Editorials

The Sky Is Different At The Ocean

Recently, the local New York and New Jersey area was wasteland of waves… flat, windy and cold.  Weeks on end with the occasional few hours of rideable wind slop.  Not the hoped for stream of Nor’easters that grace our coast this time of year.  Buoy data looked like lake conditions and nerves were getting on edge.  Flights were booked and questions of “anyone know a place to stay on the cheap… anywhere but here?”  The locals talked of making sacrifices–virgins or boards, I’m not quite sure.  Youtube links of perfect waves, heck, even imperfect waves made things worse.

It was getting desperate for many folks and it even bordered on the comical to read some of the posts on NYNJsurf.com.  Then I got to thinking to myself how lucky I’ve been over the years, and started to think about what it’s really all about.

I began my surf life as a 13 yo kid on a waterlogged Hobie 10 footer that was dragged from behind a shed at my new Brother-in-Law’s house.  Just getting that colossus to the beach was an ordeal in and of itself.  But I got past that stage and moved on to slightly better equipment as I got a bit older.  As I improved in skill and age, genetics decided to deal its hand, with surfing and skateboarding taking their toll on arthritic knees.  I learned to go as easy as I could, but each year it took longer to recover.  Early on, it was a day to recover from an all day session.  By the time I was 25 it was several days to recover from a 2 hour session.  That was a tipping point.

A few years earlier I came across Bodyboarding and picked up a Morey “Red Edge” (state of the art at the time), and could at least get in the water if the knees were acting up.  Soon enough the bodyboard was the weapon of choice since I rarely needed to ice down for hours after a session.  I also realized it was a LOT easier to travel with.  Used to be, you could put it in a garment bag and just hang it up in the closet in first class.

But in all those years leading up to that point, I too, was obsessed… always checking the newstand or surfshops on the day the surf mags were “supposed” to be on sale.  If you remember, it always said “Surf Shops and subscribers get their copies earlier.”  In the years since then, I’ve mellowed a bit on that attitude and would take whatever was out there, because at some point, I may not be able to get out there at all.

A few weeks ago, a post in the NYNJSurf.com forum caught my attention.  It was merely a marine forecast for the next several days. A not very encouraging forecast at that, either.  Several posts went on about the recent lack of waves–I decided to reply with a few thoughts about it.  Here is that reply with a little something in it that might get you to think a little bit about what we have out there:

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“Any outlooks or forecasts that I read, see or hear about mean nothing to me.  Not that I don’t understand them because I’ve been doing my own research since I was 16 or 17.  To me, it’s the ‘not knowing’ that intrigued me since I could drive myself to the beach.  I’d read all the forecasts, call the surf shop hotlines and such, but I would STILL get in the car and go to the beach.  “What if they’re wrong?” I’d think and go anyway.  Most times it turned out they were right.  But, on a lot more occasions than you would think, sometimes they were wrong.  It would predict small 2ft and not so good.  I’d arrive for the dawn patrol and it would be 3-4 ft and have that morning glass or offshore winds for a couple of hours before the wind got it or the swell faded fast.  Perhaps I would go to a particular spot that was for some reason just not picking up whatever swell was out there.  I’d head to another that, through my years of research, may seem to pick up a bit more, or have a different sandbar setup.  There was usually a minimum of 3 spots that I would check just to be sure.

It’s also something a bit more esoteric than just ‘surfing’.  Going to the beach was “family” time since before I was 5.  From taking the little ferry to Robert Moses before the bridge was built, then later on going to the Drive-In Theater in Bayshore for Sunday mass in our bathing suits, then making a break for the beach as soon as it was over.  Then staying all day until we were crispy and just plain worn out.  I had an older sister that was the she-devil to me, except when we were at the beach.  I can’t remember ever fighting with her at the beach.

My mom loved the beach, especially any ocean beach, because of the waves.  She always said the sky was different at an ocean beach and I believe it.  We used to spend 6 weeks in the Poconos during the summer, but Mom would be sure that we drove home once in awhile to be able to go to the beach at least for a day.

She never lost that love for the ocean, and requested that her ashes be scattered over the ocean–not on the sand, or on the shoreline, but IN the ocean. After she passed in ’97, we spent a year or so trying to arrange when the family could all be together in Florida (Parents lived in New Port Richey at the time) and take her to the Atlantic.  We wound up driving to Indiatlantic Beach to have our last farewell.

We arrived in the afternoon and it was windy and blown out and not very nice at all.  We had decided to do it at sunrise because she just could not get enough of the way the sun played with the lighting on the clouds and would always get up to watch it when they were staying anywhere near the ocean.  Like she said–the sky is different at the ocean.

The next morning we awoke to nearly a flat ocean.  I was a bit disappointed because I had taken the bodyboard and had hoped to take Mom for a final ride.  She loved getting on the board on our trips to Myrtle Beach and seemed to have more fun that I did.  We walked down to the shore, said our few words to each other and to Mom.  I took the package and paddled out just hoping that a small one would come in for at least a short ride.  I sat out there and had a few words and a tear or two.  As the sun peeked over a cloud on the horizon something seemed different–I felt the ocean rise a bit and drop.  And as corny as it sounds, a butterfly went by.  A few minutes later I saw some lines approaching the little sandbar I was just inside of.  They broke, but just barely and I didn’t get into the right spot anyway.  I figured I would wait a bit just in case.

I didn’t wait long as another set approached and I was in exactly the right spot.  A nearly flawless 3-4 foot face that I made sure I didn’t miss.  I got Mom her final ride and it was a tube.  As I paddled back out, I could hear my sister and Aunt on the beach crying and laughing at the same time.  Dad was clapping and actually hooted (Dad wasn’t a ‘hooter’ by any measure).  I got back outside and scattered the ashes in the midst of all these perfect little waves.  I then took off on the next one and it was another perfect little tube.

On the beach, we had a big hug and a cry.  But I had to get back out there.  This was a gift and I wasn’t going to pass it up.  They only lasted another half hour tops, but were some of the best I’ve ever had at any size.  The tears in my eyes weren’t from the salt water either.

So I take my trips to the beach no matter what the forecast says–I might have a gift from my Mom waiting for me. And if it’s flat, so what?  I know she’s out there reminding me that “The Sky is different at The Ocean”….”

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Ray Gorman

Ray Gorman has been in and around the waters of Long Island for over 40 years. Prefers Dawn Patrols and ‘secret’ spots to avoid crowds, if only to be able to get in 18 holes later on. Currently lives in Astoria, NY and still makes that drive to the beach to check the sky every chance he gets…

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