Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hurricane Bill, I think I love you!

(In this post I'm going to attempt to describe the past week of energy and vibe here in New Smyrna Beach as the Hurricane Bill swell graced our beaches with some truly epic surf)

Monday and Tuesday (Aug. 17-18) -- To an outsider, novice surfer or normal person nothing appears to be out of the ordinary. The weather man on the local news says something about a tropical storm thousands of miles away being officially named "Bill." To an experienced local surfer now is the time to check various forecasting websites and computer tracking models to learn the storms possible trajectory. Talk between the surfers "in the know" begins about the possibility of a swell.

Wednesday (Aug. 19) -- most surf forecasting websites start to show signs of a long period swell with offshore winds for Saturday. New Smyrna Beach becomes abuzz with anticipation. There is a vibe in the air only experienced, not described. One forecasting site even goes as far as saying that if the forecast track holds true that this swell could become "Bertha on Steroids." (Hurricane Bertha was one of the most memorable storm swells of 2008)

Thursday (Aug. 20) -- Excitement is in the air. Every single person (even non-surfers) seem to know something is coming. People you don't even know surf are talking about the swell. We're close enough now to know that the forecasts are going to be accurate. My cell phone rings with calls from surfer friends that I haven't talked to in months all wanting to know the same thing, "where ya going to hit it man?"

Friday (Aug. 21) -- The town is abuzz. Surfboards can be seen strapped to more vehicles than not. All eyes are upon the ocean. All day long the waves grow in size, the timing between waves (period) increases and more and more surfers take to the water. By evening the ocean is glassy, the waves are hollow with long periods and pitching out. A classic beach break with rights and lefts are everywhere. It looks like California. But, more is to come. Some surfers save their energy.

Saturday (Aug. 22) -- At dawn you can hear the waves several miles inland. The ocean does not look angry. It is glassy and even clear blue water can be seen toward the outside break. The waves are beautiful and do not look that big to the untrained eye until a surfer is spotted riding a wave. "Holy sh*t, that's huge," is heard by more than one by stander. Near the inlet and the beach out front does not hold up to the 15-16 second period and mere size of the swell. The waves start to close out (break all at once) and become difficult for weaker surfers to paddle beyond the shore break. But to the south, where the beach curves out at the beginning of what will become Cape Canaveral, the southeast swell direction holds better with deeper water and a northeast facing direction. Long rights several hundred yards offshore are being taken by hundreds of advanced surfers. It is an amazing site that does NOT look like Florida. Perhaps Mexico. There are two types of surfers coming out of the water right around the peak of the swell.
Type 1 -- stoked out of their mind. Talking about how "amazing and awesome and fun" the session was for them and their buddies.
Type 2 -- frustrated, defeated and dragging their surfboard up the beach and saying stuff like, "Oh my God that was horrible. I almost died."

Sunday (Aug. 23) -- Hurricane Bill is now near Canada and leftovers from the swell are still to be head at the beach. The period is still long, but the waves are weak and smaller. If Saturday was an African Lion then today is a common house cat. The good news is there's good surf to be head everywhere on the beach. The bad news is all types of surfers can physically paddle out past the shore break. It's a fun day, but also a circus as everyone is out surfing today.

That's my recap of the 2009 Hurricane Bill swell, which will likely be talked about for years to come. I know that I won't forget it. It was the first major swell I attempted to ride a long board, my 9'0" epoxy Walden Magic performance longboard. I'm 6'6" (tallguysurfing duh) and the wave faces I rode were at least 4-6 feet over my head Saturday morning. Three of my friends broke their boards, two of them being epoxy (stronger than poly boards) boards just like mine. The speed generated from making the drop on these waves was amazing. I started the morning with a 9' leash and by the end of the second session my leash was stretched out to about 15-feet. The outside break at Bethune (Near Grouper Avenue) was about 400 yards offshore. The water was turquoise and beautiful. Dolphins could be seen riding the waves. The shear power of having one of these 12-14' waves close out on you was truly humbling. I was luckier than some, but I think it's safe to say we all got pounded and tossed at least once. At one point I found myself paddling back out to be confronted with a huge set wave crashing just a couple of feet before the nose of my board. I had no choice but toss the board away and dive to the bottom. Instantly, I was sucked up by my leash and tossed around like a ragdoll. It's funny how instinct takes over in this kind of situation. All I remember is having the little amount of air I got knocked out of me from the impact and thinking this simple thought, "don't waste energy fighting it, just relax." I start counting and get to 15 before the ocean releases me and I can swim to the surface. It's humbling to go through something like that and then think of the big wave guys that experience multiple wave hold downs. The day after I notice several bruises in different locations on my body. I do NOT bruise easily. I call these U.S.I.s or unidentified surfing injuries because I have no recollection of when or how I got them. Adrenaline is an amazing thing!

Here are some pictures from the swell. I took most of them, but Julie and Joe also used my camera a bit while I was surfing. I wish I had some better shots, but my top priority Saturday was surfing, not picture taking. Enjoy! (click to enlarge any photo)

This shot gives some scale to the size of the waves Saturday morning.

This is my friend JB. He's about 6'3". Not a short guy and this was a smaller wave.

I saw this kid stuck in the impact zone for what seemed like forever. I guess it wasn't his day.

This guy is about to learn what a close out is all about!

This is my buddy Brian. He was having a bad day. You can see that he has broken (the buckle near his arm) his epoxy longboard in this picture.

Brian has a great personality! Right after he broke his longboard he grabbed his shortboard and paddled back out saying, "If I don't laugh about it I'll cry!"

One of the few pictures I have of me surfing Saturday. Hopefully Julie has some more of me from her camera as this one I'm just about to get closed out on a smaller wave.

Here's my poor stretched out leash after Saturday morning. Before paddling out it only stretched to the nose of my board.

This is the only picture I'm going to post of this, but I felt it worth mentioning. Late Saturday afternoon, about 100 yards to the north of us, a swimmer drown. I had to look through my camera lens to see what was happening. The man, who was apparently bodysurfing, was spotted by bystanders floating in the water and pulled to shore. Despite what the newspaper story said, the Beach Patrol did NOT pull this guy out of the water. It was surfers and bystanders. I will refrain from posting the pictures of the beach patrol guys walking (not running) down the beach five minutes later. The man was pronounced dead upon arriving at the hospital. It was a sad sight to see, but also a remind of how unforgiving the ocean can be. If you don't respect the ocean, it will kill you and sometimes it'll kill you even if you do respect it.


  1. Wow. Crazy waves out there. Sad about the dude though. Be careful.

  2. Oh wow, I'm so jealous! That looks absolutely INCREDIBLE!

    Have fun and be safe!