Professional Surfer

Photo: Nick Denny

The Inertia

Where to begin? It’s hard to write about my hurricane Sandy experience and be excited about it when so many people are suffering because of her. Hurricane Sandy is now gone, but she leaves in her wake a trail of destruction. On the flip side of the coin, she has left some surfers with the best moments and memories of their surfing lives on the East Coast.

As a surfer on the East Coast, we yearn for fall hurricane season every year. This is the time of year when the tourists leave, the Atlantic Ocean begins to generate activity, and the locals reclaim their beaches. The water is usually still fairly warm and we have very consistent surf. This year has been no different than any other year, with several average over hyped hurricane swells. Most of what we have been getting hasn’t really come close enough to our coast to produce the best scenario for great surf.

Sandy was a different beast. She formed in the Caribbean just south of Jamaica, and her track looked to be the perfect storm to every surfer. She was to move slowly up the Eastern seaboard and hug the coast tightly. And hug the coast tightly she did, leading to several days of amazing surf.

As I watched the forecasts from my computer at home, there were almost too many options of places to go and score waves. I had been talking to Colin Herlihy, and we decided that since we both had work obligations the first few days of the swell, we’d try and team up and surf Sandy together as she passed the mid-Atlantic region. As the storm tracked north, she intensified. Her wind field was reaching across the entire eastern seaboard. I got in my car, headed across the Chesapeake Bay bridge, and headed north to Colin’s house. I had a lingering sense of eagerness mixed with nervousness running through my blood, and I have a suspicion that the animals felt the same thing. The snow geese were flying by the thousands, and the deer were acting bizarre. So bizarre, in fact, that I ended up with two of them as roadkill dinners for the next few nights.

When I got to Colin’s house late Saturday night, we cleaned my deer, drank a few beers and talked about what was coming. The next evening, we drove down to the beach through the outer bands of the storm to look at the waves. The surf was already well overhead with a hard onshore wind that chilled to the bone. We talked out a few scenarios of what would play out the following day as we headed home.

Monday morning we woke up around 8 am. We were super excited to get to the beach and see what the day had in store for us. We loaded up the truck and headed to the beach. Everything was on lock down and under mandatory evacuation. We took the back roads and dodged the police and National Guard to make our way into Bethany Beach, DE. The surf was massive. It looked like a solid day at Puerto with a side offshore wind at about 80 mph. There were a few differences, though: the lineup was full of pilings from the fallen Ocean City pier, debris fields of trash, beach fences swept from the dunes and anything else you could possibly imagine. It was time to check somewhere else.

We headed into Ocean City MD. On the way we again had to dodge the police. One officer even gave us an offer to take us to jail just for being out driving in the storm, but I passed on it and told him we were heading home immediately. Instead we slipped onto another back road and worked our way back to the beach. By now the water from the bay had raised so high that the ocean and the sounds were pretty much touching everywhere. Everything was underwater and we knew shit was hitting the fan. We posted up at a hotel near the state line and watched the surf, anticipating the wind switch. We knew the wind was about to go offshore. When it happened, it turned into completely unruly and unsurfable 15 foot faces with gaping barrels and hard offshore winds. The ride of your life was out there, and so was the wipeout of your life. It was time for us to get out there.

Suiting up as fast as humanly possible in the freezing wind, we got the ski ready for launch. We played cat and mouse with the National Guard for about half an hour while trying to launch our ski, but finally we had our moment to go. We dropped the ski on the top of the dune and pushed it to the edge of the water. I jumped on and got to a safe spot to pick up my buddy Todd who was fired up to get the first wave. We set up out the back excited, but also nervous. It was pouring rain, and with the hard wind it felt like pins and needles stabbing every part of our bodies. Finally a wave came. Todd was ready, so we gave it ago. Whipping him into it, I looked up from the bottom of the wave on the ski and saw Todd standing there with a giant thick lipped monster towering over him It was two or three times his size. The next wave came, and I put Todd a little too deep, and he got absolutely chewed up. He popped up out the back ok, but frazzled. We set back up on a few more and Todd ended up getting blown out of the barrel of his life.

I was up next. We had a go on a few waves but it just didn’t set up right. Finally a bomb came right to me. I remember telling Todd to go while he was telling me not to. I went anyways.  I got to the bottom of the wave, looked up, and just knew this was a monster. For a second, I actually thought I was going to make it. I pulled in and tried to go high but next thing I knew,  I was completely swallowed in the belly of the beast. Slamming the bottom, I was rag dolled harder than I’ve ever been. When I surfaced, another wave landed on my head and blew me into pieces. I popped up just before I lost all my air winded and a little intimidated. Todd was there and checked I was ok but before I could really answer I took another one on the head. After that beating I popped up, shook it off, found my board, and made my way back to the ski.

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