What an incredible run of surf we have been having on the eastern seaboard! I hope that everyone reading this has had his or her share of waves with a only a modicum of overfroth, lineup etiquette disputes, and/or surf-induced injuries. We at Conatus have had several successful surf sessions during both the Hermine and Karl swells. At this point it would be hard to compare the two for epicness, as both were completely different kinds of swells that offered us amazing experiences with a variety of crew. But this post is about Hermine because, first, she came before Karl. Second, she's a lady. And third, there is a sense in which the excursion that went down for Karl was more momentous for us as a business, and for that reason we're saving it for our next newsletter (better sign up).
The week before Labor Day weekend we all saw our respective surf forecast sites of choice (ours is Swell Info) light up with colors symbolic of firing surf (green, yellow, orange). We saw wave heights ranging from 4-10ft, and for Andrew and I it was a no-brainer to cancel lessons for the weekend. We do have a crew who are ready to start charging larger surf, but we wanted to wait and see what the swell really looked like before making any calls on whether to take students out or not. We did do lessons the Saturday prior to the swell hitting and it was almost entirely flat with dismal weather, but there were a few promising Hermine pulses now and then before the wind came hard onshore out of the ENE.
Sunday morning Andrew and I woke up frothing. Buoys were way up and the winds were light offshore. One of our stalwart students, Paul Saliba, came to the beach with us just to check it out and film a little. We checked Rockaway first and it was completely on fire. Easy 4-6ft with a few 8ft sets and spitting barrels with no one out (where we were looking). But after watching a few sets roll in we saw a number of wonky close outs and decided that Long Beach might be handling the huge high tide a bit better. Long Beach was smaller, still in the 4-6ft range, but not as walled up as Rockaway and definitely far fewer closeouts. Upon full analysis, we actually felt that we should have surfed Rockaway, but we did not want to waste any more time checking and suited up in Long Beach. Our reasoning was that we had already broken the golden rule of surfing — never leave waves — once, and we did not want to make the same mistake twice. Long Beach was certainly fun. After weeks of knee to waist high surf (which is still fun, not gonna lie) it felt great to be in waves with some juice.
After our first session we got a call from our compadre Johnny Knapp who was down surfing a different jetty, and went down there to have a surf with him. The swell was pulsing harder now but the winds were coming up harder and harder out of the NE making the waves incredibly shifty and strengthening the current. I had a hunch that this might be a perfect time to try our hand at some breaks in Rhode Island that are more sheltered from that wind. I paddled up to Andrew and said, "Let's get in the van and go surf RI." Being born of the same banching* blood as me, Andrew was down without hesitation. We dropped Paul off at the train, skirted up 95, and were in Rhode Island by 3:30p. It was a pinch smaller than NY but absolutely on fire.
We surfed until dark and then met up with our good friend Tyler Garceau. Tyler was born and raised in RI and has a beautiful piece of property in striking distance from a variety of great surf spots. We texted him on the way up and he was exceptionally down to let us camp overnight. We grilled steaks and sautéed spinach and washed it down with a few beers around a raging campfire.
We were up early and back at the beach. The winds were still howling out of the NE, making it only possible to surf south facing spots. This in fact was a peculiarity of the Hermine swell (and of a lot of the systems that we're receiving this fall). Waves were much bigger on Day 2 in RI. We surfed a spot the locals call "Trestles", a reeling left and right over cobblestones. The session was incredible fun with long peeling walls with room for a number of turns. After that surf, however, we had a feeling that it was probably a good idea to head back to NY to see about some tubes.
We were back on 95 in the van in no time. It was a smooth drive with no traffic and we arrived in Long Beach in the mid afternoon to a whole crew of friends and overhead pumping tubes. As fun as RI was, and it was really fun, Long Beach was clearly the place to be for this swell.
We surfed our brains out until dark with our good buddies Juan Heredia and Johnny Knapp. Juan was picking off these incredible bombs just on the other side of the jetty. Andrew and I were switching off boards and cameras, and Johnny was going to town on his two near 6' Joe Falcone shapes with smooth wrapping cutbacks and off the lips. We had beers on the beach to celebrate followed by pizza at Gino's of Long Beach, and then all camped out in our little Long Beach surf hovel to be prepared for a third day of action.
