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    Backyard Adventures - Delmarva Surf Hunt

    Kayak prep From the frosty summits of Rocky Mountain National Park, to the sultry sea of the eastern shore, our Backyard Adventurers are taking us on a grand tour of some of some true surprises. Grab a brew, pull up a chair, and enjoy as Mark Carter takes us along on his hunt for secret mid-Atlantic surf:

    The DelMarVa Peninsula is not high on the list of adventure in many folks' minds. People often skirt the area on interstates heading to New England or south toward warmer waters, but DelMarVa has a few secret spots if you're willing to look for them. There are 18 essentially uninhabited islands along the southern coast of the peninsula and numerous inlets offer huge potential for uncrowded and perfect waves. All you need is a keen sense for swell forecasting, some paddle power, and a fair bit of patience. If you explore these spots enough, you're bound to score. NOTE: Although this trip described proved unfruitful in the way of waves, one member of the party recently reaped the benefits of our earlier recon and enjoyed a little pre-Christmas gift this December in the way of fun waves with only three guys out.

    Remember what Bilbo used to say: "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

     The Coast Guard vessel motored up along side of our kayaks; the young coastie said "You know there are severe thunderstorms today?"

    "Yeah, we know." 

    Tidal currents, firm headwinds, potentially infectious insects, and three venturesome friends in surfboard-laden kayaks were the main ingredients needed for some Delmarva-based adventure gumbo.

    There are 18 barrier islands ranging 60 miles from the Maryland/Virginia border to the tip of Cape Charles where the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. The plan was simple: Strap surfboards to the kayaks, stuff camping gear in the dry hatches, and paddle out to one of these islands in search of potential surf.

    [All photos courtesy, Tom Ferebee collection]

    I drove south from Delaware with my friend Paul to the tiny fishing village of Wacheaprague, Virginia. Here we linked up with my friend Tom from Virginia Beach. We referenced the charts and discussed the impending "severe" weather. As long as we could make it out to the island before the weather set in; we concluded we'd be fine.

    .Loading boards

    So, we commenced to stuff our kayaks like Thanksgiving turkeys. Tent, sleeping bags, headlamps, stove, grub, H2O, bug repellent, sunscreen, wetsuits, first aid gear, etc. We knew we'd encounter some "conditions" out there, so we wanted to be ready.

    The paddle out went smooth for the most part. The outgoing tide pushed our yaks out nicely until the channel widened into numerous bays. There we had to earn our stripes and fight some firm headwinds. Needless to say, we made it out to the inlet between Cedar and Parramore Islands in good time. Our destination was Parramore, the southern of the two islands.

    We recognized the need to find shelter sooner than later since there were potentially menacing clouds to the west. We worked against an outgoing current and skirted the westward boundary of the island seeking a small waterway called Clubhouse Gut. The chart depicted a trail or path of sorts near the head of the gut, and we felt this was our best option to move into the interior of the island for some refuge.


    The gut led us to an old dock. The tide was almost dead low, which placed us about 8 feet below the top of the dock, thus forcing us to hoist our kayaks up a muddy bank to the path. An expeditious 1/4 mile carry to the edge of the woods was next, due to the discovery of a "no trespassing, no camping, no fires, no hiking, no anything" sign that was on the dock. It was too late to attempt to return to the mainland, and we did not think anyone would question our decision to find a safe spot to weather the storm.

    Upon taking a mere step into the wooded area, our bodies were beset with mosquitoes. Our quasi-pasty white skin turned blotchy as the fear of West Nile virus and other exotic insect-transmitted diseases coursed through our bodies.

    We were seekers of surf, so we decided to make a run down the path and reap our bounty. This proved to be a near fatal experience due to blood loss from the swarms and swarms and swarms and swarms of skeeters.


    The island also proved to be larger than we imagined as we ran for at least a solid 1/2 mile or more before arriving at the beach. The beach was amazing. It was without development, without "enhancement" from man, and without litter or cigarette butts. My friend Paul commented that the beach looked like Indo with its bleached and weathered trees scattered about or barely standing on eroded-away roots.

    We had the majority of the afternoon to explore the beach, nap (as Tom enjoyed), and witness the slow migration eastward of stormy weather.

    Aside from the continuous skirmishes with mosquitoes and the abundance of ticks invading our bodies, our main concern was for the weather and at what time to dine. The path had led to the ocean (which unfortunately did not afford a surf opportunity this time); however it originated next to an uninhabited old home. This home would be our sanctuary, our shelter from the storm.


