A Tale of Two Surfs

A Tale of Two Surfs

This (from a few years ago) or…

It was the best of sessions, it was the worst of sessions, it was the warmest of water, it was the coldest of seas, it was the week of serenity, it was a day of mental turmoil — in short, the two periods could be received in the degree of comparison only.

Okay, so, maybe I’m pushing the imagery a wee bit. But allow me to highlight the contrast in the six days between Wednesday, March 15, and Thursday, March 9, if you will.

On March 15, in the wake of a just-departed nor’easter that delivered slushy snow and an official wind gust of 77 mph to Plum Island (I measured a gust of 61.9 mph on my handheld anemometer on the beach before the peak winds hit), I paddled into the surf in nearby New Hampshire. Fierce offshore winds made it challenging if not impossible to catch any waves. The wind chilled my face — the only part of my body exposed — and the spray made it difficult to even see. And despite the fact that I run pretty warm and had never really been cold when surfing this winter, my toes and fingers were numb before I’d gotten halfway to the waves. Speaking of the water temperature: 39 or 40 degrees Fahrenheit, tops. Air temp in the teens; and with those westerly winds, take a guess at the wind-chill factor. Sub-zero, for sure.

…this? That’s what I thought.

Six days earlier, I was wearing shorts as I paddled into the 81-degree Pacific Ocean, where light morning offshores caressed rising groundswell (from a storm thousands of miles distant in the far South Pacific) into waves that threw out in an arc enabling even me — a tall, hulking, klutzy surfer — to pull in and savor the feeling of being in the ocean’s warm embrace for an all-too-brief but still life-altering moment.

So yeah, I whined to myself a bit as I sat in the frigid waters of New Hampshire fighting to catch at least a semi-decent wave. Sue me.

All kidding aside, the contrasts created psychological challenges well beyond excessive internal dialogue. The difference in my attitude as a result of the toe- and finger-numbing lack of water temperature and the brain-numbing lack of wave quality was disappointing to me. At the point in New Hampshire, I waited where the lines of waves wrapped and peeled along the point itself. Before they did that wrap, those same swells exploded on the reef at the tip of the point itself. And though the waves were (I believe) rideable, the consequences of the cold and the chop if you fell were enough that I opted to stay put at the shoulder. A week earlier in Mexico, after working up to the main break in Puerto Escondido, I took off on waves where the likelihood of making it was way less than 25 percent.

Did I wish I was still in Mexico? You bet I did. My courage, it seemed, had frozen along with the precipitation still piled on the roadways. And that was a bummer. To me, anyway.

On top of that, it turned out that the New Hampshire town I was in had declared a snow emergency and all street parking was banned. I got back to my car — where I stripped and changed out of my frigid wetsuit in those arctic wind blasts — to find a parking ticket on my windshield. Fuck! Viva Mexico!

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