Throat Punch at Skudin's
I’ve been riding waves from the standing position for about four decades now. I’ve paddled out into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans countless times, from the shorelines of more than a half dozen countries. I even surfed on a Great Lake once. I've been a North American east coaster for my entire life, so my wave count and ride quality isn't as high as say a Hawaiian or a Costa Rican. But I've done a medium amount of traveling in my life, and I’ve held my own in a lot of varied conditions, knee to overhead, outside of the throat barreling reef-breaks frequented by the pros and upper level shredders. And yet, despite all of my experience and wave knowledge, I still have plenty of kook moments- probably more than most. I’m oversized, for one thing. And I can sometimes be a bull in a china shop, knocking shit over and breaking stuff like Chevy Chase in an 80’s movie. So this blog post will chronicle my most recent error in judgement, and is dedicated to the kook who lives inside us all...
A couple of months ago I signed up for the wrong surf session at the Skudin Surf Indoor Wave Pool in New Jersey. It was an expensive mistake, but after realizing it, I just decided to go with it anyway. I reasoned that the limited participants in the Performance Coaching Night would give me access to a higher wave count, plus they provided you with some video in the coaching sessions. This particular Skudin Surf service is more appropriate for a beginner or an intermediate looking to improve their wave-catching abilities, not someone looking to score a bunch of “performance” level waves. They do not program their best and highest performance waves for this session. The coaching night is geared towards paddling and pop-up technique. And the waves they serve up are on the softer side, without a ton of open face before it’s over.
My adventure began with a super awesome 7-hour car ride from my Boston beach town, through rush-hour traffic, to arrive nauseous and anxious at the American Dream Mall in the New Jersey Meadowlands (home to the NFL football Giants). The drive down there was filled with friendly, northeastern folks, sharing polite gestures as I navigated stop-n-go traffic. My mood was cranky when I got to town, and I was borderline hangry from not eating a decent meal before the rush hour traffic locked me onto the highway. As I waited near the escalators in the lobby of the American Dream Mall for a Skudin Surf employee to greet me and escort me into the park, I was trying to be positive, and not let the shitty drive ruin my surfing reservation. Unfortunately it had already done the damage, and I was feeling a bit ill no matter how hard I tried to ignore it. I honestly felt like barfing and taking a nap, not surfing.
We were soon greeted by a super stoked shaggy-haired staff member, who led a group of us through the American Dream shopping mall, and back to the wave pool. It was a surreal trek through an urban wonderland. The entire setup was a sensory overload. We were walking through a shopping mall to go surfing!!! Once inside the water park, it reminded me of the old Six Flags Atlantis in Dania Beach, FL... cheesy cartoon decor was the same, but with a much better and surfable wave pool. The twelve-year-old me would have lost his mind in this water park, but it was the 49 year old me that showed up to surf on this day.
I barely paid attention when they told me that my regular boards (that I use in the ocean) might not work very well in the pool. I had used my regular boards back in 2001 when I surfed Typhoon Lagoon in Disney World, FL, so that's about as much thought as I put into my board selection. I showed up with my regular boards, no warm water wax, and no rash guard (I don't even own a rashie anymore being a New England surfer in wetsuits year round). Total idiot. I even forgot a leash string to boot, and had to borrow one from Skudin. I wore my t-shirt tied in a knot, as a rash guard, and I borrowed some warm water wax from an adult learner who was also registered for the coaching class. He had been to Skudin's multiple times, but never surfed in the ocean before. The thought occurred to me at that moment, that if wave pool technology continues on its current trajectory, this might become pretty normal in the future... surfers who've never ridden waves in an actual ocean.
A Skudin Performance Coaching Night begins with a 30 minute warm-up so you can get used to the conditions of the wave pool, get a feel for how it breaks, and learn where to paddle to catch a wave. You're splitting a small peak, with another surfer, right against the end wall, and you don't get the luxury of seeing the wave's approach. You basically line up along the wall, and when the water level drops sending an initial test wave, you start paddling. After the test wave rolls underneath you, immediately following is your wave. Skudin's "A-Frame" program is what they're using for the beginner's coaching session. The one we got was a short, 25 yard-ish wave, without much power past the initial peak. There are more powerful "A-Frame" settings in the Skudin arsenal, but these warm-up waves were super soft. The best place to paddle into these peaks was from behind them... but since we were splitting them with someone else, that wasn't really possible. I even felt the groms, who'd surfed there a bunch previously, knew how to position themselves in a way that put them in the sweet spot, but pushed you away from the power zone.
