Matunuck Beach Madness

It’s 9 a.m., and Tom “Big Pink” Lucas and I are gaping at the monstrous, fog shrouded surf, breaking right outside of Deep Hole. No f----ing way, I thought, and this is only low tide. “Let’s go to a movie, or the mall; anything but surfing.” "That same front was still kicking up waves which were sending large swells that turned into huge breakers in the shallows off shore." Back at the motel, Dave Konz and Don “Big G” Gorski couldn’t believe our description, so we drove back to Deep Hole to take another look... UNBELIEVABLE. None of us had even seen conditions like this before, much less surfed them. And High tide was still another hour and a half away. Someone suggested breakfast and the rest of us numbly agreed. Over coffee, our courage rose, and after much discussion, during what we thought might be our last meal, we decided to go for it. By 11:00, the conditions had slightly improved. The waves were only 10 plus footers, but the fog was still thick. We couldn’t see where the breakers began, and we knew we would be unable to paddle beyond them, SAFELY. Dave waded into the chilly soup zone to acclimate himself to the water temperature. “How’s the water, Dave?” I asked. “A little chilly, but I’m sure we’ll warm up to it.” “Is today a good day to die?” I inquired with a subtle hint of seriousness. Without missing a beat, Dave responded, “A very good day to die!” We took one last “living photo” and it was SHOWTIME! It’s amazing how there’s always a recurring theme of doom on M.A.S.K. adventures. Actually, that’s not really true, (just bravado to hide our nervousness) as we all came prepared and equipped to manage big surf. Each of us wore wetsuits and drytop combos with neoprene hoods under our helmets; and, of course, PFDs. I had been to Matunuck last summer with Bill and Janice Lozano, Fred Gonzales, Chris Moreland, and Tom and Connie Adamski, and had thought those conditions were rough. Even surfing that day, the morning before Hurricane Bob, could not compare with today. Last night a storm dumped 6 inches of rain on Connecticut. That same front, now far out at sea, was still kicking up waves which were sending large swells that turned into huge breakers in the shallows off shore. Normally, Deep Hole is very shallow with many exposed rocks. It’s a good launch site, but surfing is usually done 1/4 mile down the beach. Today, with a huge high tide and waves breaking on the beach, we thought it would be best to surf right there. The southern part of the beach was steep, with heavy, dumping waves. There were also rips coming off the shore, which would have made launching and landing too dangerous. The launch site slopes more gradually and all the rocks, even at low tide, are covered with at least four feet of water. “Big G” was the first to launch his Nordkapp into the mountain of foam, with Tom following right behind in his Corsica S. Don paddled out past the second set of breakers with ease, but as he turned on the crest of the next wave he lost his high brace and was pummeled by a wall of whitewater. Tom was also “maytagged” as he too tried desperately to hold his high brace. He attempted to roll but was unable to maintain his orientation while being thrashed beneath the waves. Don also wet-exited and had some difficulty swimming to shore. His boat was ripped from under his arms as wave after wave broke on top of him. Dave and I watched with trepidation as I video taped the demoralizing sequence for MASK posterity. Now it was our turn. Dave launched his Nordkapp and I followed behind him in my Pisces. The waves sounded like a locomotive as they broke and roared towards shore. The fog made the experience more eerie. You could hear the ROAR of the oncoming breakers but couldn’t see them until they were sweeping you either backwards or broached toward shore. The biggest waves were actually impossible to reach because you could not gain enough momentum to break through the third and fourth set of breakers. "The waves sounded like a locomotive as they broke and roared towards shore. The fog made the experience more eerie." One huge wave hurled me backwards and them broached me, but I was able to hold onto a bow high brace and ride the wave all the way to the beach without getting thrashed. Dave got “maytagged” while making a sweep turn to catch a ride, and then blew his roll in the turbulence. Once back in the soup, I mustered up my strength and punched my way out to the unforgiving breakers. As I passed the second set and attempted to make a sweep turn on the third, I was nailed by a wave that broke directly over my head, “Ouch!” This time I was “maytagged” and couldn’t even set up for a combat roll. I wet-exited and was pounded by the continuous breakers. I tried to hold onto the stern of the boat, but it was ripped from me. The foam sent it hurtling toward shore to be trashed on the beach. Swimming was very difficult. You could feel the turbulence grabbing hold of you. I tried to hold my paddle in front of me so that it would catch water and surf me to shore, a technique taken from a Sea Kayaker article. Bad choice! When the next wave caught the paddle, my arms were nearly ripped from my body. I simply had to let go of the paddle and swim hard to body surf my way in. Once on shore I collapsed next to my boat and decided to take a rest. Because of the relentless onslaught of water, turning was almost impossible; consequently, most of our surfing was either broached or backwards. Throughout the afternoon we all were frequently MAYTAGGED, and finally, after multiple tries, we managed to roll while being held under the waves. The trick was, once capsized, you simply had to RELAX (believe it or not) AND WAIT for the turbulence to release you, which took about 5 seconds, and then ROLL up. The important thing to remember while held in a capsized position is to keep your head as close to the foredeck as possible. If your neck is held perpendicular to the boat, you risk a head/neck injury, primarily from being snapped backwards, or slamming into obstacles. At one point, Tom and I got