Thursday, September 23, 2010

Chasing Igor

It’s 4:30 am, Sunday morning. September 19, and my surfing sensei, John-O, is singing loudly. I’m still shaking off a very good dream or visions of last night's lobster, courtesy of Arthur and Heidi - John-O's step-father and mother, respectively- and the singing is getting on my nerves. Alas, in one hour the sun will be up and swells from Hurricane Igor will be slamming the coast of New England. Waves make sensei very happy and when sensei happy, sensei sings.

We lash the boards to the roof of the rental car- a flagrant violation of the rental contract- and pull out of his family’s driveway at 5:10, headlights ablaze through winding back-roads under a canopy of huge maples, elms and oaks, flanked by ancient stone walls, bound for heavy water.

“Carrot?”, John-O sings, “apple?”. A mad look in his eyes lets me know he’s already surfing something somewhere as cedar shake homes rip past in the dark.

I wave off the fruit and veggies. Visions of Dunkin’ Donuts’ coffee and glazed crullers drift through my mind. It’s too damn early for carrots. The day before, we had taken a leisurely, midday jaunt in his stepfather Arthur’s gorgeous 28 foot Fortier boat, the “Lagniappe” (which aptly means, “something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure”).

"Sensei" John-O loads the Lagniappe.

We trolled the local islands and cobble channels for striped bass and bluefish, all the while keeping our eyes peeled for distant breakers where, under normal conditions, none would appear, seeking indicators of Igor’s arrival. An hour into our fishing trip, we pulled up outside a narrow channel breaking left and right heavy enough to give local boatmen pause to reconsider. John-O's eyes rolled back in his head. Arthur gamely hung outside, eating his sandwich and downing a beer while John-O made easy work of the solid left ripping through the channel on his quad fish. I managed to drop into a few myself before getting dragged into the impact zone and spanked. I then managed to burn off all remaining pride clawing my way back to Arthur and the good fortune of Lagniappe.

Off an island not near you, John-O spots breakers in the channel...

...and makes for the water.

But today was a different deal. We hit the first break by 6 a.m., the parking lot alive with the sound of boards being waxed and wetsuits being zipped. Along the bluff the silhouettes of surfers in hoodies stare out at the incoming swell as the line-up is calculated, the paddle out assessed. Igor is pounding the bluff with 6-10 foot sets wrapping around the point from the south. It’s a very impressive sight anywhere, but here in New England, it’s a downright revelation.

Solid sets- 6-10 feet- wrap around the local lighthouse. 6 am.

Local bears, stirred from slumbers, prep for the paddle out.

We’re back in the car, in search of more and less at the same time- more breaks, less people. This pattern continues over the next few days, as Igor jacks up, registering at some breaks like small houses12- 15 feet high, or weighing in lean and mean at others, 6-8 feet and breaking fast. At these more intimidating spots, I feel my manhood retreat, leave my board on the car, pull out my camera and stare like the rest of the civilians. Standing on the lawns of families not yet stirring or in front of working class Irish pubs still sleeping off the night before, I bust out my Nikon D700 with a very old 200mm zoom and even older 2x converter and take a whack at documenting this southeast swell and these unheralded breaks (that shall remain, for want of staying alive, nameless).

Too big and too fast, but otherwise perfect. 8-10 foot sets, steady offshore winds, lefts and rights for days.

Unknown local at an undisclosed break makes the drop into a very fast 10' barrel.

John Wingate- Dropping in.

Geo Quiz: The ferry is going where?

7 am. A local surveys the lineup.

Casual under pressure, a local tucks in.


..but not over.

The working class before clocking in.

8 am. Sunday. The Dawn Patrol Checks Out.

In a crowded parking lot, seasoned local shows up California style...

...Inside and out. On Monday, that same local was spotted ripping into several overhead lefts and rights.

A fast right past the rocks, somewhere below the mansions of Newport.

Monday, September 20th, our last day. Tomorrow, we'll be back in Southern California, to a very flat sea. After a surfing and shooting a stellar dawn session 40 minutes to the south, we stand on the bluffs of this remote Rhode Island rivermouth, and watch it all go off, big, chunky and steady. 12-15 foots sets pound the rocky shore all day long while the winds blow strong offshore, holding all but the strongest paddlers off the wave. The two riders below had the joint wired, and dropped into most of the heaviest bombs.

