I’ve spent the majority of my Fourth of Julys in Fenwick Island — usually working, sometimes lucky enough to get to the Fenwick Fourth of July party on my street before the fireworks go off or my Uncle Pat drinks the last beer.
But this year, for the first time, I got to spend America’s birthday doing something I didn’t see coming: surfing.
Thank you, Hurricane Arthur. Not only did you bring the East Coast some much-needed surf during our flattest season, but you allowed me to celebrate my freedom doing the most freeing thing I can possibly think of. Yes, surfing. I’m sorry, but Uncle Sam waving an American flag over Yankee Stadium’s got nothin’ on warm-water waves and nowhere to be, in terms of absolute freedom.
Now, should I have been working? Probably. There were definitely plenty of photo opportunities. There’s always a story to write. And I probably could have used the time to research for a really groundbreaking column on a nationally recognized issue. But it was the Fourth of July! My friends were in town, the surf was pumpin’, and the last time I did research was in the fifth grade.
With all those factors weighing the scale toward being irresponsible, I quickly diverted from my original plan to get some work done and take a “quick” surf break in the afternoon when my friend Logan called and said he was sitting in traffic on 54 on his way in from Baltimore. I had just sat down at my desk and glanced at the neglected surfboard a few feet away. Without much hesitation, I put it in the car.
Logan is one of my worst friends — you know, just in terms of being a good friend. He demonstrated that by not only eating immediately upon his arrival the sandwich that my mother had made for me, before I had a chance to, but by convincing me that “It’s July — you don’t need a wetsuit.”
I needed a wetsuit. The wind was howling, and the water was a falsely advertised 72 degrees. I would have complained about it more if we weren’t surfing some of the better waves I’ve surfed in a long time in the middle of the day on a work day.
We thought we were surfing pretty good until Colin Herlihy paddled out toward us. He’s always super-friendly and was stoked to see us, but to put it quite simply, surfing next to Colin makes you feel like you’re wearing water-wings and paddling around on a Boogie board — you know, the kind you can buy at the grocery store. And not the dinosaur one either. (That one is legit.)
It wasn’t long after Colin showed up that the cameras did. There were definitely some serious lenses out there — North Shore style.
When I couldn’t get my teeth to stop chattering, I decided it was probably time to go get a wetsuit. As we started off toward the dune, I looked back and saw Colin drop into a bomb, get barreled, and then launch an air off the lip. Then I saw Brad Flora and Simon Hetrick launching out of waves of their own shortly afterwards.
Before you know it, we had been standing there for a good 20 minutes. On a Fourth of July without fireworks, we still had a show.
Further demonstrating his terrible-friend qualities, Logan convinced me to go to Seacrets after that, under the guise that it would be funny to go sober, just to see what was going on. Approximately four minutes later, I had two beers in my hand and had already seen 10 people that I knew. The place was an absolute madhouse. I knew I had to get out of there, but I also knew I had to stay. The halo and the pitchfork echoed in my head. On one hand it was a work day, on the other it was the Fourth of July.
My friend Blair called a few beers into the ordeal with the deciding factor — there were still waves. I could do my work or watch Snooki look-a-likes get reality-show drunk anytime, but Hurricane Arthur was leaving town that night.
Logan was a goner. I left him with the Snooki twins, snagged my wetsuit and headed back to Ocean City with Blair. It probably took us 30 minutes to find a parking spot. Everyone was headed to the nearest watering hole. We, however, were the only ones headed toward the water.
After making our way through the crowds, we got to the beach to see that they had vanished there. There was no one out and, yes, there were still waves.
We paddled out as the sun set wild colors over the empty ocean and soon found that we had every set to ourselves. No one was shooting. No one was showing us up. My phone wasn’t ringing, and I wasn’t checking my email. For a while, we barely said a word. This was freedom. This, America, was what the Fourth of July was all about.
Eventually it got dark and we had to paddle in. I passed a crowded beach bar on my walk back. It was loud and obnoxious, and everyone was drunk and belting out Bruce Springsteen lyrics. “That’s OK,” I thought. “That’s how they chose to celebrate their freedom.” As I continued on, I looked back toward the beach for a second and silently thanked Hurricane Arthur for giving me the opportunity to celebrate mine.