Outer Outer Banks: Noel Makes Tow In History in Hatteras

Noel makes tow-in history at Hatteras

Saturday, November 3. Tropical {{{Storm}}} Noel has the whole mid-Atlantic surf community in a frenzy. With forecasts predicting the high-powered winds to clock northwest, surfboard-topped trucks descend up on the Outer Banks in anticipation of offshore winds across Oregon Inlet. License plates from as far as Maryland and Florida swarm the northern beaches only find the Bonner Bridge closed, effectively blocking hundreds of eager surfers from the biggest waves and best conditions. Meanwhile, on the other side, a select crew of Hatteras locals are cut-off off from the rest of the world.

"We were stuck," says Long Island native turned Buxton resident Will Skudin. "Happily stuck."

Happy, not just because they'd have the surf to themselves. But because the isolation was the perfect setting for Buxton's diehard seafaring community to come together and make history in an already historical swell — the biggest they'd seen since 1991. Primed from six years of tow-at experience on the barrier island's inner and outer sandbars, Skudin and his partner, Buxton native Joey Crum, knew this was an opportunity to push their limits. 18 feet at 18 seconds in the morning became a more manageable 15 at 15 by afternoon. Now all they needed was the wind to clock around.

"Standing on the beach that afternoon, I knew it was finally gonna happen," says Crum. "That was probably the biggest and most rideable I've ever seen it. Will showed up and I had tears in my eyes, I was so excited I felt blessed. Honestly, I was crying."

Luckily, Crum had plenty of shoulders to cry on — and lean on — as local legend Russell {{{Blackwood}}} assembled a support team. Together, nearly surfers, photographers and friends heaved the ski over the dunes and into the water. Will fired it up like usual – they even used their normal shortboards — but from there, everything changed.

Now, Crum's tackled Waimea the past two years. And Skudin's a two-time XXL paddle contender whose surfed 17-foot Maverick's and towed Hawaii and Todos. But those are all reefs. Hatteras is a beachbreak. And big or small, beachbreaks do one thing: they shift.

"All winter long I'm in waves that have one peak you're whipping or paddling into," says Skudin. "We looking for waves all over the place; we were surfing the whole Atlantic Ocean."

An Atlantic Ocean with North Pacific power. Not as tall, but just as thick. Huge, white bulldozers. Crum got the first one, then Skudin, then two more a piece, each time emerging with big eyes. After a few 'holy shits', they knew what they had to do.

"We went in and the groms are still paddling inside the jetty," says Will. "I dropped Joey, went over to {{{Morgan}}} O'Connell and said, 'You're out there.' He's like, 'I have to work in an hour.' I said, 'Get on the ski.' I was proud because I remember being that young and scared, but I gave him a little pep talk and got him into the three biggest waves of his life. He was probably the happiest he ever was walking into work that day."

"Once Brett [Barley] saw Morgan catch a few he paddled up as fast he could," Skudin continues. "He wanted one. I whipped him into one of the biggest ones of the day, the thing ended up closing out on him, and I'm watching is board tombstone for 20 seconds. He came up with the biggest 'O' face ever."

After that, Joey and Will grabbed tow boards and pioneered new territory ’til sundown, all by themselves more than a mile off the beach. But they were never alone. While local photog Daniel Pullen trained his long lens outside from the jetty, regular joe Dan Kramer climbed to the top of a cottage with a simple point and shoot, and captured the few fuzzy images of Hatteras making history. Just two of the crew who were paying attention and, as a result, taking part.

"When we came back in there were like ten people watching and waiting," says Skudin. "That wasn't just cool, it was magical: to do something that's never been done before with people born and raised there, people who've been surfing the Lighthouse for years."

People who stick together. Happily.