Hell of a day surfing the leftover Paulette swell. While “you shoulda been here yesterday” seemed to be the theme of the day, there was still plenty of head-high surf to play around in.
I was out of bed at 3:45 am, the car was already loaded up so after prepping some waffles and a coffee I was on the road. My favorite thing to do on these early drives out to Rhode Island is listen to the Black Keys’ album: Turn Blue. Just really sets the mood.
Point Judith was my destination. Magic seaweed was predicting large overhead surf. I was a blend of excited and nervous. I’ve never surfed this spot before, and there are plenty of rocks to teach newcomers a lesson. That made me nervous, especially with large surf. But when it’s working it’s one of the best rights in all New England.
I got to the end of route 9 and made a left on 95 north. About halfway there. There was a beautiful crescent moon, hanging like a toenail clipping low in the eastern sky. My eyes kept swapping between the road and the moon.
The nerves built up the rest of the way to Point Judith. I stopped to empty my bladder at a gas station a few miles from the lighthouse, that helped a little. I found parking in the dim, predawn light. Stepped out of my car, and there was a serious autumn bite in the air. The big toenail was still hanging in the sky, waving me up the hill to take a look.
I walked up the grassy slope to the point, visions of overhead sets peeling perfectly to the viewer’s left. Prepared to hear the thundering crash of long period swell against the rocks, I heard nothing but a weak splash… weird.
I kept going, and when I got to the cliff I realized that the internet forecasts had misled me. No giant sets, no-one in the water ripping. I wasn’t late to the party as I had worried, there was no party. I felt a mix of disappointment and relief. Disappointment that perfect, dare I say world class, right handers eluded me. Relieved that the swell size was more manageable, and I could surf it at the sandy-bottomed beach up the coast.
I started to second-guess my decision to take the full day off, but quickly put that to bed. Thankfully this first spot check was not an indication of how the day would go!
I drove up to Narragansett Town Beach. The waves looked fun, and the crowd wasn’t too large. I got that giddy feeling when its time to get in the water.
Before going on, I want to say that I have a ton of respect for the forces of nature. Mother nature is boss, no doubt in my mind. However, it seems that despite my lack of doubt, she always insists on reminding me.
I also like to consider myself a generally capable surfer. I don’t rip, but I’m beyond the point of calling myself a beginner. Kook, yes. But not a beginner anymore.
So here’s how my bout with Mother Nature went today, and boy was it a fun one!
Narragansett Town beach. I got there just as the sun was rising. Although it wasn’t as vivid as I thought it would be. The weather forecast for the day said it would be sunny and clear all day, however the sun seemed to be barely shining through some haze. I would find out later that this was due to wildfire smoke blown from 3,000 miles away. Wild.
Score: MoNature 2, Mike 0. One point for deceiving the surf forecasters, and another for cramping my sunrise expectations.
No worries, though. The surf was incredibly fun, though almost every wave I took off on was an immediate closeout. Still though, it was fun to work on my timing, which I got back. Most of the rides went like this:
Take off, big drop, bottom turn back up the face as tall as me, closeout.
One wave stayed open long enough for me to roller coaster a bit. I was on my longboard and I got a nice, cruisy right. On another I dropped, made the bottom turn and saw that there was still a tiny open section around the wall of white water in front of me. I had enough speed to make it over there, floated up to the lip, turned my shoulders back down the wave and was shot back down the face.
That one was really fun, and I’m psyched to have scored it.
Score: MoNature 2, Mike 1
As the session went on I got a little lesson in karma, too. I took off on another wave, ready to go right and certain the guy to my left wouldn’t get it before me. As I made the drop, I heard a disappointed “YO!” from behind me. Oops, I dropped in on someone. Sorry.
I hate the tension that creates when someone is pissed, so when I made back out I apologized. He said it was cool, no worries, but still seemed a bit perturbed. Oh well, we both shook it off.
Later on I was about to get into what was probably the biggest wave of the session. It felt like 7 feet, which means it was probably 4, and my timing was perfect. I trimmed right and took the huge drop, only to see another dude nosediving right in front of me.
I mightttt have been able to get around him but that’s not what I thought in the moment. I instinctively hit the eject button. Karma. How could I be mad at the dude for doing something that I did minutes earlier. We laughed about how we both got clobbered and that was that.
