I guess it’s not a once in a life time opportunity . . . Though it feels that way.
This February night was the second time the stars aligned. Two years and two months prior I wrote:
“Once upon a time in a little cosmic hamlet by the sea all the magic ingredients came together. A swell was rolling into Kachemak Bay, the winds were calm, the tide was right, the sky was clear, and it was a full moon.” (Moon Tubes at 2:30am)
This was a stellar repeat performance and I was fortunate enough to have my lovely assistant, Stephanie, along with to take photos while I explored what it’s like to stand up paddlesurf at midnight in the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’. For those unfamiliar with Alaska, it has earned this little moniker due to the fact that far enough north there is a period in the summer where the sun literally never sets, and is shining bright at midnight. In the winter months with our desperate thoughts of warmth and long summer days we look up at the moon and sort of imagine, that maybe it’s like the sun. Let me tell you, while it may reflect enough light, it does not reflect much heat.
The waves were pretty decent, a little confused but totally glassy. The layer of slush floating on the surface took them to a notch above glassy actually. Until you’ve seen surf break in slush it is hard to imagine. The slush gives the water some kind of surface tension that keeps it remarkably smooth. The first waves I paddle into looked to be about waist high. I reached the paddle back to feel the face and was surprised to find the crest of the wave about a foot over my head. Guess I could use some more practice judging size in the moonlight.
The most challenging thing during this session was holding onto the paddle. The air temp must have been around 0ºF because every 10-20 seconds I would have to rinse the paddle shaft and my mittens in the water to wash quickly forming ice off them. I was surfing pretty conservatively as the tide was rising with waves pushing harder and harder into the rip-rap boulder breakwater. Just before heading out I watched an unfortunate surfing buddy’s leash break and the waves quickly washed his board into the breakwater. Or breakboard in this instance. It seemed pretty clear, even in this dim moonlight, that if I got caught inside I was going to be feeding those rocks a standup board as their main entree. So after five surprisingly nice rides I took my gear home to surf another day, or night as it may be.
It’s hard to photograph surfing at night. The way the camera works is by registering light. A black wetsuit at night does not reflect much light, so all that really shows up is a faint blurring trail behind the board of white water on the wave face. If you look really close you might make out a slight shadow of a surfer. No fault of Stephanie, but there wasn’t much to show for my wave riding action. Maybe next time I’ll tie the glow sticks around my neck.
I was wearing a Quiksilver 6/5mm hooded suit, Xcel 7mm boots and Quiksilver 7.5mm mittens. These are all three great pieces of coldwater surfing gear. The actual session probably lasted around 35 minutes with a bit of time getting ready. I was totally warm when I got out. Air temp was around zero F and water temp at the surface was obviously around freezing since it was in fact freezing. The board was a C4 Waterman All Arounder Wide Glide 11′ made by Boardworks. Surf Alaska sells all this gear if you are thinking that midnight surfing might be your next pursuit. Plenty of room out there for one or two more surfers I’d say.