Good Cop, Bad Cop

It was November 1981, and one of the biggest northeasters in years glowered over the Atlantic, just east of us. Coupled with a huge high pressure system to the north, it created a massive Venturi effect: gusts approaching hurricane velocity were not uncommon, and on the horizon the Gulf Stream was mountainous. Greg Rocktoff and I figured it was a perfect opportunity for a surf trip south, since we had three days off together. Maybe below the cape the wind would be offshore...

The thought of ten foot, perfect surf - in Florida: obviously a hallucination - caused our collective minds to water. As an afterthought I threw my full wetsuit in the back along with my short john. The water would be dramatically warmer the further south we went, but just in case....

We threw our clothes in the back of my rusted out VW bug with the fiberglass floor that never completely cured, strapped two boards each to the racks, and headed south on Third Street which would resume it’s alias of A1A once we were outa town. The Clash - Sandinista! - blasted out of the speakers as we roared off to St. Augustine. A six pack of San Miguel was consumed before we reached Flagler Beach (one of the joys/curses of being both young and stupid), pausing occasionally to gaze at the raging ocean to our left. The wind was veering north and faintly west: a bit further south and the off-shores would certainly materialize.

We raced through the relative normalcy of Ormand Beach and into the Disneyland-on-acid that is Daytona. Shadows were long and the sun perched just above the horizon as we parked on the deserted sand in front of the pier. The Atlantic frothed on the brink of insanity, tops of the set waves flicking the underside of the pier, the wind vacillating between northwest and west by northwest. Not quite whitewater to the horizon, but close enough for government work.

After squirming into full wetsuits we waded into the shore-break, giving small hops seeking pubic warmth as the water reached groin level. I’m sure my ‘nads attempted to crawl back into my body as we paddled out: I was glad I brought the full suit, and a small part of me thought about booties, but I focussed on the outside and pushed the image out of my mind. We’d timed it well, and only one time did I get caught by four monster waves and washing-machined. The prize is to reach the outside with your head dry, but it felt like a small moral victory, considering the conditions.

Reaching the take off zone we stroked an additional leisurely few feet, and straddled our boards to rest. A brief lull ensued - Why couldn’t that have happened while we were paddling out? - and then a forerunner wave appeared. I watched a peak loom outside, black against the horizon, and began to stroke sideways to meet it. The wave and I synced together as it hit the shallow water of the outer bar, and it jumped sharply beneath me as I pushed up with both hands beneath my shoulders, slid my feet beneath me and dropped. I pushed hard off the bottom with my heels, going left, and unweighted. A big sliding off the top placed me in position for a cover up: the crest threw over my head, the light dimmed, I grabbed my outside rail and time was suspended: lost in total tunnel vision, absolute slow motion. Dragging my hand in the face to wait for the wave, I watched as the light from the setting sun splintered into iridescent trails that spiraled into the cavern. Coming into the inner bar, the wave wrapped and formed a giant horseshoe. I flew out of the tube in an explosion of spray, came hard off the bottom and threw myself into a big, roundhouse cutback, almost touching my face to the water. Bouncing off the whitewater and roller coasting into the shallows, I jumped off my board in knee deep water and a completely altered state of consciousness. It was so big I’d have to time the sets from the vantage point of the beach, just to make it back out. My focus was so diffused I did not notice the flashing blue lights, and I abruptly became aware an officer of the law was approaching. 

I wasn’t honestly expecting a “Yeah, brah!” for the wave; however, the core of my religious belief system consists of this cardinal tenet: be very polite to people who carry guns. I enquired obsequiously “Is there a problem, sir?

Without a word he pointed to a posted sign, shrouded in shadow. Obligingly, he read it aloud: “NO surfing near the pier between 6AM and 6PM.” The sun was a fingernail sliver behind him, but the voice  was authoritative and stern.

My watch read just after five. Even with my mind still in the water, I could see where this was going. Head down, I wanted to regroup my thoughts before speaking.

Sir,” I began cautiously,“I understand the law, and I understand the reason for the law: it protects bathers from loose surfboards and inexperienced surfers. It protects surfers from sinkers cast from the pier.” I thought to myself: and narrowly avoids war between fishermen and surfers. “’s November, sir! There’s nobody in the water, nobody on the beach, nobody on the pier. Sh....oot, there’s nobody on the boardwalk.”

In what I suspect was a reflex action, he responded “I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them.

Nodding, not trusting myself to speak, I ventured my backup plan. “Would it be OK to paddle out and tell my friend we can’t surf here?” He nodded curtly, and I awaited a lull for the paddle back out.

Stroking over a monster set wave I saw Greg catch a frontside screamer, bash the lip several times, and kick out just before the pier. “Wus!” I screamed. “Why din’cha shoot it?

Ear to ear grin, he paddled toward me, oblivious to my shouted question. “Wassup with the cop?

This was not a question to be answered by screaming. I gazed up at a sky beginning to awaken with stars.

At that moment, the crack of a loudspeaker split the air, and a metallic voice offered a gift: “My watch says six o'clock. Enjoy!

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