Surfing Storm Swells

Surfing the Hurricane

by Mario on September 1, 2010

in Risk,Water Safety

As the hurricane approaches the East Coast – many parents will be hit with the question, “Surf’s up! Can I go?”  It’s a tough question to say no to.  The boy loves surfing and because you live where you do, waves like he sees in surfing magazines don’t exist in his world. That’s because so  many Eastern beaches have to wait for hurricane force winds to drive in enough swell for truly righteous waves.  But before you look into your kid’s excited eyes and say something silly like, “O.K., but be careful.” consider applying a risk practice professionals often use to make decisions about what is a good idea, and what isn’t: Rephrase the question.

What your 15 year-old said: “Surf’s up! Can I go?”

What you should think he said: “A disrupting and rare weather pattern is creating surf conditions unlike any I have ever been exposed to before.  Can me and my friends (who have never surfed waves like these either) head out to an abandoned stretch of unguarded beach and see how it goes?”

Alright – so left just like that, you will probably tell him “Sure, I’ll drive!” then point your car West and take him to Kansas. But the act of rephrasing the question to what it actually is helps make better decisions.  It may be fine to allow them to go play in the big waves, but consider the following precautions if you just can’t say no:

  1. Bring your own lifeguard – seriously.  Someone (with skills and flotation) has to stay on the shore and watch.
  2. Study the breaks for the newly formed rips that always occur during anomalous surf.
  3. No more than three at a time.  Too many boards in water they aren’t used to increases the risk and makes it harder to keep an eye on them.
  4. You go (and bring your intuition with you) – If you don’t like the way it looks, they will just have to live with the disappointment.
  5. If the beaches have been officially “closed” – the answer is “no” and hide the surfboards.

None of this has anything to do with the actual hurricane threat.  If you live in Hatteras and the storm is a day away, you should be gone in any case.  My old Air Station is going to be busy enough without one more person refusing to evacuate because of the “I’m a local, I don’t leave.”  mentality.  Hurricanes are killers and you should be gone.  I’m talking about those beaches that aren’t getting hit, but will benefit from the increased wave action of the weather offshore.

So do you say “yes” or “no?”  – your call.  Just make sure you consider what they are really asking.

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  • Anonymous

    timely post. I’ve been debating paddling out all week. My nearest breaks, Virginia Beach to Delaware, are going to be firing. Alas, I know my limits and it’s no fun when you’re in over your head out there in the line up.

  • Jessica

    Great way to assess and be safe, Mario- thanks. I’ll be on the beach while the boys (and girl) are in the water.

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