Waves of 2017, part 1


Colder days and longer nights; a fire in the woodstove. It’s a recipe for rocking chair reminiscing…

2017 was a great season for waves here in southern Massachusetts. We had some mid-summer swells appear unannounced, and that late summer/early fall stretch of hurricanes and storm after storm pass by offshore. Those dropped off some of the biggest waves that we’ve ever seen over here.

While my head dances countless wave images, I’ll throw just two into words to share with you:

The first is from my viewpoint as a coach. I had a youth team learning to row an Australian Surf Boat. They were high school aged: three girls, one boy. We had just made the transition from introductory rows on the river to coastal rows and the magic of waves. On one of these later rows the sea was a sheet of smooth glass and the sun was peaking into the morning sky. Once we got around the southern tip of, and out of the lee of, Gooseberry Island, the smooth sea was heaving in an oily slick swell. We rowed around to the west side, and just as I suspected, there was a beautiful offshore break over some of my favorite boulders and shoals. They were head high (I stand just over 6’), curling nicely. They were pretty skinny for their height, moving fairly quickly but without a heavy-weight punch, and curling in a very defined area. In other words - perfect to run with a beginner team.

“You all want to get in there?”

It came quietly, but without hesitation: “Sure.”

I gave them the rundown of what to expect, summing it up simply with “things will start to happen real fast, so pay attention!”

I lined them up with the swell, and off we went. As the boat approached "the zone," I saw the stroke oar’s eyes widen and her gaze lift up. “Oh god, oh god, oh god…”

I looked behind me and saw the swell rearing up into a steep pre-break, well above the stern of our surf boat. Then it took us.

“Go! Go! Pull! Keep up with the wave!”

Oars were flying, the boat rocketed down the wave face, I leaned into the steering oar to carve us a nice line. The sound was beautiful:

The rush of breaking water, that classic ocean roar.

The clanking of giant surf oars in oversized steel oarlocks.

The hum of the hull in high-speed flight.

The screams of the kids – “AAAHHH…AAAHHHH!!!”

Then the almost immediate drop into silence as the wave finished and we sat hushed in smooth water.

After a momentary pause… “whoa… cool.”

True, true. Nothing is cooler than catching your first wave. That addictive speed, the bizarre feeling of flying backwards through space while looking directly into the face of the curling wave, the perfect connection with a force of nature: its all pure exhilaration.

I guarantee you will not hear such sounds or see such unstoppable smiles in a flat-water rowing program, or many other sports either for that matter. Viva coastal rowing!!!

Stay tuned for part 2...