YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN HERE LAST WEEK

posted by / News / March 18, 2004

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant. If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” – Anne Bradstreet, 17th {{{Century}}} American poet

According to her bio, Anne Bradstreet emigrated from England to Massachusetts in 1630. She was a colonial poet of the Puritan-era, and a very influential female author. It doesn’t mention anything about being part of an early New England surf community, but the second sentence of the above quote, sums up the whole East Coast surfing experience.

The very nature of chasing swell on the Right Side lends itself to an appreciation for any scraps we are thrown. Wave-starved surfers gorge themselves on the first tropical pulse after miserable summers. And yes, after a winter of ice forming on our facial hair, we rejoice at the signs of spring. Just as a VB surfer can withstand blistering heat and gridlock in the summer, a New Hammy local isn’t afraid to pull off his wetsuit, exposing his bare chest to the falling snow. No matter how different the Cocoa Beach and New York City experiences may be, we all live by the same rule: get it before it’s gone.

This month, the moody Atlantic Ocean put aside it’s issues, and woke from a long hibernation. A brutally cold winter is one thing, but a brutally cold, flat winter is unbearable. But last week, a gyrating storm formed off the coast of the Carolinas, set a northeasterly track and began to provide a generous swell to all of surfing’s stepchildren. And while nor’easters commonly put up big numbers on the swell charts, this one was unusual. “At 9 p.m., on the 10th, the Cape May, New Jersey buoy was reading 18 and 19 feet, at 10 to 13 seconds,” notes Surfline’s East Coast Forecaster, Mark Willis. “Basically, this storm had high wind speed and a longer fetch length. The wind had the same strength as a Tropical {{{Storm}}}. In the winter, it’s called ‘gale force.’ The center dropped below 988 mill bars when the storm was about {{{300}}} miles south of {{{Nova}}} Scotia.” March on the East Coast generally features all the dynamics of springtime with the extremes of winter. This week, many regions saw a sixty-three degree day followed by a snowfall. “There were three factors at work.” Willis continues. “We’re starting to see some warm air jetting up from the southwest. Cold Canadian air masses are still in place, and there is upper level support for development.”

The result was some of the biggest surf the East Coast had seen since the tropical season. For areas north of the Outer Banks, Wednesday was a day of hiding from the elements, checking buoy reports, and wind forecasts. The swell peaked on Thursday, but longshore drifts and north winds plagued many exposed spots — except in New York, where local diehards admired held an early St. Patrick’s Day party in some kegging barrels.

“Some of the older guys were calling it one of the biggest swells they’d seen in New York in ten years,” said New York photog, Mike Nelson. “It was probably 15 foot on the face, straight offshore, sunny, the whole deal.”

“Sean Killarney was the guy that day,” Nelly continues. “He had the best performance overall. A few people were really scared. A lot of guys hadn’t surfed any real waves in a while. No one was ready for it.” You could say the same for North Carolina’s infamous Outer Banks, as Thursday was deemed unsurfable, with the first lines of whitewater breaking a mile offshore and waves sloshing across the narrowest spots onshore.

“The only person I saw catch a legitimate wave on Thursday was Will Skudin,” reports SURFING photographer D. J. Struntz. ” He paddled out on a 6’8″ and caught a few legitimate 15-foot waves.” “It was hard offshore, it just didn’t clean up. It was just too big,” Struntz continues. “Friday dropped, but it was still well overhead. We shot Nags Head with Jesse Hines, Brett McCoy, Will Tatn and Carl Wallin. It was pretty hollow, top-to-bottom, breaking really close. Pretty much just drop in and pull in.” As for the rest of the coast, it was a mix of both temps and wavestyles. Up in New England, the craggy coast was sculpting perfect point surf, allowing guys like Mike Von Wahlde to enjoy the double overhead point surf that makes Rhode Island a northeast favorite. On the other hand, only a handful of Jersey spots handled the strong swell early. Long Beach Island’s veteran barrel riders like Greg Luker, Justin Citta and Gary Jones had a reunion amid the drifty peaks.

Come, Friday it was finally for Florida, 1000 miles and 5 millimeters further south. In the 72-degree water, Sunshine State surfers were making the most of the swell.Eastern Surf Mag lensman Mark Hill was clicking off a few rolls at South Florida’s Reef Road on Friday. Peter Mendia and Jason Apparicio were exploring the biggest caverns to hit one of the most fickle spots on the whole coast.

As Hill said of South Florida’s “here-today-gone in an hour” swell nature: “You’ve got to be there when it’s doing it.”

Actually, that motto can describe the whole Atlantic Seaboard. But for once, the entire coast got a share of this springtime monster. And while we may never know what Bradstreet considered adversity, she sure would have appreciated our form of prosperity. — Jon Coen

Special thanks to Mike Nelson, Mickey McCarthy, Anne Donato and Mike von Wahlde for letting us use their photos. To see more shots, check out www.newyorksurf.com.

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