Being from the West Coast, hurricanes — at least the ones they get in the east — are exciting. They seem to change and move and shift and are all sorts of unpredictable (and dangerous). And because of that, it’s not rare to score all by yourself if you’re persistent. It’s also really easy to get skunked. Photographer Hunter Martinez recently made the jaunt with friends Shane Borland, Mickey Clarke, John Mel, Dylan Hord and Will Reid. Here are the results and little chat with Hunter on the chase.
WHAT YOUTH: Were you already on the East Coast when you heard about Hermine or did you fly out specifically for it?
I flew out. Yeah, I was at home in L.A. and I flew out because I heard there was a hurricane. My friends were in Virginia Beach for the contest and they drove down to Outer Banks because there was supposed to be a big swell like the week after.
Who did you go with?
Yeah, I stayed at a house in Nags Head. It was my friend Micky Clarke from Ventura, then Shane Borland from Malibu, and who else, John Mel who is from Santa Cruz, and this kid Dylan Hord, he’s from Huntington, and Wil Reid who’s from the South Bay. I was pretty much driving around in this big minivan, all around the East Coast filming and shooting photos and stuff. There was like six other surfers in our house from Key West, FL because of the contest too — so there was a house full of 12 people and then we had our group that went out everyday.
Where did you go?
It took like an hour to get to the spots we surfed everyday. We stayed in Nags Head and then we drove to Outer Banks, up and down, we had all day, just driving, because everyone in our group didn’t make it through the contest so we just kinda surfed and filmed everyday. And just driving around.
When you headed out, how bad was the rain? Did you have to bring any survival gear?
Oh my god! It was crazy! Well when we got there the waves were pretty windy with the storm but you know the hurricane was just picking up and it was supposed to get better. It was crazy because we were on the Outer Banks the day it hit and it got so rainy and so windy within like a few hours. And we drove our minivan trying to get to this one spot that was offshore during the hurricane, but on the way it was so crazy.
It had like flooded the streets and there was like a foot and a half or more of water on the road and we were driving our minivan through all of it. And we killed the battery. We got too deep. And we had to like turn it around and push it through the river. And then we broke the door because it got too much water in it.
But it was like so fun. It was crazy, because I was driving back and oncoming wakes from cars would like hit our car. It was a crazy experience, seeing like cars sunk in the side of the road and so much wind and rain.
Most people are driving away when there’s a storm warning, so what’s going through your head as you’re driving toward it?
Well like there are storms in California, but honestly all you get is really just rain. There’s not really anything gnarlier than rain. Everyone was saying that in the hurricanes you have to like wait and be on it all day because the wind. It might switch at any moment and get like really good for an hour or a little bit and then get messed up again. So we just did a lot of like sitting and waiting and when the hurricane came there we were kinda like sitting through it, trying to be at the right place at the right time. But it’s just kinda crazy trying to surf and film in the rain. There’s one spot we went to, I think I sent you a photo of it, where it’s like really really offshore. Everywhere else was like so flooded and just rainy, like 50 mile and hour winds, but that wave was like pretty sick. We tried to surf for a little bit but it was like too hard to film. But it was fun.
What’s it like to shoot with such strong winds?
It’s even harder. But it’s not impossible. I was just thinking about it as like, if someone can surf in that kind of condition than I can film or shoot in those kinds of conditions. I’m just gonna have to do what they’re doing. Yeah, but I’d say it was harder because I’ve never been, none of us had ever been to surf a hurricane swell on the East Coast.
Is it different shooting in the water during that? As opposed to just a solid swell?
Um, yeah. But luckily for some reason it kinda felt like home, like California. Just because the water was warm which was nice. I was just thinking about tiger sharks and bull sharks because they like murky water. But the water was warm. It wasn’t too much different but it is different. It’s a whole different place.
Did you have to use your water housing outside of the water because of the storm?
Oh yeah. It was rainy pretty much all the way up until the hurricane. I remember being here watching the hurricane and one of the guys we were staying with, one of the QS guys, Jack, was like, “Oh well I was meant to stay here a couple extra days, there’s a big hurricane from Florida coming up the coast and blah blah blah.” And we’re like “Oh hell yeah!” So we were like kinda psyched but kinda nervous, like, “Should we leave?” We don’t know. And I asked someone who worked there, just someone in a store when we were getting food or something, “Is this gonna be that bad? Or is it just whatever?” He was like “Oh it’s not gonna be that bad, but it’s still gonna be a hurricane.” So we stayed and got really good waves.
So, can you tell us about a moment or a favorite photograph that happened on the trip?
Yeah, oh yeah definitely. On our first or second day driving around Outer Banks looking for waves, like trying to figure out which wave was what and what spot would probably be best when the hurricane swell hit, there was one wave we pulled off and checked. Like some really random turnoff. Honestly there’s so much beach that there could be good waves anywhere. So we were just kind of like exploring for the first couple days. And we turned off at this one place and that was the day that the hurricane was hitting and there was like really offshore winds and it was like really sick but it was literally hitting so we had to go home. And we went back there after the hurricane and everything and it was like the sickest wave ever! No one was out! It was just funny, we were at that spot and then like a bunch of people started showing up. Obviously the locals knew it was a wave but we didn’t know it was a wave. We found it all on our own and it ended up being like the best wave we surfed the whole time.
Interview by Gabriella Librizzi