This session was great, I’d been out for almost two hours and feel like I caught the most waves in a single session ever. I rode another closeout and found myself in front of the rest of the waves in the set.
At Narragansett Town beach the water is shallow enough to stand and the bottom is nice and sandy, so its tempting to just ditch the board and wait until the set passes. So I got lazy and did just that. The waves looked twice as big as I bobbed there shoulder deep, and the whitewater came crashing down on me.
I usually dive under and grab the leash with my hand in one fluid motion. I missed the leash, then felt a brief jolt to my ankle. The leash snapped and my board was barreling towards shore.
Well shit. I started to swim and didn’t stop until I was walking up the shore to retrieve my beached longboard.
MoNature 3, Mike 1.
I figured no big deal, I’ll run to the shop later to grab another leash, but I wasn’t ready to call the session over. It was about 8:30 at this point, and the lineup had thinned out as people went to work. Thinner lineup = more parking. I moved my car to a closer spot and pulled out my 7′ step up.
Back in the water I went. I forget how spoiled paddling on the longboard makes me. The first few strokes on the smaller board felt like I was dragging an anchor. After getting the feel for the smaller board back and a few duck dives, I was in the lineup again.
It was pretty much the same situation. Take drop, bottom turn, closeout. That was enough for me today, though.
I rode some pretty sizeable waves. (for me) and it was sick to feel the glide on this board. I’m not that skilled, but I could tell that this board is capable of making some fun carves.
At this point I had a lot of confidence in my timing, and I was having a blast dropping in on head-high faces. On one, I bottom turned hard and pointed my shoulders right back at the lip. I was looking up at it. First time I’ve ever looked UP at a lip while standing on it. It was wild, I was in awe. For a moment.
Then it crashed down on my head and I was tumbling around under water.
MoNature 4, Mike 1.
I was out of the water just before 10 am and my shoulders were begging me for a break. I walked a couple blocks over to the most useful building in all of New England for me at the moment. One half is a coffee shop, and the other is a surf shop. Perfect.
I grabbed a new leash and a hot cup of joe. Was walking back to the beach in no time.
As I sat there sipping coffee and flushing the lactic acid out of my shoulders, I watched the surf. It seemed to be flattening out a bit. I decided I would definitely be paddling out again, it was just a matter of where.
Town beach was fun, and it gave me a big confidence boost. I had also thought about giving second beach a try. The wind was probably favorable there, but it’s a totally foreign spot to me. The Internet still said Point Judith was 4-7 feet, but I didn’t buy it.
At least check! is what I thought. So I made up my mind. I went for a walk up the beach to see if there were any good sandbars creating open faces. There kinda was, but nothing epic, but at least I knew where I’d go if the point break wasn’t working.
A guy that morning told me Point Judith is good at mid-tide, coming in. It was noon, and that’s where the tide was at. I made the short drive down to the lighthouse and had no problem finding parking again (something I was generally worried about yesterday).
Walked back up the cliff, still not working, and nobody in the water surfing it. Poop. I thought this was weird though because I saw a lot of surfers in the parking lot. They didn’t appear to be leaving, either. When I turned to go back to my car, I saw why.
The waves were breaking on the south side of the point.
Not the right hander I was looking for, but as soon as I saw someone ride the left I decided to paddle out. Now how to get there…. after some Google mapping I found where I needed to go on a satellite image.
Now on the other side of the point, I parked my butt on a nice rock and watched a few surfers walk by. I munched on a Jersey Mikes sub while observing where and how to enter the water and paddle out. Within a half an hour I was suited up and climbing down the rocks.
I watched two guys enter where I was trying to enter. I tried to time it up with the waves like they had. I stumbled down, trying hard to keep my balance with my heavy-ass longboard. Glad I put my booties on, too.
Ok, first wave came. I kept going and paused when I was about knee deep to wait for the next one. I was going to let it go, then hop on my board and ride the backwash out, just as I had seen another guy do.
Here it comes. Oh shit its big. Annnnd I’m on the ground. I fumbled to get back up, about as graceful as a baby calf. Hopped on my board, started paddling, nope… too shallow. I felt my fin dragging on rocks. Dammit here comes another wave. I managed to say mostly on my feet, then rode the backwash out as originally planned…. graceful.
MoNature 5, Mike 1.
Ok. I made it in the water. No for the longest paddle of my life. Idk, it must’ve been at least 3 football fields. I made it though, and my right shoulder was complaining the whole way. Every time I stopped for a break I got spooked floating there by myself. I just fixated on the closest guy to me and paddled slow and steady.
