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Ex-local surfer Ari tells of giant waves, east of 5...


Howdy folks,
Well we are currently under a hurricane warning, one step up from a hurricane watch. It looks like Hurricane Isabel is coming our way in the next 24-36 hours. After weakening a bit, it has strengthened again to 110 mph sustained winds with higher gusts. The Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras, Topsail Island, and many of N.C.'s barrier islands are under mandatory evacuations. Tomorrow schools are under half day schedules, and are closed beginning Thursday. Nobody knows quite what to expect. Nicole and I are planning on hanging out, we live on the Intracoastal Waterway side, rather than the ocean side, thus we are not under mandatory evacuations. We have a strong brick house, lots of supplies, food, water, etc., and we should be fine... hopefully. (As long as trees don't fall on our house...) I asked a neighbor about boarding and/or taping up windows. His answer supplied a clear visualization... "Imagine huge pinecones flying through the air at 110 mph." Hmm. They say we may be out of power and water for several days or more, so we should fill our bathtubs with water to use for bathing, washing, etc. "Bring in all your yard furniture," this neighbor said. "I've seen 100 mph lounge chairs fly through peoples' windows." Wow.

So this is basically the story, hang out and wait for Isabel... we'll see what happens. In the meantime, the Mayor of Wilmington, N.C. and our local beaches are appearing on CNN and the Weather Channel.

As for the surf, Isabel's presence began to arrive with some power this morning. My surf this morning (I was forced to call in sick for half the day) was at the north end of Wrightsville, at the Inlet. It was intense, about 10 feet. Big walls crumbled off the outer sandbars, providing some long, fast, and ocassionally scary rights. Some of them jacked up and hollowed out as they hit the inner bars. Definitely powerful, definitely congruent with what we've come to know as the burly Isabel. Tonight, due to an extremely low tide, the surf wasn't quite as big, more so about 6-8 feet with a few bigger sets. Tomorrow... we shall see.... but the forecast is calling for an increase of 5 feet or more.

I'll keep you posted as long as we have power. Amazingly, the last two days we've had very beautiful weather, blue skies, moderate winds... not for long.

Blessings from the calm before the storm, the rather intense peace before Isabel,

September 14, 2003

Greetings folks,
For the surfers out there, as well as weather enthusiasts, the Atlantic hurricane season is in full swing right now, and while that means the possibility of extremely devastating storms, it also means WAVES. For the last two weeks Wilmington, North Carolina and its local beaches, Wrightsville, Masonboro, have been transformed into legitimate surfing epicenters. We have had surf for two weeks, and for the last 12 days we’ve had large, cranking, solid surf up to 3 feet overhead and possibly bigger. 

Local N.C. surfers are smiling ear to ear, and I’ve learned a new respect for spots that I’ve cursed for months. I’ve come to understand Neptune’s power in the Atlantic, especially upon a stretch of coast that has been unusually quiet for almost a year.

I’ve surfed just about every day for the last 12 days, which began with hurricane surf generated from Hurricane Fabian, which built over a period of 3 days, rising to 2-3 feet overhead (i.e. 8-9 feet) on the fourth and fifth days. Masonboro Island has been the place, with grinding tubes and flawless sandbars. It really has been amazing. As surf from Fabian dissipated, Tropical system Henri came up the coast, stalled just offshore, and generated 6 more days of head high to 2-3 feet overhead. The climax of Henri came Friday evening (yesterday) when Mason’s Inlet, a sandbar situated between two islands about half a mile out to sea, started to peel almost flawlessly with waves up to seven feet high in stiff offshore winds. Today, Saturday, I took a break from the ocean... my body is sore, my limbs ache from paddling, I’ve got surf wax in my hair, sand in my ears, and salt water flushed into every opening of my body. Since it’s virtually all beach break out here, the bigger it gets, the greater the potential to get slammed in top-to-bottom grinders, no gentle reefs out here or perfect point breaks to rely on. The N.C. surfer depends totally on shifting sandbars, tidal movement, and local wind conditions. These past back-to-back swells have provided surf that would rival most any major swell in Southern California. 

