Believe it or not, there was a time not all that long ago when the surfing scene looked very different around here.
Spending time at Ditch Plain this past week, I was reminded of a day in about 1987 when Tony Caramanico was involved with a surfing contest and approached a few of my buddies and me to ask if we would enter. The thing was, there were so few longboards in Montauk in those days that there were not even enough potential competitors to join a heat. We said no, being ardent anticompetitive surfers and not wanting to lose to Tony in any event.
Today, even when the Ditch surf is junky, it seems like there would be more than a mile of fiberglass if all the boards were laid end to end. By 2020, Tony said in an interview in The Star, “I used to be the only one giving lessons there and one of the few longboarders. Now, you’ll see 50 to 60 longboarders, and there are 15 to 20 instructors. There’s not a parking space left after 8 or 9 a.m. It’s insane.”
I first started surfing when I was 13 on a usual board of the times, a single-fin Lightning Bolt more suited to powerful Hawaiian waves than the summertime slop at Egypt Beach. It was our home break because it was the closest place we could get to on our bikes, carrying our boards. Once all there was, longboards had died out in popularity by then and so-called shortboards ruled.
But somehow, my friends and I, by then in our early 20s, realized that we could catch a lot more waves by going longer, only the shops either did not stock them or they were beyond what our wallets could supply. So, on a return trip from Mexico via Southern California, Geoff Morris in a clapped-out Volkswagen Microbus agreed to drive a few used boards to East Hampton. I bought mine used in an Encinitas surf shop for $100 — an eight-foot, six-inch nose-rider shaped by the legendary Donald Takayama.
We indeed caught a lot of waves, but, boy, were we unpopular. In one particularly memorable incident, surfing at Alamo on a good day at Montauk Point, I dropped in on a big outside wave and promptly ran straight over the leader of a pack of Westhampton bros who were having none of it. I apologized as best I could and paddled back outside. But each time I caught another wave, the Westhampton crew would boo loudly.
Done for the day and back on the rocky beach, the Westhampton guy I had flattened came over to fight. Not into getting my butt kicked, I evaded his taunts. He eventually slapped the front of the board and fumed off. Sometime later, the longboard legend Joel Tudor was coming out of the water at Ditch, stopped, and put his hand right where the Westhampton dude had slapped it. “Nice board,” he said, and so it was.
This week, I lent the same Takayama to my son so he could paddle out and take on the Ditch crowd in style.