I’d usually be sharing a few GoPro pics from such an incredible, historic swell like the one that hit the entire East Coast in mid-December. As it turned out, I captured only one pic from that swell (above).
I had so much fun surfing Central Florida during the earlier Ian swell earlier this summer, that I decided to try another strike mission to score the biggest surf I could find, once again, down in Satellite Beach (South Cocoa, actually) behind my buddy Mike Johnson’s condo. And once again, it was firing! The forecasts had been calling for 4′-6′ with OK winds at home in Jax, but 6′-9′ down there with good winds, and that’s exactly how it played out.
I had planned the surf the whole day with Mike and another good friend and Satellite local, Mike Wilhite (originally from Jax/OP). What you see in the photo happened the veryfirst thing in the morning, when I was paddling out through the bombing high tide shore break. (See the image from Raw Surf – that’s the break and we were, just down to the south) I was a little worried about taking my beloved 5′ 11″ Whisnant out in this surf (I really needed to be using a step-up), but I’m a one-board guy, and it had held up nicely in Ian, Nicole, and other large hurricane/storm swells. But these waves were even bigger and stronger.
I was almost through it but got clipped by an insanely powerful wave that broke on top of me while I was duck diving and driving me further down under the surface. I had heard a loud “pop” as the wave broke and when I managed to get my head back above water, I noticed a 3″ crack on the left side of my board. I thought there was a good chance it had buckled and when I saw the gash, I knew I was right. I had just enough time to feel the underside of my board with my palm to confirm that it had indeed buckled before a second set wave exploded on me and finished the job on my board. The whole thing lasted just a few seconds.
With my board/floatation device now on either side of me in two pieces, that wave also held me down for a bit and left me sucking air when I surfaced, which hasn’t happened to me in a very long time. All of it just felt pretty sudden and violent.
Ultimately, however, it felt like I was only in the water for a total of about a minute. and unfortunately, that’s all it took. Mike Wilhite loaned me a 6′ 2″ Epoxy backup, so I was at least able to paddle back out but I was frazzled the rest of the day. Oh well, I had an awesome time seeing the boys and am currently working on getting myself a replacement board. I’ll be back down that way again the next time the waves get big. It is a fun spot that holds big waves well on the right tides.
In late September, we enjoyed a great stretch of surf during Hurricanes Danielle, Earl and Fiona. On one of the last days of the Fiona swell when the winds were set to be onshore here in NEFl, I made plans to head down to Brevard County (Cocoa / Sattelite Beach) area where the winds were expected to be offshore. This is the area where I spent much of time surfing while finishing school at UCF in the early 90s. It is one of my favorite places to surf and gets such great waves! In addition, I was able to catch up with two old friends, Mike Johnson and Mike Wilhite who both live or have places down there. Mike J. has a great break right behind his condo and that’s where we surfed. My buddy from work, Luis Sandoval joined me for the trip and what a great time we had. The waves were epic and the crowds, light! The winds were offshore, as expected and it was sloppy and onshore back at home. Successful strike mission. We scored! Here’s a few shots from that day.
On Labor Day, my wife, Gretchen, and I got our tourist on in Auggie. I have lived in Northeast Florida all my life and have NEVER been to the Fountain of Youth! 😳 I had heard that there was a pretty cool watch tower overlooking the Intracoastal waterway on the property so we decided to check it out, and to be sure, the views were spectacular! Highly recommended! The property is pretty big and there are a lot of other historical attractions on the site. A few peacocks hanging around, too. As far as the fountain, it’s inside a faux cave chamber. They have cups and let you drink from it. They say it’s from a spring but it definitely was NOT 72-degree spring water, more like 80-degree city water, lol 😂! But hey, we had to try! Also, my appearance did not become any more youthful, but ummm… maybe there’s a delay or something… I’ll keep everyone updated! I’m guessing a good, strong cup of black coffee would probably have a quicker, more immediate youth-restoring impact (maybe get rid of the bags under your eyes!) But don’t let my own cynicism affect your decision to give it a shot. You never know. It is a gorgeous place, and a beautiful sight to see.
Here’s another park we hiked while up in Alpharetta, GA, a really cool urban park hidden right in the heart of the city. It seemed like a really great place to just hang out and cool down, in or out of the water. What a wonderful natural amenity for the locals.
