just Swell! Bill’s Strength Has Surfers Psyched

August 21, 2009 at 7:28 pm Leave a comment

“It’ll be a swell so big and strong it will wipe clean everything that went before it.’’

So spoke the big kahuna known as “the Bear” in the 1978 surf movie, “Big Wednesday.”

Nobody is quite ready to say his words will hold for the swell currently marching our way courtesy of Hurricane Bill, but they could come close: Sunday is expected to be an East Coast surf day for the ages — the biggest of the summer so far, and perhaps the biggest of the past few years.

Bill is expected to stay well clear of the East Coast, but officials are warning swimmers to stay out of the water — New York City’s ocean beaches, including the Rockaways and Coney Island, have already been closed. Shorefront homeowners are bracing for beach erosion in the aftermath. But for surfers, these are the types of days that put East Coast surfing on the national map. This giddy excitement among surfers in the region has extended to other parts, promising to draw wave riders to our humble corner of the ocean from across the country.

“This is what you live for, it’s better than Christmas,’’ said Tom Reynolds, the deputy director of public affairs at the federal Department of Energy and a committed surfer who is planning to beat a hasty exit late Friday to his home away from home for surfing in Wildwood, N.J., from his actual home in Washington.

Mr. Reynolds has a job that keeps him on call even on weekends. But, he said, some things — like waves that are the stuff of legend — have to take priority over even the people’s business. “I will make it known that I will be out of pocket,” he said. “And if the swell holds over to Monday, there might be a sick day in my future.”

Mike Machemer, the manager of Mollusk surf shop in Brooklyn, said friends were calling him from as far away as California to ask whether a trip out East would be worth it this weekend (answer: um, you have to ask?).

“It’s been madness — people are buying boards, buying leashes, coming in to pick our brains about what we feel is going to be the best spot,” he said. “People are just really amped up and anxious, calling or coming in to talk about the waves.”

Adding to the excitement is the budding industry of surf-related Web sites that are lighting up like Las Vegas slot machines.

Surfline’s report for our local waters this Sunday sums it up with one word, “EPIC,” in bright red lettering above a glorious report:

SURF: 8-12 ft. – 3 ft. overhead to double overhead + occasionally 15 ft. and epic conditions. Solid SE/SSE swell from Bill for eastern LI at the spots that can handle it, notch smaller but still solid for WLI; dropping in PM.

In an e-mail exchange, Mike Watson, the Surfline East Coast manager and forecaster, said that if his peak wave predictions are correct — and he obviously believes they are — the swell could be among the top five or 10 biggest that he has ever recorded in our area. It is definitely the largest swell he has seen heading toward these parts, he said, since Hurricane Fabian pumped out waves resembling moving buildings back in 2003.

In an online video presentation tracking how the swell may hit different parts of the coast, Mr. Watson predicted the New York-New Jersey area would receive the best Hurricane Bill has to give, because of the contours of its ocean bottom and the geographical angles of its beaches.

Mr. Watson, who is based in Florida, was good enough to ask members of his national audience who are likely to make the trek to surf here this weekend to “please respect them in the Northeast region, as they wait a long time for a good swell like this.”


As the Bear said in “Big Wednesday,’’ the really big days are when the stars of local breaks “can distinguish themselves.”

But Mr. Watson also offered some sage advice. “Maybe it’s time to push your limits and get out there, that’s what surfing’s all about — pushing your limits,’’ he said, “but also knowing what your limits are, as well.”

The bigger sets are expected to start coming in late Saturday, with a peak early Sunday before they quickly diminish, Mr. Watson said.

Waves is an occasional City Room feature chronicling surfing in and around New York City, and the issues important to local surfers. Its author, Jim Rutenberg, is a Washington correspondent who grew up surfing in New Jersey and continues to surf regularly on eastern Long Island. Ideas and comments are welcome at Wavesnyt@gmail.com.

By Jim Rutenberg
New York Times

Entry filed under: Get Wet, Natural Waterfront, Queens. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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