My first wave was uneventful. Without paying attention I got in line for a left, which is my backside. I was using a 5'11 Lost Puddle Fish in an epoxy construction. When it was my turn to catch my first wave, I got out of position too far from the wall and I caught it late, bodyboarding some whitewater for 20 yards. Embarrassing. So, for my next wave I got in line for a right. I had more success on the frontside wave. I got to my feet quickly and down the line, but then it dissipated to less than knee high, where I lost my momentum, sinking my board into the chlorine. On my 3rd wave, I went right again. I got in earlier and tried to get a few pumps down the line to generate speed, but the wave was over before I really got into rhythm. Frustration was starting to creep into my mind, and the stoke of being at an indoor wave pool was beginning to wear off. I was realizing that I might have to grovel all night, on the boards that I brought. I mean, I could use one of the 7 ft+ beasts from the Skudin rack. But I couldn't admit defeat so quickly. So I paddled back out for another right-hander on my 5'11. The next wave would be better I thought.
Then, I got throat punched. Yep. As I got down the line and the wave was finishing up, I tried to make a top turn. But I had no speed to execute. In complete frustration I rode it out and sunk my board underwater, down to the pool floor, when then, it shot back in my direction, fucking karate chopping me in the throat. Clean shot. Rail to the Adam's Apple. I choked and gasped for air!?!?! Did I seriously just injure myself in knee high surf, at a goddamn wave pool?? On beginner's night??? I sure fucking did. I tried to shake it off. It hurt like hell. I was having problems simply swallowing my own saliva.
No Skudin employees saw the throat punch thankfully, but they did see me vacate the pool. The painful expression on my face probably gave them mixed messages. They thought I was frustrated because I wasn't getting good waves. While that was partly true (because splitting the "A-Frame" was annoyingly frustrating) mostly I was in excruciating throat pain. But having spent some money on the performance coaching night, and having driven all this way, I decided to try and push through the pain. I was however, completely over the groveling on a 5’11 Lost Puddle Fish. So I grabbed a 7'0 Hypto Krypto by Hayden Shapes from the Skudin rack, got back in line, and I caught one more wave before the warm-up session ended.
During the break between the warm-up session and the first video coaching session I sat in my cabana and tried to drink some water. I couldn't swallow at all, at least not without a ton of pain that made my eyes tear up. I honestly couldn't believe Skudin's Wave Park had just kicked my ass so thoroughly in just five waves. My head was beginning to pound with a migraine from all the pain in my throat, and I felt my heart throbbing in my temples and behind my eyeballs. The nauseous feeling was becoming overwhelming. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror... I had turned a shade of white/green. It was time to get the fuck out of the American Dream Mall.
I pulled the shaggy-haired Skudin staffer aside, and I asked him how I could make a quiet exit. I didn’t say shit about my throat. I simply told him I wasn’t feeling well. He was cool enough to oblige, and he escorted me to the parking lot without too much judgement. I was thankful for that. I felt humiliated. I decided it was too embarrassing to admit that I had gotten throat punched by my own surfboard. Shaggy gave me a fist bump in the parking lot, and I was on my way. I hightailed it out of the Garden State.
So would I return to Skudin's? Yeah, probably. But under way different circumstances. I do think it has a ton of fun potential, and I'm super impressed with what Will Skudin is doing with it. But if you're a legitimate intermediate to advanced surfer, just make sure you schedule an appropriate session. Don’t sign up for the performance coaching night unless you're a beginner... splitting their a-frame with newbies and groms just isn't very much fun for a grown-ass-man who's 6'3 and pushing 200 pounds. Learn from my mistakes! Bring oversized and high-volumed boards, and schedule the sessions with the better waves. Also, if you're driving in from the Boston area, give yourself some time to recover from the car ride, stay in the city the night before, deprogram from the negative energy of that shit drive, eat a good meal, rest, etc... you don't want to waste your money purchasing an expensive session, to then feel like crap the entire time you’re surfing. Hit the chlorine feeling 100%, so you get the most out of your money!
So that was my Skudin Surf American Dream Indoor Wave Pool experience. I surely earned "Kook of the Day" honors for my exploits on this day... bottom line, I didn't catch any satisfying waves, it was expensive, I had to drive through hell to get there and back, and I got injured in a most embarrassing way. Special thanks to Will Skudin and the people he has running the indoor wave pool at the American Dream Mall, this is a class act staff!!! Even though they probably thought I was a total kook, they still treated me with dignity and respect. Much appreciated.
Oh, and also a BIG shout-out to Jonathan Wayne Freeman, KOTD himself, for constantly reminding the surfing world that we're all kooks out there, and the name of the game is to just have fun. When I consider that I just got back from surfing overhead, barreling surf in Northern Costa Rica, and I managed to do that without much injury, only to come home and be humbled in a wave pool serving up waves safe enough for children, now that's some fucking irony right there. Nobody's ever safe from kookdom.
I'm happy to report that I'm almost fully recovered from my throat punch, am swallowing normally, and am eagerly waiting for the next swell to hit my east facing beach. My high-pitched singing voice has been damaged though, so I won’t be doing any falsetto solos when Roxanne comes on the radio... and that’s definitely a bummer.
I'm keeping my fingers crossed for some decent waves on the South Shore sooner than later.
Hope you're surfing where you are…