It’s 3am on Saturday morning.
Typically at this time I’d be staring over a jack and coke trying to remember what this blondes name is, it’s only a matter of time before she asks me, and when I incorrectly go with Jessica she’ll get in a cab and go home alone - I’ll probably go get some pizza.
But not this Saturday. I’ve been watching Hurricane Joaquin for three days and as it moves farther out to sea the forecast looks better and better for the east coast. I’m stuck in Toronto. I had to move from Sydney earlier this year and I’ve been having serious surf withdrawals ever since. I even bought a utility van and am about half way through kitting it out like a 70’s surf camper. In Toronto this is of course useless since it’s minus thirty for six months of the year and there’s no ocean for nearly a thousand kilometres. But those California dreams get me through those waveless weeks. Didn’t think New York would come first.
Long beach faces South, NE winds and SE swell, things are lining up. But I know absolutely nothing about New York and know no one who surfs there. A couple stars on a Surfline report just isn’t motivating me to commit to that 10 hour drive. Did I mention like every other mid-twenties travel addicted surfer I’m broke as. I start a new job at a restaurant on Wednesday and am meant to be doing training between now and then. Decisions.
Let’s be honest. It wasn’t a decision. As soon as I saw the report I knew I was going. The rest of the real life shit can be put on hold. Talk the talk, walk the walk. This is what Lifestyle Over Luxury is all about, passion over practicality. I’d already started rearranging my schedule and making excuses for various commitments. I messaged every person that I knew that had been to New York or heard of New York and with little white lies, I bought myself 3 days before I had to be back. From the moment the idea crossed my mind I hadn’t been this excited in months. Frothing was an understatement.
It’s 3am on Saturday morning and I’m packing my half finished van/money pit up with sleeping bags, boards, camera equipment and a couple changes of clothes. I sewed the ass back up on my old 3/2 the night before and chucked it in there with a 2mm wetty top to go underneath if it was real cold. I didn’t even look at water temperature, I didn’t want to know. I’m broke remember I don't have coin for a 5mm. Ignorance is bliss.
I rolled out of the driveway before 4am. I’d texted a few girls to come along hoping to heat the van the old fashioned way, but surprisingly no one wanted to drive ten hours to watch me surf, so I was going solo. Firing on Tim Horton’s and a borderline manic level of stoke I was ten hours away from the big apple.
The large coloured female Border Guard reminded me of Aunt Jemima. She did the usual monotone, “where are you going and for how long” speech and looked at me like I was a couple sandwiches short of picnic when I replied, “I’m going surfing in New York.” She asked me if people did that in New York and I said I’d let her know on the way back with my best Spicolli grin. Then she did this half ass search of my home on wheels. I think it was more out of curiosity than anything, the line of questioning wasn’t, “are you carrying any drugs in your pillows?” and more like, “did you laminate these floors yourself?”
Couple of home renovation based inquiries later, Aunt Jemima let me on my way.
Gas and exchange rates. Lucy is a great van, I love the old gal but damn can she guzzle that shit like Tijuana hooker. The ‘budget” was spent before I hit upstate New York. The drive was epic though, I highly recommend driving through upstate New York in the fall. Just take a Yaris.
From one of my friends who had heard of NY, I found out parking is free on the streets, which was a huge bonus. Usually I can’t be assed to find a spot and just end up paying some insane ticket. I was arriving Sunday arvo and the wind wouldn’t be good until Monday morning so I cruised into Manhattan to be a tourist. It was so damn busy it was unbelievable. Later I realized this was because I accidentally drove into Times Square. But I scored a parking spot literally next to it. I skated down 5th avenue listening to Jay-z. Stood in the middle of Times Square. Had a NY slice of pizza. Saw a homeless dude hammering one out in an alley and watched the sun set from the 86th floor of the empire state building. Tourist shit complete.
I slept on the corner of 88th; of course I’d parked beside a loading bay and listened to dudes unload shit intermittently until I got up at five to head to long beach.
I had no clue where to go so I pulled down the first side street that looked like there may be a beach at the end of it. I stood there transfixed. It was better than I ever could have imagined. Under brisk morning offshores there was reeling little 3ft right handers unloading on the sandbar fifty feet from shore. I had it to myself for at least an hour before three other dudes came and sat on the peak beside me. I was so stoked. I’d scored! All that way and it paid off. I would have been happy with just that.
As the day went on the wind died and the swell filled in. I drove farther east on Long Beach and found some better banks. By my third surf that day it was at least 4ft or bigger and barrelling. Finally my arms were jelly and I went over the falls and into the sandbar straddling my board like a shitty limp cowboy. I called it a day and picked up the camera.
I got a cooked chicken for $6.50 (so like $150 Canadian) from the grocery store that was going out of business and parked on the quietest neighbourhood street I could find. I actually found a church and was thinking, yes this is perfect people will avoid this place until at least 9am. Didn’t matter, I was up at 5 and day two was even cleaner and more organized, maybe even slightly bigger. I think I did one turn. It was just a barrel-fest.
I trashed my favourite board on one mid morning and I went to a local shop to see if I could get it fixed in 30 mins to go back out. This is like going to the showing up to a flight 4 mins before it leaves and expecting to get on it. The air hostess, or in this case the retail assistant, just looks at you like, “you must be new to this.” I left with a bottle of resin and an air freshener. I did the worst hack repair you’ve ever seen in your life and surfed for another two hours before the board decided it was done.
New York you blew my mind.
This is all pretty common is Australia, bailing briefly on life in some old wagon to drive miles and miles into a storm hoping there may be a wave at the end of your journey. Any of my mates down there reading this probably had a pretty similar weekend. I’ve done this with mixed results for four years with all of them. It’s not so common in Toronto. Crazy got tossed around more than once in conversations about going with my mates here. Maybe its a difference in the culture. Work to live against live to work. Maybe it’s the difference in religious dedication to a hobby. But here this kind of spontaneity is looked at a little like insanity. And people are intrigued by such strange behaviour. I always hear the same questions…
Aren’t you scared sleeping on a street in New York?
How can you afford it?
What about your job?
What if this?
What if that?
Yeah. I was a little freaked out about sleeping in an enormous, infamously dangerous city by myself. Just like I’ve been nervous to do a tonne of shit in my life, including surfing for the first time. My first time backpacking trip alone to Central America and moving to Australia by myself. I was shitting myself about doing all of those things. They all now have two things in common. I was afraid to do them and they’re the best experiences of my life. Chalk New York up on that list. The money, I can always make more. Memories are invaluable. You have a down day and call in sick to watch Netflix, I call in sick to go on an adventure. And I choose jobs with the flexibility to do so. I can’t survive any other way, I’ll go crazy if I feel trapped. All of the “what if’s”, well… a good friend once told me, “attitude is the difference between an adventure or an ordeal.” Whatever happens, as long as you don’t die - which is unlikely - it’s just another story to tell.
It may seem crazy the first couple times. But after a while it’s easy. It’s a part of who you are and you couldn’t live any other way. The hardest part becomes coming back… and one day I won’t.
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