, so my board was the perfect weapon and I managed to pull off some good rides and get out of the water before somebody got hurt...after getting bounced off the bottom 3 times, I knew who that was going to be..

St. Augustine Pier, I will be back! Obi's? maybe....

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Florida Storm Season! Or Big Waves and What Is That Brown Crap Floating In the Water?

The surfing gang had been eagerly awaiting the day the winds would die down after the big storm passed us by on the east coast. First it was supposed to be Tuesday, then Wednesday and now, hopefully Friday. We had a split decision on where the waves would be best and Sam and I decided to try the north section of Cocoa Beach. I like Cocoa Beach when there is a concern for me about large closeout storm waves, since you can usually find a spot that is more protected if you need to. The issue was the wind was blowing strong from the south and that pretty much negated the protection. Fortunately, Sam brought his windsurfing gear and he and a friend windsurfed while I shot photos.
After a few hours, the wind seemed to die down enough that surfing was sounding like a good idea. Notice I said that "surfing" sounded like a good idea? I brought my surfing paddleboard, and riding it in the leftovers of what you see in the photos was like standing on a greased log in a fast moving river. I worked the hardest you can imagine for the few waves I rode, but I must say the rides were worth the trouble. At one point I was paddling out and actually got launched and did a total belly whomp...good thing there were no sharks around to witness that event. In addition to the rough water, there were a lot of patches of brown gunk in the whitewater, stuff I usually associate with cruise ships flushing their toilets in the ocean. Now it could just be some toxic algae or something, but I worked extra hard anyway to avoid being in those patches of water.
Then there was the task of walking way back up the beach to the truck carrying a giant board against the wind. Thankfully, Sam drove this time and I snored the whole way home...and then got on the couch at home and snored the rest of the day. I will be good and rested up for when the wind really dies down!