“There’re some waves out there,” Mitch said as we paddled away from the ramp towards the mouth of the Ocean City Commercial Harbor. He couldn’t hide the excitement in his voice and I was trying to decide if he was legitimately surprised. I, too, had noticed the little swells coming down the canal. Flat as a pancake, is how he’d described the condition of the inlet earlier when he persuaded me to join him.
I don’t want to be a chicken when it comes to rough water. But it is my natural tendency. I’m determined to start pushing my limits, though.
We exited the canal and now had the full view of the inlet north to the Route 50 bridge. “Look at that,” Mitch said, with the same tone of voice I would use if I saw a table full of chocolate chip cookies. “Some baby kayak waves.”
They did not look like babies to me. The swells were well-defined. They rolled in the mouth of the inlet, raising the water level along the rocks then lowering it, a constant, unstoppable, methodical force. For some reason these swells prefer Ocean City to Assateague so they hang a right at the number eleven buoy and aim for the bridge. As they near the shallow water they rise up, froth, crash, break apart, and then reform, a little smaller than the last time.
I wanted to get some photos of him in the waves. So he showed me the best place to hang out where I’d get a shot of the action without being in the action. It was still too close for me so I backed up about fifty feet further. Even from this distance, looking through the view finder while the current pulled me one direction and the waves the other, the swells lifting me up and down, made me queasy. So, unfortunately I didn’t get much footage.
After he’d surfed a few, we paddled to the north end of Assateague, pulled our kayaks up on the beach, and walked along the jetty. This one spot is the strangest juxtaposition of landscapes I’ve ever seen. Look to the north and, across the inlet, you’ll see a mass of concrete, asphalt, and steel. The ninety-degree curves of the rollercoaster and 108 foot tall Ferris wheel catch your eye at first but then blend in to the low squatted buildings, the tall buildings the color of thrown-up birthday cake, and the multi-level, terraced, and spired buildings that march up Coastal Highway as far as the eye can see.
But then look to the south and a calm comes over you. In this direction, as far as the eye can see, waves break on a gloriously empty beach that slopes gently up to the grass-covered dunes. Within the dunes wind blows beautiful swirls and waves into the sand. Shadows are dramatic. And you can guess at the critters who live here by studying their undisturbed foot prints.
This time of year, both sides are quiet. But in the noise of the summer, the difference is even more striking. To the north—horns, screams, carnival music, traffic clanging across the draw bridge, sirens, boat motors, tires squealing. To the south—the sound of the surf as constant as if it were a loop on a sleep machine.
When we’d first paddled to the beach, I’d caught a little, itty, bitty, teeny, tiny wave and surfed it in. That was the stuff I wanted to play in—start small and work my way up to not as small. I have to agree with Mitch and the rest of the surfing world – there is something undeniably fun about riding a wave, even the ones I wanted to surf that would be considered chest-high to hamster. You’re looking over your shoulder and you see a swell materialize. You starting paddling. You feel the stern of your kayak raise. You paddle harder. There is the second you know you’ve got it and you slide down the front under the power of something stronger than you and it is shocking and you scream (if you’re me) or whoop for joy (if you’re Mitch).
Mitch humored me and whistled as I shrieked at my half-second rides. We paddled to a different beach, and I caught a few more tiny little things. Then he surfed a few more big ones before we decided we’d better head back.
As usual, I was glad he talked me into coming with him. A fifty degree, calm day in February is not something a person should take lightly.