6" x 9" softcover
|Copyright © 1998 Down The Shore Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from chapter eight (Tropical Storm Way Offshore).
The empty lineup that Buddy promised had long vanished. With the sunlight came the first of the morning surfers, and by the time Kring and his partner arrived at the beach, familiar water-bug figures were sprinkled across the surface of the water. But Buddy had been right about the waves. The oceanscape was spectacular everywhere creased and folded over by the best Kring had seen all year. He watched one figure in the water paddle for an approaching swell. The distant surfer dropped down the face into it as it exploded behind him and he rode and carved and slashed with white water for sixty, seventy yards. The surfers whoop just before he was swallowed told Kring all he needed to know. Goose bumps raised all over his flesh. Must be the morning chill, he thought as he glanced at his bare arms. But he knew it was the thrill, the anticipation of riding great waves, waves that rolled in right now at his feet. The swells charged, one on top of another, and then the next right behind, charged as if concerned that they would not have enough time for all to reach shore.
Man, even if I hadnt lost my job, Id have to quit it for this swell anyway, he said to Buddy as they jogged to the water.
Anyone who wouldnt is an asshole, Buddy declared with the certainty of the self-employed clammer.
For an early weekday morning the water was crowded, but this wasnt an ordinary weekday. There was a spirit Kring sensed among the crowd, a drunken, generous spirit that floated like mist in the sunlight, passed from surfer to surfer. He could feel it as he paddled out through advancing lines of whitewater. Kring and Buddy were provisional locals, having spent a winter here, but they didnt surf Harvey Cedars often. Maybe once or twice a month at most, and they knew only a handful of guys who were out there. But there were no hassles for waves, no sharp remarks. As far as Kring could see, everyone was respecting wave rights, and he heard three different hoots of approval when he dropped into his first thrilling, blue-green wave. The abundance of the ocean today was a long-dreamt-of wealth these waveriders were willing to squander, that they could not keep for themselves. Kring could taste it when he surfaced after his first wave, it was the combustible mixture of adrenaline and seawater, and it coursed through his veins, flooded him more quickly, more powerfully than any emotion, any drug, even orgasm. He felt the ride over again as he floated head out of water and drew his board back to him, pulling on its leash. This second time it wasnt his mind that was reliving the rush and rhythm. It was the muscles of his back, where its image was burned into the tissue by the forces of speed and gravity and the pulse of some far-off Atlantic storm. The fibers of muscle would not let go the delicious tension, the floating, flying momentum, the lyrical up-and-down glide of speed. His paddling motion had merged with the wave and dropped him down its face. Hed popped to his feet and cut a path to his right, so that his back was against a wall rushing and forming and smoothly curving. It was a rocket-fast ride, it was fluent and long, and over his shoulder Kring could see the lip of the wave spit above his head. When he guided his board to a path higher on the face, near the lip, he stood triumphantly over it and felt like he had hit a bubble of pure oxygen in the atmosphere and carried it with him for an instant. Then the ski down the short green slope invested him with so much speed that it seemed like his ears were pinned back against his skull by the force of the wind. He thought that maybe he let out an involuntary Yeeooou! just before the lip dumped him, but he wasnt sure.
He met Buddy, paddling from the other direction, outside the breakers. What a wave! Buddy yelled breathlessly.
Which wave was that?
The same one you took right, I went left and it was just intense. Big and fast. Really tasty. I didnt know Jersey could get like this!
A blond guy with a brown beard floated by on his board and said, Dont happen often. Live it up while you can dude. He sat up just beyond them and stared out to sea.
All around them the ocean rose and fell in restless, watery hills that moved toward shore as if drawn by a powerful magnet mounds of seawater, huge and insistent, that lifted Kring and Buddy and everyone out there higher than a third-floor deck and dropped them gently seconds later, mounds that pulsed like the slowed bloodstream of a sleeping giant. Kring was used to the feeling and sight of waves all around him, but this was beyond ordinary. Behind the waves as they swept past him to the beach the surface was calm. The backs of these swells were glassy and lulling, not fearsome, not threatening. But they were five, six, sometimes seven feet higher than the surface they passed through and left behind. The faces as the waves gathered themselves up to break were bigger still. Nothing had changed, really, except the scale. Kring suddenly felt very small, and the world was different now than when he had stepped from the sand into the ankle-deep swirling water a little after sunrise. He was different. He felt grateful to be here, in this extraordinary place, this extraordinary moment, so unlike standing on solid earth. He was feeding on this energy, feeding on the pure stoke. He smiled, not because he was happy exactly, just because there was nothing else for his body to do. He caught another wave, a swift one with a face taller than he was and he rode it beautifully, like he always dreamed he would ride it. Positioning. Direction. It felt right. He knew just what to do, just when to do it and how to make it happen. He felt plugged into the ocean like never before.