Goodbye New England, local style:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ankle High And Sharky in San Onofre

The bluffs

There are few things you don't do when you're out on the water. One of them is bleed, if you can at all help it, and another is talk on and on about sharks. They're out there whether you talk of them or not, and, as any Mexican fisherman will tell you, talking about the "man in the grey suit" is just asking for trouble. Best to enjoy the day and keep your mind on the matter at hand, in this case, catching waves. Even small waves demand a little respect.

John-O goes left.

So there we were, my friends, Slatty and John-O, enjoying a perfectly good sunset session in small-ish surf, when they started going and on about a video they'd recently seen, shot precisely where we were surfing. In the video, a paddle-boarder dunks his paddle-mounted camera one foot down into the jade waters off San Onofre, and past him swims a young, 1o foot great white shark. A "juvenile", they call it. Having once been a juvenile myself, I know what havoc they can wreak. Add the teeth, and you've got a potential situation on your hands. Anyway, the video yields a sobering moment, due largely to the fact that the scene above water is sunny and idyllic, much like the day we were now enjoying. Until then.

A pod of Bottlenose Dolphin in natures petting zoo

"You shouldn't be talking about this shit. You're gonna curse us," I said, and paddled off, focusing on the choppy swell approaching, hoping one would deliver me from the bad ju-ju of shark talk. Of course, I didn't get a wave, they did. Both of them gliding out of sight all the way to shore. And the sun was sinking like a stone, lower and lower, my only thought, "Sharks feed at dusk."

Slatty slides right

So, as darkness beat the sun to a salmon-pink sliver, I thought back over this humble day of surfing, our arrival at the bluff and subsequent trek down the steep trail at 7 am...

John-O and Slatty, eye-balling from above

....a small handful of surfers spread out along the line-up, the cobble beach breaks lighting up with waist high peelers in all directions. Paradise. Not perfect conditions, but paradise, none-the-less.

Dirt Stairway to Heaven

"If this is how I go", I reckoned, "it's still better than most."

Just then, a little wind-blown bump reared up from the west, and lifted my trusty 9'6" through the gloom to shore, where the two Johns were waiting, boards under their arms. Limping over the cobbles, smiling stupidly, I raised my fist, claiming the dribbling 2 foot wave that had borne me home. Slatty, unimpressed, glanced over my shoulder and said, "Did you see the shark?"

"You're full of shit," I barked.

"Nope. Seriously. Dorsal about 8 inches high. Shot right past me, out toward you. Not too big, but big enough."

We all turned toward the sea, blue black dark.

The world is created in words, someone said, and I rest my case.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Reinvention In Water

Been plundering archives from 2007 and 2008 today, and realized my wife would be an incredible muse, if only she'd stop trying to grab the camera from me. Such is life when you marry a writer/director. Still, these images, shot at a very talented friend's pool reminded me of the transformational effect water has on both human form and behavior. Cool, I think, how we re-imagine ourselves when we're both swaddled and weightless in water. And though the terrain has been explored with staggering success by folks like Mark Mawson, I'm thinking today that I just might have to revisit this project, just to say I was there...

Ascension- 2007

Descension - 2007

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Maine, Pt. Two- Deadfall and Light

Downed Fir, Lying In-State. Maine. August, 2010

A few years back, the aforementioned island up in Penobscott Bay endured a savage hurricane- along with the rest of the east coast- toppling many of the fir trees crowding the woods, their roots shallow, thwarted from deeper purchase by granite bedrock. Last week, while hiking the island, I walked past a dead fir in the process of being absorbed by a Pollock- esque explosion of mosses and lichens. The tree was lying in-state, resplendent in soft green, yellow and orange splashes of fungus, both gaudy and somber. I rolled around in the moss with my Nikon for what seemed like hours, trying to make formal, painterly "non-landscape" landscapes, but mostly having fun, the city slowly seeping from my bones and brain, the damp fecund smell of the woods drawing me in...