There and Back Again.
The hurricane season has seen its share of coverage by all the regulars. Surfline ran a several part series of travel all along the coast from a variety of lensmen, writers and surfers. ESM used some of the same lensmen, coverage and surfers. Magazines anywhere in the Virginia Beach window carried coverage of the swell as did Maryland, New Jersey, New York and points north and some spotty shots of the limited opportunities in Florida. Nearly every feature shared the same notions; the futility of the planning and the need to accept the world as a force beyond your control and without rhyme or reason. Go with that and the anxiety of chasing hurricane swell becomes bearable. Even the futility becomes largely unnoticeable. And just when everything looks as if it will fall apart, you find the open window for at least a taste and you get wet. Even if it’s for only 40 minutes before the first period bell is going to ring and your students have already left the line-up. In fact, the hurricane chase is the Theater of the Absurd made manifest. And in the words of Jerry from Albee’s The Zoo Story, “sometimes it’s necessary to go a very long way out of your way to come back a short distance correctly.” So roll along with this if you will.
In The Theatre of the Absurd, Esslin states, “The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about the absurdity of the human condition; it merely presents it in being.” The sheer audacity presented by the surfer that mother nature and acts of global weather should dance for their amusement would certainly qualify as a presented absurdity. The most noticeable characteristics of absurd drama are exactly those of the hurricane travel: fractured communication and the breakdown of dialogue, dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense, man is a puppet controlled or menaced by an invisible outside force, characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions. As you ring your friends, brothers and those with gas money, your conversations are “fractured” at best. Most often these plans are filled with the old “we’ll just play it by ear” or “it looks like…or, we could always…so I’ll call you for sure bro.” Wordplay? That would be the answer you give to the guy you’re not really tight with but who won’t quit flooding your cell phone, inbox and Facebook.
“Where do you want to go?”
“I think we are going to Carolina Beach.”
Nice. All of this is at the whim of a force that can jog just a few miles in one direction and level your home and possessions or swing out too far and leave you hopelessly wailing at a sea which has no conscience or sense of mercy. You’re then forced to recover all the favors you called in to skip work or family responsibility and back pedal. You drop back and punt. You call in loans on new favors and scrounge for just a few waves of solid worth and wind. That’s how Danielle came in here at “the notes”.
Constant reports of stiff northeast winds meant only a couple of locations would be willing to offer up any goods. Just you and the rest of the state packing it in to the not-so-secret, locals only spots which are anything but. Still, the northeast keeps the humidity to follow away and while conditions were never really lined up, there was the morning right at home at the north end. Then came Earl. A stronger swell period meant that the swell might actually make it over the shoals in your area and come wrapping in on south-facing beaches. Still, you try the mad dash for the local northeast wind spots early in the swell-repetitive and meaningless? Things get closer and you keep all your plans precariously juggled above your head while waiting to see when you can make it to the south-facing beach of your choice. It’s then that an all new menacing force reduces you to sputtering nonsense as your daughter has her 3rd birthday party, all your extended family has come for the cookout, and the 3rd place Easterns Open performer is in your AP class and will know you’re not “sick” because you threatened him within an inch of his life. So returns of epic conditions and unicorn sandbars firing half a mile out to sea beat you down to force a public declaration of quitting surfing in a last-ditch and meaningless attempt to save your sanity.
Still, some advice from the elders you hope to surf like in your next couple of decades proclaim “hey, there will be more. There will be more.” And then Igor shows.
Igor starts all new text messages in a fruitless attempt to make a certainty of the truly wild. “Where u think?”
And so it goes. Only this time you have an opening. So now all the repetitive messages and texts you scoffed as you watched overhead perfection roll into beaches visible by webcam you now send in an effort to make sense of the arbitrary. “How are the bars in Frisco (sand ones)?” and “Will 12 wash out?” or “How crowded is the camping with Easterns and the Outer Banks Pro coming to town? Oh, really? Do you have Deet?” So you load up the first mate and take “the notes” along 41 and rt. 11 north, passing chicken trucks outside Pink Hill, and putting the pedal down along 64 east once safe in the Chesapeake Watershed. In the morning Frisco presents its absurdity in all it’s splendar. 8 foot sets are cracking off the outer bars and lining up so directly across the inside that most sets end with a 75 yard shoulder tagged on the ends of a 800 yard span folding and dumping with authority across the sandbar. It’s easy to see your way to the stories of mad men screaming at the sea till they fall silent. Then you think, what the hell? “The hook” may just be enough south to go offshore and give a little wrap. Plug in four wheel drive and there is a good wave rolling. In two hours of paddling you can hold the peak long enough to catch 3 waves. Only if you’re paddling. Not just holding lightly in place, but paddling. Digging. The whole northern Atlantic is sliding past you as the lefts reel in Uluwatu fashion. It’s enough. Besides, you rationalize, since everyone has left town you can pack up, beat tar for home and get to the northeast wind spot fairly well alone. Then the wind switches.
Driving home through the same sunset lit part of God’s country which you passed little more than 20 hours ago you think, maybe I could just turn around. After all, it is supposed to be perfect Monday. I have enough done I could survive work on Tuesday after being “sick” Monday. Now that nice easy plan to put the boat in the water and open up the throttle for that little island spot is defiled with poor swell direction, an aggressively long period (not something said often aroun’ these ‘ere parts), and questionable winds. So? New plan. Now you’re sending text messages to all the guys you know in neighboring south-facing beaches within driving distance. Atlantic Beach is calling for perfection. The same for Emerald Isle. Topsail would maximise water time. The absurdity? You’re headed halfway back to a place you just left. As it would turn out, you con your brother into driving from Carolina Beach to Topsail. You surf low tide, rolling peaks folding over on the inside, where someone would later lose their life not 500 yards from you. Then the wind switches and closeouts begin to dump at 8 feet so you call it a day. Back in the truck and jamming on around the turn in the state towards Raleigh Bay and finish surfing clean Bogue Inlet Pier as the sun sets to your right. All would be right if it weren’t for the buoy report which says you will be repeating the same search and anxiety along Pleasure Island at 5:30am trying to find your spot as the sun cracks the horizon and you have an hour before work starts and you have a classroom full of annoyed and jaded teens waiting on your arrival. The last one before climbing out and scrambling into something resembling work appropriate attire was all you would have needed. Right at home on a session squeezed around responsibility instead of forsaking it. Absurd indeed.
The truly absurd? We’ll do it all again. Jerry is right; so was Bilbo Baggins. Sometimes you have to go a long way out of your way to come back a short distance correctly. There and back again.