The more I went to Hatteras, the more I realized how lucky I was to live within surgical-striking distance of the best surf on the coast. This anemic strip of sand offered the perfect foil to First Street – isolation compared to crowds, power to weakness, and tuberides to turns. For every young East Coaster, there comes a day that lets you know if you’re up to the challenge.
During my senior year at First Colonial High, I skipped school one winter day to make the trek. I don’t recall who I went with, but at some point they left because the wind wasn’t cooperating. That afternoon I found myself in the back seat of a blue Ford Bronco that was purchased illegally. The owner had bought the car using money paid to him for, get this, riding waves.
That concept, getting paid to surf, actually making a career of riding waves, had inched its way into my consciousness during the previous few years. By 17 I knew there was no better way to earn a living. It was all I wanted to do. As we barreled down Highway 12 at 90 m.p.h. towards an afternoon glass-off in Rodanthe, I felt like a rock star.
Beside me was Ken Hunt, and in the passenger seat in front of me was Brian Brennan, both a few years older and both studs of the Eastern Surfing Association’s Virginia District. I was among royalty. And on the driver’s throne, with his big right foot flat on the floor, was the king himself, OMG Wes Laine. Although on the downside of a stellar career, he was still among the world’s top surfers.
I flashed on my schoolmates suffering through seventh bell and wished they could see me at that moment. Our vehicle could’ve plunged off the Oregon Inlet Bridge and I’d have died a happy kid. All of a sudden, we passed the only other humans we’d seen in a while, two cops in an unmarked police car. So much for making the glass-off; OMG Wes Laine was about to be carted off to jail.
For five minutes, our fearless leader was harangued on the side of the road by the officers. These dudes were no Ponch and John; they looked more like Bubba and Junior. Then, to our shock, they got in their car and drove away. And with a devilish grin, OMG Wes Laine hopped back behind the wheel and continued towards Rodanthe. The officers, it turns out, were on their way to a cookout and had their minds set on some Carolina barbecue rather than a bunch of paperwork back at the station.
Moments later, we were donning full wetsuit armor and leaping off the pier into our own smorgasbord of surf. I’d never jumped off a pier; in fact I’d chickened out back home when I’d had the chance. There was no way I was backing down in front of these guys.
We traded overhead bombs until dark with nary another soul in sight. I followed the boys’ lead and went on anything that came my way. It’s funny that I don’t remember any single wave from the session, yet I recall minute details from the ride down and especially the ride home.
We stopped for beer and, per tradition I was told, a big bag of crab-flavored potato chips. The empty bottles, I’m ashamed to say, were used for full speed target practice on road signs. Turns out I was a decent shot, at least until I finished a second cold one and began to lose control of all motor skills.
With around a quarter of the bag of chips remaining, Ken used his fist to crush what was left into a fine powder. I was then informed that it was the initiation of the new kid to devour whatever crab dust was still in the bag. They could’ve told me to gnaw the bloody fur off a roadkill opossum, and I’d have asked, “Should I eat the maggots too?”
The crabby finish failed to leave a stench on a flawless day. In all my travels, I’m yet to find anything better than a good day down south. Then again, it’s not the waves that I remember.