Hurricane Earl Produces Super Surf

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Although Hurricane Earl did not come across with the expected winds, rain, and destruction, it certainly produced several days of quality waves. The first indications of the swell came on Wednesday morning.

Solid 3-5 foot waves began to appear at Point Judith and Matunuck Point. Professional surf photographer Joe McGovern had just finished up a stand-up paddle board photo shoot and had carried his surfboard with him. "I took a ride to the lighthouse and was surprised to see some nice head high sets and no one out. I got two hours of great waves and did not expect to see any kind of swell that soon," he said.

The surf continued to pick up on Thursday along with the crowds. Hordes of out-of-state surfers began to fill up every surf spot parking lot and packing into the already crowded line-ups. The swells began to increase by the hour and by noon most area reefs and beaches were holding solid overhead waves and very overcrowded line-ups. One of the local surfers counted over 40 surfers at each of the separate peaks off the Point Judith Lighthouse in the late afternoon.

Probably the most spectacular surf appeared at the Narragansett Town Beach as huge double overhead swells turned the shore break into a hazardous and dangerous zone for the inexperienced. Veteran local surfer Mario Frade surveyed the waves at the town beach for over two hours before venturing out. "Every once in awhile, an inside section would hold up," he said. "I managed to get about six decent waves in an hour. The rest of the stuff was just closing out."

The biggest surf and the most crowded conditions occurred on Friday. The relatively sedate rains and winds encouraged even more surfers to venture down to the beaches of Southern Rhode Island, causing seriously crowded line-ups that could not handle the huge numbers. "The problem with hurricane surf is that you have to deal with quite a few inexperienced or out-of-shape surfers who just should not be out there," said Conrad Ferla, surf school head instructor for the Narragansett Surf and Skate surf shop. "You have to know what you are doing or you can easily drown in these conditions."
The size and power of Hurricane Earl swells peaked in the early afternoon on Friday as the storm began to pass by Rhode Island. There were some very large and nasty looking waves hitting the Narragansett Town Beach, along with all area points and reefs. Gerry Casiello had just driven over two hours to get to the surf from Connecticut. "It took me over ½ hour just to paddle out through the crowds at K-39," he said. "There were probably over 60 surfers in the line-up just at that break. I saw old guys on big long boards, stand-up paddle boarders, kayakers, body boarders, short boarders, and even two guys in canoes." He continued. "It was truly like a 3-ring circus out there."

The crowd situation became dangerous, especially at the Pt. Judith Lighthouse in the late afternoon. One inexperienced long boarder dropped into a huge overhead peak and was not paying attention to where other surfers were sitting in the line-up. He almost instantly collided with a short boarder who was paddling out and broke the surfer's leg with the nose of his board. Several surfers had to carry him to shore and the rescue squad was quickly summoned. There were numerous collisions as surfers dropped in on each other and ended up with dings and bruises. Words and fists were exchanged at Matunuck Point on several occasions as several layers of long board and short board riders made contact as they dropped into the long wave faces.
"The crowd factor has become dangerous," said Mario Frade. "I blame it on modern technology to some extent. In the past you had to drive around looking for waves. Now one guy with a cell phone can load up a surf spot with his brahs with one stroke of the finger." Frade also noted that with the advent of the many Internet surf sites, web surfers can check out many surf spots within seconds without having to drive to them. "This increases the crowd factor ten-fold at the good breaks," said Frade. "Then you have chaos."

Although the winds chopped out some spots on Day #4 of the Earl swell, the waves continued to pour in at a solid 3-5 feet and lined up at most breaks. Strong southwest winds up to 30 knots made for some real stand-up, hollowed out sections. Since it was Saturday, the weekend crowd combined with the hurricane swell searchers made for very crowded conditions yet again.
Despite the crowds and hassles there were some great sessions had at just about every reef break in the area. The biggest ridable swells came through at the Point Judith Lighthouse. All of the avenue reefs off the lighthouse had their moments and both K-39 and K-38 were epic on Friday. Matunuck Point and the surrounding reefs offered some of the longest rides of the entire swell, especially on Friday.
Rhode Island surfers managed to squeeze one more day out of the swell on Sunday, as remnants of the now disappearing storm system moved out to sea. All local reefs and beaches saw a clean 1-3 foot swell throughout the day and strong winds diminished to very light breeze. By sunset, Hurricane Earl had become a distant memory. The great surfing conditions however, will be remembered for quite awhile.

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