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NASCAR revs up on Sunday ($89 for a DirecTV season sub) with their biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500. And you know what that means… Surf’s up!

At least, according to surfline.com. Here is their Daytona Beach surf report: “…1–2 ft — ankle to knee high and poor conditions.”

Plenty good enough. So, I’d better get a board. I click over to Craigslist Daytona Beach, find the “sporting” category, and — ta-dah! — “Surfboard, $50.00. Mad Dog Fun shape which is great for learning or for small waves. Call John.”

I do. “I’ve already sold it,” John says. “It was an old surfboard. I’ve got four of them.”

I tell him I’m calling from California, “Some of my brothers laugh at surfers on the East Coast because the waves are so small.”

“Aw, come on, they’re not small here, not all the time.”

Funny how we passed the “calling from California” bump without any comment. I ask, “What’s a normal surfing day? Today’s surf report said one to two feet.”

John says, “We got a swell, supposed to be starting up tomorrow or the next day, that will probably be head high. Normal is three, four, five feet, something like that. We don’t have the constant swell you guys do; it’s a bit more consistent on the West Coast. Our surf is predicated on weather patterns.”

“How many days a year can you surf?”

“We probably get 200 good days a year; a little over half, maybe.”

“Hell, that’s not bad.” More than I thought. “You must get tired of people like me slandering East Coast surfers.”

“Nah, I could care less. The fewer people at my break, the better,” John laughs.

The man is clearly a surfer. I ask, “How is the Daytona 500 for locals, or do you not even notice?”

“It doesn’t matter to me. The special events and all that crap doesn’t have anything to do with us. Those people don’t get in the water, anyway; they clog traffic on I-95. Most of the guys who surf around here surf in Ponce Inlet. Those [Daytona 500] people don’t venture down here. They stay around the hotels and pool decks.

“Are you going to watch the race?”

“Yeah, I’ll watch it. I’m a fringe fan. I’ve been to it one time, and that’s all I needed,” John laughs. “I’m not big into the crowds or being with 300,000 people. I live 10 minutes from the speedway, and it takes 45 minutes to get home.”

The man is clearly a local. “What’s the best surfing beach in Florida?”

“There are two spots. I’m at one spot, Ponce Inlet, which is just south of Daytona. The other break — I think it’s the best on the East Coast — is Sebastian Inlet. They have a big-deal surfing event every year.”

“What about hurricanes? That’s got to be an East Coast bonus.”

“Yeah, that’s when everybody gets amped up. Most of the time cold fronts cause our waves. You’ll get, occasionally, onshore winds that will blow up some wind surf, but for the most part, we get ground swells from hurricanes and tropical storms. If they form 200, 300 miles out, we get really good stuff. I’ve had 10-, 12-foot surf here.”

“How long will that last?”

“Normally three or four days with good solid stuff,” John says. “Not much work going on.”

John Powell, 37, tells me he’s married with two kids. He’s a subcontractor, does flooring and tile instillation. I ask, “How’s it going?”


The man is clearly a subcontractor. “When did you get into surfing?”

“I was 13, 14 years old.”

“Love at first sight?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s infectious.”

“Do you remember what grabbed you? Usually there’s one thing that holds you close.”

“I think the rush that got me is the first time I got my feet planted on the board, and I got that jolt of speed going down the face of a wave. That did it for me. Now, at my age, and the way life has changed, it’s more the peace and serenity of being out in the water, nothing else around you.”

“How long will a session last?”

“Two to three hours.”

“So, that’s time enough to get away and decompress.”

“Oh, yeah. Time to reflect on things. If you think about it, any other time, even if you’re looking for a little spot for peace and quiet, maybe you got a radio going or a TV going or somebody in the background is talking. Out there, you’re without the sound of anything except for the sound of water.”

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