too close. He was up-wave of me and I approached from behind, trying to punch through the third set of breakers. When the wave broke, he was jettisoned forward on a collision course with my boat. There was no time to paddle away from him, so I capsized away from his boat to present my hull to his bow. He rode right over the “bottom” of my boat. I rolled up only to be swept shoreward on a high brace by the next breaker. Amazingly, I surfed from a broach to a straight-in position all the way to the beach. As I told “Big G” later, “It looked so sweet, but I had no idea what was happening.” I was surfing on pure reflex. After a leisurely lunch break we switched boats. Tom hopped in Don’s Nordkapp and I squeezed into a borrowed Nordkapp from the Outdoor Sports Center (Wilton, CT.) All the Nordkapps we were using were the HM models which have an integral skeg for tracking. This feature makes for a great ‘Point A to Point B’ kayak, but difficult to turn while surfing. My intention was to compare my Pisces (Current Designs of Canada) with the Nordkapp (I’m thinking of buying one, not that I’m trading in my Pisces, it surfs great). The Nordkapp has a well deserved reputation for being “tippy.” However, its rounded hull rolls over waves very easily and comfortably. My biggest problem was turning the boat to catch a wave, and that was usually when I capsized. The same hip-snap I use to roll my Pisces nearly sent me completely over when rolling the Nordkapp. Leans, turns, sweeps and rolls have to be done gingerly. The best adjective to describe the Nordkap is SUBTLE. "When the next wave caught the paddle, my arms were nearly ripped from my body." While in the Nordkapps, Tom and I surfed the biggest waves of the day. Don and Dave watched and videotaped us precariously balancing ourselves in these infamously skittish British boats. The farther out in the surf zone we paddled, the more difficult it became to turn around to catch a wave. Out at the fourth set of breakers, I saw a tremendous wave poised to bury me. Miraculously, I remained upright only to dump while making an aggressive sweep turn. As I rolled up (much to Don and Dave’s surprise), the next breaker jettisoned me toward shore in a broach. I rode it almost all the way in, but capsized while twirling my paddle in triumph. Being totally wiped out, I blew three attempts to roll and did my final wet-exit of the day. That night we drove to Stonington, CT, to meet the M.A.S.K. gang and celebrate Captain Lenny LeShay’s 73rd birthday. After dinner everyone went back to Lenny’s hotel room to watch our surfing video. (Lenny was mad, as he wanted to show the video he made when he sold 60,000 yards of velcro to the bordello in New Orleans, but Margaret wouldn’t let him.) The crowd was awestruck as they watched the footage of our many wipeouts. And after seeing how it looked on film, I doubted I’d ever do it again, except maybe tomorrow, the next day, and any other chance I got. PART II On September 19 & 20, we returned to Matunuck for the final surf of the summer. This time Tom, Dave, and myself were joined by Laurie Bleich, Norman Bossi, Ann Price, Desmond Harrington, Bob Hutteman, and Chris Diguano from the Rhode Island Canoe Club. The conditions were so benign (the waves were only four to five feet) that we all rode the waves with little effort. The best surf broke at the shoal that extended for 300 yards offshore. The waves there were steep and broke in two directions as the water crashed over the shallows. Tom surfed his new Valkrie like a pro. The hard chines of this boat are similar to the Anas. It reacts to leans instantly and carves the waves easily. Norman showed how the Tsunami Rangers surf-kayak in his Rocket, which is a responsive and highly maneuverable boat (because of a large rudder) that quickly accelerates down a wave, and is easy to surf straight to the beach. Congratulations to Laurie for performing her first “combat roll” after getting maytagged by a five footer that caught her by surprise. She also showed us the “ejection seat” that comes as standard equipment in `Scarlet.’ As she was trying to punch through a set of breakers, she was surfed backwards and Scarlet did a “rear-ender”/pitchpole that threw Laurie out of the boat. Dave and Chris rushed to the rescue and Laurie vowed never to surf again. But her resolve lasted all of five minutes before she was in there riding again. "If you're going to get hurt while kayaking, you'll probably do it while surfing." As you can guess, surfing is not only fun and exciting, but reinforces necessary skills that are rarely (if ever) practiced on a typical day’s paddle. All those who participated are now much better paddlers and have greater confidence in their abilities to negotiate rough conditions. On the down side, If you’re going to get hurt while kayaking, you’ll probably do it while surfing. So be PREPARED; NEVER surf alone; ALWAYS wear a helmet and PFD; and always have the requisite skills necessary to handle surf conditions. That means, know your limitations: If your skills are inadequate for the conditions, DON’T GO OUT! If you do, you’re on your way to becoming a kayaking accident statistic. If you never surfed, start safe and start right, take a class. Both Bill Lozano and Andy Singer offer extraordinary surfing classes at very reasonaable prices. (See article on page 6) There are also a couple of excellent articles on surfing in Sea Kayaker magazine, Winter ‘89-90 and Summer ’91, and while you can’t learn to surf by reading about it, you can get an appreciation of what skills and techniques you’ll need to develop. We plan to return to Matunuck in the upcoming months to try some EXTREME COLDWATER SURFING. Any kayakers with prior surfing experience and a strong ROLL are encouraged to join us. For a video tape copy of this M.A.S.K. adventure please send $15. to cover postage and tape cost to: Sean Coffey, 95 Putnam Avenue, Port Chester, NY 10573. For Sale: Single Klepper - Fully equipped. Very Good Condition. Call Terry Meyers (212) 535-8691.



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