A Prius quietly pulls into a dirt lot on the curve of a road. The stone pillars marking the private entrance and the trees of the surrounding woods are coated in a thick dusting of pure white, newly driven snow. In the predawn gloom, the iridescent snow glows brightly, illuminating the darkness under the towering oaks and pine. All sounds are muted; the wind whispers through the pines and a fog horn bellows from a nearby lighthouse. He is already suited, warm in his steel and aluminum cocoon. He slides on his gloves and grabs his keys. One more gulp of coffee and his booties crunch softly into the blanket of snow. The ritual begins; of exiting the vehicle, unstrapping the board, grabbing the paddle, tucking the keys away in a safe nook, checking the latch to ensure it is locked. The tasks completed a thousand times on other outings to the sea.
The din of the ocean churns in his ears. His heart is thumping, his mouth upturned in an enormous grin. He bounds across the road, crusty with newly laid salt and sand, and hops into a 4 foot drift at the periphery. Gleefully, he enters the darkness of the pines; his frame vanishes within their arms. On the winding little trail the sound of the endless marching of swell intensifies, his excitement grows. He emerges through the scrub which frames the dark point and cove. Dark shadows bend into the cove; clean, head high wedges cranking down the rock reef in uniform precision. The sun has yet to emerge from the dawn’s horizon, but its rays begin to brighten the darkness enough to silhouette the little point and the house upon its hump. In a second, he is over the smooth gray cobblestones, across the seaweed wrapped rocks, and onto the water; strapping on his leash the rhythm of the stroke begins.
Sets continue to peel as he paddles to the lineup. With each wave that passes his enthusiasm builds exponentially. He reaches the takeoff rock just as nice set approaches. Spinning on his 6’10” Simmons, he strokes once, and down the face he plunges, laying out horizontally into a nice bottom turn. The wave does its job by continuing on in predictable fashion, spinning over the submerged rocky line of boulders. He snaps off 10 cutbacks before popping out over the top of the lip, and back out for more. His heart is pounding, his legs shaky with excitement. He is a solitary figure on the water, totally alone. Not another soul except for some sleeping birds and the occasional seal.
While standing in silence, he thinks of his wife and daughter, still asleep and snug under their warm winter blankets. He thinks of how lucky he is to have this solitude; how, in other parts of the world, this type of experience has been forever altered by the onslaught of enthusiastic hordes of wave riders. He thinks, “Is this for real? Am I really standing here all alone with utter perfection at my feet”? Gulls and other water fowl begin to gather on the rocks, awaking from their frigid slumber. He wonders how they survive. Subzero temperatures, snow covering every surface; they huddle on the rocks in tight little clusters. Perhaps they are thinking the same thing about him; a crazed human standing on the freezing water in a black rubber suit.
The sun’s rays break the horizon and coat the underbelly of last night’s retreating storm clouds in a soft orange and red hue. Sets continue to heave at the same, precise location, and he continues to ride each one with great fury and zeal. Despite the 20 degree Celsius air temperature, a sweat begins to break upon his brow. After 30 minutes he’s already had 20 waves. It’s ridiculous. He begins to laugh at himself and his good fortune.
On the road he sees a familiar vehicle rolling down the hill. The Explorer begins to flash its lights at him as he drops down the wall of another head high gem. Within 15 minutes, another wet-suited frame emerges from the trees and climbs down the snowy rocks to the water’s edge. He paddles out like a crazed madman; eyes red, froth emanating from his ears. He turns on an inside set, and begins bashing the lip from his backside, hooting loudly down the line like some crazed lunatic. He returns to the lineup wearing a smile. They look at each other in knowing bliss; this is their perfection; this is their paradise not yet lost.
Before long other cars begin to stop and watch from the road. Hunched over figures sip their coffee and watch, silently judging, as the two friends continue on their revolving wave machine, trading rides and cheering each other on. It’s only a matter of time before multiple black figures emerge from the brush. These are other “locals”, though the majority are not native to this place. There is a handful that grew up in the town, another one from New York, one from New Jersey, one from Oakland. They are the regulars. They have surfed together for many years. The lineup is orderly and efficient. Everyone enjoys tremendous rides.
As the hours pass on, some of the riders take their leave; returning to jobs and families, to responsibilities, but not the original two. They stay, and enjoy the thrill of low tide, barreling down the lefts, mere feet from the exposed, glistening black rocks.
The sun has fully risen, and the snow begins to drip from the limbs of the trees. The water is an emerald green, the sky an intensely vivid blue. The point is powder white, lined at the base by ebony granite.
They surf until their bodies ache with pleasure. Their muscles and limbs are lactic, tightening and sore with gathering chill within their bones. Their mouths are pasty and white at the edges. Their faces red from exposure to sun, wind and cold air, purple rashes blistering their armpits; yet they have never been happier. Smiles beam from their faces as they walk back to their cars. This is how every day should begin. This is how a life should be lived.
Story by Travis Hayes
I grew up in Falmouth Maine, nestled in a house built in the 1740s, the same house in which my mother and her three brothers where raised. I spent the majority of my childhood on the ocean, fishing with my uncles or on adventures with my cousins at our family cottages on Cliff Island and Little Sebago Lake. I caught my first wave in 1995, while attending college at the University of Oregon, Eugene. I moved back to Maine in 2000, and started surfing more regularly with my high school friends. In 2010, I purchased my first SUP online, mainly for flat water paddling to keep in shape when the waves were absent. I caught my first wave on a SUP several months after and was immediately hooked. I currently live with my wife and daughter in Cape Elizabeth, ME and spend my free time exploring with my family, surfing with friends, and racing my paddle board throughout New England. Check Travis out on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/travis.hayes.58555