By Jesse Fernandez –
The perfect wave, just those words conjure up images of offshore brushed lines peeling down a deserted point with palm trees gently waving over turquoise colored water, all under a tropical sunset with brilliant yellow and orange hues stretching across the horizon.
It’s the stuff surfers dream of.
During one of the slowest winters for swell activity in years, the idea of perfect surf might be what gets us through these long cold flat spells.
Perfection in anything can be a fleeting search that we all embark on at some point in our lives, but we do it nonetheless. It doesn’t matter if it’s material or otherwise—some are easier than others to attain, while some can take years to find.
I’d like to tell you about a day when all the elements came together to produce not just a perfect wave, but a memory that’s taken 15 years of marinating to share. The date was December 27, 1997. I had just returned from a two week stint in Hawaii with good friend and travel partner, Wes Laine. I was still feeling the stoke of our island adventure as I loaded up the car for a trip down south to chase a late south swell that was forecast to go offshore mid day.
As I headed across the Bonner Bridge, I got a shocker as the south southwest wind had slowed to let an extremely thick fog bank settle over Pea Island and it appeared to stretch all the way to Buxton. I made my usual surf checks—ferry signs, boiler, and ranger station. All to no avail, the fog was so thick I couldn’t see the line up from the beach. The first peek I got was at the S-turns, and while there was definitely potential, it looked a little too lined up and closed out with the lower tide.
I drove around a little farther checking some other bars till I ended up on the south side of the pier in Rodanthe.
To my surprise, the fog had lifted enough for me to see a nice little bar peeling into a deep channel, and best of all, no drift. While gearing up for the surf, I got a chance to gauge the size by the two guys who were out, and chose a 6’10” step-up, due to the larger sets (2-3 feet overhead) and chillier water (50 degrees). As I made my way out to the line-up, another wall of fog rolled in so deep that by the time I made it outside, I couldn’t even see my car in the lot. Luckily for me, I could see the end of the pier which would work as a marker when the sets rolled through.
By this time, the tide had started to fill in some and the winds had turned a little more west, cleaning up the surf even more. The wind and tide took the small chatter out of the ocean surface and turned every wave into a spitting barrel. For the next four hours it was wave after wave of perfect barrels, peeling into a deep water channel next to the pier.
I learned more in that time span about what happens in the tube than in all my previous years of surfing. Stall for too long on the drop and you’ll end up going over the falls. Dragging your hand too long on the wave face trying to get deeper can get you caught up on the foam ball, where you’ll lose speed and get clocked. I learned how bad your ears can get stung by the velocity of spray that gets compressed inside the wave and comes spitting out past you on exit. All this time being alone (the two other surfers left as I paddled out) in the fog, not even being able to see the beach. It was one the most adrenalized days of surfing I have experienced.
Surfing, in its purest form can be magical. Having all the elements come together like that are rare and getting rarer. The fact that I’ve only seen one day of this caliber in over 45 years of surfing should attest to that. Having it occur in my own backyard surfing solo makes it that much more special.
I recall a quote by Kelly Slater saying, “I love surfing in the rain, because it’s like surfing in a dream.” I can definitely relate after having surfed my perfect dream wave.
Jesse Fernandez is a surfboard shaper for WRV and six time East Coast Surfing Champion.