Palm Beach, May 8, 2007

 

The scene of the crime.This is a story that's centered on waves, but doesn't really have that much to do with actual surfing. But the waves are what caused all of what gets described, so I guess we'll call this a surf story, even though it's not, really.

I've never gotten along with Palm Beach.

It's just never been a place that I've liked.

The evil that resides there in the form of money and power, unfairly acquired and held, is like some kind of black anti-beacon. If it were a light, it would be the brightest light in the whole state of Florida, and one of the brightest in the whole world. But it's not a light. It's the antithesis of light. It's a super-creepy place where a stratum of humans live behind gates and walls in a manner that most folks can't even conceive of.

So ok, I don't like Palm Beach. So fuck me.

There's a wave down there, Palm Beach May 8 2007But there's a wave down there. Actually, a couple of waves. And owing to various peculiarities of geography, bathymetry, and a few other odds and ends, once in a great while everything comes together, and some really good surf is the result.

Unfortunately for me, the place apparently knows what I think about it, and has so far seen fit to deny me so much as getting into the water down there.

It's a fickle bastard, and every time I've ever gone down there, I've been skunked in one way or another.

Feh.

So naturally, when the weather forecast models (which I also take a dim view of) began touting bomb cyclogenesis more or less right in our laps, I laughed it off as simply more phlogiston and went about my affairs. Wrong location, wrong strength, and wrong time of year. After all, this is the merry month of May, right? May is not known for storms in this part of the world, as any fool will tell you. But I also continued to keep an eye on the weather, and the forecasts, and when things started to get interesting, I figured I'd toss an email in the direction of a buddy of mine who lives down in Delray Beach, which is close enough to the wave zone in question for me.

And sure enough, bless his heart, Sprocket replies with a hearty 'Come on down.' At Surf Express, it's slow and Carol very kindly assured me that my presence was not all that necessary on a day when the ocean might be booming, and after some final looking at the wind fields and seeing a lovely fetch of 50kt flags pointing directly in our direction from not so very many miles away, the deal was on.

Very well, Sprocket, I'm on my way.

Get home from work a little early on Monday, the seventh, scrabble around for boards, cords, flotsam and jetsam, and before I knew it I was rolling southbound on 95. Included in my bag-o-swag, is a brand new Nikon D-40 with a 75-300mm telephoto zoom lens, given to me for inscrutable reasons by Lisa, with whom I've been having my ups and downs for over eight years now. Thanks Lisa. I don't know how I'll ever manage to repay you for the kindness.

My '85 blue VW van at the Werkshop.My ratty old '85 VW van seems to be doing just fine, but it has recently undergone a series of major surgical events, and there remain a few places in the cooling system that will not bear too much stress.

As a side note, please allow me to offer this piece of unsolicited advice: Never fill the coolant system of your used car with sulfur water, and then compound matters by leaving it in there for a half year. Things may happen which you might not like, if you do so. I'm speaking from personal experience here, so I feel qualified to offer these sage words of wisdom.

The coolant system in my van has been mostly ripped out and replaced, but there yet remains a couple of metal pipes of questionable integrity.

So I'm humming right along down I-95, but I'm not entirely sure I'm going to make it to my destination.

This pretty well sums up my whole life to this point: Just get in the fucker and GO. Sometimes the shit hits the fan, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it's always been an interesting ride. This approach to things is not for everyone, but it's taken me to a lot of weird and wonderful places and gotten me into a lot of weird and wonderful situations that I would never have come close to experiencing had I approached things from a more normal point of view. Which is just the way I like it.

Fortunately, I'm traveling in the early evening, and the weather is a most unseasonable flavor of cool, and the van hums merrily along amongst all the other cars and trucks, with a temperature gauge needle snugly nestled way the hell over on the left side of the dial.

Thanks here need to be directed toward Mark Grabowski, without who's skills and artistry in things mechanical, the van would surely have never left the driveway in the first place.

So thanks Mark, the damn thing seems to work just fine.

Darkness descends and the miles unwind beneath the floorboards.

And at long last, I'm amongst the concrete chaos of south Florida, and by golly there's my exit.

Sprocket gave me some directions, and I'm now following them through the dark on roads I've never seen before. The directions are spot on, and I follow them right to his street and into his driveway.

Tra la la.

He and Lucy and the kids are there and the door's open and the welcome's on.

Too cool.

I've got a couch to sleep on, and the weather is so unseasonably cool that the windows are open, and it feels like the whole world is air conditioned.

We're all actually a bunch of computer doinks, and the three of us sit in the living room, each with our own laptop in our lap, chatting amiably, connected to the whole world as we do so.

Me and Sprocket check every damn thing we can, the better know what's coming with the dawn. But it's easily summed up with a single point of data gleaned shortly before lights out: The outer Canaveral Buoy is reading 22 feet of swell, at 16 seconds, and it's coming this way.

The sky begins to light up, and I'm awake before anyone else, but soon enough, the whole house is moving. Sprocket's got some kind of consultation with a client or something like that scheduled, and he's got to be back by nine to make the appointment. So we're gonna hit it quick, right at the end of his street, as a warm up prior to the main event. He expects to be done by noon and the forecast of offshore winds all day long has us agreeing to surf, split up, and then rendezvous back at his place around noon, to be followed by a more protracted surf session.

At this point, I may as well give the game away.

It is my full intention to surf outer Reef Road.

I came down this way last, on April 17, 2005, and for those who do not remember, that was the day that it got large and they were towing into the waves at Pumphouse. Needless to say, it being Palm Beach, I managed to get skunked.

No jetski.

And the waves, backed by a 20kt north wind, were pushing water down the coast and around the corner where the pump house sits and into the Lake Worth inlet at a river-like rate that had to be seen to be believed.

Any question of paddling out from the mouth of the inlet and then working back north into the zone where the waves were setting up was completely out of the question.

They weren't towing in because of the SIZE that day, but because of the DRIFT.