The same weekend we went up to Alpharetta, GA to see the Jack Johnson / Ziggy Marley concert, we ran up about an hour north to visit Amicolola Falls for some hiking. We had been here once before and it is such a gorgeous place. This state park features the third tallest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River. It’s only about 8 miles from the Appalachian Trail. We were loving the 70-degree temps after a brutally hot summer in Florida! Check this place out if you get a chance! Here are a few shots of the somewhat strenuous hike to the top of the falls. I’ll post some waterfall videos, as well.
Woot! Date night! My wife, Gretchen, and I recently made a quick trip up to the ATL (Alpharetta, GA) to catch a Jack Johnson / Ziggy Marley concert. It was an awesome show! Jack was great, as usual! He played new stuff from his new CD, Meet the Moonlight, many old hits, and also threw in some great covers- Jimmy Buffet’s A Pirate Looks at Forty, Sublime’s Bad Fish, Steve Miller Band’s Space Cowboy, and even The Cure’s Just Like Heaven! (Long live the 80s! … and the 70s and 90s, I guess! 😃) . Ziggy Marley was also excellent. He played some of his music and a few of his dad’s songs. Here is an encore acoustic performance of Jack Johnson’s song, “Home“. Below that is a dual shot of the front stage and back lawn of Ameris Bank Amphitheater. Beautiful venue! It holds 12,000 people, I think. The show was sold out.
I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life last weekend (and I’ve had a few of those) when I got to paddle out for a surf session with Tom Curren, one the most stylish and influential surfers in history, and maybe the only surfer in the world who garners as much or more respect than Kelly Slater. He is surfing royalty, revered not just because of the glory the 3x world champion brought to American surfing during his career, but the way he has always done … well, everything.
Described over the years as “shy”, “private”, “eccentric”, and “enigmatic”, Curren was a professional competitive force with a free-surfer’s soul who never seemed comfortable with some of pro surfing’s rigid commercial trappings, even while he could not help but completely dominate the sport with his prodigious talent.
He retired in his prime when he seemed to simply get bored of the pro grind- an internationally renowned popular cultural icon with too much artistry, creativity and counter-culture DNA to keep doing the same things over and over. With nothing left to prove, he traded in the world tour for touring the world, becoming part of The Rip Curl Search, and putting more energy into his music career (he’s also an accomplished guitarist/musician/vocalist who has released two albums).
Tom never did a lot of interviews and never seemed to let the public into his life too deeply even while countless fans like me still longed to watch his timeless style. In 1995, Rip Curl and film-maker Sony Miller (RIP) produced, “Searching for Tom Curren”, one of the best surf films ever made, that finally let the world get a little closer look at the soul of Tom Curren. I still have a rare, 25-year-old original copy of that VHS that I preserved over the years, that Tom signed for me when I met up with him in Cardiff, CA last weekend.
How this trip materialized was absolutely incredible. Call it irony, serendipity, karma or a just a great blessing … maybe a little of all of that.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an Instagram post about owning that original VHS copy of “Searching for Tom Curren”. The second I finished posting it and returned to my feed, I noticed a post from Rip Curl Ventura. I only follow the California shop (I’m in Florida) because my friend, Ehren Tresher, from New Smyrna Beach, used to manage it and I had visited him out there.
Their post announced that after 25 years, “Searching for Tom Curren” was finally being re-released in streaming and digitally-remastered formats, and noted that to celebrate the upcoming world premiere in Cardiff that week, that they were going to let 5 lucky people enjoy a two-hour surf-session with Tom. They said they planned to notify winners on the following Thursday for the event taking place Saturday morning. With such a short turnaround, I figured they were assuming the winners would be from California. But I also figured that if I had a full day to figure out travel arrangements, I could potentially make it, so I entered my contact information.
Fast forward to the following Friday. I had not received any notices, so I assumed I had not won. Oh well, you don’t know if you don’t go. Then… on Friday at 4 PM, I received a text from Rip Curl notifying me that I had indeed won and to show up at the San Elijo Campground in Cardiff at 9:30 the NEXT MORNING to meet and surf with Tom! 👀👀👀😂.
