Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Maine Surfing Adventures: The Bungalow

I couldn't have asked for a better crew to explore one of Maine's peninsulas. I drove early Saturday up north, about an hour outside of Portland, to meet the McDermott brothers at my family friend's bungalow. It wasn't even 9am and they had already checked out three beaches in surrounding state parks. The surf was forecasted to be up over the next few days, so our weekend was dedicated to doing as much surfing as possible.

We suited up, the guys had brand new, newly shaped boards to try out. I was lent a 25 year old brittle longboard. We walked down the dirt road into the grey fog and followed the short and narrow path to the first beach. There is a shallow tidal river to float down, and then a 100 yard stroll on densely packed and rippled wet sand, before reaching the ocean. At low tide, the big beach is vast, but that morning the fog was so thick that the walk felt much more intimate as the grey encircled us.

The surf was up. The swell was shooting out quick-moving 3 to 4 foot right waves, I had been out on a day like that in Bondi once before, except this time the wave was dumping two feet above sand. I was with knowledgeable friends and felt this was the perfect weekend to test my limits. After attempting to catch only a handful of waves, my heavily used board snapped in half as a wave hit the top of it just right in shallow waters. I took my broken piece and watched the guys glide, spin, and tumble in the waves for an hour or so before we left. On the way back to the beach house, we waded through the rocky beach and tidal pools finding oysters, hermit crabs, and tasting seaweed...

We checked out two other beaches during the day. The surf checks included a drive to a nearby state park, Popham Beach, and a walk mushroom foraging along a familiar trail to a hidden lookout point I had always neglected. Ultimately, we decided it was best to stay close to the bungalow that evening. The scene had completely changed though. The fog had burned off and the sun had just set, so pink and clementine hues glowed in the sky and reflected off the pools in the beach. We set up ourselves by the sunken ship - only the top two feet of the wooden bow and the tips of a few ribs are visible above the sand. I stayed in the white water as I practiced my pop-up with Crystal, who was giving me a pointer every now and then. Ryan, the younger brother, was launching a giant kite and attempting to surf further down the coastline.

We ended the evening taking hot outdoor showers, grilling burgers on the deck, and playing card games as a handle of tequila not so slowly disappeared.

The next morning, sounds of the ocean gently woke every one in the bungalow. With mugs of black coffee in hand, we did a surf check from the deck and were back out in the same spot by 9:30 - low tide. Once again, the waves were completely different. I could feel the serious weight behind each swell and waves were peaking chest to head high. I never would have been out there if Crystal and the McDermott brothers weren't bobbing along the coast with me. I watched the brothers in the next wave over, whip around in their short boards and my buddy, Crystal bomb down hills as the deep water folded behind me.

I made more than a few attempts and got worked probably a few more times than that. But after following Crystal's advice and choosing the right swell, I was able to catch the biggest wave I've ever surfed. I paddled, dipped my chest and felt the board plane. I rode most of the wave on my stomach, with the wave breaking over my right shoulder, but popped up onto my feet for the last moments of the ride. Officially, a personal best day for me.

The weakness of the previous night's drinking set in on all of us, and we ended after an hour out in the water, and walked back to the bungalow. The locals were coming out to enjoy their own beach day on the private property. A trio of 12-week English bulldog puppies frolicked towards me and amused themselves nibbling on my leash and board. I still have a smile on my face thinking about those babies.

Surfing is a welcoming challenge that forces you to engage your balance in response to the ocean... but mostly it's a great excuse to admire the beauty of Maine's coastal nature and exchange stories with friends that have been around the world.

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