Floating out there was awesome too, after I made it to the lineup the initial spook of being in the deeper water wore off and the view of the lighthouse was just awesome. It looked so much bigger from out there than it does when standing on the point. And the sun was shining on it in such a cool way.
I had one of those moments where everything around you just seems so much more vivid. Felt like everything was in HD.
It didn’t take long for me to catch a wave either! I slowly worked my way towards the outside of the lineup, and when a set rolled in I found myself in position to take it without snaking anyone. These waves were massive.
About the same height as the big sets were over at town beach, but fatter, and faster. Just more massive. Mine was coming and I paddled hard. I was surprised my shoulders had that much juice in the tank. As I I paddled I started gliding, I felt the wave take responsibility for the glide way sooner than I expected.
Oh well, either way, time to pop up! The practice from the morning session paid off, and I found myself dropping in on the biggest wave of my life. And I had an open face in front of me too!
I turned my shoulders and made a bottom turn (I think, felt like more of a bottom trim) Either way, I was flying down the line and wanted to get back up towards the lip. I cranked my shoulders more, and turned my head to loop up at the lip. Holy shit I’ve never been on a wave this big!
“HEY HEY HEY!” I heard to my right. Someone was paddling towards the wave about to duck dive. He must’ve seen that I was looking back at the wave and wanted to make sure I saw him. I guess he did that because he thought I had more control than I actually did.
Had I been a better surfer, I would’ve pointed my nose down the face and carved around him. Instead I ejected.
The wall of water crashed down on top of me. There was a rush of noise and everything was dark. Then, right when I expected to start floating up, I got pulled deeper.
HOLD DOWN! I remember thinking to myself, trying to remain calm. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears, and my gut was wrenching, not so gently reminding me that I couldn’t breath.
I calmed myself down and tried not to panic. In reality I don’t think I was under for more than 15 seconds, but that feeling of being pulled under sure did freighten me. I think that was actually my first real hold down.
After coming up for air I got hammered by the next wave in the set, but did enough of a turtle roll to not get pulled under again. I was sucking wind but I was able to get back outside.
MoNature 6, Mike 1
After that ride, I went about a half hour without one. I started to feel anxious about how the heck to get out of the water. I had observed surfers entering, but I didn’t see anyone coming back to shore. I worried a bit more than I’m proud to admit about this.
I slowly worked my way back towards the inside of the lineup. There was an internal debate going on… do I wait for another wave and ride it in, or do I just start paddling now. The anxiety of not knowing how to get out was making me want to get out ASAP. Luckily, a smaller set rolled through and no one on the outside had taken it. I caught it and got a boost, but was on the wrong side of the peak to ride it all the way in.
It closed out on me. I tried to ride the white water a bit, but lost my balance. Luckily this one didn’t hold me down.
After another 10-15 minutes of slowwww paddling I found myself approaching the rocks. I did see one other guy ahead of me get out. There was a large cement block, he got out to the right of it. I was lined up and turned around to see if any big waves were coming. Sure enough, another set was rolling through.
The first one didn’t break on me, but it drifted me passed the block. I was now on the left side of it and looking at a bunch of rocks. I started to paddle back in an attempt to get on the other side of it, but I mildly panicked and thought just get out of the freakin water.
So I paddled towards the shore and stopped where I thought was far enough away to avoid the breaking wave. the next one came, and I was right, it didn’t break, but it didn’t really carry me closer like I had hoped. Shit, now what? I started paddling closer to the shore. Put my feet down, and stumbled in the field of submerged boulders.
The next wave came. I stumbled some more, I was getting closer to the zone where they were breaking. I had to get out before the next wave came or I’d be toast. I stumbled and stumbled, turned around and saw the next one. Huge. Fuck.
I gave up. I ditched my board and let it wash me ashore. I made sure to go feet first and keep my body limp. I physically relaxed, but mentally braced for pain. I felt my ass bump up against a boulder, but it actually didn’t hurt! Nice.
I exited with as much grace as I entered. When I picked up my board I saw the carnage. My board was FUBAR. Huge crack in the rail with a big old de-lamination.
MoNature Wins by TKO, broken board.
Overall it was a great day. Mother Nature is the ultimate equalizer, and I’m just happy to have had so much fun.