Looking Back: The Endless Winter

This story has to do with my formative years leading up to the department. As I had lived throughout the world I had many unique experiences. One memory that stands out the most were my days in Marshfield, Massachusetts. I became involved in surfing while in Rhode Island in 1968. We lived on the island of Aquidneck in Portsmouth. We lived right on the water in a cove called Black Point Farms. After my very first session in the water I was hooked, which leads me to the point of the story.

We had moved from Rhode Island to Massachusetts and again, were by the water. We were by the North River to be more specific. Marshfield is about 45 minutes south of Boston proper. From the end of Eastward Lane where it met the North River there was about a 2 -3 mile paddle east towards the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean. At the mouth there were sandbars which constantly shifted but provided some fairly good waves under the right conditions. I would paddle out the winding river through the marshes and surf as fishing and lobster boats passed me by on their way out to sea. It was great fun with one itsy-bitsy, tiny, teeny caveat… The Atlantic is cold! I mean really, really cold. In the winter it is even colder than cold. Salt water freezes at about 28 degrees all things being equal and dependent upon the salinity of the ocean. My board had ice dings from striking pieces of ice when plowing down the face of a wave. That’s cold. Now when you have to paddle through salt water ice slush to get to a surf break it illustrates a couple of points.

1. You are slightly off-bubble.
2. You have a death wish.
3. Your parents, who allow this, might not want you around.
4. Should something go wrong you’re totally on your own.
5. You have no food, water or emergency supplies (no place to put them.)
6. Should something go wrong it will most probably be the last thing that goes wrong.

The time frame concerning all of this was in the years of 1968 – 1971. This is of some importance as the wetsuit technology back then was not nearly what it is now. In short I had to use a diving wetsuit. This is fine when you’re in the water but when you stand up to surf, all the warm water drains out only to be filled up again with frigidly cold water when you get back down on the board. I however thought this was great fun. When you wiped out your head felt as if a thousand needles were thrust into it from all sides. It literally took your breath away. Your fingers did not work and your feet were numb within minutes. I was freezing beyond all reasonable belief and yet to be able to surf entirely alone with not a soul in sight was absolutely magnificent.

On one particular occasion, I timed the tides incorrectly. When the Atlantic rushes into the rivers it does so with considerable force. When the tide goes out it does so with considerable force. You can paddle all you want and you’ll essentially remain in the same place. I would time my paddle out to coincide with the outgoing tide and the same for the paddle back in. I would surf for a few hours resting intermittently in the marshes curled up and pressed tightly against my board to stay somewhat warm until I could paddle back again. The one time I got this wrong it kept me out there for about 16 hours which in the wintertime becomes a bit critical. When I finally staggered in my parents were just about to call the Coast Guard, and I received quite a dressing down.

I did mail away for a cold water suit advertised in Surfer Magazine (as I remember) as a ‘Dry Duck.’ Now this thing allowed (so it advertised) you to wear a sweatsuit and socks and gloves underneath a thin, olive green rubbery thingy which used a big rubber band to keep it all together. It looked absurd. The theory was that you were dry. You clothes kept you warm and the rubber kept you dry. Okay so far. First of all, it was universal in size so it was baggy. Secondly, it was impossible to put on without help. Thirdly, it’s little green feet were slippery on the board. Fourthly, it was still colder than a Siberian well digger’s privates. But that wasn’t the real problem.

When I came home after the ‘Dry Duck’s trial run – I couldn’t get out of it. I had sweated inside the suit and the rubber unrelentingly stuck to everything. The talcum powder I had used to get into it had turned into a paste which did not help matters either. My mother tried to no avail. She called a friend and the two of them managed to get the upper portion over my head with my arms locked out and that was about it. The two of them were laughing hysterically and I was blind, cold and my arms were locked out over my head and I could barely breathe. These two indomitable ladies discussed the issue at length and made the appropriate and inevitable phone call. In comes the Marshfield Fire Department. It’s one thing in front of your mom and her friend but when a group of men are laughing and making every conceivable comment they can while figuring out the extrication problem it’s quite another. That was the ‘Dry Duck’s” last and only run.

On one particularly cold, northeastern winter storm (when the waves are best) I went out through three feet of snow on the beach of Humarock and dove into the waves. I don’t know where they came from or why they came, but at one point I looked up and three nuns in full habits were standing on the beach in the midst of this raging storm watching me. I don’t think this was an optical illusion although it could have been, and yet there they were in full habits watching silently as I struggled against the Atlantic. They left before I came out of the water and most probably they said some silent prayers, which is why I can write this now. Those were some tough nuns.

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One Response to Looking Back: The Endless Winter

  1. Sam gundersen says:

    A great story,I really enjoyed the really descriptive writing.It made me remember my first surfing experience in houts bay South Africa where the sea kelp was so bad,you would slow down constantly on a wave till you fell of from the kelp catching on your skeg ,so when is the new book comming out Scott

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