The trouble is, back home we have the potential for such surf year-round. 

Here the window is much slimmer. Thus, surfers are taking advantage of the surf every chance they get. Our water temp is hovering in the upper 70's.

The most reliable surf is at Masonboro Island, just south of here. It’s accessible by a major paddle across an inlet with heavy currents, boat traffic, and possibly sharks, or it can be reached by boat. I surfed it almost every day last week, sometimes by paddling, and sometimes by boating over after work with another teacher who owns a boat and is eager to log a few hours in the water after teaching. I’ve surfed a few times with a really cool Hawaiialn dude named Tiko. He’s been out here a handful of years, and is very eager to surf the bigger stuff. There are some really good surfers that sort of come out of the wood work when it gets good. 

Likewise, a lot of the novice beginner college students are nowhere to be found. Nonetheless, this California boy has a new respect for the local landscape, seascape, and color.

The forecast is intense from here on out. Our surf is only going to get bigger throughout the rest of the weekend, overhead by Monday, seriously overhead by Tuesday, and possible 20 foot seas forcasted for Wednesday due to the massive category 5 hurricane which is heading our way as I write this. Hurrican Isabel, as it is affectionately known, is really a beast, with 160 mph sustained winds and gusts of more than 200 mph. If it comes our way, which some experts feel it may, it will “completely destroy Wrightsville Beach” they say. We should have 3-4 days of huge, cranking surf before that, and my friend Eric from Nor Cal arrives out here on Wednesday. It’s all up in the air though, if this Isabel beast makes landfall, we’re going to get our asses kicked, if you know what I mean. Put out some good vibes for it to take a serious northerly track and stay out in the Atlantic. That would not only save possibly thousands of houses, buildings, beaches, and animals somewhere between Florida and North Carolina, but also deliver us another perhaps 5 days of huge hurricane surf as it tracks up the Atlantic coast. Man, things are happening in this here ocean right now.

I’ll keep you posted.

Blessings from the Soul Rider on sabbatical in North Carolina... making peace with the Atlantic
(Yes, by the way I am still teaching and practicing my Spanish)

Keep in touch,

July 25, 2002: Local surfer Ari tells his story...

Rod and Kenzie,

     Hello there. I am currently in L.A. with family, en route to North Carolina with my wife. Luckily, I managed to have a few days to surf that beautiful South Swell. Malibu and points north have been all-time. I miss Beacons, Leucadia, and San Diego tons. Not sure how long I can stay away. On the bright side, it's hurricane season back east. Tropical storm Gustav just brought some solid surf to Carolina.

     Here's the full version of my article. Thanks for being interested. See you all as soon as I can come back for a visit.

Thanks, peace, and blessings,

And here is Ari's article...

“A Bit of Nostalgia from Soulful Leucadia”
Ari J. Marsh
for The Coast News
Excerpts published on July 25, 2002:
“Leucadia Surfer Bids Farewell” 

     It was spring 1991, when as a fresh graduate from SDSU wondering what in the world I was going to do, that a friend from college guided me to a room rental at a house in Leucadia. I quickly grabbed my surfboards, clothes, and whatever gear I had from our rental shack in Mission Beach and moved into the heart of old Leucadia for less than $300 per month. It was a half acre piece of property that one of the landlords, Ben, a colorful ex-hippie and to this day still a dear friend, lovingly referred to as “the farm.” The farm was loaded with fruit trees: peach, plum, apricot, tangerine, and loquat to name a few. There was also an almond tree and several branches of a neighbor’s avocado tree that hung over onto our side of the fence. Ben informed me that any avocados on our side were fair game for hungry residents of the farm. I lived on the farm for nine years, until my girlfriend (now my wife) and I decided that we couldn’t stay there forever.