So I stood there on the beach like a complete idiot with my trusty 9'8" CC Rider (Hell of a good board. Thanks Claudie) under my arm, and woefully watched the carnage while remaining completely dry.

And while all that was going on, across the channel on the Reef Road side of things, there was a wave breaking in a place where no wave is supposed to break. It was hitting out PAST the buoy that's out past the end of the south jetty.

The wind was tearing it all to hell and the current was swooshing right along, but there was something about it that had my full attention. And I resolved to ride the thing next time it broke, if that ever even happened again in my life.

And I've got Sprocket signed on as a partner in crime.

But first, the warm up session at Delray Beach.

Five minute drive, and we're there, south of S-4. Didn't bring the camera. No time to play around with taking pictures. So there's no pictures. Apologies.

I've never set foot on the beach in this town and in the delightful cool of the morning, Sprocket shows me the way to the water.
It's screaming wall to wall sunshine with not a cloud in the sky, and the wind is dead offshore.

And the ocean is MOVING.

Out in the uncannily clear blue-green water, lines are pouring in well overhead, with the sun shining through the lips, pure white spray blowing back off the tops, and it's all going down the beach left almost like point surf. Zippering, peeling, pitching, with an inside that looks positively unpleasant as wave after wave comes over with a BANG, sections dropping like guillotines.

Holy shit!

Sprocket advises we walk north to gain some ground on the drift, and trots off ahead of me as I wax my board on the dune crossover rail.

I'm looking at the waves wondering if I'm gonna make it outside. You don't duckdive a 9'8" and the waves are just POURING through.

Sprocket gets ahead of me by well over a hundred yards and hits it paddling even as I see this macking set showing outside half way to the gulfstream.

Uh oh.

He drifts past me and winds up getting tossed back on the sand like an inflatable ball.

I stop walking, wondering to myself, "Now what?"

Sprocket smilingly quicksteps it in my direction and tells me we're going to have to time the sets a little better.

Ok, fine.

We walk back to his original go out point, and stare at it, waiting for a fat set. As the last couple of waves in the set pour through outside, we both hit the water and paddle.

Nobody else around.

Anywhere.

Got the whole place to ourselves.

And as I work my way into the midbreak, a couple of waves have the amazing good grace to shoulder off and allow me around the soup.

Hell, I might just pull this off.

Sprocket gets caught by a couple of soups, and I find myself out ahead of him, right in the middle of things.

Then it's my turn and Sprocket is ahead of me just as we reach the outside.

Ok, we made it.

Well maybe not.

Fucking ocean rises up outside, and although I've never before equated 'pastel' with 'menacing' I do now.

A powder blue bomb stands up outside of me, with a completely sissy-colored backlit pale green and silver lip, with washed golden sunlight brilliantly shining through it like something from an interior designer's LSD trip.

Sprocket makes it handily over the top, outside and to the left of me, as I contemplate my hallucination-like nemesis.

Ok, I'm going to be able to push through this thing. Whew.

And up the face I paddle, and punch through the lip, and pop out on top of the back of the wave.

Neato.

Well maybe not.

This wave doesn't want to behave like a normal Florida wave, and expresses that desire by sucking me back over the falls into a solid drubbing.

What the fuck's up with THAT shit?

No time to think about it, as two more of them pour through and I'm eating soup and being flung shoreward.

Shit!

But finally it relents, and I'm able to slog all the way outside where Sprocket's sitting with a bemused look on his face.

Neither one of us expected me to get sucked back over the falls like that.

Oh well.

Here comes another one, and although it's a mile long, Sprocket pivots around and digs for it as I'm paddling up the face right next to him, watching the lip form more or less right over him as a spinning cavern filled with whitewater bears down on him from behind.

He's on his feet, solidly planted, zooming  down the face as I go up and over the crest.

I stop paddling and look around behind me to see the whole wall come over in a cascade of blue and white, all the way down the beach.

Well…you get 'go-for-it' points, that’s for sure.

Sprocket pops up in the foam and paddles back out, and we both have fun talking about his short ride.

I'm sitting there and a nice one comes along and it's a wrong-way right, going back against the grain, and I grab it. Drop to the bottom, pull the turn, run down the wall a bit, and then up and over the top before the whole thing comes over with a bang. Short and sweet.

Way the hell up the beach, I spot a couple of shortboarders who have just arrived more or less outside, and a macking fat set steaming in from way the hell outside of them.

When the mist clears after the set, one of them is over halfway back to the sand and the other one is just GONE.

There's real waves out here today, and if you get in front of the wrong one, it's gonna swat you like a mosquito.

By now, we've burned up our allotment of time and we both agree to take the next one to the sand.

Eventually, a nice left comes by.

Sprocket's up the beach from me a pretty good bit, and even though I'm barely far enough out on the shoulder to stand a fair chance of making it, he pivots around and starts stroking for it down there. I take my drop and come off the bottom heading south at speed, trying to make it around the looming section above and ahead of me.

That's the last I see of Sprocket while I'm in the water.

My wave rifles down the line and I find myself just going and going and going, eating up the ground at a rapid clip, working top to bottom as I go. Eventually it drops a final section and I straighten out and prone it the rest of the way to the beach.

Where's Sprocket?

Ah, there he is, proning in on a whitewater as I head back up the beach toward where we started out from.

As I had surmised from the beginning, he didn't make it very far down the line at all before it got him.

So we grin and hoof it back to where my van's parked, stoked to have caught a couple each, but wishing we'd been able to stay longer.

We head back up through the casuarinas, and the ocean continues to surge and fume behind us.

Quick ride back to Sprocket's house, drop him off, grab all my gear, and I'm on the road to the north side of the Lake Worth Inlet.

I'm planning on photographing whatever action as may be going down, and then retracing my steps back to Sprocket's by noon.

Through the clear daylight, things down here are revealed in all their hideous glory, and I bob and weave up I-95, through the construction, traffic, unhappy people, and generalized urban hate and discontent.

