During this winter break, Outdoor Pursuits ran a winter surf trip to the top-secret, most consistent surf spot on the East Coast -- New Smyrna Beach, Florida (don’t tell nobody).
The trip started on Friday, December 16, at 5 A.M. Twelve tired but excited people entered the van at the student center and prepared for a 12-hour drive to epic surf. We arrived at Tomoka State park in Ormond Beach around 4:45 P.M. and set up camp. After setting up, we explored a bit and hit the sleeping bags early to prepare for some “ripping” the next day.
Day two: we got up early and headed to New Smyrna to rent some boards and get some Dunkin Donuts of course, the breakfast of surf champs. After renting from Red Dogs surf shop, we hit Inlet Charlies for an extra board and were off to the races. The surf was epic, solid chest to head high and smooth glassy lines. The drive to the inlet seemed to take forever, especially because we got stuck in the sand with a van and trailer. Luckily, an old fisherman and his wife towed us out of a hole within 5 minutes of getting stuck (if you’re out there brave hero, thank you again). Finally, with a winter season beach pass purchased and the van parked in the inlet parking area, it was time. We suited up and speed-walked/ ran the boardwalk to the waves. The first five participants bravely stepped up and listened to some advice and safety instructions about the ocean and surfing, and then it was go time…a.k.a. time to get worked.
Throughout the day, the surf crew would surf until they had Wet Noodle Arm Syndrome and would pass off a board to someone primed to go. The surf instructor would paddle out with each group and give helpful tips on reading waves and not opening your mouth to swallow water J (btw, I think he’s related to Kelly Slater). Another nice feature of the day, besides the incredible surf, was a surf competition going on at the inlet. We surfed all day until the sun went down at 5 p.m. Then we packed our gear and made for a grocery store and then camp.
Day three: we woke up and headed back to the inlet, and the surf had taken a turn. The waves were bigger and meaner, not quite the clean beauties we had the day before, but still super fun. The surf was pushing 6-8 ft range on the outside break and was like a washing machine on the inside, rideable but a lot of work to stay in the break. A certain surf instructor was enjoying life on the outside break. Once again, despite tough conditions, the crew stuck it out and we surfed till dark. Days like this day make you appreciate very clean and smooth days like Saturday. Despite the conditions, the crew steadily showed improvement catching, and standing up on waves, even if only for a micro-second. Another full day of waves under the belt and we headed back to camp for some grub and showers (which btw Tomoka has one the most excellent bathroom facilities this camper has ever seen just FYI).
Day four: We decided to try a change of pace and drove down the south to Bethune Beach for a different type of wave, and boy did we get it. Bethune beach has a wave that breaks very steep and hollow, allowing surfers to get barreled, making extremely fun to ride. For the inexperienced, though, it presents quite a challenge. So while Kelly’s distant relative was getting slotted, others in the crew were getting worked J. Every type of wave the ocean presents is a unique challenge and a lesson -- the more you surf, the more your repertoire grows. Today the crew learned about taking it on the head and sandbar backrubs, just stash that in your back pocket for later, it’s a valuable lesson we all learn throughout our surfing careers. We headed to the world famous JB Fish house in Bethune for one the best seafood dinners you will ever taste. The dinners included raw oysters, blackened gator, grouper, clams, shrimp, hushpuppies, crabcakes, and the best key lime pie money can buy. It didn’t hurt that we got to watch the sunset off JB’s back deck on the river, either.
The next morning we voted on a sunrise surf session in the morning known as “dawn patrol”. We woke at 5.50 in the morning and hit the break at Ormond Beach. We arrived at 6.45 just before first light. A few brave surfers hit the chilly water before the sun came up and enjoyed the 3-5 foot surf as it rose. Words really can’t describe how beautiful it is to watch the sun rise while in the water with waves breaking. The wind was slightly offshore so when the waves broke the wind would blow spray over the back of the wave, and if you were in front of this, you could see the sunlight through the lip of the wave and then the rainbow effect of the spray dancing off the sun. It was hard to wake up so early, and even harder to put a damp cold wetsuit on when its 50 degrees out, but it is a sight and feeling you will never forget. We grabbed some breakfast across the street from the park at Alfies restaurant and hit the surf again. The waves were phenomenal. Everyone paddled out and was able to catch waves and stand and ride them for a distance. The waves were slightly wedged providing easier takeoffs and good power. By 1 p.m., everyone had caught a king’s share of waves, and smiles were prevalent all around (even Ben managed one). Today was by far the best day for the crew and it was only half over. For the afternoon we switched gears to give our “wet noodles” a break. We hit a few local surf shops, and then it was time for some epic put-put action. The battle was heated, Austin slotted a hole-in-one and Chad and Grace were taking no prisoners. In the end, Mr. Paben proved victorious and was crowned Pirates Cove Champion.
Day five: We took a road trip to the legendary Cocoa Beach, home of Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, and 11-time World Champ Kelly Slater, also in the area just off shore NASA’s space center. We hit Ron Jon’s first thing, and with the help of a sweet old lady, we went to a breakfast spot called Something Delicious and that it was, omelets any way you can dream up and a variety of pastries and coffees to choose from. After fueling our bellies, we hit the break at Patrick Air Force Base. The surf was pumping, solid 6-9 ft wedges on the outside and 3-4 wedges inside. A few of the crew surfed the inside and the rest tried their hands on the outside. The waves were intimidating but just spectacular to watch break. The ocean has such power; it’s awe inspiring. After another day of surfing till dark, we drove back up the coast and stopped at a seafood restaurant called Hidden Treasure for some food.
Day six: The last day of the trip we woke at 6 a.m. for maximum time spent in the surf. We’re going all out today. The waves are breaking 3-4 ft today and really wedgie. Perfect conditions for the crew. We paddle out and right away the group is getting rides, not just standing for a second or two, really riding the waves. The smiles were infectious, it didn’t matter if you got worked or got a great ride, it was all fun. We had to be out of the water to leave by noon but the crew was enjoying themselves so much they didn’t leave the water until 11:59. With sad hearts and heavy arms we packed up, returned our boards, and headed back to camp for showers. We broke down camp and headed back home for Ohio.
The van was filled with extremely tired surfers reminiscing waves caught and sandbars kissed. They graduated from “kooks” to “noobs” and loving every minute of it. The winter surf trip was a huge success and hopefully another one can be put into the works. If you missed this one, don’t miss the next -- it’s an experience you’ll never forget (p.s., my skin smells like I miss surfing).