Hurricane Charley, Nantucket 1986
This might be one of my favorite surf photos because it marks my first real big wave experience. I was alone, except for my girlfriend, Tasch, who took this photograph. We were on Nantucket that summer (1986) living at the end of the road in Madaket, close to the public access to the beach. It was the (or an) end of the island.
Madaket is not usually the best surf spot on Nantucket; but this day was extraordinary in that there was a hurricane (Charley) coming, the groundswell pushed before it was giant (by East Coast standards); and the conditions were clean, absolutely perfect.1 The swell wrapped around the island in long, ruler-edged lines, peeling lefts with a beautiful curl, throwing out almost top-to-bottom. I hadn’t seen, much less surfed anything like it before.
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It was easily double overhead, with bigger sets. Now, I would call it 6’ plus (close to 8’). At the time, I was calling it “20 feet!” with a straight face — the faces were easy 15’-20’. What did I know? Not much . . . It was pumping! And I was stoked. A little scared, but mostly amped.
Although the shore-break was dumping hard, with a wide open channel, the paddle out access was easy. Catching one of these behemoths and making the drop, however, was another matter altogether, especially on my 5’10” quad,2 which was hardly the right board.3 I managed to scratch into a couple shoulders, pretty close to the peak, make some semi airdrops, and draw a bottom turn out onto the flats, maintaining trim. It was awesome. Evolution! I’d never gone so fast on a surfboard or felt so exhilarated. Little did I know, but I was on a path that would lead me places I couldn’t (at the time) begin to imagine.
I caught several waves and eventually got washed to the beach. Totally exhausted and completely stoked. As I was walking up the sand, I saw an old WWII-era Army Jeep coming my way with two guys in wetsuits and a couple big boards (sleek guns) in the back. They were locals, older than me, clearly surprised to find kook kid coming in from a solo session. They stopped and asked me my name and where I was from. I said: “Andy, from Dedham.” They looked, shall we say, incredulous. One of them was a fellow named Chris Emery, if I remember correctly; he owned the surf shop (Indian Summer) in town. Anyway, those guys couldn’t get out there fast enough.
The weather turned sour quick and bad in the ensuing moments — the sky went dark purple and the winds increased violently. Tasch and I hid under the bed, holding one another tight, as the wind whipped and whirled around the little, single-story, clapboard cottage we were staying in (it felt/sounded like the beginning of The Wizard of Oz when the tornado strikes) until everything suddenly went calm. The eye of the hurricane passed over at that moment.
Huelo Hale, Paumalu
Hurricane Charley spawned from a trough of low pressure that persisted over south Florida and the southeast Gulf of Mexico around August 11th, 1986. The poorly defined, diffuse system drifted north on the 12th and 13th and became better organized; by the 17th (my mother’s birthday) it amplified and significantly deepened into a full-on hurricane and moved further north, toward New England. Eventually, it migrated across the Atlantic and dissipated in the North Sea.
Shaped by Ed Wright for Sunset Surfboards, Encinitas, California.
My first surfboard, which my father gave me a few years earlier, was a 7’ single fin. It was a backyard special (the logo: “Aircutter”) and my dad picked it up at a yard sale in Haverhill, Massachusetts. It was actually the perfect surfboard to learn on (which I sort of did) and I should have held on to it (it ended up in a dorm at the Putney School in Vermont). Long story. But I was stupid and thought I needed something more contemporary (looking to Martin Potter and others), so I got a little neon yellow and pink four fin, thinking I’d “rip” on it. Mostly I struggled. This surfboard retarded my surfing. It wasn’t until I got to Oahu, Sunset Beach in particular, and met Owl Chapman, who started to make me boards, that I got back on single fins. The rest is history.