The Long Rain. Joaquin’s Filthy Barrels, Epic Devastation and Rising Tide. A Photo Diary from Charleston.
by Chris Dixon
Griffin Jackson. Folly Beach. Photo: Justin Morris/Follyhood.
THE rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and the ton, it hacked at the jungle and cut the trees like scissors and shaved the grass and tunneled the soil and molted the bushes. It shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes; it rained a solid glassy rain, and it never stopped. — Ray Bradbury.
Here in South Carolina, the past two weeks have been best of times for surfers, and the worst of times for everyone else. I’m not really sure how to otherwise describe the last two weeks of life here. As everyone knows, Hurricane Joaquin and the Almighty conspired just over a week ago, to unleash an apocalyptic fire hose of precipitation and surf on the Palmetto State. Rainfall in some places near my home in Charleston was along the lines of 25 inches over the course of three days. That’s half of the average annual rainfall for many parts of the state – over the course of 72 hours. If you’ve ever seen a “Pineapple Express” hit southern California – it was sort of like that, only much, much worse.
A couple of days before Joaquin. Photo: Chris Dixon
In the days and hours leading up to the first drops of rain, while hapless Bahamians and the crew of the container ship El Faro were being mercilessly hammered, our coast was blessed with a stretch of heavenly weather and perfect waves. That’s always been the Faustian, nerve-wracking, and immoral bargain Gulf and East Coast surfers make with hurricanes. Someone is being slammed. Someone else is feasting on tropically sourced waves – and that someone may soon be under the gun too. And we would indeed be under the gun.
The first line of storms just offshore from Folly Beach. Photo: Chris Dixon
The only upshot to the storm was the heaving surf that built in Friday ahead of the first rains. The wind was offshore, and the beach breaks here – as you’ll see from the accompanying photos – were as good as they get.
Overhead and warbly. Photo: Chris Dixon
A Washout Wedge. Photo: Chris Dixon
About an hour before the heavens opened , I told my wife I thought we should probably get the boat off our backyard dock and into the driveway. Racing to the Folly landing, the boat was safely trailered minutes before the first wave of storms blasted in with stinging, blinding rain and 40 mile per hour winds. I couldn’t help shake the feeling that my fair city and state, the cradle of the Confederacy and the madness of the Civil War, was about to further pay for the sins of a very wicked past.
The firehose of the apocalypse. “That looks like the trunk of a demon elephant.” Charleston Native Stephen Colbert takes issue with Joaquin.
And indeed, once the rain came, it simply didn’t stop. Living through the ceaseless, three day inundation was a bizarre, maddening, tooth grinding encounter with our warming climate. Something I can only liken to the experience faced by the team of astronauts in Ray Bradbury’s epic short story The Long Rain. Unable to escape the second planet’s relentless rains, the crew was slowly driven mad.
I didn’t surf on Saturday the third, having been called into duty by The New York Times for some storm reporting, the need to dig a trench around my house that led to to our storm drain, the need to elevate all the furniture and appliances downstairs, and to double tie off my beat up old dock and fret like an expectant father as the storm water came higher – and higher. The only happy creatures appeared to be a swarm of neighborhood ducks.
Ducks in our neighborhood love a flood. Photo: Chris Dixon
Yes, we put our dishwasher on the counter top. Photo: Chris Dixon
A few hours before high tide. The water and wind were calm. Photo: Chris Dixon
Then as the tide came up, a major squall blew in. I was certain the back yard was going to flood from the nine foot tides. On most days, this is not an inland sea, but a salt marsh. Photo: Chris Dixon
Photo: Chris Dixon
Miraculously for us, the waters ceased rising. But others would not be so lucky. As I reported in the Times, local surfers Kirk and Pauline Meekins watched with shock as the waters came higher and higher, completely flooding their back yard and pool. Kirk though, told me that he realized that compared to others, “This is a first world problem.” So he relaxed in his yard with a beer, while his daughters rode their backyard slide into their new backyard lake.
That’s the deck of Kirk’s pool. The dark line is the pool. Photo: Pauline Meekins.
Photo: Kirk Meekins.
Surfer Phil Kelly stopped by a neighbor’s house on his way to check the waves at the height of the storm – wearing a full wetsuit. Photo: Chris Dixon
Sunday dawned no less stormy. In fact, everything was an absolute mess and the sky was still pissing rain. But with the house as secured as possible, there was little left to do but go surfing in some of the best waves I’ve seen here in years, and take a few pictures.
My buddy Patrick Willey, aka Two Feet and Classy, was out too. He managed to get a shots of me and several of the local crew. Thanks Patrick.
Sunday Gawkers at the Washout. Photo: Chris Dixon
Splitting a stormy Washout Peak. Photo: Chris Dixon
Another lined up left. Photo: Chris Dixon
Look closely, and you can see a happily barreled surfer on the righthand wave at Folly’s flooded pier.
Photo: Chris Dixon
Josh Wilson. Photo: Justin Morris/Follyhood.
Charlie Guss. Setting up on a stormy one. Photo: Justin Morris/Follyhood.
Look closely – another surfer in the barrel. Photo: Chris Dixon
Light offshores. Long lefts. Photo: Chris Dixon
Gloomy and beautiful. Note the destroyed dune fencing – part of a $35 million dollar Army Corps beach renourishment project that’s rapidly disappearing. Photo: Chris Dixon
A last, long left at Folly Beach. Photo: Chris Dixon
In the end, while my family avoided flooding, my dad’s house up the road in Pawleys Island would not be so lucky.
A truckload of flooded junk and memories. Photo: Chris Dixon
But that’ll be another story… CD