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Never Turn Your Back on The Ocean

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As told by Dave White

ocean wave

My friends and I are all surfers. Not just like, “we surf”—surfing is what we do. All the time, as much as possible, rain or shine, summer and winter. I say winter of course, because if you live on the east coast, and you’re a surfer, you definitely own a thick, 5 millimeter at least, wetsuit. Because the waves are the best, the most consistent, during the colder months.

About four or five years ago, my friends and I were tracking a swell that was going to hit New Jersey—where we live—early in the morning on a day in mid-January. We were looking at charts, and listening to weather reports, and trying to gather as much information as we could about what the swell was doing, and we all put our heads together and decided that the best place to surf this thing would be at a secret break called Woodie’s. And no that’s not its real name and don’t even ask me to tell you where it is. We like our waves to ourselves!

All I’ll say about Woodie’s is that it’s about as isolated as you can get on the Jersey shore, and it’s really only accessible by boat. So that morning we all woke up in the dark, around five, and we started loading up my buddy Marcus’s little Whaler, it’s maybe 14 feet long. That day the air was probably 25 degrees and the water was high 30s. There were seven or eight of us, plus boards, and that boat was packed! There was no space at all. So one of my buddies, Ken, had an idea. He put on all of his gear—wetsuit, boots, hood, gloves—grabbed his board and hopped overboard with a tow rope. That may sound a bit nuts. But it’s about the 1,000th-nuttiest thing Ken’s ever done to surf. This is a guy who once lived on a beach in Costa Rica for a couple months eating bread and hot sauce just to catch the best waves. So anyway, we all thought it was pretty funny and we pulled out of the lagoon and into the bay and headed toward the inlet as fast as we could go with Ken bouncing along behind us lying on his board.

If you couldn’t have guessed it, we had a Sea Tow boat come up on us before we even got out of the bay. I guess something about a tiny boat full of guys with one guy in the water in freezing cold weather set their spidey senses tingling? Anyway, after we convinced them that all was well we set off for the surf break again. It’s not far from an inlet so it wasn’t like we were taking a small, overpacked boat into open seas or anything, we were only in the ocean for a few minutes only a few hundred yards from shore.

So we get to Woodie’s and the surf looks great—probably shoulder-to-head high and building, and perfectly shaped. So we drop anchor and all get in the water and start our session. We had been surfing for maybe a half hour, maybe a bit longer, all having a great time, when my buddy Marcus shouted, well, I don’t want to say what he shouted exactly. It was an expletive. And we all looked up and the Whaler is loose and getting pushed by the whitewater of the biggest wave we’d seen all day straight into the beach. The wave was so big that it broke farther out than we had been expecting, which is why it hit the boat. But to the Whaler’s credit, it somehow stayed upright on its hull. By the time we got to it, it was in the whitewash of the shorebreak, and we were able to drag it up on the sand. But the thing was, we couldn’t get the engine started again. Plus a couple of our cell phones got wet, and the ones that didn’t weren’t getting any signal. So two of my buddies walked on up the beach to see if they could find someone to help us out. I stayed with the boat with a couple other guys, and two other guys kept surfing. It seemed like the guys were gone forever but I think it was only actually an hour or so, and we saw an SUV coming towards us on the beach. Our friends had found a single fisherman out there braving the elements, and he agreed to help us out. Luckily the tide was going out so we weren’t worried about losing the boat. So we all piled into the guy’s Wrangler—a tight fit as you can imagine. And he drove us up the beach to the main road. We found a diner that graciously allowed our wet, cold, sandy butts to come in. I swear that was the best cup of coffee I ever had. We were freezing!

Eventually my buddy’s dad showed up with his Chevy Suburban and the boat’s trailer, and we drove back down the beach and got her. My friend still has that boat. Heck, we still take her to Woodie’s when the conditions are right. Now we just make sure we set the hook a little farther out!

Dave White is a hardcore waterman currently living in Jersey City, New Jersey. That’s not his real name. These wintertime surfers are more secretive than the NSA.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.