Dane Reynolds and Craig Anderson Chase A Fickle Woman To The Far Northeast, And In The Process, Forget A Fickle Man
All Photos by DJ Struntz
A tropical storm with wind higher than 74 mph is called a hurricane. Unless you're in Japan, in which case a hurricane is a typhoon, or in Australia, where it's a cyclone. Kelly Slater is called Robert on his birth certificate and The Champ on webcasts and Babe when Kalani Miller beckons. Both hurricanes and Kelly Slater are freaks of nature and fickle, and both drove us crazy in Nova Scotia.
We courted Kelly for this trip, and as Hurricane Leslie parked her supple figure over the Bahamas and blew kisses of swell up and down the East Coast, Kelly responded with gusto. Flurries of texts and forecasts and predictions. Excitement! He was going to invite Dane, was that OK? Buzz! Dane was going to bring Courtney and invite Craig, was that OK? Enthusiasm! Craig was going to bring filmers, was that OK? News team, assemble! Tickets were booked from California, Australia, Indonesia and North Carolina. Everyone was coming. The band was getting back together.
"It's foggy and eerie and that's how the story goes," says Courtney, staring out the floor-to-ceiling windows of this mysterious house that overlooks the bay. "Two surfers and a girlfriend staying at a friend of a friend's house…I bet I'll be bludgeoned first."
Dane and Courtney sit across the table eating Sociable Crackers. Drinking local craft beer, we talk about love and life and horror movies. There is no music. No ambient traffic or neighborhood noise. When no one is speaking we listen to the hollow quiet of the edge of the world. Beautiful and creepy.
But where is everyone? Our photographer, DJ Struntz, and host, resident surfer Nico Manos, are nowhere to be found. We're pretty sure that Craig and Co. are in transit from Indo, but there's no way to be sure. Kelly is either on his way, here already or in Los Angeles. And so we sit, alone, and discuss the set of our horror movie. This house. Whose is it? Nico just gave us this address and told us to make ourselves at home. It sits at the end of a long driveway on a headland that overlooks three surf spots. The yard is littered with upturned lawn chairs and worn children's dolls. No neighbors. This area, this house, is too dark and vast and deserted to be reality. It must be a trap. And so Courtney thinks she'll be killed first, walking along the shoreline collecting shells while her boyfriend surfs just out of earshot. She sighs, reaches into her bag and offers Dane and me some candy she'd smuggled in from the States.
"No," I say, taking a gumball from the plastic bag. "It'll be me. I'm too obscure of a character to keep around. And you're the only girl. They'll need that sexual tension."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Courtney concedes, passing the bag to Dane. "Want a gummy worm?"
It's dead silent as Dane reaches into the bag, which crinkles as he pulls out a gummy worm. "No," he says, dropping the worm back into the bag and searching for something else. "I want a sour one."
Leslie spins and spins over the Bahamas and we watch her like teenage boys looking through a peephole into the girls' locker room — with nervous excitement. Last week they said it would be 13 at 17. Then they said 12 at 15. Then 8 at 13. "But that's still pretty big," Nico assures the crew, which is now complete (minus Kelly, which is to say, complete). It's our first full day together and we drive from perfect setup No. 7 toward perfect setup No. 14. Each spot not quite working. "It should be really good this afternoon," says Nico. And he should know. The 28-year-old surfer grew up in the area and has spent his entire surfing life exploring every nook, point and headland and recently settled on a hill above one of the best points. We trust him. We've seen the lineup and fisheye photos that decorate his utopian home on a hill and know the potential fruits of his exploration. And so we drive through the breathtaking Nova Scotian countryside, looking for waves. Through meadows and around rocky points and past ponds and near bays that look like ponds. Kelly texts us at every wave we check, as if he's got homing devices on our vehicles. "I think I'm coming tonight. How is it?" "It's firing," we respond. When in actuality Leslie is coming up short of our expectations. Still, we are here and the waves are playful. So we surf. Between sets we look over our shoulders toward the shore and wonder about the homes. When we surf, we park in the vacant driveways and walk across their fenceless properties to the ocean. It feels like someone is watching us, even though they're clearly vacant. But why? "Maybe everyone's working," I say. "Maybe they're vacation rentals," Dane guesses. "Or maybe," Craig says, "there was a mass suicide."
Today is Dane Reynolds' birthday. It is also Craig Anderson's birthday. The presents are waiting on the table when we arrive at The Drawing Room, an upscale bar in Halifax. Nico's roommate, Scotty, tends bar at the classy establishment, where the cocktails are $15 and the waiters wear ties. Nico had tipped him off that we were coming in for a birthday drink, and he'd told the owner, who quickly ran to the store and bought T-shirts and lobster lollipops for Dane and Craig. She even crafted some handmade cards for them, with "D" and "C" on the front. Because that's how people are in Nova Scotia. Almost too nice. After we review the menu of craft drinks, Scotty approaches the table. "What's your poison?" he asks, but we overlook the phrasing, contented and tired. We order. There is reason, apart from the birth of two of surfing's most prized humans, to celebrate. Leslie finally showed.
Near our haunted house that morning, she showed. She sent glassy, head-high walls down the righthand point. Dane was glowing, carving and punting his way around the empty lineup. He'd paddle into each wave and wait until he was halfway down the face to stand up, then crank his Neck Beard off the bottom and into the lip. "I've been surfing Emma Wood for the last four months," he said, keeping one eye on the horizon and one eye on Courtney, wandering along the shoreline collecting shells. "It feels so good to surf a real wave." And later that afternoon at the cobblestone left pointbreak, she showed. And Dane would holler Craig into waves and Craig would be laughing as he stood and turned his Shred Sled. Even Craig's laugh has an Australian accent. Down the line, knees knocking, hair flowing, he lulled you into the 1970s until he exploded inverted, full rotation aerials. Kelly texted, but the texts went unanswered. And the guys forgot all about the days of driving and not finding waves. Hurricane forecasts, we learned, are about as reliable as a dice roll. Even Nico, who'd lived his entire life dealing with hurricane swells, was dumbfounded by the swell's mysteries. "What do you think we should do?" we'd ask as we pulled up to the surf each morning. "I don't know what to think anymore," he'd say. But that was in the past. We were surfing now and surfing well. Kelly texted, but we were busy.
At The Drawing Room, we enjoy our specialty cocktails. Craig sips his smoke-infused Old Fashioned, with a hand-carved ice cube. Dane sips his 20th Century, which came with a vase of scented dry ice that covered the table in a citrus-smelling haze. Kelly didn't show, but Leslie did. We surfed in Canada and lived in a haunted house. Dane and Craig shared a birthday and nobody got bludgeoned. We have salty skin and tired arms, and our throats burn in the best way as our drinks slide into our stomachs. Delicious poison. We sip. We savor. We exhale. Leslie would be gone tomorrow, and so would we.—Taylor Paul