The first time I went winter surfing I got yelled at by my father, not because I was about to paddle out into freezing cold water, but because I could not get my boots on. “YOU CAN’T GET YOUR BOOTS ON!… I got to put them on for you?!… Look Bryan did it by himself!,” he said. Asking for help getting my gloves on didn’t ease the situation…
I will never forget that day, my best friend and I all suited up surfing a fun little novelty wave, while my mother, father and family dog watched from the shore. Truth be told, I hated that day! I was so cold, and could hardly move; I do not think I made a single wave. To make matters worse, Bryan (Staubitser) was ripping, and he got his boots and gloves on and off by himself.
Over a decade later, I no longer need assistance with my boots and gloves. I have figured out how to surf in a 5-millimeter wetsuit, but I still get very cold. I now actually think the cold foul weather, and wearing all the rubber makes surfing more fun. You don’t just stumble upon waves like you do in summer, you have to plan everything; when is the swell going to peak, what are the tides, winds, and weather? Basically, when is the most optimal time to go surf?
It is more like hunting than participating in a sport. You do more driving, watching and talking on the phone than you do surfing. You know that two to four hours is your maximum time in the water, and you most likely won’t surf twice in one day. You are guaranteed windburn on your face, frozen immobile hands and feet and the worst ice cream headaches you have ever experienced. You might be asking yourself at this point is he crazy? Why would he put himself through all that? The answer is unconditional love; my love, our love for surfing.
“Cause Baby, There ain’t no mountain high enough, Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wide enough, To keep me from getting to you babe,” Marvin Gaye once said, and trust me, there “ain’t” no day cold enough nor snow deep enough to keep me from catching a good wave.
This past winter had its fair share of good sessions like every winter before that. Some swells completely random and empty, some completely over hyped and crowded, but it was one 24-hour period during a harsh blizzard that is permanently ingrained in my memory.
It all started home alone on a Monday evening. Most people have decks and porches to enjoy in beautiful weather; not my family, we have a storm deck. I sat bundled up with a 12 pack of beer on this strategically built roof deck for 3 hours watching the Atlantic Ocean come to life as winter storm Juno dumped snow over my neighborhood of Ditch Plains. While my father was building our home he designed this special little roof deck to watch the ocean during storms. It is built into the south side of the house providing protection from the harsh winds, rain and snow delivered by big Nor’easters like Juno.
My father is from the old guard of Montauk surfers that didn’t have the internet for their surf reports, they used marine forecast radios and their eyes. This small tightly knit group of old-school local surfers considered the surf breaks in Montauk to be sacred ground, a place that was theirs and a place they belonged. This is how I was raised, watching my father and his friends meet at my house before sunrise, so they could surf before work and sometimes I even got to tag along.
These are my most cherished memories, and sitting on this little deck, drinking beers while sheltered from the harsh elements around me had me reminiscing and thinking. “Will tomorrow be as special as those times? Will I even be able to get out of my house?”
When I woke up the next morning I was pleasantly surprised to see that the 50 miles per hour North winds had blown most the snow to the back of the driveway, so shoveling was minimal. The plan was for Nick Joeckel to pick me up and go on the search. Nick ended up getting his truck stuck in a 3-foot drift before even making it to my house, and we got stuck in 4 more before we even got to see the ocean. Lets just say we did a lot of shoveling.
At first glance the ocean looked absolutely chaotic, but upon further examination sets began to pour in. These were some of the biggest waves I have seen on the East Coast, hollow and fast, just the way we like them. Only problem was the unmanageable 40-50 mph gale winds. Luckily with less wind forecasted for later in the day, there was still hope.
Killing time driving around in a blizzard with good friends might be my new favorite hobby. Nick and I explored the whole town driving on semi-plowed roads, occasionally getting stuck, which lead to me doing more shoveling. Seeing the town so cold and white reminded me of a childhood tale about my father doing donuts in my mom’s VW across Fort Pond from Industrial Road to the IGA. He claimed it was a short cut. Montauk is a funny place. It is overcrowded and hot in the summer, so we complain, yet desolate and cold in the winter, and we still complain. Oddly enough, in some of the harshest winter weather I have personally experienced, I had no complaints. There was nowhere I would rather be.
A promising phone call arrived with reports of improved winds in East Hampton, so back to the ocean it was. We met up with Travis Beckman on top of the cliffs and were screaming and running back to the trucks at the sight of the first set. The winds had finally become manageable, the size dropped, and the shape was flawless.
When I replay my father’s stories in my head, about surfing perfect hurricane swells with just a few close friends this is what I imagine, minus the 28 inches of snow. We suited up and sat in the truck with the heat blasting and called Charlie Weimar and Zach Dayton to tell them it was on. We all decided to ride bigger boards to combat the wind blown double overhead lines marching in.
We finally left the warm sanctuary of our Chevy Silverado and began to make the half-mile trek to the shore through knee to waist deep snow and freezing 30-40 mph winds. My feet were frozen blocks of ice inside my 7mil booties before I even reached the water. Thankfully the paddle out warmed me up.
You could hardly see the shore through the blizzard conditions. I think that was one of my favorite parts. We were in our own little world; five good friends trading off tubing rights without another soul insight, just the ocean and us. Just how my father described so many legendary sessions from back in the day. This time though it was my friends and I doing the constructing of a tale, Charlie Weimar, Travis Beckman, Zach Dayton, Nick Joeckel, and myself all calling each other into waves laughing and yelling with excitement.
We surfed until we couldn’t feel our feet, which was about three hours. After making the long cold snow covered hike back to the trucks, we found that we had all been ticketed for being in a closed state park. Sorry Officer Mitchell, next time we won’t drive over the barrier.
This day restored my faith in being able to experience my hometown of Montauk in the same way my parents did many years ago, before the hype and popularity. Ironically though, it turns out that the next day, videos and images of us surfing that session surfaced on CNN and the oh-so desolate session was actually seen by millions on national television. At the end of the day, I guess that was cool, but it really didn’t mean much to us in comparison to the experience of being in the ocean that day.
With that hype and popularity of Montauk in mind, the word dynamic becomes relevant in this situation to me. The word dynamic is used when defining culture; meaning in every culture there will be change. Even with this ongoing change there will always be moments like these where you get to experience a place and culture in all its untouched glory
I have been surfing Montauk since I was a little boy, and this was one of the more special experiences I have had. I felt like I could have turned around to see one of the old time legends, Bruce Depesquale, John and Tucker Geery or Mike Steadman, that are no longer with us, paddling out to join us. It did not feel like 2015 anymore. We were in a time warp, a magic 3 hours that I will never forget.
In doing our part to ensure that winter experiences and subzero surf stories like Grant’s alive for at least the next half-century, we made a thoughtful addition to our winter apparel line this year that mimics the much-needed warmth of being in a Chevy Silverado prior to charging out into a frosty session in the Atlantic. We call it the Sherpa Hoodie. You can test drive/purchase it here. No interest rate increases, no monthly payments. Just automatic warmth. A little cheaper than a Silverado too.