Long before surfing became popular on the East Coast and Atlantic City in particular, resort lifeguards found a way to hitch their lifeboats to the back of a giant comber and ride that sucker for all it was worth.
We were not allowed to use the lifeboats for any thing other then their intended purpose during the hours between 9:30 AM and 5:30 PM.
Many of the guards rowed in the annual boat races and in order to train, had to do so between the designated hours mentioned above. But there were other guards who were just as interested in honing their boatmanship skills and would arrive to the beach before working hours to challenge King Surf.
Surfing, using a 500 pound boat required the agility of a leopard and the cunning of a Houdini. Here, we’re talking about skipping about inside this craft while being buffeted and sideswiped by waves. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Surfing by boat is much like surfing by board. However, technically, our beach patrol name for it is “Shooting Seas.” The first thing you have to do is get your craft through the break. This can be a bit more challenging using a two man lifeboat since a single wave can fill you with water, or turn you over, in the blink of an eye.
Once you’re beyond the break, you turn the bow toward shore and wait for the right wave. As soon as you see the swell you want, you start rowing with it making sure it doesn’t peak too soon, so as to be caught off guard, or too late, missing it altogether.
The moment the bow dips and you feel the pulse pounding acceleration of that wave taking hold is when you have to react quickly. The stern man jumps to the stern with one oar, hanging it out the back side and using it as a rudder. He must be lightning quick in assessing the situation. The boat will give you only a split second to react as to whether she’s trending port or starboard.
The bow man leaps to the front where he uses his body as a counter weight. You must be instantly ready to bring her to center, otherwise she will shear off in either direction whipping around and turning over in an instantly violent manner.
When you’ve succeeded in catching one of these locomotives and riding it to the beach the thrill is indescribable. As good as two guys were at doing this, watching a single guard surfing this method by himself took tremendous skill and lightning quickness.
If you also rowed in the annual boat races knowing how to surf the boat was a tremendous asset. Many an oarsman who lost a race did so because he never learned to hone his skills by surfing the boat, thus turning over just prior to crossing the finish line.
When surfing became popular we had no trouble adapting to the long board since the principles of surfing were basically the same as shooting seas with the boat.