This month, my job has taken me to the Florida Panhandle. My traveling partner had some business to attend to in Orlando on the weekend, so we decided to head over to the Atlantic side. Gave me a chance to check out the surf on that side of the state.
After over seven hours of driving (including stops) we finally arrived in Daytona Beach. The only thing I knew about the place was from what I saw on MTV Spring Break. In my ignorance, I didn't even make the connection that the Daytona Speedway was there.
Anyway, the next day I found myself driving south at 3:45 in the morning, listening to "Lightning Crashes" by Live on the radio, while fingers of electricity danced across the sky. The weather had gotten decidedly ominous, with scattered thunderstorms in the forecast. It was both beautiful and unsettling.
Drove down to Sebastian's Inlet--figured that would be the best bet. Arriving at the park, I found that you have to pay just to park ($3.25). In Hawaii, even in the most congested areas (like Waikiki), there is free parking. We take it for granted.
Walking over the bluff, I was greeted with... flatness! Light winds and no activity in the Carribean translated to tiny surf.
Since I was there, I had to jump in just so that I could say that I surfed "The Inlet." Grabbed my bodyboard and jumped in at dawn. Caught three waves to the beach, then bailed.
Next stop was Ron John's in Cocoa Beach. I knew it was a big shop, but I was shocked when I saw it--it was huge. From the outside, it looked like something out of DisneyWorld or Vegas, with neon lights on a castle-like structure. Inside, I found that the shop really was tourist-oriented, with lots of apparel and peripheral beach items. You couldn't even touch or hold any of the surfboards. Still impressive, though--something like 55,000 sq ft total floor space in the two shops.
I decided to check out Cocoa Beach pier, just for s#!ts and grins. Found it thigh-high, so I made a go of it. At least over there, they were cool and let surfers ride right next to the pier. Guess there's a lot of strife between surfers and fishermen on the East Coast. I actually got a ticket for bodyboarding too close to the Vah Beach pier, but that's another story.
This must've been training ground zero for Kelly Slater and Lisa Andersen. It's amazing that such incredible talents cut their teeth in this area. Maybe the lack of consistent quality conditions honed their skills more, since they had to work harder to progress. In any case, they have my total respect.
I surfed the north side of the pier. There was this little peak that came up right next to the pilings, and allowed early entry into the wave. From there, it was a matter of kicking to maintain trim, then doing the old spinner/el floppo combination.
When I drove away, I found that I had inadvertently drove into a pay parking lot without paying. Oh well.
Surfed with the groms for an hour, then hit it to New Smyrna, where there was supposed to be an ASP East contest. I couldn't find it, but I did find a beach access road. It'll cost you $ 5 to allow you to drive your vehicle on the beach, though. [Head shaking again in disbelief]
Back at the hotel, I got to talking with a hotel clerk (she asked about my bodyboard). She knew one person from Hawaii (they surf together), so she asked me if I knew her. Surprisingly, I did! I used to work at the HSF amateur contests, judging, tallying and even running the contests. There was this girl named Rita who helped us tally scores, and we were good acquaintances. About five years ago, she told me that she was getting married and planned to move to Florida. I never thought our paths would cross like this.
Rita and her husband Bernie own a surf shop (a *real* surf shop) in Daytona--Mad Dog Surfboards. I went down to see her, but found out she just happened to be back to Hawaii for vacation. I did get a chance to talk story with her husband--cool guy. The song rang through my head--"It's a small world after all..."
Took the long drive back on Sunday. The 75 mph speed limit is nice, but still a bit low.
When all was said and done, we had driven over 1,200 miles on our little surfari/business trip. Total water time: less than two hours; average wave size: knee-high; stoke level: Let's just say it's always fun.
Aloha from Daytona Beach (the most famous beach in the world, or so they say),