The folks from Rip Curl would later share with me that they had about 3,500 entries, that I had won entirely at random, and that the one-day delay in notifying me was due to the fact that among the original 5 winners who were selected, one could not make it and another did not surf and thought that the event, called “Camp Shred”, might include surf lessons. Of course, it didn’t, but Rip Curl wanted to fill the slots, and my name came up in the second draw.
Back to 4 p.m. on Friday … I could not believe it when I received the text! I didn’t even know if it was possible to get to California from Jax by early the morning, but I knew that if it was, it would be very expensive and logistically, nearly impossible, at best. I showed the notification to my wife, who was also in disbelief. At the same time, she knows the great value I place on life experiences, on seizing opportunities when they present themselves, and understood exactly where surfing with Tom Curren might fall in line on both of those lists for me.
So, she jumped online and started helping me look up flights. Now, this was the weekend of the Super Bowl, so you can imagine what the prices and lack of options for flights to San Diego and LAX looked like. Worse, I had to make a final decision FAST, also find a hotel room and rent-a-car, and get to the airport 45 minutes away, just to have a chance of making it.
Finally, we found a flight- at $675, the cheapest available, that was leaving in two hours. We are far from wealthy and I knew this was going to set back plans for a trip to El Salvador that I had been hoping to take, but again, I thought about it and realized this was an opportunity that say, at a charity auction, might go for between $5K – $10K, maybe more. Essentially, it was priceless. It is just not something that most would ever get the opportunity to do. So, we pulled the trigger.
I scrambled to pull my board bag down from the attic and threw my wetsuit, board shorts, and a change of clothes into an overnight bag while Gretchen continued searching for a car rental, and a hotel room in Cardiff. Within an hour, we were racing off to the airport and I made the last flight out of Jax, with about an hour to spare.
I arrived in San Diego at about 12:00 a.m. Gretchen had booked me a rent-a-car and a hotel room in Carlsbad, about halfway between the airport and Cardiff. Alas –as most, if not all experienced surf travelers have experienced at one time or another– I went to the baggage claim to pick up my board and waited… and waited… and waited… until one by one, all the people had disappeared… and all the carousels had stopped moving.
My board had not made it.
Livid, I protested with the airline service representatives. They tried to do what they could, but the reality was that there were no more flights coming in from Dallas (the American Airlines connecting city where my board had made it to). They assured me that it would arrive at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. I was due in Cardiff, about 30 miles away, at 9:30 am. It would be razor-close timing.
As a result of this delay, I had to cancel my hotel reservation in Carlsbad and try and find a room closer to the airport. Thankfully, it was a Saturday, so the early morning traffic would at least be lighter than on a weekday. But I still had to go pick up my car rental and try to find an affordable hotel room (an oxymoron in San Diego), that would take me in that very night. And, the clock was ticking.
After driving around downtown San Diego and calling and stopping at multiple hotels, most of which were full, I finally found one that would take me in for a few hours … for $175. I sat outside for a few minutes, pondering sleeping in my car, but I felt I had to get at least a couple of hours of decent sleep which wasn’t going to happen that way. So at 2:30 a.m., I bit the bullet and checked in.
At 7 a.m. the next morning, I got up and made my way back to the airport and at 8:30 a.m., as promised, my board arrived. I threw it in the back of my car and high-tailed it to Cardiff, arriving at the San Elijo Campground at around nine a.m.
Upon arriving, there was no parking to be found. As it turned out, there was an event happening there, a BIG one: “Camp Shred – The World’s Largest Board Demo”. ALL of the top board-makers were there and basically, you could demo any type of board you desired, for free. (In hindsight, I realized I didn’t even need my board – I would love to see one of these events in Florida!) Rip Curl had premiered the remastered version of Tom’s movie the night before and I was told that a lot of industry bigwigs were in attendance. They were also doing a second showing for the two-day event, later that evening.
I didn’t want to miss my session with Tom, so I parked in the only space I could find: a No Parking zone. I made my way down to the Rip Curl tent/campsite. I was greeted warmly with a big gift bag full of all kinds of Rip Curl swag, an invitation to help myself to their cooler, and assurance that Tom was in transit. I told their crew that I was from Florida, and about my crazy journey to get there. They could not believe it, but were super-stoked to learn about it! They told me their drawing was completely randomized and that they had no idea I was coming from Florida. They had only seen that I had confirmed I would be there.
