17 Oct 2009, 8:46am
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East Coast Adventure: The Outer Banks

The Outer Banks of North Carolina

The Outer Banks of North Carolina

Even travel writers need a vacation.  Everybody needs a break from their job even if their work is their passion.  That’s exactly what I did during my four days and nights on The Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I didn’t take a single note.  I didn’t scout out the best places of lodging, the most typical restaurants or everyone’s favorite dairy bar.  I didn’t come away with a single address, phone number or Web site.

My mind is imbued, however, with myriad images of a place that was once imagined and is now forever known.  I had envisioned a certain wildness about this immense slice of land that extends along the coast of North Carolina.  (The Outer Banks is actually a long, narrow string of barrier islands some two-hundred miles long.)  I found its untamed characteristics in its charging surf and along immense swathes of beaches best accessed by four-wheel drive vehicles with deflated tires.  I felt enchanted by the region’s cedar shingled houses on stilts despite the over proliferation of them in a good many areas.  Indeed the development of The Outer Banks has not always been kept carefully in check but it’s no wonder since much like on Cape Cod and in certain parts of Maine, the ocean roars for attention here drawing crowds from near and far.

Pick Your Beach

Pick Your Beach

Lovely Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Lovely Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

Yet the beaches are so wide and vast that you can pick your way along the coastline and easily remain within your own little world.  I did this often on walks that skirted Cape Hatteras and fringed the surf of Rodanthe, both among the more charming areas on The Outer Banks yet also two of the more remote.  At Cape Hatteras I stood in awe in front of its black-and-white peppermint-striped historic lighthouse that has valiantly warned sailors about the treacherous sandbars that extend some fourteen miles out into the ocean for more than one-hundred years.  I collected shells and beach glass from both locales as well as others, marveling at the cleanliness of the beaches.  (It’s no wonder the coast is so free of debris, organic and otherwise, since not much can survive in this robust surf.)

It is these waves of six to eight feet in height that have made The Outer Banks the surfers’ paradise of the east coast.  Like seals bobbing in the water, it’s easy to spot a bunch of surfers out in the line up looking for that adrenalin-filled drop in the next tubing wave.  Never before had I paid much attention to this sport that decidedly requires an extremely strong combination of strength, endurance and strategy, perhaps more than in any other physical activity.  (I promise you that the fact that I had my eye on Steve, my handsome surfer dude, didn’t skew my impressions of the sport either.)

It was hard to imagine that Steve could love a place more than he loves the mountains.  But the surf definitely vies for his attention nearly as much.  He was drawn to The Outer Banks some two decades ago for its huge waves that break along this rugged coastline.  He has learned to navigate these waves well, paddling out to catch just the right swell, then climbing up onto his board for a seemingly painfully short ride before he begins all over again.  (Apparently the rewards are great since he tells me there’s no other sensation like it—in any other sport—when you catch and ride that wall of water.)  I would happily stand and watch this process over and over again until I set off for my stroll along the beach, a most agreeable rhythm that we established for ourselves that was repeated many times over during our time on The Outer Banks.

Find the Surfer

Find the Surfer

My introduction to the beach here came on a red-flagged, no swimming day that made Steve eager to get out and brave the surf.  My little stormrider proved fearless amongst the immense waves while I was afraid of going more than ankle deep in my walk along the beach.  (One has to be very careful of the undertow!)  Finally by the third day, I made an effort to muster up the courage to face the surf head on.  It occurred to me that I knew everything there is to know to go down (or at least get down!) a double black diamond ski run, but I didn’t have a clue about how to handle myself in such frightening waves.  Steve took my hand and showed me how to dive straight into the surf in order to break through to the other side.  What an achievement for me, someone that hasn’t spent much time in such big waves.  We bobbed and ducked amidst the swells for another fifteen minutes then headed back onto the beach to rest in the warm sand.  We stretched out together and marveled about the might of the ocean.

“You need to respect it much like the mountains,” Steve reminded me.

“Oh don’t worry, I do,” I reassured him.  I sighed and just laid there for a while.  “Now I feel like I really experienced The Outer Banks,” I remarked.  He smiled.

So what if I can’t name the best place for pancakes or fried shrimp.  There’s always a next time and by then—after more bouncing up and down in the surf—I’m sure I’ll feel like I will have earned the North Carolina bounty even more .

“The surfing scene on The Outer Banks isn’t about neon wetsuits, cool lingo or flashy stickers.  It’s about people that love nature, people that crave the surf,” says Steve Togni, my own surfer man.

Film Pick

Nights in Rodanthe,” a romantic comedy set on The Outer Banks, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane.  Bravo to Hollywood for having cast two great actors of un certain age for this love story.  I walked by this eery-looking house on my walk on the beach.

The House in "Nights in Rodanthe"

The House in “Nights in Rodanthe”

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