Jose came to say hi, and these surfers went to greet him on the N.H. seacoast

  • Corinne Quinn of Exeter gets ready to hit the surf at Jenness State Beach in Rye on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Dave Schultz of Woburn, Mass., rides the rough surf into shore at Jenness State Beach on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Ken Errico (left) and Corinne Quinn (right) struggle to get out of the rough surf at Jenness State Beach in Rye on Wednesday, September 20, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Ken Errico of Salem rides the rough surf at Jenness State Beach in Rye on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Even with most of Jose’s muscle gone, the dude still packed a nasty wallop.

Just ask the three dudes and one dudette I met Wednesday morning at Rye Beach. They were humbled by what Jose still had left in his tank. They paddled on their surfboards, taking 5- and 6 -foot waves in the face, trying to break free from the walls of water, searching for a calm stretch, a brief window, a launching point with which to ride a curl of foam back toward shore.

No easy task. Not on this day, with Jose, once a hurricane to our south, still pushing the ocean around like a kid in a kiddie pool.

As George Costanza once said, “The sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.”

Angry, indeed. A real curmudgeon.

“It was brutal out there,” Kenny Errico of Salem said moments after coming back to the beach. “You wonder if you can make it out there. Your arms go numb after a while.”

And yet they came, Errico and his friend, 19-year-old Corinne Quinn of Exeter. They work together at a steakhouse near the Portsmouth/Rye border. They watched the forecast, a mandatory part of life for surfers, and they saw that Jose was on his way, his outer bands stretching from higher winds off the coast of Cape Cod.

So they pulled into the beach parking lot on an overcast day with warmth in the air and wind gusts up past 30 mph.

They wore their wetsuits and they attached their leashes to their ankles using Velcro, then they paddled and paddled and paddled some more, burning calories in a flurry of movement, almost like on a treadmill, pushing themselves while remaining stationary.

In time, though, you’d notice progress, a few feet here, a few more there. For Quinn, the going was especially slow, but she never quit, never stopped forcing her arms through the water, never lost the passion she’s developed for a sport in such a short period of time.

“Getting out there I was told is all technique, relaxing, so I’m learning,” Quinn told me after she had finished for the day. “But I’m small, and the waves crash into your face.”

Neither Errico nor Quinn had much experience. Errico began pushing himself in early summer, and his love for the sport moved over to his work friend. They had gone a few weeks ago, riding the leftovers from Hurricane Harvey, but those waves were too high – about 8 feet – and they had to quit after a short time.

These waves were a bit more manageable, and Errico’s mother, Rhonda Currier of Derry, chose to watch her son surf for the first time. She stood with me as Errico tried to create some type of control, his head a distant dot bobbing, his board often squirting away from him, his entire body sometimes disappearing beneath a crash for several seconds.

“It’s a little scary, but I’ve seen him on video, and I’m here so I can call 911 quickly,” Currier told me. “But this is an opportunity he had to take, with a hurricane coming in.”

She told me that her son never missed an opportunity to sprint into the water as a boy at Hampton Beach or at the family’s house on the Cape.

“It would be off-season cold,” Currier said. “He’d go running into the water with no wetsuit, so I’m not surprised he’s doing this. Even if there was a caution sign, he’d be in the coldest water.”

It’s safe to assume that some type of passion on the highest level exists for people who go into water this cold, with waves this high, with wind this strong, snapping a nearby American flag watching the action from the shore.

Scott Fogg of Madbury felt it. An attorney, he used his lunch break to catch a few waves, telling me, “You can’t beat it; it’s a blast, and I do it year-round. We go in a blizzard. The coldest air temperature was 9 degrees and the coldest water was in the high 30s. The waves are good in the winter and fall.”

These waves, on this day, were erratic, churning from different directions, running into one another, never forming a long line with which to establish a surging rhythm, instead forming lots of smaller waves.

A “washing machine,” was how Fogg described the conditions – “a short swell period.”

David Schultz of Woburn, Mass., also came on his lunch break, driving 45 minutes to catch four waves.

“It’s hard to learn, but fun to do,” said Schultz, a former high school and college hockey player who teaches goaltending at a hockey academy. “Once you catch a wave, it’s such a good feeling that you want a better one, more awesome. You’re always in search of that better wave.”

This was not a great day for waves, but Jose was in town, creating a challenge that had to be met. Purple seaweed didn’t help, attaching itself to the surfers’ leashes to add burdensome weight. Like pulling a turtle, Errico said.

“I’d say like pulling a baby,” Quinn said.

She had struggled for an hour, trying to break through to that small stretch of calm, a lull, the place where she could climb aboard, sustain her balance and enjoy a few seconds of forward movement.

When she finally got it, Quinn rode it in, then walked slowly through the wet sand, exhausted, done for the day.

“I finally got one,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about. That was my one good wave of the day.”

They’ll be back, probably all of them, early next week. Someone else is scheduled to visit, this time a really tough dudette.

Her name is Maria.

“By Tuesday,” Schultz said, “it’s supposed to be even better.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304, rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)