I marvel that such swarms of people could find it within themselves to move to such a place, and to do so because it's better than where they came from. How in hell does THAT work? Once upon a time, this part of Florida was actually pretty cool, but those days are gone and they're not coming back for a good long while, I'm sure. This part of the nest has become so fouled by its occupants that I'm having trouble with the concept of ANYBODY sticking around here, nevermind the enormous crowd that actually has chosen to do so.

Then again, people in New York city, and other equally rubbishy places, actually believe they're living in a 'place to be' too, so I guess human adaptability, self-delusion,  and rationalization, are capable of overcoming some pretty serious evidence to the contrary, and it's an all too common malady from the looks of things all around me, mile after mile after mile, as I search for my exit.

Ah, there it is.

My anticipation level climbs precipitously as I close in on my chosen destination.

Here comes the humpback bridge over the intracoastal.

And from up on top, a most peculiar sight comes in to view.

About half way to Peanut Island, headed due north in my direction, along the axis of the waterway between the rich guy boats parked along either side, is a fucking set of what looks to be waist high waves! I instinctively look for some lumbering yacht that has to be causing this apparition, but all the yachts are tied securely to their moorings, and there's no telltale extension of the waves off in the direction that any yacht might have been passing along. Nope, this ain't boatwake boys and girls, it's actual waves.

How weird is THIS shit?

I've heard of people riding a wave that breaks near Peanut Island, and Sprocket himself has told of doing it a couple of times, but I've never quite been able to imagine that any kind of wave at all could figure out a way to work its way this far up into, and then well beyond, the throat of an inlet. The batch of waves I'm seeing are not located exactly where people have told me they've encountered them, but they're real enough, all the same.

There's a shoal of very shallow water where the waves are blithely propagating along against all the rules of common sense and Newtonian physics, and I'm seeing nice walls of whitewater  with left and right shoulders peeling along as pretty as you please, completely unaware that they have no business existing where they presently are.

Had I not been fully occupied with my destination, I would have parked the car at the foot of the bridge, and paddled over there to partake of a few.

Bizarre does not even begin to describe the sight. But goddammit, I've seen it with my own eyes now and I'm not the least bit worried about being called crazy for having the nerve to report this phenomenon right out loud in public.

Well fuck me mother, if it's doing THIS, HERE, what the hell is going on outside of the mouth of the inlet?

My anticipation continues to ratchet upwards.

Into the depths of southern Singer Island I go, and as A1A swings wide left, I hook a quick right and after one little dipsy-doodle, I'm tucked nicely into a parking spot in the semi-abandoned strip mall.

Large condo towers loom over me to my east, and they're going at it, hammer and tongs, building more of these monsters even as I gather my camera gear together, lock the van, and start walking toward my objective, the pump house that sits on the shoreline against the foot of the jetty on the north side of the inlet.

All around me, people go mindlessly about their business, completely unaware of the exceptionally rare display of elemental forces of nature that are going down in the ocean, just beyond the looming condo blocks.

A white SUV drives past me, with a pair of jetskis in tow, and darts left towards the ocean into a dirt alley behind a condo.

I continue walking, intent upon taking my chosen path along the little road that winds through some quaint-old-timey-Florida-looking motels and houses, and dead ends in the sand along the north edge of the inlet. The moneyguys have wrecked an awful lot of square mileage around here, but they haven't quite finished it all off.

Yet.

One last little crook in the road, and the gap at the end comes in to view.

South Ocean Avenue, Palm Beach Shores, May 8 2007.And there in the distance between the buildings and palm trees, as I look due south through the gap across the expanse of the inlet and the jetty beyond, I can see that the ocean is MOVING.

The backs of large waves are visible above the line of rocks that define the inlet's south jetty, inexorably pushing down the coast. As a set rolls through, the waves turn into churning walls of whitewater, with a palpable white haze of salt water spray hovering thickly in the air above them.

And in the background, almost unnoticeable in its constancy and evenness, a deep base tone of white-noise sound permeates the air. This is not a sound you hear very often near the ocean in Florida. The last time I heard it locally, was at this very spot, during the April 2005 event.

Having once upon a time lived on the north shore of Oahu, it's a sound I'm familiar with.

And whenever I hear it I get a little adrenaline twinge and my heart rate goes up a notch, even if I don't have a surfboard under my arm, as is the case now.

No, the waves are not the size they can attain on the reefs offshore Sunset Beach or Pipeline. Not nearly, in fact.

But they're big enough.

Certainly big enough.

I reach the end of the road, and the whole inlet lies before me, full of murky brown water that's covered in a mottled froth of the kind of foam that accumulates when strong currents carry it away from the churning zone where it was originally produced. It's yellowish brown in places, and some of the patches are quite thick. Large surges of water are pulsing down the inlet, and as the crest of each surge passes under the patches of foam, the brisk offshore wind catches it and it tries to take off like a flock of dirty seagulls, only to fall back to the water as a rolling, tumbling cloud of clots and nuggets that cannot enter the sky as it wants to. Something else you don't see around here very often.

I'm guessing there's going to be a lot of that before this day's done.

Salt water on the pavement, waves across the Lake Worth Inlet, May 8 2007.Across the inlet, on the far side of the south jetty, the ocean rages.

To my left, people are gathered on the sand between the end of the sidewalk and the north side of the inlet, tentatively peering at the mayhem before them.

Some are bold, and step right up and around to the left, the better to get a proper view of the main event, but others are surprisingly timid, hanging back, looking, listening, speaking to one another, and going no farther.

I'm not quite all the way around the corner, and still cannot see the pump house itself, nor the action just beyond it.

And then the reason for the timidity of the crowd manifests itself.

A set has apparently rolled through outside, and a rapidly moving carpet of water is gathering itself together, headed in this direction from inside the mouth of the inlet, just out of view to my left.

The water has jumped the jetty wall on the north side of the inlet, and is now bearing down on us from both sides of the line of rocks.

On the sand, the downward slope of the dune is giving the white foamy carpet added impetus, and it's experiencing constructive interference from the portion of things that are still coming up and over from inside the inlet.