Right behind me, the other four winners showed up, all from California, and not too far away. A couple were my age, a couple a bit younger. All were super friendly, and they also loved hearing that I had come all the way from Florida, with less than 24-hour’s-notice.
At around 10:30 a.m., Tom showed up with his wife, Maki. We had introductions, and after a little chatting, we put on our wetsuits and headed down to the beach. The waves were nice, waist-to-chest mostly, a little soft, but clean with good form. The break, a reef, was beautiful and they said a couple of whales had come through earlier. Due to the event (or maybe just due to it being California), it was packed, with about half of the people on longboards – men, women, and people of all ages.
Tom rode a CI twin-fin that looked to be about 5’5” with a unique pair of cutaway fins. His wife paddled out with us on a bodyboard. Due to the crowds, the good waves were hard to come by. I caught three, maybe going 15-20 yards each time, before cutting out. I had surfed twice all winter and was just happy not to fall in front of the champ.
Tom rode about five or six waves and as you might expect, ripped them all to shreds in a very nonchalant way while riding just about every one of them to the beach, each time. Like Kelly and other elite surfers, he simply seems to know where the energy resides in every wave and uses it to generate maximum speed and flow. His style was as effortless, as beautiful as ever, and a joy to watch. People noticed Tom but did not bother him, and he didn’t dominate the break the way I suppose he could have. Instead, he just found spots and waves, inside and outside, and made the most of each one.
In the water and after the session, Tom was as polite as could be– soft-spoken, and as humble as he always seemed to be from afar. He took the time to interact with each one of us there as a group, and individually. He told me he had just moved into a new home and said he hadn’t traveled much, recently. He perked up most when talking about music.
I mentioned that I had seen him play when he came through Jax years ago (at the Milk Bar), touring with Kelly Slater’s band. He said that was one of his favorite tours and concerts, and that he remembered Jacksonville and Jax Beach in particular, and really loved the area. I asked him if he had been involved creatively with the production of “Searching for Tom Curren” or just the subject of it, and he said it was all Sonny Miller’s creation, with the exception of some diffusion effects that he had suggested (to great effect, I would add).
When we got back to the beach and Rip Curl’s cliff-side camp, I asked him to sign my original VHS of “Searching for Tom Curren”, which I had brought with me for that purpose. He did, and also signed promotional film posters for my wife and two daughters. The folks from Nalu.tv, the company re-distributing the film offered up VIP tickets to the second showing of the film that night, but my flight back was that same evening. I thanked them, Tom, and the Rip Curl team for the once-in-a-lifetime experience, and headed out.
When I returned to my car, there were two tickets on it; one for parking in a no-parking zone and the other for entering the campground without a pass. My expenses were still going up, but honestly, I was just happy my rental hadn’t been towed.
Heading back to Florida, I had to fly Jet Blue from San Diego to New York, of all places, then all the way back down to Florida. There was a snowstorm at JFK, and it caused a three-and-a-half-hour delay on top of what was already a very long trip that spanned all night and well into the next day. I hadn’t traveled since the pandemic began and masking up on the planes and in airports for that long was its own challenge. I think I slept a total of four hours over nearly two days, arriving back home a couple of hours prior to kickoff for the Super Bowl. As you might imagine, I slept through most of the game, but I wasn’t too worried about it. I had just gone “searching” for Tom Curren, and I found him.
Here’s another fun adventure we enjoyed over this past winter, during Coivd… skydiving. After going parasailing, the girls had mentioned how the “fear-factor” was no biggie, and that they’d like to try skydiving sometime. So, I called them on it and booked a tandem jump at Skydive City in Zephryhills, FL. Coincidentally, about 28 years earlier, it is where Gretchen and I had gone for one of our first dates while students at UCF in Orlando. Back then, on a total whim, we jumped in the car and headed over with a couple of friends. It was such a blast! Although we had not been skydiving again since then, we remembered how awesome Skydive City was! Their safety record is (still) spotless, their facilities fantastic, and their instructors are super cool, highly skilled and very accomplished. Best of all, they take you up higher than most places – over 13,000 feet so that you get to experience over a full minute of freefall at 120 miles per hour. The day that we went this most recent time was in January, and it was bitterly cold by Florida standards (40 degrees?). Not the norm! But it was also sunny, clear and beautiful! Gretchen didn’t go up this time– just Kendall, Kaelyn, and myself. Needless to say, the girls did great, just as they always seem to do whenever I challenge them. They had a blast and I imagine they’ll be headed back with friends, soon! This was an awesome Father/Daughter experience, one I’m sure they’ll never forget. I know I won’t!
