I see his point. But before attempting to get to the answer, I want to explain what we’re dealing with for anyone who might not be familiar with my hometown.
We almost never get waves. The Atlantic flatlines for weeks at a stretch, and it does so on a monthly basis. When we get what we consider waves, and we’re jumping around like Juggalos at an ICP concert, most surfers would look at the ocean and go, “Meh.”
The reasons for our area’s ineptitude are as plentiful as cops on the resort strip. We can blame it on the continental shelf, the direction of the earth’s rotation, the Jet Stream, Laird Hamilton (rumor has it he was in town recently, and we all know he deserves plenty of blame).
Waves that miraculously manage to find their way here are met with a shoreline as straight as any in the world. Aside from two jetties and a pier, which provide minor help, there is nothing to prompt incoming swells to make their final act memorable. As a result, our waves tend not to pitch or peel so much as crumble. Imagine a timelapse video in reverse of Joan Rivers’ face through the years, and you trying to ride the chunks of plastic as they fall off. That’s what we’re dealing with here, and it ain’t pretty.
The best waves break in the designated surfing zones, which get as crowded as legitimate surf spots, but without any sort of merit-based pecking order like you’d find at those other spots. Here, the mentality is, Biggest board wins. In most cases, logs and SUP’s serve as crutches for those too feeble to catch waves using skill alone. It’s sort of like “Survival of the fattest.”
Every so often, perhaps a handful of days each year, the waves get taller than an average adult. In other words, “overhead,” the gold standard for surfing. Most of these days, the wind is blowing in some direction other than offshore, so the surf is choppy. Or, the tide is high and so the waves are fat. Or, without any coves or headlands to provide shape the waves shut down all at once. Going to the beach can be like going on a blind date expecting Megan Fox to answer the door but finding Redd Foxx instead. All you can do is laugh.
Rarely, the elements come together to produce waves that well-traveled surfers would consider good. Hurricane Sandy, in 2012, provided such conditions. I checked the surf for eight hours until the wind finally switched. For one glorious few hours, guys were standing inside barrels and we thought we’d found Nirvana. By the next morning, the surf looked like what was found of the lead singer of Nirvana.
Most people in town realize how bad our waves are and therefore do not pay surfing much attention. Unless Jim Cantore is on the boardwalk raving about this year’s Storm of the Century, the beach is simply a place they go to plop on a towel and work on their skin cancer. Otherwise they lead perfectly normal lives, deftly stepping around that old surfboard in the garage in order to get in the car and speed off to work. Surfing, around here, pfft!
Miraculously, at this moment a fellow resident, an absute ripper named Michael Dunphy, is ranked 18th on the World Qualifying Series. He’s one big result away from becoming the first surfer from here to make the elite level since OMG Wes Laine back in the ’80s. And outside of hardcore surfers, no one in town has ever heard his name. Mike Dunphy, is that the guy from Modern Family? The town doesn’t care.
That is, until this week. The final week of August is the one week that is different. Like moths to a flame, residents flock shoreward for The Big Contest. Dust ’em off and wax ’em down, it’s surf week.
$urf this, $urf that, everything $urf. Except it isn’t. Surfers laugh at this place; they come here for the money, nothing more. And these days the surfing is an afterthought, swallowed up by a sea of skate ramps, volleyball nets, flag football games, vendor village debauchery, “rock” concerts, freestyle motodemos, beer tents, boobkini contests, and 5K’s. Navigate through that obstacle course, and you may see a few wavelets ridden. It’s about surfing like Costco is about surfing. “Yeah, we got some boards in the back, but you’re gonna buy a bunch of other crap on your way there.”
Enough about the surfing paradise I live in and on to answering my son’s question: Why would a surfer willingly subject himself such dismal conditions? Compounding the dilemma was the fact that I dragged the poor kid onto a surfboard before he could walk, so I got him into this mess. Why?
Maybe I stayed precisely because of the dismal conditions. I loved that surfing around here made me something of a renegade. It’s not like in California, where your sister, your doctor, your principal, and your grandmother all surf. I’ve met people surfing on the West Coast, and when I told them where I was from they replied, “Whoa dude, is there even an ocean there?” Yes, that is an indictment of Southern California geography classes, but it’s also because, why the hell would they know there’s an ocean here?
I was proud of the fact that I could surf in spite of living in such a wave-starved place. The Underdog Story personified. While others complained about the meager surf; I learned to revel in it. I’ll show California. I’ll have just as much fun, and go just as far, surfing shit waves as them surfing good ones. And I did. I made it. I outsmarted everyone, myself included.
PS: Go Dunphy! Bring it home, boy.