In a trice, it has become a racing mass of water that shows no sign of stopping or slowing down as it gobbles up all the exposed sand, coming this way.

The bolder folks who had unthinkingly placed themselves in a more exposed position have now realized that they're going to be getting wet, and they start running for the higher ground, just to their north, away from the inlet.

But by now the carpet of water is moving so fast that there's no escaping it for those who failed to read the signs in time.

I'm already back up in the grass on the high ground and am half-amusedly, half-worriedly, watching things unfold directly in front of me.

The carpet of water is maybe a half foot deep as it races my way, but it's moving with alarming speed and force.

It begins catching people, splashing up against their legs and soaking them a good one. Shrieks and hollering are the inevitable result.

And if that were all there was too it, it would all have been in good fun, and nothing else.

But there's more going on than just a bit of a splashing.

In front of me, a middle-aged man in dress shorts and a button-down shirt is fixing to get it.

He very obviously does not belong close enough to a surf zone to ever risk encountering surf, no matter how small or attenuated. His lack of experience with this sort of thing causes him to wait too long before realizing that he needs to be out of the way of the onrushing sheet of water, and no matter how fast he moves, it's going to find him on exposed ground.

Which would all be well and good, except for the fact that this racing sheet of water contains a few pieces of lumber.

And as I watch transfixed, I see this guy more or less just stand there and brace himself at the last second just as a piece of wood the size and shape of a railroad crosstie suddenly emerges from the surge and lunges right at him.

Miraculously, the battering ram takes a funny hop at the last possible instant and misses its hapless target, who winds up merely wet, instead of in the hospital with multiple broken bones.

But it was a close thing.

A little too close, if you ask me.

I continue working my way toward the east, with a wary eye on the water.

Across the Lake Worth Inlet, May 8 2007.Across the inlet, I can see that the wave which sparked my whole interest in this little jaunt, is alive, well, consistent, and definitely THERE!

A right, that breaks toward the inlet, and it lines up. Beyond, on the other side, it seems to be going left as well, but it's kind of hitting all over the place in that direction and lacks the definition that the right has.

Son……of……a……bitch!

It's coming over out in the stupidly clear blue deep water, and although it's not some kind of square-bottom slab, it's certainly a wave.

And there's exactly one jetski with a guy in tow, and they're trying to set it up and ride it.

Laural and Hardy miss the lineup by a country mile, again.But apparently they're both a couple of idiots, because they're not lining it up worth a shit.

I watch closely as they buzz the vicinity of things, but repeatedly fail to locate the equivalent of a house on fire from less than a block away.

?!?

They're so far off the lineup that it's laughable. Simply laughable.

Eventually, they sort of figure out where things are happening, and take a run at it.

But of course, since it's Laurel and Hardy, they do so with a wave that's so small that it completely fails to do anything, and they roll right on through, several hundred yards inside of where the real wave is actually coming over, with the guy never letting go of the rope and the undersized wave never even standing up and breaking.

I get three shots of this, and it turns out to be ALL I'll get of any tow-in action at Outer Reef Road. These, poor as they are, are the shots you'll see with this piece. Pa-fucking-thetic!

My two inept jetskiers never again so much as figure out how to run through the lineup with a wave underneath them.

There sits the pumphouse, with the ocean going ballistic around and behind it.I turn my attention elsewhere, and there before my eyes sits the pump house, with the ocean going ballistic behind and around it.

I'm walking towards it, and another surge draws itself up and hurtles past me across the sand, taking yet another batch of unfortunates by surprise and giving them a good soaking. Didn't see any lumber in the thing, and I didn't see anybody go down, so I suppose all's well.

As I pass people along the way, I find myself remarking to them about the event, and I get a lot of wide-eyed agreement that yes indeed, there really are waves today.

It's erupting behind the pump house in great heaving gouts of foam and spray, and the conditions where the normal Pumphouse wave should be going off resemble a toilet bowl that swallowed a couple of sticks of dynamite.

The current is swooshing along the coast and into the mouth of the inlet in a mass of turbid brown water. Waves are coming in from the outside and being bent and distorted by the rapidly shoaling bottom, the deep water of the inlet immediately to the south, and the disorganized swirls and eddies of churning rip current. By the time they get to where they should be funneling around the corner, they have become deranged double, triple, and even quadruple ups, going off like bombs with no sensible rhyme or reason.

Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007

No takers.

Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007

Reasonably enough.

Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007

The thought of getting hammered by one of these mutant waves and then getting bashed into the rocks of the jetty stub is not a comforting one.

Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007Pumphouse, May 8 2007

And so I watch and listen and marvel at it all.

Beyond the pump house, way the living hell outside, big sets are steaming in, throwing plumes of spray high into the air as they rise up and lunge forward, off beyond the nearshore mist. Maybe a quarter mile out there. Monster lefts grind along in the distance.

I had such high hopes for these guys. Sigh.Out where it NEVER breaks.

And by golly, there's another jetski with a guy in tow behind it.

I round the corner of the dune and on my left a middle-aged  guy has climbed up on top of a stack of wooden frames or something, in order to get a better view.

So I walk right over there and invite myself in.

He very graciously helps me get on top of his rickety prospect, warning me that the whole thing could shift and throw me at any point along the way.

So I gingerly hold my camera, climb up, and proceed to take it all in.

The view from near the pumphouse, looking northeast, Palm Beach, May 8 2007.The panorama begins far to my north, down the beach and out to sea, where implacable walls of whitewater are marching down the coast, and breaking an absurd distance outside. In front of me, the pump house endures its punishment stoically as the ocean roars and rages all around it. To my right, the Lake Worth inlet surges with foam and debris. Beyond that, the south jetty absorbs still more energy without complaint, and past that, another endless field of massively aggravated water pulses and seethes off into the distance to the south. There is a buoy out past the end of the south jetty, and there are waves breaking in the uncannily blue water way the hell out past it every so often.

And these are the waves I'm most interested in.

