Associate Editor

New Jersey surfer Ed Hewitt took this photo of the smoke billowing from Lower Manhattan from Sandy Hook, New Jersey on 9/11. He, like Times columnist Thad Ziolkowski planned to go surfing that morning. Photo: Ed Hewitt

The Inertia

My dad ran into my room and shook me awake. I didn’t know what was happening, I just knew it was earlier than I normally woke up for school. Around 6 a.m. if memory serves. He turned on the TV. “Something’s happened in New York,” he said, panicked. As a newly minted fifth grader, it was the first I’d heard of the twin towers, as my dad kept saying. We watched as reports came in accompanied by video of two smoking buildings standing high above Manhattan.

I went to school that day – but other parents made their kids stay home. They didn’t know if what was going on back east would manifest itself in Southern California, even in the oceanside suburb of Huntington Beach.

My teacher had the TV turned to the news, and we continued to watch as the towers collapsed. That is until the office called in and told her to turn the news off. They didn’t want the children to be alarmed, she said.

Sixteen years to the day, September 11, 2001 has left an endemic mark on the United States and indeed, the world. It’s a day most Americans can recall with shocking detail about where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the attacks, even if they were a world away.


As it happens, writer Thad Ziolkowski wasn’t too far away that Tuesday morning. And in a piece for the New York Times, he reflects on waking up with a certain exuberance that only a surfer can relate to – a knowledge that the waves would be pumping.

But as Ziolkowski recounts, while a non-threatening hurricane graced the region with fun surf, he didn’t get to the beach that day. His friend that was supposed to pick him up never arrived. After 8:30 he got a call.

“The phone rang,” Ziolkowski writes. “It was my friend. He said he had noticed the smoke in the sky after dropping his daughter off at nursery school. When he got back to his house, he went up to the roof and saw a long streak of smoke with bits of white glitter in it — office paper, he realized. It led all the way back to the tower. He was weeping as he told me. Then the second plane hit.”

The reflection is a poignant one. As often as we go surfing to escape personal obligations imposed on us by the world, when surf and the so-called real world intersect in stark relief, it’s all the more moving.

To read Thad Ziolkowski’s piece in full click here.


Join The Inertia Family 

Only the best. We promise.