Feb. 2, 2014, Ditch Plain, Montauk: The voice rings out, “Lads, paddle, a set is coming.” Four men on surfboards ranging from 9 to 10 feet paddle 30 yards farther seaward to wait, positioning themselves for the four-foot winter set.
Three of the men had been talking, light Irish brogues distinct, pleasant enough topics, not much at all, prior to the sighting of the three-wave set, clearly visible 250 yards offshore. The fourth surfer had mentioned to one of the three Irish guys, “You need a hood.”
The man has hair long enough to more than cover his head and ears, yet it is February in Montauk. No hood in Montauk in February, even with a mild across-the-board temperature of 45 degrees water and air, is a stretch. The man with no hood shrugged, spoke about industrious work completed earlier in the day, and then was out on the water, indifferent to wearing a hood.
The set arrives, glassy, cement-like, smooth, as very cold water seems. The four men paddle, catch, stand up Waikiki-style, surfing shoreward. Possibly three are actually standing, yet for the sake of the tale, let’s make it four. The sun, a hallowed gray sun from west to north, blankets the surf spot in more than adequate light.
Waikiki-style is arms spread out, cruising gracefully toward land, smiling, without a care in the world.
Dec. 27, 2013, Ditch Plain, Montauk: John, one of the local Ditch Plain prophets of the summer past, roams the parking lot, not thinking much, just on a surf check. He had had responsibilities to attend to in New York City the past week. A surfer walks up to him fully suited and says, “Stay away from people who drive expensive white luxury cars.”
John looks quizzical, wondering what that means.
The suited surfer mentions “not the ones with the white trucks, no. People who have white trucks are actively employed doing something honest enough.” The surfer continues, “John, stay away from people with cars like this.” The surfer points to an expensive swayback S.U.V., a brand-new white Range Rover with all the newest and greatest surfboard rack apparel adorning.
The wetsuit-clad surfer says, “John, it’s pretty obvious that they could be involved in, you know, shady business.” The surfer continues, “I have a distant uncle who says that anyone who buys or rents a fancy white car is involved in . . . one of two occupations. This is a family beach; I’ll tell you later.”
He continues, “No one goofs around more than us, or has as much fun, yet those people could give the sport a bad name.”
John muses, thinks blissfully about sitting in his beach chair near his older-model Chevy truck during Labor Day weekend past. What fun that was, how he loves Ditch Plain on the holidays: What a celebration! John thinks about the attractive lady he was sitting with Labor Day past — she was sipping a Budweiser bottle of beer, gracefully.
John snaps out of his daydream, laughing about the fancy white car with all the surf trimmings, and says, “That’s hilarious.” John walks back to his Chevy truck, smiling.
Sept. 28, 2010, Radar Base, Montauk: Left-breaking five-foot waves crease laterally across the western rock shelf a hundred yards offshore connecting to a sandbar closer to shore. Surfers ride the waves moving and bending, tucking into the cylindrical formation waves make known as the tube.
Birders, bird-watchers, ornithologists, with scopes, just a few, are positioned on the bluffs, intent on their excursion. Not more than 160 yards offshore to the southwest, a small charter boat of approximately 38 feet in length drifts quietly with 10 people aboard. The sun glimmers as only during New England fall.
A five-wave set blankets the late-afternoon rock reef. Surfers, not many, slide across the overhead walls of water. Simultaneously, pow, pow, pow, the sound of shotguns resounds from the small boat drifting directly off the surf break. The lightest scent of cigar smoke drifts inward. The afternoon winds are beginning to shift from offshore to onshore.
Pow, pow, pow, pow, poof, boom. Maybe someone on the duck-shoot charter is carrying some black powder high-gauge gun. The birders are moving like squirrels along the Montauk bluff cliffs, in clear view of the gunners. The bird enthusiasts’ scopes glint as the instruments cross paths with the southwestern afternoon sun.
Two small groups of bird-watchers move along the cliffs. The shooting boat drifts in close enough, after a volley, to give the air a hint of gunpowder. The slightest trail of white smoke bursts from their guns after each volley. One can almost imagine a silver-inlayed shotgun, family heirloom, no doubt, a family flask silvered to match.
An intoxicating scene, in the sense of: This has taken place before, long years before, this surf session in late September. The waves break in patterns of five, every 17 to 20 minutes, generated by an offshore tropical depression. The birders watch, the surfers surf, the duck boat shoots, all drifting together like a symbiotic painting of lore.
Passports to the Island of Montauk are currently being issued for the summer and fall of 2014. If you are not in possession of a legitimate 2014 passport by May 14 you will be required to leave the island by 8:30 p.m. or sunset. The families, as they exist on Montauk, need peace and quiet, at least at nighttime.
Morgan McGivern is The Star’s staff photographer.