No takers.

I fire away with the camera even as I seek to refine the lineup that I will be using when I head over there.

Directly in front of me, Outside Pumphouse continues to fume and rumble.

Outside Pumphouse, May 8 2007.Outside Pumphouse, May 8 2007.Outside Pumphouse, May 8 2007.

I've got a little over an hour before it's time to go back and reconnect with Sprocket and then the two of us will go get a close personal look at things out there past that buoy on the south side of the inlet.

Or at least that's the plan.

Outside Pumphouse, May 8 2007.Outside Pumphouse, May 8 2007.Outside Pumphouse, May 8 2007.

Bang bang bang goes the shutter on the camera.

The jetski guys outside on the Pumphouse side of the inlet are actually catching a few waves here and there, but it's obvious that they're having problems with it.

They were out there, but they just weren't connecting.I don't know if it's impatience, the wrong equipment, or what, but every ride seems to be on a wave that never quite comes together, and I watch as the rider fights to stay on them even as they sink beneath him into the backoff.

What the hell is going on with people out there today?

Nobody's connecting.

Nobody's hitting anything squarely.

I can SEE the fucking waves breaking, and breaking well, but apparently the couple of people out in the water cannot.

Weird.

I chalk it up to impatience. There's a beat frequency at around fifteen to twenty minutes between the really meaty sets, and I'm guessing that they're just not patient enough to wait the damn things out, and start snatching at most anything that comes by, with less than stellar results.

Dunno.

Eventually, our intrepid riders give up on it and I watch them zoom by into the inlet.

Who called the cops?On the other side, Laurel and Hardy have sort of parked outside of where my right is hitting every so often, and as they station keep, by golly here comes the fucking Palm Beach Police Department in a go-fast boat, right on out the mouth of the inlet and into the ocean.

They head on over to where Stan and Oliver are parked, and I can't even imagine what must be going back and forth between the two vessels.

Somebody call the cops on  them?

Why?

What the hell?

I'm standing on my lookout, wondering what the hell must be going on out there, and I notice that they've drifted into the lineup where occasional breaking waves have been disturbing the peace and tranquility.

But no sets come through during our little tableau, and then all of a sudden, both parties are off, and they disappear into the innards of the inlet.

Do how?

Whatever.

Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.
Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.
Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.
Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.Outer Reef Road, May 8 2007.

The ocean cares not, and is content to continue doing its thing under the blazing sunlight in magnificent fashion.

Eventually, I look at my watch, and realize I'm running late to be getting back with Sprocket for the next exciting chapter of this little adventure.

So I climb down off my perch and head on back to my van, parked farther away than I'd care to spend time walking to.

Oh well.

Along the way past the inlet, in the swimming pool area behind the condo, maintenance guys are attempting to clean up sand and debris tossed onto the deck by the ocean, even as a crowd of people cavorts in the pool behind them.

At the end of the street that dead ends at the inlet, the surges of water have accumulated into a pretty good ponding of salt water in a place where it almost never winds up.

And so I start hiking back toward my van, aware that I'm behind schedule.

A block into my walk, a red pick up truck exits a side road and turns onto the road I'm walking along, and I instinctively stick out my thumb, and goddamned if the guy doesn't stop for me!

Hot digs!

The grizzled looking driver moves some of his workingman gear off the seat and I get in and away we go.

We natter back and forth about the waves, and before I know it, I'm getting let out right next to my vehicle.

Thanks pal!

Into the van, and off I go, back across the intracoastal toward the interstate and Sprocket's place.

As I head upslope onto the bridge, a check of the surf by Peanut Island (now what the hell kind of talk is THAT?) reveals a lull, with just a bit of a background line and a couple of weency teency soups in the six inch zone to tell me that what I had seen earlier was real.

Out onto the interstate, and a repeat of all the concrete annoyances I'd endured earlier.

Except that it soon gets worse.

Traffic ahead starts tapping brakelights and in short order comes to a complete halt, interspersed with bouts of walking-speed creeping.

Ah, FUCK!

A glance at my watch shows that I'm still behind schedule despite my luck with hitchhiking in the town of Palm Beach Shores, and now things are going very sour, and I have no way to extricate myself from my asphalt prison.

Oh well, no sense in getting all pissed off about it. Maybe it'll break loose here in a little bit.

Fifteen minutes later, as I finally crest an overpass, the view before me speaks otherwise.

It's a solid wall of semis and cars for as far as I can see, and now I get to listen to the frantic serenade of emergency vehicles attempting to merge into the gridlock from an adjoining on ramp.

Obviously, no matter how shitty things may be going for myself right this minute, things are quite a bit shittier for somebody, or several somebodies, down the road ahead of me somewhere.

Nothing for it but sit tight, eyeball the hell out of the temperature gauge, and hope that the unrepaired portion of my coolant system sees fit to remain intact through this little test.

Eventually, it becomes clear that I'm never going to meet back up with Sprocket, and I determine to take the next exit off of this slow-motion hell and bolt for Palm Beach.

After what seems like forever, I manage to get off the interstate and head toward the east, once again.

Through the service sector, that keeps things running on that hateful little spit of sand on the other side of Lake Worth.

This is where the people live who clean the houses, do the laundry, repair the wiring, and polish the marble.

The people who are forbidden to actually LIVE out there, but who must perforce visit discreetly to keep the wheels oiled so that the movers and shakers can continue to move and shake things without having to stoop to the level of dealing with distractions like taking out the trash and removing the dust from the gold plated faucets in the bathroom.

And just as it takes ten pounds of ingested food to make one pound of predator, it takes ten service workers to keep a single high-roller rolling high.

The streets need repairing.

The paint is peeling from the sides of buildings, some occupied, some vacant.

Small crackerbox houses sit on crabbed little lots, behind dilapidated fences that needed a fresh coat of paint ten years ago.

And there's more than enough money just across water to keep the whole fucking county spotless and in tiptop shape, with enough left over in reserve to constitute the national budget of a fair-sized sovereign nation.

