Surfing in 38 Degree Water

With the limited dexterity afforded by 3 mm neoprene mittens, I pull the hood of my wet suit over my head and gingerly run into the knee-high whitewater. The first bite of the 38° water seeps through a hole in my left booty. I keep wading as the cold water circulates around my foot and slowly warms.

Brown peppers the whitewater as an overhead wave crashes in four feet of water. In an act of desperation, I try to jump over the wave but am swept off my feet. Searing cold stings the small circle of exposed skin around my eyes and mouth as I hit the water and struggle to hold onto my board. I quickly regain my footing, take one step, jump onto my board and start paddling with purpose in the brief window between waves.

Dan observing a point break at high tide through a pair of vintage Vuarnets.

Focusing on each pull of my stroke, I paddle out of the last of the whitewater. Through the thick neoprene of my hood I hear Dan excitedly shriek, "Set," and dig deep like a terrorist in the mountains Pakistan. (For those unfamiliar with the proper nomenclature, set refers to a series of abnormally large waves.) Spitting saltwater on my board, I look up and see the the shadows of wave gaining shape. Four strokes, I have four strokes before I dive under the wave, I tell myself as I turn it up to 11. Three strokes later, I look up to see a wave cresting and immediately kick with my left foot to steer me towards the remaining smooth section of the wave.

Cresting the wave, my sense of accomplishment evaporates as I see a wall charging towards me like a drunk 20 year old girl towards an unclaimed box of pizza. Realizing my chances of making it over the looming wave are as slim as my chances of being a professional lineman, I ditch my board and swim towards the sand. The wave breaks over me with a hollow crash and I tumble around like the marble in spray paint can. Clenching my nose and eyes, I wait for the buoyant 5 mm wet suit to pull me to the surface.

Gasping for air, I pull my board in by the leash and regain my bearings. With no imminent waves in sight, I breath a sigh of relief and paddle out towards Dan sitting some twenty yards away.

"That last one looked fun..." Dan said.

"What did you say?" I ask as I catch my breath and slide onto a sitting position on my board.

"You got pwned by the last wave," he yells as he scans the horizon for sets of incoming waves.

For the next forty minutes we swim in the frigid water, catching the large sets and chatting the way two content friends do whilst enjoying a mutual pastime. The occasional Mainer walks by, stops for an instant, shakes their head with a chuckle and continues down the deserted Maine beach.

The hole in my left booty and right glove eventually gets the better of me and I bid farewell to Dan and paddle in. Immediately after leaving the water, the sun warms my black suit and I run to the car to change and grab my camera.

I will always remember the solitude and excitement of surfing in 38° water on beach breaks along the Maine Coast.

Here are some more links,
Surfing in 38 Degree Water (Picasa).