By Sean Slater
Our East Coast summer was the flattest, hottest summer I’ve ever seen--until the end. The hurricane season started late for us this year, but came just in time to bless us with excellent surf for three back – to – back pro events. The weather centers were predicting fourteen hurricanes this season, but there was a problem with this. There wasn’t even a serious storm until late August, and hurricane season ends around late October. Fourteen storms in two and a half months? No way, not possible.
Anyway, the first pro event was the Heritage Pro held in Sea Isle, New Jersey. This year, the East Coast storm parade began with a fairly solid cold front that kicked up quite a bit of onshore winds and rain with waves running two to four feet. Some might say, big deal. Hell, I’d usually say that myself.
After two months of not only flat, but also below – sea – level surf--this change was a blessing in disguise. Perfect timing. It was scorching every day with a minimal amount of rain. If you’re familiar with the East Coast, especially south of North Carolina, you know what happens when it rains on a hot day. It gets hotter than hell after the rainfall because of the humidity. I honestly can’t remember a hotter summer.
As quickly as this little swell picked up, it disappeared as soon as the Heritage pro ended. The following week was the East Coast Surfing Championships Pro in Virginia Beach, which is the longest running surfing event in America. What are the odds of having waves two weeks in a row in the summer on the East Coast, especially given the track record of the year? Slim, very slim.
Well, there’s one thing I’m leaving out. A tropical depression from off the coast of Africa became a powerful hurricane known as Dennis. From August 24 to September 5, everyone was anticipating the arrival of surf. I heard plenty of stories about Florida--people were assuming it was going off there. I thought, I’ll believe it when I see it. Sure enough, the swell hit Virginia Beach just in time for the contest, steadily picking up throughout the weekend.
When everyone got knocked out of the contest, they beelined it two hours to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. Surfers like Todd Holland and Dean Randazzo knew right where to go. The first storm of the year headed up the East Coast, past Florida, and showered every spot with solid, fun surf. Anyone caught up in the flatness of the summer was amped on the arrival of the hurricane swell.
The surf got pretty sick in Hatteras for a few days--three to five feet and very rippable. The water even warmed up for the occasion. We had the Volcom RV, so we drove to Nag’s Head, North Carolina, stayed the night and woke up to 50 to 70 mph winds. The storm was right on top of us and getting worse. We quickly loaded up the RV and drove straight through Dennis, hoping that the roads weren’t closed yet. We got lucky and made it to mainland and out of Dennis’ path. We arrived in Florida hoping to find some surf, the waves had diminished once again, as quickly as they’d arrived.
Not to worry, though, there was already another storm making its way into the window. This one hit August 24 through the 28 and was named Emily. The short – lived storm kicked up a couple days of surf for Florida--came and went. Hurricane Dennis hit the coast, then headed east, changed direction again to go south, and hit North Carolina a second time.
On Dennis’ return to the ocean, it pushed through another swell that was perfect timing for the largest charity surfing event, the National Kidney Foundation contest. This year, thanks to Dennis’ encore, the event had a couple rideable days of surf. Once again, Dennis had made a landfall, and then disappeared into the clouds.
Even though it was flat, we’d surfed so much in the past three weeks that a couple of days off were good. This was a time to rest, and also keep an eye on the two new back – to – back hurricanes coming off rica--Floyd and Bert. Floyd was an enormous, well – organized hurricane. It had a perfect eye 40 miles across at one point, and a cloud mass that reached some 300 miles wide. Floyd was a scary storm before it hit the Bahamas. The winds were sustained at 155 mph, which made it a category – four hurricane, close to a becoming a five. Too close.
This storm was supposed to turn north at some point, but the question was, when? In the meantime, the East Coast was experiencing one of the largest evacuations ever. When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in the summer of 1992, it leveled it. Floyd was just as strong, and three times as big. If it had hit without weakening, the results would have been devastating. We got lucky as far as damage was concerned. It turned north and gave us 75 to 85 mph winds. The following day, the East Coast had the most all – time day I’ve seen in years.
Spanish House to Vero Beach was six to eight feet and people were claiming Puerto. Matt Kechele, Paul “Rhino” Reinecke, Dave Spier, Bill Hartley, Todd Morcom, Kyle Garson, and I were on it. It was offshore and thick. The sickest part only lasted about half of the day, until the tide came in and made it slightly less dumpy.
Floyd steered to the right, just missing our coast. We got extremely lucky. Once again, North Carolina (for a third time) was not so fortunate. Floyd had a small amount of rain when it neared Florida, but before touching down in North Carolina, all that changed. The hurricane gathered more rain, and by the time it hit North Carolina--it flooded everything in its path. North Carolina residents will be feeling the affects for whos known how long.
From September 11 through the 23, Hurricane Gert was still out in the Atlantic between the Leeward Islands and Bermuda. Gert was also a very strong category – four hurricane. Luckily, it didn’t pose a threat to Florida, only produced excellent surf. We welcome these storms of course, as it passed just outside Bermuda to the east. Just when everyone was taking a hurricane breather, here comes Tropical Storm Harvey, (September 19 through the 22) out of nowhere. The straggler literally developed in the middle of the Gulf and shot right across Florida out into the Atlantic. When it reached the Atlantic, it was downgraded and fell apart. This small storm combined with Bert gave us a slight cross – swell, which is very rare. That was the most fun for me, kind of a grand finale for all of the storms. Cocoa Beach was six to eight feet, with bigger sets and warm water.
When it’s flat on the East Coast, everything sits still. When the surf is going off, everything seems to wake up. The people, the sea life, and definitely the ocean. These storms have sent the sea life into a frenzy. Sharks are lurking everywhere in Florida right now. I know four people who’ve been bitten already this season. Well, I guess it’s a fact that there’re more shark attacks in Florida than anywhere else in the world. Could the storms have anything to do with it?
One good thing about all of this energy is the unreal surf at your home breaks in the summer. I think a few of us might agree. Mother Nature helped the majority of surfers stuck in the East Coast’s summer spell of flatness from going completely insane. We love surfing.--Sean Slater