But of course, that would never do.

How would these lower strata folk know they were the lower strata, if they were living in a clean, decent sort of place?

Can't be having any of that now, can we?

Feh.

And so the evil that lurks behind the gates and walls on the other side, parcels out the means for living in thimble-sized portions, letting go of just enough to keep struggling noses a centimeter above water, but not another penny! Even as it continues to aggrandize itself up to and beyond levels that fail to make any sense whatsoever.

This place is SERIOUSLY fucked up.

And across the water I go.

On the other side, an absurdly large yacht looms moored against a dock. I recall seeing this very selfsame boat, in the selfsame place, two years previously. My guess is that it hasn't so much as traveled its own length in all that time. It just sits there. There's a whole crowd of look-at-me boats over there with it, and I surmise that the sum and purpose of the operation has nothing to do with actual transport across water, and everything to do with a braying sort of ego puffery.

I guess the guy with the biggest boat wins, is that it?

So what do they give him for winning, I wonder?

Envy, most likely, and I'm sure that the winner thinks it's really swell that everyone over that way envies him.

Homes that have swelled malignantly into a distorted caricature of household continue the game on land.

And now I'm rolling down their streets, an interloper who has no business in a place like this.

But of course, me being me, I act like I own the sonofabitch and just keep right on rolling along.

Through the tastefully understated, but obviously very expensive, topiary that limns the walls that hide what lies within.

WhatEVER!

Take the last little bend in the road, and there's the ocean.

And it's grinding away over on this side, just like it was on the other side.

Big booming walls of water are unloading explosively, not far from the beach, and off in the distance, I can see that it's breaking way outside in the area of the inlet.

The thought of what I'm about to do tosses another little adrenaline knot into my stomach.

I find a place to park the van legally (yes, there's a few, here and there, hidden away), and grab the board and walk to the end of the street and down on the beach.

It's all laid out before me like almost like a replica of itself.

In the far distance, the condo towers that line the southern tip of Singer Island. In front of them, the line of rocks that is the south jetty of Lake Worth inlet. Outside, big walls of whitewater are growling in my direction, throwing plumes of spray high into the air as they do so.

This oughtta be pretty interesting.

I continue to walk, timing sets, and just generally getting a fix on things.

It's nearly high tide, and surges of water are coming all the way up the beach, so I have to mind myself as I continue northward.

Just a few people, here and there, heads poking through gaps in the dune line vegetation.

I finally approach my destination, just in time to see a trio of pretty girls walk out on to the strand ahead of me, and start laying down blankets and gear on sand that is ominously free of any footprints except for their own.

I hail the nearest one, and mention that it's coming in for real on a cycle of about fifteen minutes, and it's been about ten or twelve minutes since the last one. She and her companions consider me for a moment, obviously trying to decide whether or not I'm for real, or just another horny loser looking for a way to strike up a conversation, and I mention the utter lack of footprints anywhere in the area.

This seems to do it, and they prudently begin plucking from the sand, that which they had just deposited there, as I hoof the last little bit to where I set my board down on the smallish mound of sand at the mouth of the outfall pipe that is the business end of that which starts over on the other side of the inlet inside the pump house itself.

Sure enough, just as they had begun walking back up toward the dune with their gear, a nice set pours through outside, and right after that, the ocean sweeps up the sand and they all get a bit of a splashing.

We'll file that one under 'good deed for the day' because if I hadn't warned them there would have been no way that they could have hung on to all their little knickknacks and trinkets.

I scan the scene before me, and there's a half dozen young shortboarders riding the shoulder-high bitter end of things just off the shore. Way the hell outside, but still in the brown water, a lone stand-up-paddle guy was paddling around, but not catching any waves.

Inside the inlet, I'm looking for signs that the high tide has created an inbound rush of water, but weirdly enough this is not the case, and in fact, the bits of debris and foam in there are all very slowly heading the other way, toward the mouth of the inlet.

I'm going to paddle outside tucked in the lee of the jetty, and what I do not want to happen is to come around the end of it, and suddenly find myself getting sucked into the inlet, unable to resist the flow, and going for an unpleasant ride toward Lake Worth.

So I'm glad I'm seeing what I'm seeing, but I'm not quite trustful of it either.

A boat motors near the mouth of the inlet and then stops, and everyone aboard is gawping at the violence that continues unabated over on the Pumphouse side.

A set comes through, and I see that the whitewater completely shuts down any gap of open water that might exist next to the tip of the south jetty. So I've got to be careful and time things right, or otherwise I'm going to be eating some soup.

Outside, the stand-up guy paddles desultorily around, not very far past the end of the jetty at all, and I marvel that nothing has come along and mowed him down.

As it turned out, this was a sign, and I failed to recognize it for what it was.

Into the water I go, and in very short order I'm paddling past the young guys on the itty bitty shortboards, and I holler to the pair closest to me, "Come on, let's go ride the outside."

One of them looks at his buddy, and then back at me, and then they both agree heartily, and I've got them behind me, headed for the horizon.

I don't even bother looking over my shoulder after that, and instead concentrate on the task at hand, working my way along close, but not too close, to the jetty, watchful for bulges on the horizon and any signs of water being sucked around the end of the rocks and into the inlet.

Neither apparition appears, and I steadily swing and dip my arms as I near the end of the jetty.

Ok, now I'm committed.

I step up the pace of my paddling a bit and watch the end of the jetty go by on my left, and the buoy outside of me begin to move away from me, with an apparent leftward motion.

Ok, there's a current out here past the end of the jetty, and it's headed southbound.

Glops of yellowish brown foam, seaweed, and other debris fills the water around me, and I find myself with the nose of the board angled forty-five degrees to the left of my intended direction of travel, and I'm STILL getting pulled toward the south and into the zone where breaking waves might be encountered.

This I do not like, and I crank up the paddling to my best steady level, and just grit my teeth and hope like hell that a set doesn't choose this unfortunate moment to arrive.

