If you think the view from here looks beautiful, you know it’s ten times better looking out from inside of this little drainer.
The Graveyard Of The Atlantic
Words: Josh Hunter
Photos: Kenny Onufrock
Where: The outer islands of North Carolina’s coast descend south from the Virginia border to Cedar Island. Isolated and vulnerable, the slender, skeletal string of islands juts into the Atlantic at Cape Hatteras, where the powerful, cold waters of the Labrador Current and the warm trough of the Gulf Stream converge.
What: Earning it the name “The Graveyard of the Atlantic” was earned from pirates—most reputably Blackbeard—who used the shallow sandbars and intricate inlets to sabotage unsuspecting vessels more than 300 years ago. Many seasons and storms have passed since Blackbeard fought his last battle at Ocracoke Inlet, but the Outer Banks’ history still stirs through the sea oats in the salty breeze.
When: The obvious time to visit the Outer Banks is hurricane season, from June 1 to November 30. Within that window, your best bet for solid swell is Fall. North swells, south swells, and east swells are common this time of year, and the hordes of tourists die down after Labor Day. Light westerly winds are also common, and if there’s swell to match, gapping, sand-spitting barrels for miles along barren sandbars.
Ask the locals, though, and they’ll tell you that spring has its fair share of shacks as well. “May is by far one of my favorite months on the Banks,” says Jeff Myers. “The weather and water temps are warming, and the sandbars seem to stay really good all month long.”
Local hero Noah Snyder agrees: “During the spring low pressure systems meander off the coast,” Snyder says. “Plenty of east swells come in with a touch of north-east, as well as some south and south-east swells.”
Banks surfers carry dental floss in their cars to clean out the sand from their teeth after barrels like this. Rob Brown.
Why: If you’re a fan of big, brown barrels and you don’t mind picking san out of your teeth, the Banks are a no-brainer destination. “It’s always really fun and punchy,” says Myers, “and there’s so much deserted coastline you’re pretty much guaranteed a solo surf with you and a few friends.”
How: The closest major airport is in Norfolk, Virgina. Once you hit the ground and rent a car—preferably something with four-wheel drive—just hop onto US-64 and follow the signs. In about an hour and a half you’ll be smelling the salty air of Dare County, North Carolina. You can also fly into Raliegh, North Carolina and drive in on the 264, but that drive can take up to three and a half hours. Once on the islands several toll ferries will carry you from island to island.
Where to stay: Despite the area’s isolated location, it too has fallen prey to urban sprawl, brand, and big-name hotels have popped up all over the place. But you can also find some great mom-and-pop type hotels in the region. Try the Cavalier Motel or the Sea Ranch, both in Kill Devil Hills, and feel good about supporting the local economy. You’ll see what southern hospitality means first hand.
You know what steep barrel sections mean when they hit the inside: launch-ramp mania. Lucas Rodgers.
Places to eat: In Maine you eat lobster, in Maryland you eat crab cakes, but in North Cackalacky we eat barbecue, damn it! Head down south to Bubba’s (bubbasbbque.com)—yep, it’s seriously called Bubba’s—in Frisco. You’ll find the tastiest barbecue swine east of the Mississippi, and even a proud Texan would have a heard time telling you they’ve tasted better ‘cue!
If swine ain’t you’re thing, then hit up Tortugas´ Lie Bar And Grill (tortugaslie.com) in Nags Head-it’s got great Caribbean-inspired cuisine located right across the street from a fun sandbar. “It’s great food at a great price,” says local legend Noah Snyder, who recommends the jerk chicken. For a brew, try The Outer Banks Brew Station in Kill Devil Hills (obbrewing.com). “These guys actually sponsor me,” says Myers. “They’re very surf friendly, and the beer alone is worth a visit–or five!”
Dudes And Babes: It isn’t exactly Daytona Beach during spring break, but it ain’t Alaska, either. The summer months bring flocks of vacationing girls from God knows where. It’s very common for families to come back to the Banks every year, so if you meet a sweetie, don’t burn the bridge, you might just be able set something up for next summer, too.
Crowd factor: There are enough waves for everyone. That being said, try telling that to a surly local that just downed three Bud tall boys in the parking lot. Driving down the coastal highway you can easily tell how crowded a spot is by the number of cars parked alongside the road. Stop, run over the dunes, and check it out. If there’s already a serious crew on it, look elsewhere. There’s no reason to surf with a crowd here.
Stuff to bring: Pack a fullsuit even in August. Offshore winds can cause upwelling off the coast, and the water temps can drop drastically over the course of an afternoon. It’s not uncommon to be in trunks in the morning and a 3/2 in the evening. If you’re bold enough to try a winter trip, bring as much rubber as you can find. It’s cold—really cold. As far as boards go, make sure you bring your go-to shortboard, a step-up, and something like a fish for smaller days. A backup board isn’t a bad idea either. Outer Banks barrels have been known to snap boards.
If the surf is flat: Fishing in the Outer banks is world class year round. In the fall, it’s arguably the best place in the world to be with a rod and reel in your hands. Charter a fishing boat or just visit a bait shop, ask a few questions, and fish from the beach. If the fishing is no good, check out the skatepark at the YMCA in Kill Devil Hills or visit one of the lighthouses in the area. Not into skating or sightseeing? Take a kayak out for a spin, or, if all else fails, there’s always plenty of cold beer to drink.