     During this nine-year stint, I lived in every room in the main house, in addition to the studio (a funky, converted self-sufficient garage), and a tiny shack in the middle of the garden where I spent nearly two years. (Man, how I miss the days of being able to walk outside in the middle of the night and pee anywhere.) The farm also had ducks, chickens, rabbits, a turkey named Torrey rescued by a vegetarian organization from a Thanksgiving feast, and in the late 90’s, two pygmy goats came along. I saw so many people come and go from that place that Ben and I stopped counting after more than 40 tenants: massage therapists, surfers, artists, teachers, doctors, wanderers, drop-outsthat place had seen them all. We cultivated and juiced wheatgrass, had group meditations and yoga classes, created vast organic gardens, and even ate wild weeds. When the surf was flat, I kept active with sessions on my neighbor’s swing. Kirk Van Allyn, the Leucadia scientist and inventor recently known for his giant sand mandalas on our local beaches, had built a stand-up swing that hung from a thirty-foot high tree limb. It was a bit like skating a half-pipe, the vertical point being level with the limb at thirty feet in the air. 

     The mellow lifestyle and people of Leucadia suited me perfectly, and my second home soon became the bluffs and reef/beach breaks off Leucadia Blvd. In fact, probably 95% of my local surfing over the past 11 years, when not traveling, has been good ol’ Beacon’s Beach. Though not the best wave in the area, it definitely has its days. More so, it is home to so many unique and classic characters that stories can be written about most any one of them alone. I have made many friends over the years from regularly surfing the Beacon’s coast and conversing with fellow surfers and neighbors alike. This article would not be complete without mention of some of the long-time locals: ex-70’s pool skater Brandon Williams, friendly Bill Parker, soulful Andy Poff and his two sons Alex and Ian, local legend Kit Horneover 70 and still surfing, his son-in-law Mike Foreman, innovative surfer/shaper Gary Hanel and his son Peter, Robert Saxon with his classic 70’s approach, local board repair wizard Buttons, and surf instructor Kahuna Bob. 

     Having been born and raised in West Los Angeles and a survivor of a childhood growing up and surfing in the heart of Dogtown, it was in 1986 at the age of 17 that I fled the increasing intensity and aggressiveness of L.A. for the paradise of San Diego. My ticket south was an acceptance letter from SDSU. While my five years at SDSU earned me a college degree, it also gave me invaluable experience and knowledge in regards to the vast surfing arena of San Diego County. We surfed everywhere: from Swami’s at the north, to La Jolla and Sunset Cliffs at the south. We got to know spots like Bird Rock, Horseshoes, P.B. Point, South Mission Jetty, Luscomb’s, and regularly delved into the isolated world of Baja. 

During this late 80’s-early 90’s period, we were getting so much surf, more than we had ever had in L.A., and without the anger and intensity so common at places like Malibu. Yes, this was paradise for myself and a handful of friends who fled the streets of L.A. for the charm and beauty of San Diego. Graduation in 1991 split us all upmost of these life-long friends headed north to places like Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Stinson Beach, and Humboldt County. Others delved into Hawaii. I was the only one to remain and find my niche at the farm.

     Ah, the farm… I remember one sunny day in ‘93, I was clearing away piles of leaves from beneath overgrown trees when my rake hit something hard. Buried beneath two feet of leaves was a surfboard. It was a classic mid-70’s single-fin. The logo read Hometown Surfboards, Encinitas, CA. I later found out it had belonged to one of the other landlords. He hadn’t ridden it or even seen it in perhaps ten years. With a little negotiating it was mine, and I scrubbed off layers of dirt and grime to reveal a clean stick shaped by a young Bill Menard. 

     Then there was the summer I spent sleeping in a tent in the back yard of the farmunder a pyramid. It was quite an experience, until the morning when I woke at 3:00 a.m. writhing in pain from a black widow bite. 

