46 Days Straight of Solid Hurricane Swell: What I Learned
A September of hurricane swell to remember? Absolutely. Harvey. Irma. Jose. Lee. Maria. I will never forget these names. Why? Because after 46 days of solid hurricane swell and the busiest late summer/early fall I can remember in my 25+ year coaching career I certainly had some take-away lessons. After some solid rest and recovery, which I’m still catching up on, I have had some time to reflect on what I have learned.
Hurricanes certainly bring out the best and the worst in our oceans and I find myself frequently fascinated by the love/hate relationship East Coast surfers have with hurricanes. For some, it brought such epic hurricane swell to our region and it wasn’t uncommon to see meet people in the lineup who had flown specifically to New York and New Jersey from far away places like California, Australia, Ireland and Hawaii to get a piece of this unprecedented run of perfect surf.
For others it was facing the fear of the approaching storm then the horrors of the devastating aftermath, particularly on Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands as well as the Gulf Region of the US. After our experience and recovery work after Superstorm Sandy we empathize with these people and we will do our part to help with the recovery.
With that said, this 46 day period of hurricane swell tested both myself, my coaching staff and our clients. Our clients range from intermediate through advanced surfers with years of experience to those with just one summer under their belt. Every day brought forth a new challenge and safety was always paramount. Big surf and strong currents were inevitable. For our experienced rippers it was finding clean but challenging conditions that allowed them to hone their skills. For our entry level clients the challenge was in finding a wave that was indeed challenging but not frighteningly above their level or experience. Every day tested our skills as watermen and everyone pushed their limits. The big days had waves detonating at breaks that had been dormant for decades and many of our clients caught rode waves that will remain with them for the rest of the their lives. Corduroy lines to the horizon and perfect, double-overhead 200 yard+ waves were not uncommon. All of us went home exhausted from paddling and pulling into tubes. I put more miles on the ProSurf Coaches van in six weeks than I have in a whole year.
My job is both thrilling and exhausting. I had the privilege to witness some of our clients claw into the best waves of their life – sliding into barrels that went square in 20 inches of water and coming out the other side, arms raised and howling with unbridled stoke. I coached others who did not feel prepared for the conditions through their fears to catch waves of a lifetime and despite their obvious fear they paddled back out with confidence. The stories they are telling their non-surfing friends won’t be understood but it won’t matter because they stood tall when most would have stayed on the beach. The following day when we thought that we couldn’t do it one more day, the surf forecast seduced us back out there again and again.
It’s in times like these that I am reminded of why we surf and why I do this job. Because this is our life and it’s in these moments where we grab life by the nuggets, despite our fear or exhaustion. As surfers all of us undergo some sort of transformation in the pursuit of surfing and it translates into our everyday lives: Fall down. Get back up. Get drilled by a big set wave, take it on the head and recover. Do the work and get stronger every day. Use that strength to take on the next challenge. Then the next and you don’t stop until every fiber in your body screams for replenishment.
The best part of it? It doesn’t stop here. We keep going. We prepare ourselves for the winter months. We get that 5mm hooded wetsuit. We buy the warmest booties and mittens you can find and keep going. We don’t stop because the waves will keep coming and the crowds will disappear. We will use the skills that the last 46 days has taught us, except that we will be doing it with 12 pounds of rubber covering you from head to toe. But you will be fitter, tougher and gnarlier yet slightly more humble. People will notice a different you because you are committed, passionate about something they can never understand because you slide into life with a view completely askew of their world views.
That was our September of 2017. Hopefully yours was just as enlightening.
See you in the water,
Robbie Nelson, Lead Coach