Looking for a fun Florida “staycation” getaway? Check out kayaking with the manatees in Crystal River during the winter months when the manatees head into Florida’s springs to keep warm. Super inexpensive adventure and a chance to experience some pretty interesting Florida wildlife up close and personal. You can even jump in and snorkel with the gentle giants if you like (but no touching, of course). We used Get Up & Go Kayaking for the outfitters. They have crystal clear see-through kayaks and great guides who put you right on top of the manatees. Check ’em out!
Here are a few pictures of Picken’s Nose in North Carolina. This was a fairly challenging, spectacular hike through a bear sanctuary. There weren’t many people there and the quiet hike through a truly enchanted-feeling forest was really something special. Eventually, you pop out into an area where there are some dramatic rock outcroppings with incredible views of the area. This place was great!
On our trip to Franklin, NC, we visited a place called Picken’s Nose, which is a demanding hike through a bear sanctuary, but also one of the most beautiful places in North Carolina. One thing we didn’t realize before we went was that the entrance to the trailhead required an 8-mile drive up a winding, narrow gravel road, which would be fine in my Jeep, but not in my wife’s car, an Azera with a low-set base, which is the one we took on the trip. It was well worth it, but be aware should you ever decide to go.
So, if you go to Tallulah Gorge State Park and show up early enough in the morning to get one of the 100 daily permits that are issued to go beyond the end of the regular trail all the way to the gorge bottom, and you make that difficult hike, this is your reward. It’s a pretty unique experience and a fun one!
On our trip to Franklin, NC, we ventured down into northern Georgia for a very special adventure – hiking Tallulah Gorge. This is a 3.4-mile hike down into the very steep 1,000-foot gorge. This was a serious hike, extremely difficult in parts, with a lot of boulder climbing. There’s a regular (fairly easy) trail that ends at a suspension bridge, but if you get a special permit (they only issue 100 per day, so you have to arrive early), then you can proceed off-trail and continue all the way on down to the gorge bottom, navigating along unmarked rock walls and trails along the river. Eventually, you come to a big sliding rock formation that dumps into a refreshing pool of water at the very bottom! You have to climb back up a ridiculously steep boulder trail to get back to the top, but it’s well worth it! My daughters, Kendall and Kaelyn led the way for our crew! Here are a few pics from the hike. I’ll post a video of the rock slide, next.
On our trip to Franklin, NC, we went to Highlands Aerial Park and went zip-lining through the Nantahala National Forest. I highly recommend it. We’ve been zip-lining in Florida, Costa Rica and Fiji, and this place was as fun and beautiful as any of those places. Here’s a video of one of the zips.
We recently took a fun trip up to Franklin, N.C. and had a great time hiking, zip-lining and enjoying Mother Nature’s beauty. Here are a couple of pictures of the cabin where we stayed. The next few posts will document some of our adventures.
A few GoPro shots from the recent swells generated by Hurrican Florence. After a long, hot, flat summer, it was great to get back into the water and catch some good waves. Prayers to all of those who were negatively impacted by the effects of this storm, including my own relatives in South Carolina.
I recently took a trip to Payne’s Prairie to hang out with my oldest daughter, Kendall, for Dad / Daughter weekend with her sorority at the University of Florida. Kendall and I decided to go for a hike in this spectacular state park and came across a lot of wildlife (although we didn’t run into any wild horses or bison -yes, bison- that live in the park). Nonetheless, it was an awesome time adventuring with my daughter, who’s always up for exploring with me.
My daughter Kendall and I came across this fellow while hiking in Payne’s Prairie in Gainesville, FL recently. Ironically, I had literally just finished telling her seconds before, about how the area reminded me of other places in North Florida I’d explore as a child, and that we’d occasionally find rattlesnakes living in abandoned gopher tortoise holes. Then lo and behold, as soon as I finished that sentence, we came upon this good-sized rattler splayed out right across the trail. Great experience! You don’t see these guys as often as you used to.