     And the surf… the countless days, many now forgotten, of riding waves. There was a day in February ‘93, locally remembered as Big Thursday, when the waves at Beacon’s were so big they were beginning to break at the kelp beds. We watched giant sets tugging kelp up their faces, before paddling out and riding some of the biggest and most perfect surf I have ever seen at Beacon’s. 
Other floating memories from Beacon’s include… sharing waves with dolphins… surfing the winter solstice with 43 degree air temps and a negative low tide… getting one of the best tubes of my life at Phoebe Street in the early-90’s… 

     I have surfed Beacon’s on boards ranging from 6’4” to 12’, and ridden waves from less than 1’ to nearly triple overhead. During an El Nino year, I saw an octopus in the water at North Reef. I’ve watched passing whales from the bluff, and stood in awe before offshore lightning storms. I’ve wrestled with lobster traps in the soup during large winter swells, and came close to drowning in ’96 when a freak set snapped my leash and pinned me in darkness beneath stacks of whitewater. I’ve seen lefts at Beacon’s South Reef peeling across almost the entire length of the parking lot. And like most every other surfer, I’ve cruised, carved, glided, and slashed too many waves to remember on my oceanic quest for personal meaning and expression. And though today I share these stories, they are no better nor worse than anyone else’s. They are merely my reflections, which honor the lives of all who are fortunate enough to share in the adventure and joy of being a surfer, having a relationship with the ocean, with nature, with life. 

     Though I can’t tell you what San Diego or North County was like in the 1940’s, or even the 70’s for that matter (as many locals can), I can still say I’ve witnessed a lot of beauty and a lot of change. Except for a year and a half stint in Solana Beach, I have remained a Leucadia resident for the past 11 years. But the growth and expansion in the last year alone has been simply astounding. During a month long period from June to July 2002, I noted license plates from 34 different states on the North County coast, 18 of which were spotted in the Beacon’s parking lot alone. 

     So what is the cause of my reflection, my nostalgia? The cause is that I am soon to be leaving the areanot just Leucadia, but southern California, not just southern California but the West Coast, the beloved Pacific. Though it is hard to come to terms with leaving, the recent incredible rise in rent, cost of living, and amazing expansion in population to the whole North County coast makes it easier to consider. My path is leading my wife and I, for a time, to the waters of the Atlantic, to the coast of North Carolina, in order to be closer to her folks and spend some time on “her” coast, being that she was born and raised in the East. “East” is my word, not hers, she claims she is from the South. To a Southern California surfer, however, goin’ south means Baja, and since we’re not going to live in Baja, I say we’re going to the East. 

     All in all, it’s my turn to compromise, explore new terrain, and make new friends and discoveries. Fortunately, I will not be without ocean. The North Carolina coast is home to many surfers, some decent waves, and plenty of offshore islands, so I will have much to experience. I’ve been warned about sharks, bluefish that occasionally nip your toes off, and hicks trying to surf in cut-off jeans with big ol’ belt buckles. Nonetheless, I am remaining open minded and allowing my spirit of adventure to guide me. On a whole, I am approaching this upcoming move with a mixture of excitement, sadness, and curiosity. 

     May this article be my tribute to Leucadia and the beaches of North County that I will miss dearly. May it honor all the wonderful people who have made and continue to make this area so mellow and soulful, in spite of the negative forces of traffic, materialism, and over-development. This is not my good-bye, but my “see you later.” As a teacher, I will have summers free to visit, and my wife and I have so many life-long friends here that it will always be close to our hearts. Not failing to mention my beloved family in L.A. 

     So be well, Leucadia. Stay soulful. Remember your essence. Those of you new to North County, please appreciate it and respect its character. Those of you trying to exploit this area in any way, think again, and change your mind before it’s too late. We are all here for only a short time on this planet. May we live well but with humility, and keep our beautiful coastal environment as pure as possible for those who will follow decades from now. Aloha, from another passing surfer… 

Author’s Note:
The farm was sold just over a year ago. The animals were transferred to a new locality in the hills of Escondido. The new owners of the Leucadia house wasted no time wiping out nearly all the fruit trees and paving part of the yard to provide access for their massive RV. Though I still have my memories, each day the changes that take place in once quiet Leucadia astound me. Just this year alone greenhouses and avocado orchards were leveled to provide space for numerous, tightly packed track homes selling from $600-$800,000.

About the Author:
Ari J. Marsh is a surfer, writer, and educator. He is author of the Soul Rider surfing books of poetry. You can email Ari to share your thoughts with him.

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