Trapped Under a Sea Wall

22 Sep 2017

the seawall at hampton NH

Experienced surfers, like myself, say things like respect the ocean or respect nature not only because we want to keep it clean (and we most certainly do) but also because things can change, fast, out there. Leashes snap, sharks do show up, we get hit, take tumbles and so on. There is no way to prepare for everything but there is the idea that the power of our mind, body and spirit is more often than not what keeps us alive versus some sort of pre-scripted procedure (although those do have their place). I have a handful of harrowing stories where stuff went south and my cool is what kept me alive. This particular one involves a very fast moving storm and relatively speaking, this is the tamest of my misadvantures in the ocean.

It was a fine summer day...

Or at least I think it was, it is a little foggy as to when exactly it happened but I am pretty sure it was late summer or early fall. Either way the conditions were similar to the picture at the start of the article. The Wall in Hampton, New Hampshire is a pretty good ride most of the time. It also has several breaks (making it tolerable even in crowds). On this particular day it was really strange because there were only two other people out in the water a young dude with long red hair and a middle aged body surfer. When I got at the wall there wasn't a cloud in the sky, the tide was about half way in with an occasional over head wave. The weather had called for some clouds but that was it. When I got out the other two fellas were pretty close to me, it seemed like the break I was on which was close to the shore sat among basically 3 breaks close together. Regardless we were having a good time.

The Wall itself is the type that has a curve going up and down it but inland to bounce waves back out into the ocean. A long time ago it used to have several jetties that made surfing there even better. All that remains of the jetties are the giagntic blocks piled up against the wall itself. The jetty bones make it impossible to surf anywhere along the sea wall at dead high tide but the daring (or like me slightly stupid) can ride when the waves are breaking on the old jetty rocks as long as the waves themselves are walling up fast. Slug waves are a different story at high tide forget about it. Under the jetty blocks are a lot of big rounded sea stones which when the pitch is good will get picked up and hucked right over the wall out into route 1A. When stones are getting tossed out onto route 1A is usually not a good time to be surfing there. Regardless, the conditions were much like the picture, incoming but not dead high (not even high yet), the occasional overhead wave and clear skies. Then it all changed.

 

 

Hail. I surfed in Hail.

In less then 20 seconds the wind picked up, clouds blew from inland (coming out of the west almost directly) the wind speed had to be a constant 20 MPH. This did not deter the three of us, I mean we weren't too worried about getting wet and often rain like that will smooth out the waves at the wall - which it did. We kept on trading waves when the rain broke and then I heard clink clink and saw small hail landing on my surfboard. Again, I ignored it (it was super small) until I heard the lightning. This all transpired in maybe three minutes. And then all three of us started bagging for the shore as fast as we could. The wind picked up even more, the sky went black and the ocean went nuts. The other surfer and I, I will call him Red, got out at the same time. We were in between the walk ups so we both headed straight up under the wall itself to wait it out. A minute later the body surfer joined us. So there we were watching the rain come down in sheets, the waves lining up nice and solid (with plenty more over head waves we couldn't ride) with thunder and lightning. But I had just surfed in hail for the first time so that was cool.

As we waited we all knew we could probably make it to the walk up with no problem and the waves still were not dangerously close. Yet it seemed like none of us wanted to stop watching what was unfolding in front us because it was insane. The black cloud drifted out and the sky turned a deep orange, the water a deep green and the rain finally slacked off. We all kind of looked at each other and knew what the other was thinking: once this passes it is going to be on!!!

It was on

the seawall at hampton NH

We couldn't have been more right. The waves broke out into long lefts, a rare event at that spot, walled up tight but not so vertical that dropping in was a coin toss, clean and the inside wasn't a mess. We also knew it wouldn't last long. Wind waves often have a short life span and it is best to exploit it while one has the chance. And we did. No more of this lazy feel good wave trading we all picked a break and owned it. Red and me are both goofy foots so we both were getting solid, straight lines time after time. In about 20 minutes the surf died down and all three of is dragged ourselves up the walk ups.

Oddly as we all changed because, strange as it might seem we were parked close to one another, we didn't say much. There was a weird vibe in the air. Somehow the three of us, at a spot usually packed when there is any surf at all, had just been in this totally gnarly thing. We all kinda nodded and smiled at each other and went our separate ways. I have never seen either of those dudes since but I think about that session a lot. It could have gone another way entirely, we could have been slow getting out and gotten blasted, the storm could have approached upcoast and hit us by surprise from the south. Who knows? But instead, we witnessed a short terrifying burst of power then reaped the surf reward.