OT - Epic surf kayak day.
A writeup for those who’d like to compare notes on an entirely different kind of epic day.
As Hurricane Ike made it’s way to Skipperville, its wave swells pounded the Rhode Island shore.
Ski content? This morning I fantasized about a giant, kayak version of a form-fitting, bake-on inner boot. If one of you invents it, I’ll volunteer to be the guinea pig. Yeah, it’ll be a little hot. But I need a better fit.
Me and Ike visit Matunuck (Sunday) (long)
Written Sunday night.
Seaweed was calling today’s Matunuck, RI swell 8.5 feet. Some of the waves were head-and-a-half. Some maybe bigger? Why did I even go out in it?
Last week's bust of a trip to Montauk (big, choppy, disorganized surf; onshore winds in the 20s and even 30s) had proven one thing to me. I’m still not solid on my roll in the Reaction, and the Reaction is still not solid on me, even after a couple ppractice sessions on the protected North Shore. Need. More. Foam. I’d promised myself---I think it was yesterday--that before taking the Reaction out in anything big, I’d spend some more time in calm water working on the roll.
And that was my original plan for today. I had to pay a visit to dad in Connecticut, and I figured I’d go down, on the way home, to the surfless beach on Long Island Sound for another rollathon. However, for various reasons I found myself looking late last night at Matunuck on Seaweed. The swell was onshore (nice!), the wind was off- (nice!), the period was 12 seconds (nice!). Sounded pretty sweet. It was just that 8-and-a-half swell height that had me shaking my head no way. Then I remembered Sven's talking about how the point break there lets you find an easy way out—so unlike New Jersey’s killer beach break. And then a couple of friends I’d been wanting forever to meet for some ocean rides said they were going.
So heck. I already had to drive 35 miles into Conn. Why not go the next 125 and play at Matunuck, right? Made sense to me. And sounded a lot more fun than practicing rolls in Long Island Sound.
Maybe you’re thinking you know where this story’s headed? Maybe you’re thinking there’s a reason by best surf buddy has taken to calling me “Crash”?
Well, this story doesn’t quite go there.
Tried to launch—and couldn’t—from the rocky beach, even from an area to the side that got almost no waves. But ”almost no” waves, on a day when the swell was 8.5’, was still more than my boat would sit still for, so I clambered over some rocks and found a semi-sandy beach to launch from. Told myself to try a roll right away. If it didn’t work, I'd ditch the Reaction and go back for the ww, finless Centrifuge.
The roll was like cake: easy, and up before I knew it. Out I went.
My first impression on this misty grey day was... big. Not just the waves, though big they certainly were. More the area. The waves were starting far, far out from shore. Like two full Manasquan jetty lengths out? The thought arose--and stayed arose--long, way, to, swim. And the surfing area (boarders on lookers’ right; kayaks left) was enormous. By the time us four kayakers got out to start catching rides, the distances between us seemed like forever. Also, if there was an obvious spot to wait, I couldn’t tell. We were well scattered.
The comforting part was that by staying far looker’s left, the paddle out was easy. It didn’t look easy. Big surf came bearing in, breaking on top, and looking (to the Manasquan-trained eye) like it was getting ready to give you a smack. But invariably, the wave shape would either die out, or, it would continue breaking, but only at the top. Punching through was easy. (Though I do think I caught a touch of altitude sickness riding up those approaching monsters.)
Start cutting looker’s right, and get ready for the real waves. The ones that were breaking and how. And big. With piled up foam like thundering horses.
My first came quickly. One of the day’s smaller waves, actually, and I didn’t catch it as early as I’d have liked, but there was still no way I was going to try to ride out through it. Turned tail and paddled hard. The ride in was fast and fun, with some nice warmup turns on the Reaction.
The next ride I got flipped, but managed a combat roll.
The next ride I got flipped, and stayed flipped. Tried about 7 or 8 or 9 rolls. By the end I knew I was bringing my head up, but I was so spooked that even knowing it, and trying not to, I could not keep from bringing my fat, scared head up. And by the end, I wasn’t even all the way in the boat. My butt was part ways slipping out above (actually, below, in upside-down terms) the rim. I pulled the loop and swam.
Allan took my paddle. Sean gave me a tow, me with one hand holding his stern loop, one hand holding my bow, and scissor kicking with what little stamina I had left from the failed roll attempts (amazing how they tire you). It was a long trip. First we went surfer’s left, towards the beach we began from. But the current was against us and we were traveling inches per hour. So we turned and headed away. Eventually we got to 50 yards from a sandy beach, where the waves were starting again to break, and I swam in myself from there. There were a couple wild rides, where the waves grabbed my boat and I held on like a tiny, car antenna Puerto Rican flag on the thruway. Meanwhile various pieces of foam outfitting were starting to drift in various directions. However, the water did its work and eventually directed me and all important pieces on to the shore. No damage. Great comedy for anyone watching, as I'd throw one piece of foam as far as I could (not far) ashore, then wade out for another wayward piece. By which time my boat was slipping back out to sea. Catch that, and catch some breath, and then another piece was loose. Ha, ha. It was a long, long walk back to the original beach.
Part two began when I shifted to the Centrifuge. Getting in was a huge relief, in two ways. First, I could sit the boat down on a couple 4” deep rocks, and launch. And second, the boat was tight. So tight. So oooh-that-feels-goo-ood tight. This was the first time I’d ever gone directly from the Reaction to the Centrifuge and the difference was day and night. I need to get that Reaction better outfitted. I need to get my knees locked in.
Now solid in my boat, I paddle back into the thick of things. Again, the sea felt big. And again, I couldn’t quite get to where I needed to be to catch a wave cleanly. But the breakers came, and, no matter how furiously I paddled shorewards, they hit me in the back like a runaway locomotive. Randy described what came next as being shot out of a cannon.
The acceleration was amazing. And the turbulence. I was rocked this way and that. Tried—with some success—to use my paddle as a stabilizing rudder. All along I was getting tossed and pitched and my mind was going, “I’m not gonna make it. Wait, I’m still up. I’m not gonna make it. But I’m still up. Holy tihs. I’m still up. I’m gonna make it. I’m not gonna make it. I’m gonna make it.”
Each ride went on for about 25 minutes. Or so it seemed. Definitely my longest rides ever. And all the way, it’s like, whoa Nellie! In the ww boat, there was no chance of riding the pocket. It was just rocket in in the foam. They may not have been beautiful rides. But boy were they thrilling.
I did about four of them, and the fear factor never got less. I felt I’d had an amazing day, if short, and I’d rather end it on an up note. I raised the white flag and rode in. Even the little shore break rides, the ones that looked like nothing at all, were fast. Kinda neat, skimming the last 100 yards over shallow, foot-deep water, a two-foot wave pushing me with more force than I’d ever figured a two-foot wave could push with.
End of surf day came three tiring, satisfying, hours--and maybe 12 momentarily terrifying minutes--after it began. Compared notes with Randy and Allan and Bob on the shore. Drove the three hour, 160-mile drive home, reliving those 12 amazing minutes, and thinking, oh yeah, that was so definitely worth it.
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