Yankee Trio — New England Might Be The Place

By Michael Kew

{This story was originally published in 2012 in Slide magazine.}

Shore of Tooth

Forecast?

The forecast was for sharks.

Posted June 28 on Cape Cod Shark Hunters’s website: “George Breen discovered a 16-foot great white shark during his routine flight this afternoon. The sharks have returned to the area so swimmers are asked to use caution. Do not swim at dusk or in locations heavily populated by seals.”

The Hunters are a pod of Cape fishermen who tagged sharks for scientific research with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. “We are here to keep you safe in the water,” their site promises. “Tag a shark, save a tourist!”

As a shark-loving tourist from California, June 28 was the day I chose to bodysurf in the shapely shorepound at Cahoon Hollow Beach, a pretty place with mountainous sand dunes and drinkers and diners in the Wellfleet Beachcomber, an ex-lifeguard station that today is an axis of summer.

On June 28, the Atlantic was calmly cool to the horizon, Spain the next port of land, 3,110 miles east. Belly waves barreled along the yellow-sand shore. A haven for city dwellers, Cahoon’s wide beach was flecked with colorful umbrellas and plastic chairs and pasty-white humans, evidence of the recent seasonal shift, lifestyles from indoors to out.

June 28 was a serene portal to the Cape summer — warm, windless, with a few white wisps of cloud, rips in a vast blue curtain. The drive east from verdant Lakeville was first cleaved by a bloating lunch of fried clams and Coke at the Seafood Shanty on Route 6, the paved release valve for Bostonian surfers, two hours behind.

“But most a’ da real soifas, yeah, they live out hee’ on da Cape,” said a heavily-accented fat guy on the barstool next to me. He looked like Homer Simpson.

“Are you one of them?”

“Nah,” he said between gulps of Bud Light. “I don’ soif.”

“Stand-up paddle?”

“Nah. Dat shit’s fer gays.”

I finished my beer and walked back down the steep, sandy beach trail for another round of shorebreak body-whomp. I wanted to see some more seals — I’d swam near one earlier — which lure sharks, a natural Cape occurrence ever since this big arm-shaped sandspit was born.

“Yeah,” the beach lifeguard told me. “Everyone’s hopin’ to see a shark, man. People keep askin’ me, ‘Where are the sharks? We gonna see one? Where can we see one?’”

“You see any out here?”

“Not yet. They’re all down by Chatham and Monomoy. That’s where the seals hang out. Especially Monomoy. It’s nuts.”

Treading water near the lifeguard’s tower, waiting for a wave, I reckoned Monomoy might be great for bodysurfing.

 

Winter Without

July in Hampton Beach looked nothing like the 10 pages of wave porn that photographer Brian Nevins decorated in “Seasonal Exceptions,” his 2006 feature in The Surfer’s Journal. Shapely slabs, a golden back-lit left, aerial views of whitewater triangles and rocky points, all offering a glimpse of how good the state’s 18 miles of coast can get. It also made me wonder how any East Coast surfer could live anywhere but New Hampshire.

For Nevins, a Hampton native, those photos were the result of living there year-round, witnessing his spots in their finest hours, typically in winter. “I was born in love with the cold,” he wrote. “Surfing the gelid water of New England in winter is not a stunt, a cry for attention, nor an act of courage.”

I felt courageous in the boiling air of New England in summer, inching along in my rented car, negotiating the haze of Hampton tourists who licked cotton candy and ice cream while strolling past junk-filled shops hawking black tank-tops that said Party With Sluts. The afternoon air temperature was 90°F, the humidity near 90 percent, and I was thrilled to see rideable waves at The Wall, New Hampshire’s most consistent spot. But I had no surfboard.

“Just grab one from the rental rack outside,” Dave at Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Shop said to me. “You can only surf a few blocks back that way. It’s restricted. Take the sidewalk. Have you got a wetsuit? The water’s gone a bit cold in the last day or two. Offshore wind skimmed all the warm water away.”

I had no wetsuit and wouldn’t don one in such swelter. The beach sand steamed and the tide was too low. The ocean was brisk. The board was a generic orange Thai pop-out and rather kooky but proved handy for catching small windswell peaks off the Route 1A drag. A plump, bored-looking woman in a red lifeguard one-piece stood on the damp sand at water’s edge, watching the swimmers and non-surfers who were trying to surf, also on Thai pop-outs. To the south lay Great Boar’s Head, a sharp right point, one of the spots in Nevins’s TSJ article. Between waves, I sat on the board and admired the headland, daydreaming about what a double-overhead southeast swell would do to it.

“The point gets really good,” Nevins had said. “Lots of locals are on it, and parking is slim, but it’s great when you get it.”

In July — peak tourist season — there seemed to be no locals in crowded Hampton, nor in scenic Rye, which seduced my uncomfortably hot afternoon into a slow inspection of a particularly fine surfcoast. It was the New Hampshire that I could befriend. But not today.

It was flat.

So I thought: Rye might be my place to visit this winter.

 

Lobster Rock

Short Sands Beach in York, Maine, poses a kerfuffle because summer surfing there is illegal until 5 p.m. each day. Cruelty when, at 4 p.m., there are three separate peaks humping up within view from the Inn on the Blues. I had no surfboard, anyway, so I ended up drinking New Hampshire-brewed IPAs on my private porch. “Sometimes,” I said to myself, “at Short Sands, a beer buzz is all you can catch.”

“Come back in the fall when there’s hurricane swell and you’ll be stoked,” a drunken Nick LaVecchia promised me with a smirk later that night, downstairs in the noisy bar, while I ate lobster, the Maine cliché. “Summers are crazy here. Wait till you see the beach parking lot and the traffic tomorrow. Maine is called ‘Vacationland’ for a reason.”

A friendly, stubble-faced photographer and farmer’s-market maestro, LaVecchia was drinking from a copper cup filled with Moscow Mule, a mix of vodka, lime, and ginger ale. Soon I was drinking one, too. LaVecchia’s wife Molly, who was just leaving, sat across from him.

“This sucks,” LaVecchia told me. “I gotta get up at 5:30 to work at Molly’s farm-stand. It’s hers and her friend’s. I make sure they don’t make any dumb decisions.” (laughs)

The next day, I did a book signing in Liquid Dreams Surf Shop, then lucked into some fun, cold waves at a rivermouth that was long a hub for Maine surfers. LaVecchia had warned me of a likely crowd, since today was Saturday, but, surprisingly, there was almost no one out. Front-lit from the late-afternoon sun, the crisp, brown, sand-bottomed rights were rib-high and fast, groomed by light offshores, and the lineup lent a clear view of the umbrella sea on bustling Ogunquit Beach. Tiny Ogunquit (pop. 1,500) itself had just been rated #1 on Yankee magazine’s “25 Best Beach Towns” list; Money magazine once chose York/Ogunquit as “one of the 10 best places to vacation in North America.”

In surf magazines, I’d seen some of LaVecchia’s non-summer lineups — snowy left points, hollow rights, deep green forests cradling rocky beaches. They exposed the obvious: for Maine surfers, “Vacationland” might never fit.