The Scuttlefish

Love the Ocean. Wish you were here.

Category: hurricane

A Thanks to Brian Lam, Matt Warshaw, Jeremy Spencer, Chronicle Books – and Everyone who’s Made this Ocean Life Possible

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My first ever rejection letter. Courtesy of Surfer Magazine and Matt Warshaw. 1989. 

It’s weird the stuff you decide to file in your folder book of memories. The above note is one such recently found object. It’s my very first, of very, very many professional rejection notes. If you’re a writer, you get used to rejection notes from editors. If you don’t, well, you’d better find other work. Aside from being a first, what makes this letter so very damn special is that it was written and signed by none other than Matt Warshaw. If you’re a surfer who’s worth even a grain of salt, you know him. If you’re not a surfer, suffice to say that the author of The History of Surfing and editor of The Encyclopedia of Surfing is to our sport as Ken Burns is to baseball – or James Michener is to Hawaii.

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Not too long ago, I stumbled upon Warshaw’s note in the back of my garage, amidst a stack of yellowing articles and letters. I’d completely forgotten this little nugget, but I vividly remember when it arrived. It was late 1989. I was a hopeful young journalism graduate, freshly minted from the University of Georgia, freshly cast off by my UGA girlfriend and freshly rendered unemployed and homeless by hurricane Hugo’s godawful smashing of the South Carolina coast. Forlorn and filled with a twenty-something’s boundless capacity for angst, I’d found temporary refuge in the basement of my dad’s Atlanta condo, and a temporary job shuffling fonts around on a Macintosh computer at his advertising agency. I reckoned the only way out of depression and self-pity was to write, and get the hell back to the beach.

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Life In Salt. Talking Story with Barbarian Days Author William Finnegan, Part I. Joaquin and the Indefensible Lust for Hurricane Surf.

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William Finnegan. Portrait of the author as a young man. Photo from Barbarian Days, courtesy: William Finnegan.

Editor’s Note. Last week, I fired up Skype for a chat with author and longtime New Yorker reporter William Finnegan. Finnegan, 62, is a personal hero. He’s a Manhattan-based, hard-nosed, badass, no-bullshit, journalist’s journalist, and surfing’s most accomplished wordsmith. In his recently released New York Times bestselling memoir Barbarian Days, A Surfing Life, Finnegan has written a sweeping, engrossing narrative that literally took six decades to write.

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Barbarian Days. Well worth 1926 pennies.

Finnegan and I planned to spend fifteen, maybe twenty minutes talking about the book. But by the time we wrapped it up, we’d had a two hour long discussion on the the state of the world, climate armageddon, fatherhood, surfing, relationships, youthful selfishness, growing older and hopefully wiser, and, oh yeah, the book.

Over the next several days, I’ll run excerpts from our talk in installments. First, the glory, frustration and indefensible immorality of lusting after, and chasing hurricane waves.

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The Long Rain. Joaquin’s Filthy Barrels, Epic Devastation and Rising Tide. A Photo Diary from Charleston.

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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.

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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.

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The first line of storms just offshore from Folly Beach. Photo: Chris Dixon

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Wish You Were Here – A Morning of Perfect Autumn Surf in Folly Beach, Courtesy of Hurricane Joaquin.

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Empty Wednesday morning peeler. Photo: Chris Dixon

It wasn’t huge, but it sure was pretty. Water temperature, around 78. Air, around 81. East and Southeast swell, five or so feet at 11 seconds. Wind, very light offshore. That’s the recipe for perfectly shaped a-frames up and down the sandbars of Folly Beach, South Carolina. All in all, a dreamy morning of surf. For us, the waves will only get bigger and better as Joaquin strengthens and a north wind blows. But as with every tropical storm that develops nearshore our relationshipo with this spinning low is complicated. Our bounty could well turn into sheer Joaquin-induced disaster for the Bahamas, Virginia or the Northeast. — CD

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The all over the place tracks for Joaquin from Weather Underground. 

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