Sam Hammer. Photo: Mike Nelson
While El Niño’s strongest impact was felt in California and Hawaii, this weather phenomenon also affects swell patterns for the East Coast and Caribbean. And though the Pacific Ocean stole the spotlight this winter, “the other coast” certainly had a handful of special moments. Here, East Coasters Brett Barley and Balaram Stack tell the stories that defined the 2015-2016 El Nino season for them.
Photo: Matt Lusk
Brett Barley: This year we had one of the best days I’ve ever seen at home. It was breaking way out to sea, so we needed a Ski to get out there, especially with photographers. Normally we would just launch from one of the beach accesses, but the swell was so big this particular day that it would have been impossible. Our only other option was to launch the Ski from a different spot, where it was technically illegal. Although I knew it was wrong, I told myself it was worth whatever fine they would throw my way — the waves were that good — and I rationalized it as being the same as paying for a surf trip, you know? So anyway, we launched the Ski, had an epic session, and then around dark we decided to head in and beach the watercrafts. A couple of guys went before me, and just as they landed their Skis, the blue lights came on from the beach access. Seeing this, I made a split-second decision to head north, thinking that the coastal patrol hadn’t seen me. I landed my Ski a few miles up the beach and went to call my friend to let him know where I was, only to discover my phone had gone dead due to the severe cold. So for the next two hours I passed the time by praying, crying on the beach and trying to hold on to the Ski while sets rolled through and ripped up the beach in the pitch dark. Luckily, someone discovered me, and the first thing I did was call my wife, who had been searching for me for hours. What I did was a terrible mistake, and I learned that no waves — despite how perfect they may be — are worth putting my family and friends through that kind of situation. I should have just taken the ticket.
Photo: Darren Muschett
Balaram Stack: This winter was the most I’ve ever traveled. Before this El Niño, I’d never gotten really good waves at home and then caught the same swell in Puerto Rico, but I was able to achieve that a few times this winter. There was just so much swell; I didn’t want to miss any of it. On this day I had flown down to PR from New York on the red-eye, paddled out at this firing slab on zero sleep, and then surfed for six hours. The wind wouldn’t switch so I couldn’t go in. And the day prior I had flown in to New York from Hawaii on the red-eye, and surfed at least six hours there, too. And the day before that I scored really good Pipe. Basically I surfed all day, three days straight, in Hawaii, New York and Puerto Rico and got absolutely no sleep in between. Definitely the most exhausting stretch of my life.
North Carolina. Photo: Matt Lusk
And now, what’s next? We asked Nathan Cool, who runs our forecasting.
Nathan Cool: In the year leading up to El Niño, the East Coast should experience a decrease in tropical activity, due in large part to the lowered Jetstream. When in the lower latitudes, the Jetstream will tear the tops off of tropical systems, thus rendering them much weaker. But with El Niño weakening and the Jetstrem rising in latitude, there is a good chance the East Coast will experience stronger tropical activity this upcoming season.