The Stoke – that’s what surfers call the impossible to ignore compulsion to take to the water in all kinds of weather and waves. We asked Surfrider Foundation member, volunteer, and fully-stoked ocean enthusiast Noel LaPierre to share his story with us today – in honor of International Surfing Day. -Ed.
When people find out that I surf in New England I’m usually met with surprise: “There are waves in New England!?” While it is true the conditions for surfing here aren’t nearly as perfect or consistent as say, the west coast, the fact is, great surfing conditions can be found right here – you just have to know what you’re looking for and be driven by “wave stoke”. While I’ve travelled thousands of miles to find consistent surf, there’s nothing quite as sweet as scoring perfect conditions, however few and far between, right in your own backyard. Here’s my attempt to describe just how great a perfect session in New England can be:
Hills of sand and dawn skies frame the scene. I tune into the rhythm of the waves and their thunderous growls as they meet their end upon the glistening shore. The scent of neoprene tinges the air and an awkward dance of exertion results in a rubbery second skin. My excited fingers zip up my wetsuit and unzip the surfbag. A flat plank and fins with roots in a far off land materialize. Here a ritual begins – an action almost in prayer: I bend at the waist over my pulpit, a wax remnant in hand, circling and circling again over the deck. The ritual concludes and there is a nervous double-check for the key, then doors shut with certainty.
The march to the water’s edge commences; adrenaline pumping in cadence. On the way down, my senses are engaged and analyzing: there is the sight of rips and breaks, the feel of the wind’s breath on my ears, and the sweet taste of briny air with every inhalation. This sensory analysis produces a decision, a decision that draws upon the past as well as the present. Where do I get in and what’s the best route? Which break is working today? With a nervous pit in my stomach I silently answer these questions and then, finally, my paddle seaward begins.
The first touch of water sends icy chills through me as it enters my boots and extends across my back. These few moments of discomfort are required before this very same water is heated by anticipation-fueled strokes. There is a heavy, necessary exertion with each alternating pull, a rhythmic sacrifice of energy in every cycle: catch and release, catch and release. I keep churning as I confront one whitewater wall after another until finally I’m outside the breakline and a quiet-calm settles all around. I sit up, breathe and regain, lulled by the tempo of rolling giants. Breathing. Sensing. With every pulse, I become more electrified and connected to the surroundings, energy flowing back through me. Finally, the moment I have been working toward – a disruption occurs along the contrast between water and sky and I catch a glimpse of a peak behind the marching lines. A perfect, head-high wave approaches, one that was meant to meet me as much as I was meant to meet it.
Quickly, I turn and go, vibrating now. Digging my arms deep into the water, I look left then right and paddle hard toward shore as the water rushes back, briefly slowing my progress. Suddenly the board tail lifts as the wave takes over and just as suddenly the nose angles steeper and then steeper still. In one fluid motion with hands on rails, I consciously counter instinct, lean forward, and get to my feet. With tremendous acceleration I scream down the mountain that has intensified beneath me, spray flying as though it had burst from a hose. In the flats now, with the giant looming, I realize I’ve survived the drop and endorphins erupt.
I lean back, lift the nose in the air and carve a turn to the left. As I run parallel to the wave, I reach out my hand and feel the smooth green face as I glide by. Looking up I see the lip fluttering white as rays of sunlight shimmer amid the drops that have begun to rain down on my head. I’m immersed in the moment, fully alive and completely connected with an energy that has traveled millions of miles, shifting from one medium to another, until finally, it has reached me. I run out to the soft shoulder, grinning widely. While the ride has lasted only a few seconds it has re-charged a desire I must fulfill. Elated, I turn seaward in hopes of repeating the sequence all over again.
After spending years in and around the ocean, surfing, swimming, or hanging out with my kids on the beach, I’ve come to recognize the terrific value of this natural resource. Be it economic, spiritual, or recreational, the benefits of the ocean are many. But they are not limitless. It’s not good enough for us to simply recognize the benefits the ocean provides; we need to recognize our role in its health and sustainability. We need to become guardians of the ocean. After all, life and quality of life depends upon it. Thank you for joining me in my reflection on my personal New England Ocean Odyssey.
About Noel: I am a father of three, active member of the MA Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and have been surfing regularly for about 6 years, thanks to my agreeable wife Heather, who at times does get anxious when I paddle out alone. In addition to surfing, I love to swim in the ocean, and when it’s too cold to swim outside I train for short course meets with Boston University Masters Swimming. When I’m not immersed in water I’m chasing after my little ones (Calvin 9, Anna 7, Hazel 21 mos) or working as Director of Web Solutions at Hologic, Inc., a medical device company based in Bedford, MA.