While homeowners are breathing a sigh of relief, beachside business owners are cautiously optimistic about the crowds they hope will turn out to witness Hurricane Irene. Late this afternoon, this Examiner visited several beaches along the Space Coast, hoping to get a clearer picture of just who braves the gusty winds and driving rain, and more importantly, why they do. What was observed was that most of the people out today were from this area, not elsewhere. Perhaps tourists and curiosity-seekers will arrive tomorrow, when the skies are dry but the sea is still wild.
Traveling north on A1A, it was evident that every beach access owned by the federal government (Patrick property) was closed to the public. Yellow tape, locked gates and “Beach Closed” signs could be found at every crossover. And sometimes it was effective. Every parking lot had some cars in it, more than can usually be found at the same time of day other days. There seemed to be a lot of coming and going, getting a peek and then getting back in the car. Then, too, the
sky was certainly ominous-looking.
The south end of Patrick’s Officers’ Club, by the radar station, had a group of 10-12 people standing at the top of the hill. Most were pointing at something in the water, which turned out to be two surfers. They were having a hard time and didn’t seem to be able to stand up at all. There were moments when they would disappear from view and a collective sigh could be heard from the small crowd when they reappeared. Three of the onlookers there were local surfers and when asked why they weren’t out in the water. They shrugged and replied, “Nothing to ride. Tomorrow there will be. Not today.” Having made their decision, they seemed content to just watch the others flounder in the water.
Continuing north on A1A, the parking lot at Main Gate was locked and empty, but the next lot was quite crowded. Around one hundred people, of all ages, were standing or sitting on the walls, their attention riveted on the beach or water. Upon closer inspection (and asking around), three base security personnel were seen standing at the water’s edge. They were waving to two surfers out in the water. The surfers, two boys of high-school age, finally emerged from the churning water, words were exchanged and the younger group moved to the parking lot. The boys were joined by two friends and they all left together. I asked the boys how the surfing conditions were and they flashed big grins and said, “Great!”. Meanwhile, at the other end of the parking lot, the security men could be seen talking amongst themselves and shaking their heads.
Further south on A1A, Hightower Beach, Perkins, Buck (by Satellite High), and other smaller crossovers and parking lots were all full of cars and people. There were crowds of onlookers, most just curious and not minding the rain and wind, but no surfers in the water. Listening to random conversation led me to the conclusion that these people were all locals. It seemed everyone had a war story, mostly about the 2004 trifecta hurricane onslaught. Some spoke of plans to go out Friday when ‘the garbage’ was gone. (‘The garbage’ translating to ‘rough seas and no rideable waves’.)
Pelican Beach, a popular Satellite Beach surfing spot and recreation area to the south, was surprisingly uncrowded. While stopping to take a few photos of the sea oats bending in the wind, my attention was drawn to a young man quietly studying the situation as he stood along the crossover railing. He had a skateboard with him so it seemed possible that he might also surf, or at least want to. His name was Rodrigo and he was a most impressive young man.
Examiner: Do you surf?
Examiner: Did you surf today?
Rodrigo: Yes, I did.
Examiner: How would you describe the experience?
Rodrigo: Tiring! My arms are sore.
(He then explained about the paddling out, fighting to stay on the board, etc)
Examiner: Maybe because we don’t usually get waves this big and you aren’t used to them?
Rodrigo: (Proudly) I’ve surfed in Hawaii.
Examiner: Are you from around here?
Rodrigo: I live on Patrick Air Force Base.
Rodrigo went on to explain the dynamics of waves, swells, dropping in, and other surf-related facts. Although most of it was somewhat familiar to anyone who frequented the beach on an almost-daily basis and was the parent of a surfer themselves, it was the calm, confident way Rodrigo explained it that was impressive. He was a young person content
with himself and comfortable in his own skin. Probably a serious surfer who just respects and appreciates the ocean. He is probably excellent but not seeing the need to advertise it. He expects the surfing conditions to be good tomorrow and he plans to “just be ready”.
Please view the slide show to get a better idea of the conditions that were braved by those wishing to see Hurricane Irene.