Sam Hammer sets the tone for the east coast's biggest, potentially best swell in over a decade. Frame: Ryan Mack
Superstorm Riley Day 0: The Things We Do For Tubes
Have you heard about the Bomb Cyclone set to rock the U.S. east coast? Because you totally should.
As I perused Delta Airline’s video library on my back-of-the-headrest monitor, the sense of dread was overwhelming. D-list film after D-list film slid past my index finger until, happily enough, I stumbled across something I’ve been wanting to see for ages but hadn’t due to laziness and frugality.
Chris Burkard’s Under an Arctic Sky.
Little did I know, this film would provide as much inspiration and foreshadowing for my day as it would in-flight entertainment.
If you haven’t already guessed by the title, I recently decided to leave Cali’s winter of eternal waist-highness to chase the east coast’s bomb cyclone, yellow blob, Winter Storm Riley, whatever you want to call him/her/it.
For those who don’t follow global swell charts and/nor have an Instagram account, Riley is a massive low pressure system that’s expected to sit off the U.S. coast for an unusually long period of time, providing surfers from Maine to Barbados the biggest swell they’ve seen in over a decade.
Being a New Jerseyan at heart, and seeing as how I could easily spin this to my bosses, parents, and significant others as a “work/family/personal fulfilment opportunity”, it would have been silly not to go. So I went.
After finishing Under an Arctic Sky and experiencing, second-hand, the hardships faced by Chris Burkard, Timmy Reyes, Justin Quintal and New Jersey’s own Sam Hammer, who fought through incomprehensible amounts of snow, ice, and wind to score an idyllic six-foot slab, I fell asleep on my Red-eye flight feeling supremely empowered. If they can make it through it all of that, I thought to myself, I can handle little ol’ Riley, no worries.
That was before we started our descent into New York.
Around 9 AM Friday morning, Riley decided to play a game of Patty Cake with our Boeing. As we received bitch slap after bitch slap of 40 knot gusts, I forced myself to embrace that sense of conviction in Chris and his team, who actively ignored their survival instincts for the sake of the story. For the sake of tubes. So I decided that should the pilots attempt to divert our course and land in a “safer” region, I would have no choice but to commandeer the bird and land her on my own -- even in the wind-swept Atlantic, if need be. Plane tube.
But thankfully my pilots had balls -- big, swangin’ balls and they used them to stabilize our plane and survive a beyond-sketchy landing at Laguardia. As I would later learn through the stories of men much harder than myself, that aircraft was one of the last to land in (or takeoff from) the Northeast on Friday March 1st. Riley was here, and he/she/it wanted to make sure everybody knew it.
After a brief visit with the birthgiver in New York, my gal and I started off south toward the infamous Jersey Shore. Instagram had convinced me that waves were improving at a few of the local haunts, and I wanted to get a small taste of Riley before the 3-to-5-day main course. But of course he/she/it had other plans.
The day’s forecast called for rain, but thanks to Riley’s cold-hearted nature what we actually received was a precipitate somewhere between sleet and snow -- the type of skyfall that’s simultaneously wet, freezing, and a genuine terror to drive through. So a two-hour route became four and by the time I arrived the tide had dropped, the wind had doubled, and for both of those reasons the waves were not very good.
I learned this from Under an Arctic Sky star Sam Hammer, who, as usual, had surfed during the day’s premiere window and nabbed what is so far the wave of the swell (below). All in a day’s work for the cold water connoisseur (Sam actually coined the tag #lifesbetterinafivemil) and New Jersey’s undisputed best surfer of the last decade.
But it’s impossible to bummed about one missed session when there's so much swell on the horizon, especially after learning that several inbound surfers' and filmers' planes were unable to land in the region, forcing them to cover vast expanses in Ubers (Duran Barr), rental cars (Alex Gray), and buses (legend status, Blake Michel) all for the chance of scoring idyllic 6-foot slabs.
And in that way, I think Chris Burkard would be proud of us.
So goooooodnight Riley, we'll see you tomorrow ;)