We had debated going to Rockaway in the morning of Hermine Day 3 (aka day after Labor Day) to find some more top to bottom barrels, but opted to check Long Beach first. My worry was that Long Beach was going to look too firing for us to leave and that we wouldn't even go to check Rockaway due to the cardinal rule of surfing (again, never leave waves). When we pulled up to LB it was 3-5ft with A-frames everywhere, and that was it. As suspected, we threw our suits on and hustled out there. Earlier in the morning, realizing the swell had come down a bit I had called some of the Conatus student crew who I knew were ready to get into some juice — Scott and Jo Becker, Mariza Daras, and Christina Nizar. They showed up after my first session while I was filming Johnny, Juan, and Andrew trade almond shaped spinners. Jo and Scott paddled out first and Mariza and Christina were close on their heels. It was cool to see them all out pushing their levels on what I think would probably count as their first hurricane swell.
We surfed all morning and then by midday the wind got stronger and the swell really started to dissipate. The Becker crew, with their good buds Chito and Suzy from Costa Rica/UK in tow, were headed back to Montauk where they had been renting a house for the week. The original plan, in fact, was to surf Montauk more this swell, but the winds decided it would be otherwise. It just doesn't like 20-30 knot NE wind up there. But the forecast for the last few days of leftover Hermine swell was looking good up there so we hopped in the van and headed east. We didn't surf that evening, but we heard that Long Beach was still good. Johnny and Juan surfed a beach just east of where we had been at all swell and they said it was much bigger.
We got to Montauk in record time — apparently no one wants to drive out there on a stormy Tuesday — and spent the evening playing dice games with Jo, Chito, and Suzy. Then we woke up on Hermine Day 4 and started surf checking all over again. It had some wonk to it, but there was still size and a lot of promise of cleaning up. Paul Saliba (remember him from Day 1?) took the train out and we all headed to Ditch for a fun little slop session. The locals were tearing it up and Paul and I headed out the back for his first deep water surf experience.
That session turned out to be a blast and a good experience for Paul. There was a lot of water moving and it required a lot of paddling to stay in position. I posted up in the afternoon managing our social media feed while Paul and Andrew went fluke fishing. They nailed 4 fish in the space of 45 minutes. With dinner settled, we drove back to the beach for a little evening session. This time we opted for the beach break near town. It was sloppy and chunky but a few gems were rolling through. Paul, ever keen to master all aspects of being a good crew member, stayed on shore and shot some snaps of Andrew and I.
Surfed out beyond belief, at night we gorged on fresh fluke cooked both whole and made into ceviche by Andrew. We conked out early and woke up to a stunner of a Montauk day. Paul and I surfed Ditch. For the first time in days I rode a longboard. It was gentle and crowded. We knew the beachies were absolutely firing, but it was time to get back in the swing of assisting others in their surfing practice. After that session we went for another fish, this time off Gosman's Dock at the entrance to the Montauk harbor. Despite a keen lack of desire to jig the rod, I actually caught and landed a pretty good sized one. After Andrew caught three more, we loaded up the van, and headed back to Brooklyn.
That night we read every possible story about the Hermine swell on Instagram, Surfline, and the Inertia. It looked as though everyone scored. People got ticketed for surfing Rockaway. That was a real bummer to hear, but it made me kind of glad we didn't surf there the first day. De Blasio is good at a lot of things, but he's certainly way behind the curve when it comes to understanding surfing and surf culture. The NJ and NY shortboard pros absolutely gorged on tubes at Lido. Seeing their footage made me feel little bad we didn't check out and surf that zone. And our good buddy Sam Shainberg stayed in RI longer than us surfing pumping point break waves. I questioned whether our choice to drive so much paid off and thought about the myriad other ways we could have done better. But when I look back at the footage and think of all the great times we shared with a variety of people, I cannot help but feel grateful. Next time, on a similar kind of swell, we will certainly try to get bigger and better tubes, and we will also call more students out to push their levels. And in this regard, Hermine was truly exceptional: she enabled us to learn something about swells of that size and direction, where and how they can be expected to break and in what kinds of ways; she put us in touch with a variety of excellent people; and she ultimately taught us more about ourselves.