SPOT ON SPOT – A Revisionist Glance at Historic Surfing Locales: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

AKA: The Lighthouse, Buxton, The Jetties, The Graveyard of the Atlantic

Notorious Local(s):
Guys like Noah Snyder, Jesse Hines, Eric Dotson, and Russell Blackwood have been ripping this place to shreds for years, but they haven't even left a footprint when compared with the area's real notorious local – the lighthouse keeper. If he wasn't climbing the lighthouse's 268 stairs day in and day out, then it's unclear exactly what this bearded seaman was doing. Maybe in the 1800s if he had stayed awake for a few hours or remembered to turn the monument's light on, Cape Hatteras wouldn't be known as "The Graveyard of the Atlantic."

Significant Moment(s) in History:
During the Civil War, the Confederacy wanted to destroy the Lighthouse in order to sabotage the Union invasion. Destroying a 90-foot sandstone monument seemed like a lot of work, so the South opted to steal the tower's light instead. "Good thinkin', Jed."

Measuring just fifty yards wide in some points, this fragile island was proclaimed America's first National Seashore Park in the mid sixties. The jetties at the lighthouse were built just a few years later and are largely responsible for creating the icon's resilient sandbars and reeling left-hander. Quickly gaining notoriety for its top level surf, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse began hosting ESA's in 1971 and even hosted the US Surfing Championships in 1974 as well as in 1978 and 1982.

Hurricanes and powerful northeastern storms continued to pound Cape Hatteras shores causing noticeable erosion in front of the North Carolina landmark. Concerned for the icon's safety, The National Academy of Sciences conducted a study that projected the shoreline in front of the lighthouse would recede up to 400 feet by the year 2018, and lobbied to relocate the lighthouse in order to preserve it. On June 17th, 1999 the lighthouse embarked on its 23-day relocation project. The lighthouse was moved 2900 feet to the Southwest, and the entire project cost 9.8 million dollars.

The Dirt:
Last spring fifteen miles of beach were shut down in Buxton because environmentalists discovered a Piping Plover nest. (A Piping Plover is an endangered, stocky, pug-like bird) Fishermen and surfers were outraged at their subsequent exile from the beach, and anti-piping plover bumper stickers became the top seller at Mack's gas station.

Think you can hop off of the jetties and into the lineup? Think again. Last spring a surfer drowned as his leash got caught around one of the jetty's nasty metal spikes. Depending on the tide, these hazardous protrusions aren't always visible, and several rescues have prevented similar tragedies.


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Spot ON Spot: Huntington Beach Pier

The island community is in the midst of a heated debate concerning the fate of the Oregon Inlet Bridge. Built in 1962, the bridge has suffered some severe wear and tear from storms and boat collisions – enough to warrant replacement. Advocates like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want to build a larger 17 mile bridge which would entirely bypass the Northern quarter of the island, effectively eliminating access to the Northern beaches (which include breaks like S-Turns and Ferry signs) and drastically altering the economic climate of the area. Local business owners and the surfing community seem to prefer a shorter bridge that would basically shadow the present one. Another option includes running a ferry to connect the two islands, but a clear consensus has yet to surface concerning the future of the Oregon Inlet Bridge.

Island life revolves entirely around the ocean. Natives live here to surf, fish, and escape from the bustle of imperialist American life, frequently wearing a skeptical glare with their waders and brown leather skin – so throwing cigarette butts in the sand and broken beer bottles in the yard of your rental should be low on the list of things to do when visiting this sanctuary.

"I defy any surfer to walk out to the top of sand that is the Cape and not leave aware that the Banks is one of the world's greatest surfing areas; as unique as the North Shore of Oahu, or the Gold Coast of Queensland."
Nick Carroll, Australian Surf Journalist in Matt Warshaw's Encyclopedia of Surfing

"I thought everybody from Virginia Beach already moved here. You mean there are still people left there?"
Randy Hall, owner of Hatteras Glass Surfboards and co-owner of Rodanthe Surf Shop

"All we do is work and surf, and then travel in the winter. It's all about the lifestyle. If you're a business owner you can make your money in the seven or eight months that the tourists are here and use the whole off-season to travel."
Barry Wells, manager of Lisa's Pizzeria and owner of NC-12 Enterprises

1. The lighthouse is located in Hatteras. It's actually located in a town called Buxton – about 10 miles Northeast of Hatteras. One of the area's most popular bumper stickers reads, "Where in the hell is Buxton?" Well…it's where the lighthouse is.

2. The waves there can't get that good. There's about 300 hours of digital video floating around the island that say otherwise; when big swells hit Hatteras – this world-class break is firing.

3. Virginia Beach surfers are locals. If you're from Virginia Beach, no matter how frequently you surf Cape Hatteras, you are not a local, and chances are the actual locals do not like you.

In the Beginning:
French explorer Giovanni da Verrazano was the first European to arrive on the 70-mile strip of land known as the barrier islands in 1524. Wrought with hurricanes and treacherous weather, little occurred in the area aside from hundreds of shipwrecks. As a result of an overwhelming number of shipwrecks in the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" and pleas from the seafaring community, Congress authorized the construction of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in 1794. The lighthouse originally stood at 90 feet tall and was later extended to 150 ft before being torn down altogether. A newer 208 ft lighthouse was constructed in 1869 and completed a year later.

While terrestrial activity abounded on the island, not much was happening in the water. Tom Fearing was arguably the first to surf Cape Hatteras in the 1930's, but the sport never caught on in this locale until the 60's with surfers John Ochs, John Conner, and Buddy Hooper. In 1962 the Oregon Inlet Bridge was constructed to connect Pea Island with Nags Head, allowing for Virginia Beach surfers (and the whole world) to cram down Hwy 12 and make a pilgrimage to the East Coast's holy land of waves.

2009 – The Federal Wildlife Marshall deems surfing a threat to bluefish migration banning the sport unconditionally during peak migratory season – which incidentally coincides with hurricane season. Angry surfers appeal to Surfrider who find themselves in a bind like never before; save the fish or save the surf? They side with the surfers –whose constant urine deposits prove to be nutritional supplements that incidentally bolster bluefish migration – everyone walks away a winner.

2012 – The lighthouse goes down in flames as locals finally revolt against the livewire cam mounted on the monument. The night begins in routine bonfire fashion until a drunken stupor causes the burning staircases to somehow migrate towards the base of the candy-striped icon. Locals were last heard chanting, "You have to go to know!" as they brandished tins of gasoline in the moonlight.

2019 – Virginia Beach decides it likes the Outer Banks so much the entire community picks up and moves there. Dotted with Wings, McDonalds, and Wal-Marts, Hatteras truly becomes Virginia Beach, leaving the islanders no choice but to migrate North (back to Virginia Beach) to reconnect with nature.

2033 – Hurricane Ahab, the largest category 5 ever seen, stalls 500 miles off the coast of Northern Florida for a week straight as a result of gridlocked low pressure systems, sending Hatteras the most consistent streak of early summer surf of all time. Ten days straight of overhead machinelike barrels catches the surfing world's eye and international plane tickets become the order of the day as everyone wants to steal a piece of paradise.

2075 – Despite years of fighting rising ocean levels, the island goes underwater – becoming the new Cortes Bank of the Atlantic as deposits from the Gulf Stream finally make a bar worthy of big wave swells. The once quaint island town becomes a jet-ski super highway come wintertime.