One Summer Day
The Beachside Resident - July 2009
Florida summers are like molasses, thick, hot, dripping... the birds move with a certain languor, the yard is overgrown with wild, exotic grasses, the plumeria and mosquitoes swarm into full bloom, and a bright, lazy mist hangs over everything. It is stifling outside, your car feels like an oven, the sweat runs into your eyes, the sand burns your feet, the no-see-ums gnaw incessantly at your legs. In a sort of reverse-hibernatory instinct, you want to hide away, tuck yourself into the air conditioning during this hot spell, and wait for the wretched thing to play itself out.
Summer days are slow and endless. They stretch out like taffy, pulling, lengthening, give no hint of snapping. What escape from this purgatory? Your only hope is to walk dazedly to the ocean and search for waves. Each time you ascend the dunes, a foolish hope swells up in your chest, but these are Atlantic doldrum days… summer prevails yet again, and your dreams of surf melt like candlewax over the flat, oil-slick sea.
When was the last time you surfed? It might have been a week ago, maybe two… no, you remember it now — a low spun up the coast last month and sent some waves in, waist- to chest-high on the sets with light north winds. High tide was the call, with the lefts breaking nicely over the inside sandbar just south of O’Club, pushing through in cruising, barreling lines.
This is what life has come to now, remembering the old times. Ah, these slow, wistful, daydreamy days of summer… what else to do but dream and remember? Come on, take a seat with me, up here on the crossover railing –– I know it’s hot, but give in to it –– cast your eyes out over the water, gaze at the dark mirages on the horizon, and allow the scene to dissolve into blue. I’ll even raise a pensive, sweetly-contrived finger to my lips, à la one of those old Bruce Brown surf flicks, and add a voice over for effect:
“When it gets like this, it’s easy to see how the first Canadian explorers mistook the Atlantic for the last of the Great Lakes. Poor Dan… he’s stuck down here in flatsville while his buddies are catching a major south swell in Malibu. ‘Hey man, don’t worry!’ a local grom calls out cheerily, ‘They say it’s supposed to get up to shin-high tomorrow!’”
What else is there to do in such mournful times (as the German tourists slowly fill up the kiddie pool) but shake your head and hearken back to better days…
It was early last August, on a day not unlike this one, when Todd, my wild-eyed friend from New York City, called with some exciting news.
“Hey man! Montauk’s getting a swell in. Joel invited me to go surfing with him tommorow. It’s supposed to glass off in the afternoon.”
“Yeah, he’s got plenty of boards up there.”
“That’s what I said, bro. You should come up.”
“What, catch a plane?”
“Why not? There’s nothing going on in Florida.”
I explained to my wife that, for a longboarder, surfing with Joel Tudor would be like a golfer playing a round with Tiger Woods, or a cyclist riding with Lance Armstrong. She smiled with understanding and a bit of pity, booked me the first ticket out of Orlando, packed my wetsuit into an overnight bag, and kissed me goodbye. I flew up to LaGuardia that very night.
We met up at Penn Station the next morning and caught the Jitney out to Montauk. When I mentioned I was from Cocoa Beach, Joel related some stories about surfing Driftwood house with Sean Slater, and about getting chewed out by Kelly for not wearing a leash and fooling around during a Pipe contest. Toward the end of the ride, we opened the windows to taste the sea air. I felt impossibly light, almost as if I were not there at all, only floating above the surface of reality. The Hamptons were a fairyland of flowers and sunlight and cool wind through the conifers. A beautiful, long-haired boy of 19 or 20 met us at the station, and drove us along the tree-lined avenues to a sprawling white house, surrounded by Japanese Snowbells, heavy with white flowers and wrapped with azaleas.
A commune of hippies had overrun the house for the summer, and they sunned their young bodies on the porch, played guitar, laughed, ate, smoked aromatic weed, or slept on the outdoor furniture. They were generally pleased to see us, but couldn’t care less who strolled in or out, so exhausted were they from partying and love-making and surfing all day. The boy who had driven us from the station brought us around to the back yard, where fifteen or so longboards lay on the grass, their rails glinting in the sun… McTavish, Takayama, Weber, Hap Jacobs, Yater, Hynson...
Joel stepped lightly among the boards, lifting them up by the noses and trying to discern whose was whose. He set aside a 12-foot stand-up paddleboard for himself, picked out a big, blue soft-top for Todd, and handed me a 9’6” OP Joel Tudor model — “his board,” as he called it — for me.
We walked the quarter mile to the beach, whistling and humming along. The weather was ideal, with only the occasional high cloud accentuating the sky in random, painterly brushstrokes. Joel pointed out a run-down old van, and said it was Alan Weisbecker’s, the lunatic author of one of my favorite books, In Search of Captain Zero. We walked barefoot, with our wetsuit tops dangling from our waists. No one worried about a thing, no one cared, we were content and blissed out and alive.
If I never see Saint Peter pry open the gates of heaven for me, my first vision of the waves at Ditch Plains will have to serve as a replacement, and I will hold it up as a respectable one at that. Long, long, long lefts were presenting themselves out by the rocks, wrapping around the point, bowling through, and sweeping all the way into the beach. A golden armada of longboarders patrolled the outside, carving fluid, drop-kneed bottom turns, stepping gracefully to the nose, slicing across the lapis waves, carving glorious turns, dancing upon the surface of the sea. One fellow was tandem surfing with his girlfriend, catching outside bombs. As he pumped down the line, the girl kneeled in front, laughing and screaming.
We stretched among the young, summering couples on the sand, and set out across the rocks into the cool bliss of the ocean. And what a session it was. I remember sitting on the outside, admiring the curve of the coastline, when a head-high A-frame caught me by surprise. I took off right, Todd went left… At the end of the ride, I looked down the beach to see we were nearly a half mile apart. As I paddled out, there was Joel, magically appearing on the outside in his baseball cap, riding a perfect wave, stepping to the nose, holding ten toes over, casually grasping the oar in one hand.
It was what summers were supposed to be — a mellow crowd, a classic swell, friends in the water.
Now, as the music fades away and Joel’s slow-motion noseride dissolves into blue, I head back down the crossover, wiping the sweat from my eyes and needing a cold drink.
These are doldrum days, after all. There’s always the next tropical storm. Anyway, like the grom said, it is supposed to get up to shin-high tomorrow.