June 2,  2008

Spring surfing:  Mid-May’s ‘surf alert’
With Slideshow


This spring has seen its good and bad days when it comes to the surf on Hatteras Island. And the photos will tell the story. But in light of the recent “surf alert” that was posted on the Internet for the Outer Banks a few weeks ago, I’m just going to go ahead and write what I am thinking.

What I am thinking is that the Internet, cell phones, and surf forecasting have all ruined surfing. Perhaps “ruined” is a strong word, but it seems that in some ways these modern conveniences have taken away some of the “soul” of surfing.

When I was a teen-ager, all that we had to figure out what the surf would be like was the NOAA weather radio, and later on, the Weather Channel. If you wanted your friends to go surfing with you, more than likely you would have to drive to the beach, check the surf, drive home, call your friends, and then drive back. It sounds like a big deal, but it really wasn’t. We were on “island time,” and gas was just $1 a gallon.

Nowadays everyone has a cell phone. Now you can call as soon as you see that there is surf, and let everyone know where to be. What’s more, you don’t even have to leave your house to check the surf. You can look at it in the comfort of your own home via the Internet. With surf cams on every break in the world, you can see what it is like in California or Hawaii at any given time. And if that isn’t enough, you can get on an e-mail list that lets you know if the Outer Banks is on “surf alert”-- when surf is inevitable.

But, I have to say that, in truth, I am a hypocrite. I use all of these. I don’t have cable or satellite television, so I am constantly glued to my computer, “surfing” surfing websites. Just ask my wife! I almost always have my cell phone on me when I go to check the surf, and I am guilty as charged for calling my friends from the beach to tell them what the surf is like.

In a way, we all have succumbed to the ease of technology, and though it gives me immediate gratification, I still think that in the end, we’ve lost something. It’s apparent that the technological age has spoiled us all.

This brings me to the swell that Hatteras saw the week of May 12. Three days before the swell reached the island, Internet sites had the Outer Banks on “surf alert.”

“Wednesday is going to be epic,” said the Internet.

This is how it went down:

Monday, May 12, ended up being very good, and not many people were on the island yet. Hallelujah! Tuesday was a different story altogether. Since the Outer Banks was on “surf alert,” we had people from as far away as California come, just to surf. The surf was still out of control on Tuesday in Buxton, so most people surfed in Frisco. The Frisco Pier was lined with cameras and videographers, including me, hoping to catch some good footage.

Wednesday, May 14, came, and the surf was by no means “epic,” as was predicted, though I heard that Nags Head got close. It was exciting to watch here in Buxton. I witnessed one of the best wipe-outs I have seen in recent years. And I saw some very impressive, mutated waves that weren’t even ridden!

On Thursday, May 15, the southwest wind killed the surf in Buxton, so I headed to Rodanthe. At the S-curves, it was very evident that we were in “surf alert.” It was packed. The beach was filled with surfers, onlookers, photographers, and videographers, as far as the eye could see. (And, of course, I was one of the many.)

After watching for a few minutes, I decided I would swim out and get some photos. I ended up swimming in a rip current -- not by choice, mind you -- for almost an hour and a half, but was rewarded with a few decent shots.

I could complain about technology ruining surfing. I could complain about all of the people who were here and how packed the beach was. Perhaps I have, and I apologize if it sounds like that. I think anywhere that you go in the world to surf -- there is some localism. I am just as guilty of it as the next guy. But the “surf alert,” Internet, and cell phones also brought a lot of people here whom I had never met before, and it was cool to meet many of them. I also had the chance to see friends that I hadn’t seen in years. The influx of surfers also gave some of the local businesses a little boost.

As we are coming into June and July, don’t look for many “surf alerts” on the Outer Banks. It’s not probable we will get waves like we did in mid-May, but stranger things have happened.

(The photographs in Daniel Pullen’s slide show were taken at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Beach and S-curves in Rodanthe the week of May 12.)

Click Here To View Slideshow

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