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Tempering Larry Expectations

It's been a while since any meaningful swell has reached the South Shore beaches of Massachusetts. So that's partly why the Hurricane Larry forecast has got me paying attention. The other reason for my interest has to do with Larry's projected track. Forecaster's are saying that this season's 12th named storm might take a perfect path through the Atlantic delivering surf to every nook and cranny along the Eastern Seaboard of the US and Canada, as well as all of Europe.

But even with this Dream Forecast, I'd recommend tempering your expectations for surf at your local beach break. My experience with tropical swell season goes way back. Growing up in South Florida, I went from forecast to fruition on so many occasions that I lost count. And of all the named storm swell that I've ridden since the early 80's, only a few standout in my memory as all-time. Whenever I do reflect on the best SFLA surf sessions had from my days past, nearly every good memory is from the north swells during the winter time. In fact, I remember being disappointed more times than impressed with the product that tropical season delivered. I remember thinking to myself "How in the hell can a hurricane be less than 100 miles off the coast and all we have are waist to head high close-outs?"... it took a while to understand why swell behaved so poorly during tropical season. So my advice is to not buy into the Larry hype as it pertains to most east coast beaches. Here's why...

First off, there are a few surf breaks that will handle tropical swell better than others. So I'm talking beach breaks here, which is more than 95% of your options, and likely where you'll end up surfing if you live on the East Coast. But the main reason tropical swells are more hype than substance for us, has to do with the wave period. Our beach breaks simply cannot handle the energy of a long period swell. Don't get me wrong, with the right angle and perfect tide, there can be some corners to get on. But mostly, tropical swell manifests itself as just a walled-up race to the eventual closeout. Short rides, closeout barrels and floaters, with lots of duck-diving and dodging sets on the inside. In my opinion, the optimum wave period for East Coast is 8-10 seconds, with 11-12 being on the border of too much.

The other factor here is the lack of consistent rideable waves during the tropical season. East Coasters get wave-starved, which makes that Hurricane on the weather forecast look really sexy. The more forecasts that you see, the more intoxicated you become. This is unavoidable. If you don't surf for a month due to summer flatness, ANY suggestion of surf in the forecast becomes something to obsess about. Problem is, there are a lot of "surfers" during the summer months (and I use that term loosely because I'm not really sure your soccer mom on a soft-top actually counts) but they are seeing the same forecasts that you are. When the swell does arrive, so do they... and your chances of getting on that corner, or finding that one section that doesn't close-out, go way down with tons of people in the lineup.

So temper your expectations for Larry, and treat him like the respite that he is. Anything that he generates is better than flat and can be enjoyed on that fundamental level. As for the beaches of Hull, currently Larry is forecast to pulse from the East up to 2 feet 15 seconds on Wednesday, 3 feet 16 seconds on Thursday, and 4 feet 17 seconds on Friday. That forecast translates to waist-head+ on Wed and Thur, with overhead+ on Friday. We should have decent wind conditions for most of those days as well. As for the south facing beaches of New England, the best bet is to watch the forecast for the wind and try to surf the spots that can handle the size. I think Narragansett could be the call since it faces a SE direction and will receive a less direct hit than the Newport beaches.

Forecasters are comparing Larry's track to Hurricane Bill from 2009, and he lit up Town Beach (see above). There are in fact a couple of notorious big wave spots in RI and NH, but unless you're a visiting pro with a local chaperone, don't bother. Have respect. Don't be that guy. And for god's sake leave your SUP at home.

I will probably stay put in Hull and try to manage whatever trickles into my beach. There's a chance I might go surf Matunuck on Friday, or maybe Horseneck on Tuesday/Wednesday, but more likely not. I think the middle tide dropping low should offer up some jewels on G Street. So I'll probably just surf my neighborhood. The best way to track the forecast for Larry is Magicseaweed (the wave heights here are exaggerated so don't get too excited!). I'd say Surfline does a poor job projecting wave heights and swell on my beach, especially the long period events. Surfline just doesn't take the time to understand the bathymetry of the South Shore and how swells wrap into Hull, Scituate, and others nearby. But hey, I'm not complaining, if their ignorance helps keep the crowds down around here, then that's a good thing I guess. Just keep believing that there's no waves in Nantasket.

Hope you're surfing wherever you are. Check back next weekend for some pictures and video of whatever Larry delivered to Hull this coming week.


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