Charlie and I drove sleepily through the town of Montauk. It was just after dawn, mid-week in August and we passed just a few other cars on the road. The clouds were slowly drifting out of town with the breeze as we continued East on 27.
Our car doors slamming seemed exceptionally loud, shattering the silence of the early morning. We unstrapped our surfboards from the top of the Jeep and made our way towards the trail, the overhanging tree branches reaching out like skeletal fingers in the ocean mist. The atmosphere was eerie; not quite dark, but not yet light.
The dangling sleeves of our wetsuits slapped against our legs as we walked briskly through the woods, quickly arriving at the cliff’s edge. We picked our way down the craggy hoodoos, boards under one arm, the other outstretched for balance, carefully avoiding the loose rocks that littered the “path” down to the sand.
After waxing our boards and performing a quick stretch, we shrugged into our wetsuits, preparing for our encounter with the sea. We entered the water, the cool temperature washing away the last vestiges of sleep. Duck-diving under the incoming waves, we paddled toward the horizon.
We reached the outside and I sat up on my board, shivering slightly as a wave rolled beneath me. My body, encased from neck to ankles in black neoprene, shook the surfboard that I was sitting on, creating ripples that would eventually become waves themselves; my gift to a surfer on a distant shore. The sky to my left began to lighten and I smiled as the sun finally peeked out from behind the clouds, eagerly anticipating the warmth it would bring. I shifted my attention back to the horizon, watching as the water gradually turned from a dull grey to a more pronounced shade of blue.
I rose and fell as another wave swept by, still not the one I was waiting for. I looked over at Charlie, perched upon his own surfboard some yards away. We exchanged disappointed smiles and I gave a lighthearted shrug. He looked back out to sea, then began gesturing wildly.
I followed his gaze and saw what he was so excited about. A bump had appeared on the horizon and was headed our way. As the water surged forward and began to take shape, I saw that Charlie would be out of position, no matter how hard he paddled.
I grinned. This was what I’d woken up at 5:00 AM for!
A flash of adrenaline coursed through my body. I grabbed the nose of my board with my left hand and pulled at the water with my right. Thrashing my legs, I spun around and pointed myself toward the shore. I looked over my shoulder and saw the rapidly approaching wave.
I stole a glance back at Charlie as I began to paddle. He was angrily slapping at the water, muttering something unintelligible, and glaring enviously at my good fortune.
My grin widened as I dug in even more furiously. This one was all mine!
I felt the water rise beneath me. I took a few more strokes, then grabbed my rails as I began to slide downward. I quickly popped to my feet, feeling myself slip into that familiar knees-bent-right-foot-forward stance. I shifted my weight slightly and leaned in toward the face of the shoulder-high wave, descending into the lower section of the rapidly moving wall of water. I was euphoric, stoked that I’d managed to snag the first ride of the day!
Gaining speed, I quickly twisted my upper body and carved up the face of the wave. I whipped the tail of my board around, bashing the lip and sending a cascade of spray high into the air. The droplets caught the light of the rising sun, streaking like tiny comets as they fell and rejoined the rushing ocean.
I veered left to avoid a submerged rock and gave a “whoop!” as I sailed past Charlie. He was over his envy and cheered right back. I continued speeding down the face of the wave, the wind blowing the salt water spray into my face and whipping through my hair.
When it petered out, I leaned back and fell into the water, the look on my face one of pure contentment.
I remained submerged, lazily watching the bubbles that caressed my wetsuit on their slow journey to the surface. I imagined that I could hear their tiny “pops” as they hit the air.
After what seemed like minutes, but was actually only a few seconds, I followed the bubbles, rising slowly from the shallows, and casually flicked a strand of greenish brown seaweed from my shoulder as I watched Charlie on his own wave.
I waited for him to finish his ride. We shared a look – there were no words necessary. We climbed up on our boards and began paddling back out to the lineup. The clouds had completely disappeared. The sun was shining, causing shades of gold to mix in with the water’s deep blue. A light offshore wind blew gently against our backs. The waves kept rolling in.
We caught more than a few waves that day before the tide changed and the ocean went flat. It was a great, fun day out on the water in Montauk. It’s experiences like that that let you know surfing is more than just the act of riding waves. It’s the sand on your toes after a session. It’s sharing a wave with your best friend. It’s watching a grom ride a wave for the first time. It’s the sun breaking through the clouds and illuminating a perfect lineup. It’s the time spent and the memories made.
It’s days like this day.
And in the end, that’s really what surfing’s all about. The simple concept of having a good time. As many surfers have said, more so than skill level or natural talent, “the best surfer out there is the one who’s having the most fun.”