September 5, 2010

The surfers got the best from Hurricane Earl


Hurricane Earl was forecast to brush Hatteras Island, and that thought sent shivers up the spines of many experienced kitesurfers, windsurfers, and surfers.  Armed with weather knowledge and common sense, the extreme weather elements can provide outrageously fun wave and wind conditions for the watersport junkies.  

How did Earl stack up?

Because Earl swirled into town at night – Thursday night -- and sped away quickly in the morning, the surfers got the most enjoyment from the storm.  

“The surf was really good yesterday (Friday),” says Freddy James of Fox Watersports in Buxton.  “The lighthouse was decent but lots of current.”

“Paddling out was pretty easy,” says Scott Busbey, owner of Natural Art Surf Shop in Buxton.  “Definitely some hollow tubes out there.  The young kids had a good time.”

“The waves were awesome,” says Luke Wolffe of Ride Hatteras in Avon. He surfed at Avon Pier, where he reported that the current was ridiculous.

The beach in front of the motels also had excellent surf.

The kiters and windsurfers spent the day before the hurricane waiting for the wind to build.

“It was marginal until it was too late,” according to Freddy James, who also windsurfs.  “It only blew like 18 in the afternoon.  Another thing, there was a lot of debris in the ocean.”

Windsurfers and kiters cruised Highway 12 Thursday before the storm in search of an ocean session.  East winds can produce epic wave conditions for windsurfers and kiters at the Cove, located in the hook just south of the Point.  It’s rare to get good east winds, usually once every three or four years. And they are generally created by approaching hurricanes.

The National Park Service closes the ramps necessary to drive to the Cove when serious weather is predicted.  Even if the Cove went off, there was no legal way to get there.

Dan Smallwood got some kiting in on the soundside at Isabel’s Inlet on an 8-meter kite late Thursday afternoon between rains squalls.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Smallwood weighs in.  

It was windier than he had expected.  He also added that he was disappointed that he didn’t get out in the ocean because of the conditions.

Overnight, Hurricane Earl swooshed by and flooded the island from the Pamlico Sound, making it difficult to travel around the villages if you didn’t want to ruin your vehicle.  Many stayed home until the roads cleared.  By that time, the winds shifted to the northwest as Earl pulled away, which really cleaned the surf up on the ocean and gave the surfers their treat.

The usual post-hurricane surfers were having a blast on Friday morning because the waves were big, fat, and glassy plus the sets were well-timed.  Cousins Brett and Preston Barley, the Crum brothers, Dallas Tolson, Ryan Langowski, Freddy James, and retired school principal Ray Gray were among the familiar big-wave surfers.

Big waves require respect.  There were some reports of broken surfboards.

“I got slammed hard against the bottom,” Luke Wolffe says with a laugh. He made a timing mistake.

“Even though it was pretty, the swell was unorganized, coming from several different directions,” says Scott Busbey.

A group of kiters got out in the sunny afternoon near Kite Point, located just north of Buxton on the soundside.  They had to park along Highway 12 and walk in because of the high water levels caused by Hurricane Earl.

“It was pretty. The skies were blue” says Stephanie Kiker of Buxton.  “I had a good time.”

Their fun lasted a couple of hours before the winds started to die down around 3:30 p.m.  Considering all the potential for a couple days of wind, this wasn’t much time on the water.

“I know there were people who were disappointed that there wasn’t more wind,” Stephanie continues, “but I am okay with it.  Let’s just get through the storm.  I can kite anytime.”

Don Smallwood agreed by saying, “I am glad that we survived unscathed.”

Freddy James said, “I am happy we dodged the bullet, and it was a pretty large bullet.  The surfing was the bonus.”

The wave sailors got nothing at all.  By the time the surf cleaned up, the storm had moved away and there wasn’t enough wind on the ocean.

Local windsurfer Don Bowers was okay that he didn’t get out on the water and said, “I would rather take a good nor’easter any day over a destructive hurricane.”

In spite of the potential for good wind and surf, hurricanes create an immense amount of work for those who work and live here.  The preparation takes a couple of days.  Boarding up windows and moving everything to higher ground is a major task.

After the hurricane, people do the same thing, only in reverse.  This cycle sometimes takes a week to complete.  Is it worth it?

Freddy James hopes that “We have had our big hurricane for the year.  I don’t want to have to do the hurricane rodeo again!”

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