We knew there was going to be surf on Sunday. Or at least we had high hopes. It’s been a long winter, and the thought of a good sunny Sunday full of surf was like a beacon in our nor’easter-addled brains. The question, as it always is around here, was, what is the wind going to do? We could only wait and find out.
On Saturday the winds blew hard from the south all afternoon. Crazy, gusty, warm wind, smelling of springtime. I was at Bob Yinger’s house, playing guitar while Bob grilled, the crew played cornhole, and Bob’s girl Laine took care of their newborn, who had an eye infection. Outside, we could feel gusts up to 50 mph or so, and burly stormclouds were passing low; but it was a nice warm wind and we were all enjoying that mid-April feeling that the season is finally here. On the Weather Channel inside there were reports of major tornado destruction in Sanford, a couple hundred miles west, where my friend Paul Barringer grew up. His mom still lives there, on their old farm. We had been playing phone tag since it was my birthday the day before, so I tried to call him again. No answer.
A couple hours later, another tornado ripped though the Outer Banks. The back end of the Wave Riding Vehicles factory was torn off, and dozens of foam blanks were scattered to the wind. The corrugated aluminum wall blew over towards Highway 168, and the highway was closed due to debris. The tornado moved northeast and cut a swath of destruction all the way to the beach. Highway 12 north up to Duck was closed as well. All in Saturday’s storm killed over 40 people, half of them in North Carolina.
In the wake of all this sadness and destruction, the surf was predicted to heat up, and people were monitoring both the bad news and the surf forecast on their smartphones. Even though the storm was coming from the land side, the winds were blowing south-southeast, churning up the ocean; and the forecast was for the wind to switch to the southwest once the storm passed through, grooming the swell with a strong offshore wind, making for that delicious combination that creates some of the best surf on the Outer Banks.
On Sunday morning I got a call from Jeff Myers. He was in Avon. “It’s beautiful down here. The wind’s light offshore, there’s hardly any current. We checked up in Rodanthe but there was too much water moving. Come on down, I’ll text you where we end up.”
While I was getting my gear together, my phone beeped. “Avon Pier”. I packed up the Cherokee and headed south on a glorious Outer Banks day. Not a cloud in the sky, an earthy west wind bringing the smell of North Carolina spring across the sound, and that flip-flop feeling of knowing that you had absolutely no reason to do anything else but enjoy it all. It was Sun-day. And it belonged to all of us.
At Avon a crowd had descended on the pier, including a group of kids from the University of Maryland down on a road trip. They lay in a pack on the beach like seals, sunning themselves in the unseasonable warmth. Girls were wearing bikinis. All hail girls in bikinis, the harbingers of summer.
The light was bright and not the best conditions for shooting, but there’s always something you can work with no matter what the light: sun dapples on the surface of the water, silhouettes against the sun. It didn’t matter anyway, I was just happy to be out in the water, feeling the sun on my face, and the water slowly warming up, into the mid-fifties…
It’s been a long winter.
The surf was beautiful and clean, peaky A-frames, rights to the right and lefts to the left. Little hollow barrels that occasionally closed out onto sections that the high-flyers were boosting off of all over the place…the Avon Pier Flying Circus. I was getting whiplash just looking around–from all sides guys were getting shacked, hauling down screamers, spraying me in the face, and getting airborne. And hardly any current. Which for me means the difference between swimming my ass off all day just trying to hold a position (which is usually a losing battle for me) and being able to move around the break to get different perspectives.
Around lunchtime we all took a break, refueled, hung out in the parking lot. Mickey McCarthy had been shooting from the pier and he showed us a few of us the shots he had gotten and I was jealous because he had so many. You can shoot in the water all day long and not get one decent shot; shoot from land with a long lens and you can pretty much capture every ride, every move, with a pivot of the tripod and a fast motor drive. I was feeling woefully inadequate with my three-frames-per-second 5D, knowing that I was missing many critical moments just because my camera doesn’t shoot fast enough. But times are tough, and for all the new equipment I’d like to have right now I’d need about 20 grand. So I’ll just stick to my old gear and count the good shots I got as treasures, all the more precious for being rare.
The sun was heating up; I took off my shirt and sat on the hood of the Cherokee for half an hour or so playing guitar until the boys came back and said they were moving to another location. Sorry, can’t tell you where. Even the crew from “town” were worried they were treading on local territory, even though most of them were friends with the Avon boys.
We stayed till the sun disappeared behind the dunes, reveling in the perfection of the day. The surf got a little funky, but it was still good, and the light got god-like. There’s something about the inside of a barrel being lit by the afternoon sun, the warm light being filtered through a thin lip of seawater, lighting up a rider. Truly magical.
On the ride home, the moon came out, full and clear. making its own moon-dapples on the ocean. The west wind kept blowing through the night, warm and thick with the smell of earth and pollen and new life coming back. We stopped to check out a band at Goombays, a folk quartet of young kids from Nashville who all played several instruments, and an elfin 18-year-old female lead singer who wore elf boots and danced as she sang. They sounded like a combination of Nickel Creek, Sixpence None the Richer, and Nirvana, if you can imagine something like that. For our little bumfuck town, it was great to hear something so fresh and original at a local joint. I left after their set and headed home, the moon high in the sky, my head full of salt, my body flooded with that deep sensation of exhaustion and satisfaction that comes from having a really good day in the water.
I can’t tell you how much I needed this Avon Sunday. We all did. Here’s to hoping you had a good one too.
Rio pics coming soon, I promise; I’ve just beeen getting a lot of emails from crew wanting to see pictures. If I didn’t get a good one of you, there’s always the next session.
To view photos in gallery, click on thumnail and navigate forward and back buttons at the bottom of the page. Please note that the first nine frames or so are repetitions of the photos inserted in the text, a quirk of my gallery plug-in.