    “Most of the time it was probably real bad being stuck down in a dungeon. But some days, when there was a bad storm outside, you'd look out your little window and think, "Boy, I'm glad I'm not out in that." -- Jack Handy

    Some folks may feel like Jack Handy about an impending storm; others may almost find a solace in the elemental experience of nature, even in the stings of mosquitoes.

    Scratch, slap, spray (eucalyptus spray that is)...scratch, slap; spray...scratch, slap, spray. This sequence of activity was rapidly becoming our new routine as clouds billowed to the east.


    Approximately 5:45 p.m. EST, we could feel the gradual inhalation of the clouds and knew the storm would be upon us soon, so nourishment became the priority. Our menu for the evening consisted of Kashi bruschetta crackers topped with pesto from a tube, babybel cheese, spaghetti with tomato/basil sauce, and a Stone Brewing’s Ruination IPA.

    We enjoyed our delicious meal marsh-side as the wind picked up and the sky darkened to an ominous level. I strolled out the path leading towards the bay. The breeze not only brought with it imminent winds and rains but also relief from the unrelenting bugs.



    We figured this would be a significant storm, yet brief in nature and then the night would create a planetarium of sorts in this dark Delmarva nook. About 6:45/7:00 p.m., we heard the distant thunder gaining volume and shortly after the first rain drops hit.

    We had prepped our camp. Tent anchored. Surfboards in the "chateau." Kayak hatches on. Headlamps at the ready. Now, we could enjoy the show. Tom and Paul brought cameras and went paparazzi.

    We decided as the heart of this first storm was over us to take shelter in the old cabin. There were some loud cracks and some good booms, but it wasn't too bad. We briefly entertained the idea of darting to the beach for a quick surf as the sun even poked through a bit.



    Then the thunder rumbles began again. It was about dusk...the sky was getting dark and we were losing light fairly quickly, so we opted to stay put.

    We crawled into our bags round 9:00 p.m. Paul crashed. Tom seemed to follow suit shortly. I drifted in and out, but around 10:15 p.m., the artillery fire set in. I could hear the thunder miles away inching towards our location.

    The storm was a train moving closer and closer, which made me think of one thing....tornado. The sound also resembled artillery fire. I felt as if I was sitting in a fox hole and the bad guys were "walking" their shells onto my position. The situation was extremely eerie, but absolutely fascinating.I've never encountered such calmness in the immediate air around me, and such unruliness in such close proximity. It was surreal, but I was digging it.

    As the storm moved almost directly overhead, the Pink Floyd concert began. Lightning flashes illuminated the island. It was like we were on the inside of one of those electricity spheres looking out as arcs permeated in all directions.

    We hunkered down in the tent for about 15 minutes, and then Paul and I made break for the cabin with our sleeping bags. Tom stalled for a bit in the tent, however he shortly joined us.

    From the cabin's doorway we watched the sky light up, and numerous strikes hit the island. The intensity of the storm was unsettling; however I got past that as it raged on.

    One thing that did dwell in my subconscious a bit, that I must admit was partially due to the isolation and the darkness of the island but more likely a result of my imagination. As I gazed out the windows into the storm from the rustic old structure, I kept seeing an image of a flash of lightning, and then a crazed stranger standing outside of the window looking in.

    Finally around 1:00 a.m., we crawled back into our bags in the refuge of our little tent, and we drifted off to the hum of skeeters peering in through the mesh.


    The next morning provided us with glassy water conditions, a slight off shore wind and mostly blue skies. We broke camp in the most efficient manner to avoid being Sunday morning skeeter brunch and began the paddle for the main land.

    Shelter comes in many forms; a sturdy cabin, the light of a headlamp, a good friend. In many ways, a trip like this provides one shelter from the daily storms of life.

    Bio: Mark Carter is a sea kayak guide based out of the first town in the first state, Lewes, Delaware. When not paddling, he can be found preparing for his hobby of ultra-marathoning by doing "Delaware Hill Training" (i.e. pushing his two toddlers in a baby jogger around town), volunteering with the DE Chapter of the Surfrider foundation, or seeking out backyard "secret spots" via paddle power. [Ed note: Mr. Carter also confesses a fondness for Dogfish Head brews, which this editor can heartily and fondly recommend.]


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