Here, by the sea, late September can be indescribably sweet. During the week, the beaches are sparsely dotted with single sentinel umbrellas, domed remnants of the summer’s hurly-burly. Weekends, small knots of sun-seekers materialize, heating their bones against the inevitable chill to come, whose first hints are already present in the soft evening breezes.
But, to me, the true sweetness is in the sea itself, in the long swells, gliding and toppling in sweeping glissades that run incredible distances and that almost demand to be ridden by board or by body. It is in these late September waves that I have had the two best wave-riding days ever in my more than 73 years.
I’ve always ridden waves, beginning as a kid in Seaside Heights. We did it by the hour, by the day, season after season, bronzed little wave monkeys, recognizing by a learned, sophisticated second nature that measured, waited, and then moved our limber young limbs into the perfect part of the curl that would send us careening down and down and then into the long glide through shrieking fat ladies and startled little kids into the sandy shallows. And then we clambered back out to do it again and again, indefatigable as only kids are.
My best body-surfing day ever was some twenty years ago in Stone Harbor. For several years I rented a little salt box of a cottage on 84th Street for my girlfriend and I the last two weeks in September. That year, her mother was with us, and one warm afternoon I left them chatting on the porch and walked in the bright sun to the beach. I came over the dunes and was stunned by the perfection of the waves. As far as I could see, they came almost lazily rolling in, majestic, at perfect intervals. And the water was still in the mid-seventies. Glory to Poseidon, baby!
In I went, run-splashing through the first breakers until I was in the strike zone of the big guys, maybe four or five feet, big for Jersey, perfect for riding, with just enough speed and fall to put a little edge on each ride. And ride I did, just a kid again for that blessed stop-time. I stayed at it for almost an hour, a little punchy finally with my watery fortune. It was pure wave-greed. I could barely believe it. I was getting rides up to 50 yards – body-surfing, mind you! And the beach was totally deserted. I was that tree falling in this watery forest. I heard me. That’s all that mattered for that idyllic time.
I finally came out and looked around. Where the hell was I? This wasn’t 84th Street.
In my orgy of body-surfing, the current had moved me almost a quarter-mile south of where I had gone in. I hooted in amazement and started to hoof, totally pleased at my displacement.
By the time surfing came to the Jersey Shore, 25 years of running had left me with orthoscopic knees that just wouldn’t take the surfboard, so I became a boogie-boarder, and my best day at that was last year by the North Wildwood life guard headquarters at 15th Street.
I swear I was getting 100-yard rides that late afternoon under a welkin September sky, shrieking as I plummeted down endless perfect breakers, again alone in my watery delight. Boogie-boarding techniques are basically the same as body-surfing, but the board lets you get fancy, do things your body alone can’t do, like cutting across the face of a wave like a surfer or taking steeper falls without the danger of being driven head-first into the bottom, which is possible body-surfing if you misjudge the angle of the fall. Parenthetically, the best boogie-boarders I ever saw were Hawaiian kids at Poipu Beach on Kauai. They had to be. If they misjudged, there was a rocky jetty flanking one side of the beach they used, and if they didn’t pull up in time – ka-bam! I watched them for hours and never saw one kid wipe out. So cool!
My second-best boogie-boarding day was at 65th Street in Avalon, again in late September. I was getting good rides and again the beach was deserted. What the hell, I took off my suit and threw it up on the beach and had about a half-hour of naked boogie-boarding until I spotted a vehicle way off down the beach, heading my way. I got back in my suit and was coming out of the water when an Avalon Police SUV pulled up, and the young, buzz-cut cop at the wheel said, “We had some calls about some naked boogie-boarding down here. You seen anybody?”
He nodded, winked, and drove on.