And so I just bear down on it, keep focused on the position of that damned buoy, and marvel at my ever so slow, painful progress trying to come abreast of the fucking  thing.

Fortunately, no sets arrive.

And after what seems like one hell of a long time balanced on a knife edge and going nowhere, I cross an invisible line in the murky water, and all of a sudden I'm making good headway against the buoy.

Ok then, the worst of the current zone is behind me now and I can ease back on the throttle a little.

The buoy comes abreast of me, and then inside of me, and I keep right on paddling.

Out at my chosen lineup, I can see waves showing, but nothing is breaking anywhere.

I want to line that buoy up with some landmarks to the left of the pump house, which now looks small and insignificant, way the hell inside and across the inlet.

I keep right on paddling, and finally the buoy lines up with the pump house itself, and I know I'm getting near the neighborhood of where I want to be.

I stop and sit up on the board to get my bearings.

No sign of my shortboard friends anywhere. I'm guessing I lost both of them before I even cleared the end of the jetty. No sign of anybody else, either. I'm completely  alone out here. Got the whole place all to myself.

The current for all intents and purposes has shut down. Just a light southerly drift to the water out here.

I'm not yet out to the blue water where the waves I watched earlier were breaking, but I'm fairly close.

Back down prone on the board and lets finish this thing off, ok?

Doesn't take all that long.

The Lineup.The buoy is now lined up with the inland edge of some of the condos on the north side of the inlet, with the pump house well to the right of it as I gaze off to the northwest.

I'm in the blue water, and I'm figuring I'm a little north of where the waves will be breaking, which suits me fine. Until I get a precise fix on my location with respect to the location where the breaking waves will be, I'd just as rather make my mistakes in navigation toward the channel side of things, instead of toward the breaking water side of things.

As a second lineup, with which to locate 'X marks the spot,' I have the two smokestacks of the powerplant on the far side of Lake Worth. They are oriented due east and west of one another, and make for an exquisitely fine-tuned ability to fix my position to the north and south. From where I'm sitting, they're almost, but not quite touching.

So I'm sitting pretty , way the fucking hell out in the middle of the goddamned ocean, with a pair of can't miss lineups to locate myself with.

Neato.

And I give these lineups to you freely, secure in the knowledge that I'll never ever in my entire life see any of you out there sharing them with me, trying to steal my next wave.

And for those of you who might be interested, I used Google Earth to measure the distance from the beach just south of the jetty, and my 'X marks the spot' and it came out to a little over a half mile.

So there I was, a half fucking mile out in the ocean, waiting around for something to ride.

Ok, how 'bout a little wave action here? I'm ready.

And of course, as anybody could plainly see coming from a country mile away, we've reached the part of the story where Palm Fucking Beach once again finds a way to burn my sorry ass.

The horizon goes all bulgy, and I watch as a set stacks up outside. It warps around exactly as it's supposed to, and the north wing begins to cross the main body of the line to my south, putting me over on the shoulder/channel/safe side of things, also exactly as it's supposed to.

Except that it doesn't break, not exactly as it's supposed to.

It just sort of stands up, feathers, and then sulks back down as I watch it from behind, heading away from me toward the distant shore.

Hmm.

Ok, I guess that wasn't the one. Suppose I'll just have to wait around for the next one.

And while I'm admiring the scenery, a couple of guys come up on a jetski. The driver very concernedly asks me if I need help getting back in, and I laughingly advise him that I'll get back in just fine as soon as a fucking wave comes along. He smiles at that and he and his buddy tootle off looking for a wave of their own.

Another set, and this time it breaks, once again right where I want it to off to my south where I can get a good look at the precise location without having to bail off the side of my board and duck whitewater, but 'break' is a pretty strong word. Instead, it just barely caps over, mushes along for a bit, and then backs completely off and stays that way.

Well shit, where's my wave?

I move over to where I think I ought to be and begin to attempt to ride this thing in earnest.

Waves are coming along with no pretense of breaking, but they're still pretty damn sizeable for Florida.

How big? *

Good question. I'll give it double overhead plus some.

But it's hard to tell without the stupid things actually standing all the way up and breaking.

And so I bob serenely along, occasionally paddling back toward the north, keeping my buoy and my smokestacks where I want them, waiting it out till the next set.

Outside, in the deep blue face of one of the small ones, something large and brown shows for a moment, and is then gone.

What the fuck was that? Manatee? Turtle? Godzilla? Who knows?

The thought of what I might do should I encounter a large toothy creature out here popped into my head, and it instantly became clear that there wasn't a whole lot I COULD do. So stay away sharks, ok?

My jetski buddies return and the one in the white rashguard hops off the ski and they proceed to drag around, looking for a wave.

Another set finally shows, and it swings wide, to my south, well past where I could get to it.

The ski goes for it and I watch as he successfully pulls his buddy into it.

But the wave is fat and weak, and as it crumbles over listlessly, the guy on the surfboard is fighting for all he's worth, just to stay on top of it.

This ain't looking any too good, boys and girls.

The ski duo departs the area, never to return.

Finally, a wave approaches that has a look to it as if I might be sitting in the right spot.

It stands up in the blue water and begins to feather as I position myself just so, in order to catch it.

Paddle like hell, into the chop and wind blowing right into my face. The wave lifts, I begin to accelerate, and then somebody lets all the air out of it and it deflates miserably, leaving me just shoreward of the edge of the brown water.

Shit cuss fuck hell damn!

More time goes by and more listless waves approach and fail to even feather, and I'm beginning to get more than just a little pissed off at the fucking thing.

Another fairly sizeable set, another churning takeoff run, and another inauspicious deflation.

Well you goddamned motherfucker you!!

I've now been out here for over an hour, and only have two barren takeoff runs and a rising anger to show for it.

And now that I think about it, a check to my north reveals that the sets outside from Pumphouse have also pretty much ceased and desisted.

Well fuck me!

The swell is past its peak, and fading.

Perfect timing.

Again.

What the hell is the deal with me and Palm Beach, anyway?

