By Eugenio Volpe
Q. What did Dr. Spock find in the U.S.S. Enterprise toilet?
A. The Captain’s log.
This joke doesn’t have all that much to do with what I am about to say, but it’s a classic from my youth and felt the need to revive it.
Like Kirk’s space entries, I’ve decided to log my surf sessions in a journal this year. I used to do this as a grom. I’d buy a surfing calendar at the local surf shop and write each session into that date’s square. I’d keep the descriptions simple: “Waist to chest East Street, sideshore, mushy.” Sometimes, if the session was an exceptionally good or great one, I’d mark it with a number of stars ranging from one to five. I documented my sessions in this fashion for the first six years of my surfing life. I kept the calendars around for a few more years until deciding during one of my many apartment moves as a young adult to throw them away. I was in my mid-twenties then, at the height of my existential cynicism and thus viewed wave diaries as both childish and empirically futile. What was the sense of documenting New England surf conditions? As my records demonstrated, the waves suck 88.8% of the time. You don’t need a calendar to tell you that.
With the technological sophistication of weather/wave information and forecasting, surfers are documenting their sessions more than ever, in a variety of ways. Surfers are blogging. Surfers are making Vimeo and YouTube vids. We’re tweeting and posting pics on our Facebook profile. We’re posting pics and videos and opinions on the NESURF forums and ripping the hell out of each other. It’s all great fun. It involves sharing what we’ve witnessed/experienced on a given surf day with our brethren. It involves rubbing your talents and superior wave session into the faces of others. It’s got to with ego and bragging rights. It’s also about spreading the immense stoke that comes with wave riding. However, hi-def photos and videos of cutbacks and airs only tell a small portion of our surfing existence. In regards to surf documentation, there are other more important factors and realities that need recording, especially here in New England. Wave and weather conditions vary greatly season to season, month to month, week to week, and even within a day. Our tidal surges are more significant than any other U.S. region. Our waves can go from epic to crap faster than anywhere else. This makes for good documenting, especially if you include detailed buoy, tide, and wind information. In my new 2012 wave logging, I’ve been writing down all the scientific marine and weather data available that day along with expository details such as who I surfed with and quick descriptions of some of the better waves I caught. Now that I am approaching forty, I feel a need to collect and chronicle my surf experiences. Perhaps I am getting emotionally and epistemologically weak in my old age, but something else inspired me to renew my wave documenting, and surprising to myself, it wasn’t vanity. The unusually warm ocean temperatures have got me scratching my head thinking about the realities of climate change. Currently, on January 18, 10:44 EST, the water temp at Block Island is 49.8 degrees. The water temp at Stellwagon is 44.2 degrees. Has the water ever been this warm for such an extended stretch of time this late into January? I surfed in a 4/3 yesterday for two hours. I can’t remember it ever being this warm. I’ve been surfing for twenty-four years now and had I been documenting my sessions all this time, I could look back and answer that question for myself. Sure I could perhaps find that information somehow, somewhere on the NOAA website, but what fun is that? Taking note of these things doesn’t improve your actual surfing skills, but it does make you a better “surfer” in that you will come to know something about the atmospheric and oceanic conditions upon which your very soul has become a dependent.
At the very least, you will be able to brag and make all of your friends jealous. Marking surf days in expository and scientific detail is like kissing and telling. It’s a proverbial notch on your headboard. But you can’t go claiming any old day that you happen to paddle out. Lots of people have been publically blogging their every surf session, but it isn’t always an accurate telling of how good the surf has been. You have to at least ride a wave, and not only that, you have to perform at least one solid turn for a session to be legit. I know a guy who keeps a surf log and he’s always bragging about the total days he has surfed during a given year. “I surfed 220 days last year,” he sometimes boasts at parties. The truth of the matter is the guy will paddle out in shin high junk and stand up on a wave and count it. Or he’ll ride some knee to thigh high mush burger on his fish, do a few squirrelly turns and chalk it up as a session. This is bogus. Ralph Fatello up in New Hampshire rode a wave every day last year for Molly. As far as I’m concerned charity is the only time you get to claim riding a single meager wave as “surfing.” Otherwise, you’ve got to hit a lip or wrap a turn for a shortboard session to be worth bragging about.
I was living out in Nantucket during the summer of 1990. I remember surfing twenty-two days that July, the majority of which were highly rippable. I remember that number because I’d often revisit my calendar for that year and take stock of all the quality days I surfed. It seemed like such a high number and I wish I still had that calendar so I could sometimes revisit the details of that stellar month. Regardless, I have started up fresh this year so that decades from now, when my joints are too arthritic to paddle out, or the ocean has frozen over, or all the breaks have disappeared due to rising sea levels, or the ocean is too toxic to enter, I can sit back and flip through the pages of my surf log, reliving every session I’ve ever had. Kelly Slater claims he can remember every wave he’s ever ridden. I think he’s being somewhat hyperbolic when he says that, but I think I know what he means. I can remember every wave I’ve ever caught that was worth remembering. For everything else, I need a diary. I have only surfed four times this month. I’ve peed in my wetsuit at least twice each session.