Monday, September 24, 2007

Hatteras Island

Kim and Oliver dropped me off at the beach as soon as we crossed the Wright Brothers Bridge and went in search of breakfast. The surf was small and glassy, with no wind and an incoming tide, I knew this was as good as it would get today, as the wind would surely pick up in the afternoon and chop up what little swell there is. There were about 5-8 guys in the lineup. The water was warm, and everyone out was just trunkin’ it. I watched several small schools of silversides jumping out of the water, I suppose chased by something larger. I caught a few short easy waves and saw a 12” dorsal a few yards outside me. Then, more dorsal, curving up and down, looking for a breakfast of their own. It felt so good to be back in the warm water, and catching the surf nice and mellow was a perfect start.

Kim popped her head over the dunes about 20 minutes later after a frustrating and unsuccessful search for breakfast. We rolled on down to Hatteras proper, with me a little mellower after the quick surf, but Kim still with her city game face on. As soon as we hit the National Seashore, our moods picked up, our shoulders relaxed, as we enter a different time and place.

The Cape Hatteras National Seashore is still different, even after decades of development in Nags Head to the north. Hatteras Island has a “country” feel to it, much like the “town and country” of Hawaii for surfers, with the developed Honolulu and the rural North Shore. Hatteras is still fairly rural, and only a few decades away from being pretty feral and roadless. Nags Head is definitely considered town.

I went out for another surf after dinner off the beach at the house, hoping to catch an evening glass-off. It was high tide and moving out towards low, and it was a bit breezy. But I went out anyway, knowing that every minute I sat out there, the tide was getting lower, the wind calmer, and the surf glassier. The big group of New York neighbors were watching me from their upper deck, and enjoying lots of Bud Light.

Paddling a fiberglass surfboard hurts my breastbones and pelvis bones, just like a bike saddle hurts the sit bones if you don’t ride often enough. I was already sore from the short morning session, and knew that this would make tomorrow even sorer. But, what the hell, I’m here, and all I had to do was walk to waves, marginal though they were, they were waves. I spent a long time not paddling after anything, just sitting there watching, no doubt making the NYers wonder what the hell I’m doing out there in the near darkness. Finally, a few come my way and I get a couple small short rides. For some reason, I remembered hearing how much sharks prefer the dawn and dusk times as I look up and down the beach see no other surfers out. I recall the sizes of a few sand(?) sharks I’ve seen caught on the beach here, and start to sketch my head out a little. Somehow I get past that, rode a couple more and headed in.

Headed up to the Buxton area this afternoon to see if the surf is any better up around the big curve in the island. I also wanted to check out the contest, the Eastern Surfing Association is having their 40th annual Championships here all week. The surf down at our place in Frisco is small and very glassy with a light offshore breeze, but there’s just not enough juice in the swell to make it break well enough. I check the Frisco Pier on the way, and it’s not much better than at our house. Sometimes it is, since the pier catches a lot of sand and offers a break when nothing else is breaking.

I paddle out at the 3rd groin in Buxton and spook a small school of fish as soon as I hit the water. The water here is much clearer and warmer than yesterday up north, and I can easily see the bottom at about 6-8 feet deep. It keeps making me think I can touch the bottom since it looks so close. With the contest 2 groins away, I expected this spot to be crowded, especially after seeing the SOBE and Monster sponsor trucks parked nearby. But, there’s only one other guy out in the lineup; long blond dreadlocks, long gray-blond beard. I paddle out past him, and sit closer to the takeoff zone near the groin and immediately realized my breach of etiquette. So, I just sat there a while, and let him grab a couple waves before I tried for any. After he had a half-dozen or so nice, long rides, I still hadn't caught anything. He asks me if I’m from Delaware too. I replied, “no, Pennsylvania”, and he inquired if I was always from PA. I gave him the quick rundown, Baltimore-Florida-and Virginia for the last ever. He had all he needed to know about my surf prowess, and my next few wave attempts confirmed that as well. He told me that he worked in a shop in Virginia Beach 14 days a month making high-end longboards and retro fish. He said he lived here the other 16 or 17 days a month. He was pretty specific about the 16 or 17 days. Finally, I started catching a few waves, and they were pretty good, with some clean, open face time, and almost some pocket time. Dreadlock guy rode a long one to the beach, dropped his board off, and grabbed a spear gun, snorkel, and mask, and spent an hour or so swimming up and down the groin looking for some fresh catch for dinner. I was the only one out until one of the “Delaware guys” paddled out and caught a few out near me. Later, another two paddled out, and I took that as a sign that I helped make the surf at least not look totally crappy. That doesn't happen too much to me.

Man, did it ever feel great to be surfing small, quality surf right there. I didn't really want to get out of the water but I wanted to save my arms, and check out the contest. The contest surfers really rip, and made the surf look spectacular, doing anything they wanted on their long rides. They were getting clean lefts off the 1st groin, and riding them a long way milking points from the judges. The judges sit 3 stories up, in an elaborate scaffolding structure, which is causing controversy with the National Park Service. The NPS doesn't allow any advertising, and the large sponsor banners and tents, and the judges platform doesn't exactly conform to most of the Park's management plan. After 39 years here at the lighthouse, there was a serious threat by the NPS to not allow the contest back here with banners. Of course, the contest can't really function without the sponsors and banners, so a 1-year agreement was settled, with the NPS staff on-hand inspecting all aspects of the operation and assessing the contests' impact on any non-surfing visitors to the Park.

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