Winter Storm Jonas

Winter Storm Jonas


The Build Up


Jonas was a highly anticipated storm. Highly anticipated storms can break a surfer’s heart. They are hardly ever worth the hype. But was Jonas?


When CoreysWave Instructor Chris Blotiau heard the initial forecast he was skeptical. The surf forecast gods called for it to be epic a week out and the weather media catastrophized it. Chris spends his winters combing the shores of Montauk searching for whatever the ocean has to offer. He knows all too well that the problem with surf in New York is not that it does not exist; it is that the surf is fickle and dynamic. A surf forecast a week in advance out here is the equivalent to two weeks in other places. It could easily switch, go the wrong direction, get too small, too big, too windy, or just be bad for what appears to be no reason. But that’s not what happened for this swell.


As each day ticked by Chris watched the storm hold its course and with each hour the forecast was looking more and more like a reality. It’s interesting to note that the forecast is really all Chris and most surfers were concerned about. They were unfazed by an impending apocalyptic blizzard and Chris gave no inclination of fear of being buried under snow or the frigid temperatures. There was just a giddy anticipation for what could lay beyond a snow-blurred sunrise.


The Day Of


Once Jonas had blanketed the entire Northeast in powder, the day came when the wind went offshore and waves had emphatically arrived. Chris’ first check was at a wave known for holding size. His description of that wave at first light is summed up by the words “Gigantic, ferocious and terrifying.”  About another wave nearby he simply put, ”Looked like Hell.” Needless to say, the search continued.


As is the case with many of these storms on the East End, the ocean needed time to sort itself out. The wind grooms energy that stampedes the coast line, knocking it down ever so slightly, holding it up in just the right places and by noon, things become more organized. Chris, being keenly aware of that fact, bounced around patiently, biding his time for a wave worth the build-up for this storm. It was at a spot he checked just for the hell of it that he found what he was looking for.


It was a beach break in the middle of nothing, where waves erupted over outer sandbars that something caught his eye. It was obvious that there was going to be a lot of work involved. The ocean’s energy was palpable from shore and the strong currents that claw and pull at a surfer’s limbs looked to be feeling particularly grabby. Yet the waves were organized into distinct peaks with bombing cylinders grinding across tapered sandbars in a display of open ocean energy. As Chris said, “I went out with the mentality that if I just caught one good one, I’d be stoked.”  


Before paddling out Chris spoke with two people. One was fellow CoreysWave Instructor and all around super frother, Tom Casse, who, at that moment, was most likely having his third cup of coffee and sprinting out the door. The other person was local photographer, friend and cold water fanatic, James Katsipis. James is constantly on the hunt for a shot worth sharing and it was just moments until he pulled up to capture whatever chaos and clarity the session had to offer.


It was with James looking on from shore that Chris began the long and harrowing paddle out through currents and explosions that offered short breaks and long battles with billowing whitewater. Once out, it was a game of cat and mouse, calculating where was too far out to catch a wave, and where was so far in that he’d get smoked by a set.


His board was small, the waves were big and the only way into a wave like that is late. Yet after some time he got into his rhythm and began getting waves. It was then that Tom paddled out. When Chris had spoken to Tom earlier, he told him to “bring his big board.” Tom had obliged, paddling out the biggest board he owned, a 7’0 mini gun. Together they had one of those memorable sessions with just a friend out. They pushed each other to push themselves over the ledge, and into those cold, cavernous waves. 


They returned to shore stoked. The challenge had been laid down and they had risen to meet it. For Chris’ part he said, “I went out looking to get one good one and I got two epic ones so, really, I got double what I was looking for.” A humble and honest triumph.


Other waves began to work around Montauk and across the island. If that had been the whole swell it would have been fine but some swells are generous. Jonas was and he provided a little something extra.


The After Glow


After glow is a phrase borrowed from sunset viewers. Sometimes the best part of a sunset is when the sun has already set but the refraction of light from clouds paints the sky and atmosphere a myriad of colors that outshine the actual sunset. Swells have a similar quality in that the day forecasted to be best can be out shined by unexpected follow-up sessions. Jonas had an after glow.


Up at sunrise again Chris Blotiau headed out to check a secret sandbar. As he pulled up, he could just see the glassiness of the ocean and he had a feeling it was good. He pulled up and watched as a perfect lump of water rose, threw forward and barreled perfectly across an empty lineup. Another one followed suit.


Two other surfers pulled up and looked at it, but during a lull. They turned around and left. Chris’ jaw dropped. He suited up and jumped in. The celebration session began. One tube after another poured in and, with no one to contend with, Chris had his pick. It was too good to be true or rather too true to be good. As Chris said, “It was too good to surf it alone. I wanted to share it with someone. There was a void.”


It was then that he saw a familiar truck pull up as a wave approached. He slid into another left, riding through the perfectly wind-chiseled tube all the way to shore. The horn of local boy Austin Eckardt was carried from his truck to Chris’ ears by perfect offshores. 


Austin threw the truck into reverse so quick Chris heard the gear drop from the ocean. In a superman like display of wardrobe change, Chris swears Austin was running out to the ocean in no more than forty five seconds. Austin sprinted to the ocean yelling and hooting, waving his arms around as he reached the water’s edge.


They traded off on waves alone all morning, exchanging glistening barrels and ear to ear grins. The void was filled, the session was complete and the swell was a massive success. But it was not over.


To cap it off Chris went to points further east and as a punctuation to his session and the entire swell, he rode a wave around the End of Long Island from the Atlantic to the Sound. It’s a ride that is at least a quarter mile, comprised of five different sections of wave and is a rarity at best. 


So how was Jonas? It was freezing, icy, demanding, dangerous, challenging and taxing. But it was also a giver. And for those with the experience, the knowledge and the desire it gave more than most can hope for. After all how often do you surf everything from double over head outer breaks, to head high barrels, to hundreds of yards in point breaks in two days? And then how often do you surf all of those waves with no one but one other friend out? Sounds like a swell that was worthy of the hype.

John Angiulo     //