Dude, youre hoggin it! Youre insane! Buddy yelled at him after another wave that he had ridden almost to the beach and another paddle back out that left him exhausted. Kring took the compliment with a weary smile.
Buddy nodded and grinned.
Between their rides the surfers were occupied with a struggle against the current to maintain position, and an occasional scramble to escape a threatening wall. It was those moments that gave Kring the most vivid perception of these waves. For it was then, as he clawed for the precarious lip above him, and reached it, and looked back, that he saw the full sweep and geometry of the breaking wave, just for an instant as it rolled on past him. The power he saw there scared him.
Thirty yards away Kring recognized a surfer paddling for a wave like a furious, buzzing winged insect. It was Kelly, who owned the surf shop Kring used. The guy dropped into a steep, dark cavern wall, and Buddy and Kring both hooted as he made his bottom turn and straightened out along the line.
The introduction of clock time gave Krings head a spin. It came out of nowhere and lent some perspective to this day. It turned it back into morning, the morning that they had driven up here and paddled out, and framed the experience in a sad way. Until now Kring had been surfing in another day, listed on no calendar, with no clock, a day fragile and of unspeakable beauty. Now that beauty, while not destroyed, was no longer infinite, not the same transcendent moment he had just lived. That moment was gone. Now he was hungry. Maybe breakfast would be good. Okay, next wave.
Excerpted from chapter two (Wetsuit Rash)
Kring hung out at the Gateway for another hour, drinking with Ricky and Peejunk in between sets. While they played, a hard-core group of fans danced on the floor in front of them, pleased with their intimate friendships with the guys onstage. Krings attention was drawn to the window when a couple of cars rocketed down the street outside. He stared at the empty road they left in their wake, and he remembered when that road, leading to the Causeway bridge, meant that his summer was over, that he and his parents and sister were leaving the island behind for another school year. His mind swam a backstroke through the years, to those summers, those summers he knew on Long Beach Island when it all was magic.
He saw himself, at ten years old, saving quarters, sometimes stealing them and running to the Hand Store to buy baseball cards. He could hear the music that was always playing, the songs that seemed to define those days and could still bring them back with vivid precision. He recalled the day he met Spill on the beach when they were both twelve, and the adventure of bodysurfing every day until long after the lifeguards left their stands, until the beach was deserted and growing dark. How cool they were then, he and Spill. And there was a girl named Molly that he met later that same summer; he recalled the sheer terror of the first time he kissed her, the first kiss, the first real kiss in his life, on the beach at night and the pungent smell of cedar and coconut and resin in the surf shop when he got his first surfboard the next summer. Looking back now, it seemed that aroma was everywhere in those days. How that surfboard changed everything for him. Everything. These images floated by and were real, and the streets and beaches too, the way he saw it all a decade earlier, as a little kid, when these months on the island were magic, when even the boredom was special, something to be savored.
It was a different place that he knew today, and he wondered where the difference lay, what had caused the magic to erode. He still felt something like it in big waves, or when he fell in love, but outside of those brief extraordinary moments, there was nothing of what he remembered. Just his job, laid back, but common and necessary, just his uninspired friends bullshitting each other. No vast and heroic ocean, no mystery to the adult world, no bridge back home. Yeah, even the bridge back home had lost its power, lost its meaning, since Kring claimed this island as his home after graduation. Maybe thats what growing up meant, he thought.
Still staring out the window, Kring brought his bottle to his lips and tasted beer. A Jeep sped past outside.
As the Withoutniks took another break, Kring drained his fifth. Before the jukebox could begin to supply a soundtrack, he left a single dollar bill on the bar and slipped out the door.
Kring felt a surge of excitement through his body. Waves! A good spring swell was on its way. It would probably be the last before the summer flat spell set in, he thought with a touch of cynicism. The sound from the ocean, he knew, meant little; that was just beach break. But it made him think; the weather service said there was a low off the coast. Todays waves sucked, they were inconsistent and small, but there had been energy there. And now the wind had died, probably glassing it off under the waning moon. Maybe even a light offshore would pick up around sunrise, he thought. It should be good, Kring thought. He was sure of it....
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