Bring on Summer
For the urban straphanger who dreams of hanging 10…
Surfing in Wellfleet
By Rachel Slade
Let’s be frank: New England is not known as a surfing destination. The water is frigid and the season is short. The waves are notoriously unpredictable, tending toward ankle snappers, and great breaks can sometimes last less than an hour. There may be sharks of the great white variety, drawn to shore by our plentiful and no doubt delicious harbor seals. We also lack a singular location—a Cape Hatteras (North Carolina) or a North Shore (Hawaii)—to coalesce a surfing tribe.
Yet New Englanders are nothing if not intrepid. The tiny surf culture that thrives here consists of hardy men and women who might have crewed Nantucket’s whaling boats or Salem’s merchant ships in another age. On any given day in November, especially when a storm’s brewing, they get up before dawn, grab their super-thick wetsuits, load their boards into trucks, and head for…shhh. Surfers may swap war stories all day, every day, reminiscing about their finest rides and most epic wipeouts, but they won’t tell you where they’re heading right now. Because in the end, every New England surfer dreams of finding that one big, gnarly, kickass wave before anyone else, and riding it alone.
Beginners, on the other hand, just hope to stay on the board long enough to catch their first wave. That’s where Ryan Garcia and Andy Jacob, of Wellfleet’s Cape Side Surf School (“We’re here to keep you stoked”), come in.
Though not a complete neophyte (I’d gone out a few times in Costa Rica’s calm, warm waters), I wanted to try surfing in my native habitat, so I contacted Garcia and Jacob to set up a two-day lesson. They told me to bring nothing but sunscreen. And that’s how I ended up on Marconi Beach—wetsuit zipped up and “foamie” in hand—at 8 a.m. on a flawless blue-skied Tuesday at the end of August.
Before we hit the water, Jacob explained that during winter storms, massive waves smack at the 30-foot-high dunes behind us, carving them away to create surf-forming sand banks below the ocean’s surface. Along with winds, the shapes of these ridges determine how waves form and break. Due to the constant churn of the mighty Atlantic, these conditions change every minute, and knowledgeable surfers can read the waves from shore to develop a game plan: where to head out, where to wait, when to ride.
Needless to say, much of Jacob’s erudition was lost on me, especially once we finally grabbed my foamie—a longboard made of nice soft stuff that won’t hurt you when it smacks you in the face—and headed into the surf. Damn! It was cold. The waves were merciless, too, rolling in one after the other, peaking clear over my head. Fortunately, I had Jacob, my kindly Surf Sherpa. He told me to lie down on the board and then guided me out. When he saw something he liked, he spun me around, gave me a push, and yelled, “Hop up!”
Yoga gals like me know the moves: updog (with toes curled under), then up to a shortened warrior-two pose. Now you’re surfing. Straight into shore.
After the ride ended, I rolled off, got a snoot full of fine Atlantic drink, grinned, and dragged my board back out toward my trusty Sherpa, wading in shoulder high. With both thumbs up, he hollered something like, “Yeah! Epic!” My grin broke into an all-out toothy smile.
After an hour, though, I began shivering like a Chihuahua and begged off. As I defrosted on the sun-kissed sand, still in my wetsuit (vacationers had filled in all around us wearing nothing more than bikinis), Garcia and Jacob talked surfing. Their speech was long and drawn out, a warm, relaxed, and welcoming cadence full of ’60s-era surf terms that lulled me into an endless-summer state of mind. I should just sell off everything and shack up in Baja. Or head to Indonesia.
After packing up, we brunched at the nearby Wicked Oyster, where Garcia ordered two breakfasts: huevos rancheros and strawberry waffles, plus a latte. I was surprisingly ravenous, too.
On the second day of lessons, Garcia took me out, and this time, I was ready: He brought a thicker wetsuit for me, plus booties and a hood. I lasted for hours in this getup, riding everything I could while savoring the Cape’s majesty from atop the muscular waves.
EAT: Fuel up on pancakes at the  Wicked Oyster (50 Main St., Wellfleet, thewickedo.com); post-surf, hit the outdoor raw bar Mac’s Shack (91 Commercial St., Wellfleet, macsseafood.com/restaurants/macs-shack) for local bivalves.
STAY: The  Colony of Wellfleet (640 Chequessett Neck Rd., Wellfleet, colonyofwellfleet.com) is a funky midcentury collection of cottages. It’s often fully booked, so if you miss out, head to the Holden Inn (140 Commercial St.,Wellfleet, theholdeninn.com).
SEE: Cape Side Surf School (capesidesurf.com) keeps it personal with small-group and private lessons on  Marconi Beach. —J.R.