Hurricane Sandy, highlight reel-maker, heart breaker
Hurricane Sandy, the two sides to a storm
As surfers in North Carolina, we have complicated relationships with hurricanes. We eagerly await hurricane season all year, then pray none make landfall. Storms send heaping helpings of groundswell to beach breaks and inlet points up and down the Eastern seaboard, giving us a brief highlight window, then it shuts down just as quickly. Every storm brings a mixed bag of emotions: excitement and joy and fear and sorrow. Most storms are harmless and just bring great waves, hoots and highlight reels. Others break our hearts. Hurricane Sandy did both.
Last week, we waited for the buoys. It was so late in the season, I’m not sure anyone really took it seriously. But as the forecasts grew, so did our hopes. Sandy was slow: 7 mph at best. It pumped groundswell from Florida to NC. We had time to stare at it. We had time to plan our spots and gear. We had time to charge GoPros and find a babysitter. The groundswell looked good and it was growing.
Usually, groundswell with too long a period can mean big closeouts. For some reason, many of the beach breaks can’t hold the long swell. Even at an angle, it just wraps the beaches. Only a few spots can produce the big, hollow, beautiful waves we see in magazines and movies. It’s always a gamble, but there’s room and options.
When Friday emerged, I received a ton of texts, made a decision and found a south-facing beach with an inlet that held the swell and produced an inlet point break that was stunning. It looked like someone had cut a piece of cardboard at an angle. The waves were so clean, so evenly spaced. Barrels, one after another, peeled down the quarter mile inlet to every goofy-footer’s delight. Hell, I didn’t even mind being regular foot it was so much fun. It was one of those sessions where you can’t even speak except to hoot at someone on the next wave. It was like Disney bought Sandy and just kept churning out rides. We just kept getting back in line. Afterward, people just smiled at each other and nodded. There wasn’t much to say. We’d experienced something magical, unusual and beautiful. You only have a few of those days in a lifetime. Unless you live in Topsail where it’s like that every day.
Here are two videos from Greg Lew that day. The first has me wiping out when I took off too deep. It was a fun free-fall and I luckily didn’t get caught inside until later waves. VIDEO: Holden Beach Inlet 10.26.2012 With JB, VIDEO: Holden Beach Inlet 10.26.2012
There were amazing shots from Ocean City, MD. There was the Pump House Tow-in Session video that had the most impressive barrel I’ve ever seen. We watched the video at Epic Food Company and the group of us huddled around my laptop literally yelled when the little bit of red got spat out. Pump House Video
There were wonderful leftovers in the am Saturday, but they didn’t last. By afternoon, with the storm 300 miles directly off our coast, it turned into a churning, angry blowout. Wind gusted to 50+. We packed it in and waited for the back-side of the storm, hoping the wind would cooperate.
A few of us paddled out to try to surf the shoals on Sunday, a mystical spot that rarely breaks. It’s like our version of Egypt (read The Wave). Mistake. The paddle out was fun. Alarmingly easy. It was very unsettling to paddle so easily out, knowing the returntrip would be more difficult at a multiple of 100. The wind was too hard offshore and we barely managed to get back in. I caught one my my alltime top 10 most scary waves, and lived to thank God I got out alive to see my wife and and child. A Coast Guard cutter was doing a search and rescue for two surfers believed to be blown out to sea. It looked like a Discovery Channel special, crashing through waves and wind. There were no lost surfers. It ended up being a false alarm, but the tone had changed. I never had as much toruble paddling home and probaby won't ever try something like that again. I called 80% Chuck immediately after and told him to stay home. This storm could drown a Spartan.
It felt as if the whole world changed Sunday afternoon. Awe and excitement turned into apprehension and fear. The news changed. The warnings heightened and it was becoming clear that this wasn’t going to be good for anyone. It’s like someone waved fire in Frankenstorm’s face. Sandy started looking more like Carrie. The models really started to paint a grim picture. The Outer Banks started to get slammed. I started to worry about Bill and Anne Gassett in Virginia Beach, Sup Annapolis and Kathy Summers in DC. My family in Cape May and Avalon. Friends in NYC and Long Island. And especially Mark Colino in Seaside, NJ.
The rising tides and winds pushed water levels beyond historic highs. Seaside Heights looked like a scene from an end-of-the-world movie. Cape May was under 8 feet of water. Photos of a news corresondant standing in thigh-deep water in front of the Lobster House.
I texted Mark Colino. He was stuck on the second floor of his building with a friend, the first floor was under water, and everything he owned including his car washed away. His kids were safe. He had food and water as of yesterday. I still haven’t heard back, but he’s a tough Jersey nut so I’m sure he’ll be ok. I watched a ConEd Power plant explode a few blocks from where I used to live in NYC while Tribeca and the Battery flowed as an extension of the Hudson. The photos of NYC firemen fighting their way through the waters to rescue people in the path of the destruction always tug at my soul. How fortunate we all are that there are people like them protecting and rescuing us.
Then there were the shots from Seaside heights. It's something out of a bad movie. Twisted metal. scraps of wood and paper, piles flotsam and jetsam. I remember riding those rides pre-Snookie years, listening to the clown on the dunk tank make fun of meatheads and eating funnel cakes, slices of pize the sie of trash can lids and of course, the orange drink. (it was .99 back then for a slice and a drink). Atlantic City is decimated. If there's a boardwallk left anywhere, it'd be a shocker.
The storm is over, but the cleanup will take a long time. People are resilient. Still, what huge, disasterous closeout. I’m still shocked at the degrees of emotions that come from a storm like that. The enormous sense of excitement and joy followed by fear, guilt and awe. I'm so sorry for your losses, but happy for those of you who survived with your familes.
The Distressed Mullet family extends their thoughts and prayers to those affected by the Hurricane Sandy and our appreciation to the local, state and national agencies who are helping to rescue and secure so many people in the aftermath of this disaster. If there are fundraising opportunities arising from the wreckage, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can spread the word.
The bottom shot is from one of my favorite phtographers, Kenny Onufrock from Manaloking, NJ. It sums it all up.