Just lucky, I guess.

By now, I'm losing interest in the whole thing, and it doesn't take very many more overhead runt waves before I have to admit defeat, and begin my longest ever paddle of shame, all the way back to the fucking beach.

So back I go, against the wind and chop, and nothing at all by way of a free ride to help speed me along on my way.

And as I begin to close the yawning gap between myself and the shoreline, I re-encounter the current zone and quickly find myself shoved ingloriously to the south, completely beyond even those sorry waves that were coming over way inside, even with the end of the jetty.

I am cursed, and must dig for each foot of ground gained in the direction of land.

I'm in the crud zone now, and the water is filled with all sorts of crap.

Way the hell to my north, a different jetski duo is actually catching a few waves, but it's still a damn mushball and I watch the guy on the board bouncing along against the chop coming up the face, trying to keep from getting eaten by the soup and simultaneously trying to keep from having his ride terminated from a backed off wave.

No, I'm not missing a damn thing over that way, that's for sure.

And I doggedly continue digging toward the beach, and the ocean doggedly continues to refuse to grant me even a stupid soup to catch and prone in on.

At last, I'm just off the beach, in the shoulder high shorebreak zone.

I catch a pathetic brown excuse for a wave, and ride it all of fifty feet as it closes out and deposits me on the sand.

And that's the end of that, then and there, ending with a pitiable whimper instead of a bang.
The good news is that I've drifted over half way back down the beach toward the street I parked on.

At least the walk back won't be as long.

I head back up the dune, and there's a guy dressed in nice shorts and shirt, staring at the inlet area through a pair of binoculars.

I advise him that the waves are not as energetic as they look, and he ignores me perfectly.

Oh yeah, I'm in Palm Beach. I forgot. You people are all a bunch of self absorbed assholes and could never stoop so low as to acknowledge the likes of myself. How silly of me to forget that and attempt to engage in human interaction with you. I assure you from the bottom of my heart that I shall never display such temerity towards you ever again, for as long as I live.

Walk to the van, put the board inside, and I'm off, with not so much as a glance over my shoulder.

Fuck this place!

On the way out, I hit probably the only gas station in this whole town.

What a scene. The working folk come here, and work here, and none of them look happy about any of it.

All this money and nobody's having any fun!

Surely that's a statement of some kind, yes?

Parked in front of the repair bay is a black Lamborghini.

Whoever owns it isn't having fun either.

And what the fuck is the deal with a car like that anyway?

Ok, it can go a hundred and eighty miles an hour.

That's nice.

Will it do that here on these streets?

Nope.

Will it do that out on the interstate boxed in between the trucks and busses?

Nope.

Well will it do that at all, with Mister Owner behind the wheel, anywhere?

Nope.

So it's a complete and utter waste of time!

And it doesn't look a damn bit better than some cheapie kit car with a 1600cc Volkswagen engine inside of it.

A middle-school vision of what cool is supposed to look like.

Just another go-fast car, that's not going fast.

"LOOK AT ME," it screams.

Why? What's to look at? Just another asshole in an overpriced wrapper. I've already seen more than my share of them for one lifetime, and I'm not interested in seeing any more of them now, or ever.

I fill up my van and get the hell out of there.

Back across Lake Worth, the dismal neighborhoods along U.S. 1 suddenly look a lot more inviting and friendly. At least these people are REAL.

I drive past the Rolls Royce dealership and suppress an urge to vomit.

And it's not until I've gotten back into the zone on the interstate where there's greenery on the sides of the road instead of concrete boxes, that I begin to relax and unwind.

I can breathe again, which is always a plus to my way of thinking.

Coming home, I take the cutoff to the beach through Wabasso, and as I cross U.S. 1, the fact that Wabasso Bait & Tackle is still sitting right where it always was, comforts me.

But of course I know it can't last.

The money's coming, and when it gets here, the results are not going to be pretty.

 

* A Follow-up on "How big was it?"

Wave size reference photograph, Palm Beach, May 8 2007.Refer back to my 'lineup illustration' if you please, which I took as a screen shot from Google Earth, and marked up with lines indicating the location of the wave. The line that is struck from the north side of the inlet through the buoy that sits directly east of the end of the south jetty crosses another line that is struck with an origin beginning with the pair of smokestacks at FPL's Riviera Beach Power Plant which is out of the picture to the left, inland. Go to Google Earth for yourself, and locate it, and while you're there, be sure and verify the location of the buoy. These are good marks, and I checked things several different ways, always coming up with the same lines. So we have pretty fair confidence in where the wave was breaking. Once that is established, we may proceed with attempting to figure out how large the waves were. As an aid in doing this, you may reference the photograph to the right of this text. It's a trifle out of focus, but the positioning of the buoy with the wave behind it is instructive. The buoy is aligned perpendicularly to our line of sight in the photograph, and thus introduces no distortions to its apparent/real size. In addition, I have included the structural plans for the tower portion of the buoy, and they can be downloaded HERE and viewed as a .pdf file. A look at the drawing will show that the top, solid black, silhouette portion of the buoy tower consists of 3/16" steel plate (Item number 9 in the bill of material) and is 60 inches, or five feet, tall. So now we have an object of known size with which to compare the height of the wave behind it. Since the wave is twice as far away as the buoy (with known dimensions), we can use some elementary geometry to ascertain that the distance subtended against the wave face, by the five-foot black rectangle atop the open framework of the buoy, will be exactly twice what it is on the buoy itself, or ten feet. The reader may use this information and decide for themselves how large this wave really is, keeping in mind that the bottom, float portion, of the buoy, and also the bottom of the distant wave, are both obscured by the intervening foam-covered surge coming through the mouth of the inlet. And, as a further note of interest, this sort of thing demonstrates that you never know when arcane crap like math and geometry might all of a sudden become critical for answering a pressing question, at some distant time in your unknowable future. So stay in school boys and girls, and no matter how wonky the math teachers might be, pay attention to that shit, 'cause it might just come in real handy some fine day.

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