Surfing Vancouver Island  

Foondroppings 17  



The Lookout House

Preface:

Shortly after midnight on the morning of June 13, 1942, four men, led by George John Dasch, landed on a beach near Amagansett, Long Island, New York, from a German submarine. They were clad in German uniforms and brought ashore enough explosives, primers and incendiaries, to support a two year campaign of sabotage against American defense-related production. Scarcely had they buried their equipment and uniforms, in fact, one still wore bathing trunks, when a Coast Guardsman patrolling the shore approached. He was unarmed and very suspicious of them, more so when they offered him a bribe to forget they had met. He ostensibly accepted the bribe to lull their fears and promptly reported the incident to his headquarters. However by the time the search patrol located the spot, the saboteurs had reached a railroad station and take a train to New York City *

* Source: FBI famous cases

Seventy percent of the people in the United States today were born after WWII. Yet no other event in modern history has had such a significant affect on the lives of every single one of us. No, not even the question of "Who shot JR?" or the final episode of M*A*S*H. The people of the United States have never been so challenged to pull together and rise up to meet a common enemy. Those who lived at that time rarely questioned the reason for doing things in the name of national defense. It was a hardship but everyone knew the very freedom of this nation was at stake. The selflessness and dedication to that task has never been equaled in this century, and never will. The generation of Americans who lived through those times have as their final legacy the continuation and prosperity of arguably the most free nation in the history of the world, something many people alive today take for complete granted.

The Lookout House

In the early years of WWII, the populations of both coasts of the U.S. were in the grip of invasion fever. Naval, Coast Guard, and Civil Defense forces were mobilized in an effort of thwart an expected attempt by our enemies to sabotage key war industries. There were several attacks on commercial vessels off the East Coast by German submarines before the Navy began the routine process of escorting shipping traffic up and down the coast. As a result of these threats, real and imagined, a series of lookout posts were constructed at key points along each coast. These lookout posts, as part of the coastal defense system, were manned by various services and sometimes civilians. They were sometimes built in remote beach areas that were often near large population centers. Some were stark cement silos, like those still standing behind the dunes in Dewey Beach, Delaware. Others were constructed to camouflage their real purpose.

On the Eastern end of Long Island, New York, between Montauk Point and East Amagansett, such a structure was built. As a young teenager, when I first saw it I had no idea what it was. My Dad called it, "the Lookout House." It was built on a cliff overlooking what was during the war, an almost completely barren stretch of Long Island shoreline. Crudely constructed of poured concrete and steel rebar, the house was fabricated to look like a simple two story residential home, complete with two red brick chimneys and shingle roof. From miles away at sea, that's exactly what it looked like.

In reality it was a cement bunker that sported thick walls, observation openings on the ocean side and massive concrete and steel pedestals to hold the large telescopes or binoculars used by the lookouts to scan the ocean. These posts were manned 24 hours a day, but most importantly at night. It was vital but insanely boring duty. The importance of surveillance and beach patrols was heightened by episodes such as the one beginning this story.

1963 First Glimpse

In the Fall of 1963 calling me a kook was giving the term a bad name. I had spent the entire summer cutting lawns and doing odd jobs to save enough money to buy the object of my desire, a 9'6" Jacobs, diamond laminated wood fin, surfboard. With a little help from my Dad, I brought it home just before Labor Day weekend. All summer I had been trying to master the sloppy and skittish waves of Gilgo Beach on a borrowed and waterlogged Keioki popout. Now I owned a real surfboard and could not spend enough time riding the waves of Long Island's south shore beaches to learn how to use it properly.

As a kook at Gilgo Beach, all I'd ever heard from the hotdoggers like George Fisher, was how good the waves were at Montauk. It was the Long Island Mecca for young surfers and I dreamed of the day I would first be able to go out there. When my Dad asked me in mid-September what I wanted for my birthday in October I immediately said, "A weekend in Montauk." So, as my weekend approached I was just silly with anticipation. My Dad and I had never gone off by ourselves for anything and as a way of bonding with his young teenaged son, I guess he thought this was a great idea. As a collegiate swimmer and former Coast Guardsman he looked forward to swimming in the pristine waters of the Montauk area. I have never seen anyone cut through the water like my Dad. His stroke was all arms and shoulders, very little leg motion and virtually no splashing. He could swim underwater for what seemed like forever, and once swam the length of a 50 meter pool three times to the amazement of the lifeguards.

Dad never even hinted whether he'd ever been to Montauk Point before, so I found it curious that he would depart the main road to the Point and start driving down a series of unpaved roads and paths after passing the little town of Montauk. He drove slowly, taking in the scenery and what few homes populated the woodsy areas. He explored several side roads that ended up nowhere.

Finally, at the end of what was a dead end road, he pulled off into a clearing and pointed south. "Take a look over in that direction son," he said softly, "I think you'll find some waves at the base of the cliff." I dashed out of the old family Rambler Station Wagon, not even wondering how he would know this and raced for the cliff's edge. Sprawled in front of me was a sight, as a young surfer, I had only dreamed of seeing. For 180 degrees I could see nothing but deep blue ocean, iron red cliffs, and sparkling green waves. Dozens of unridden breaks, but in the distance to the East, I could see surfers gathered along a big rock reef point break I would later come to learn was Ditch Plains.

surfing stories and photos from alt.surfing s Foondoggy
But just below where I stood was a totally vacant headhigh wave forming out of a dark green swell, that lightened as it rose up and broke in A-frame perfection.

Without hesitation I bolted back to the car and untied my board from the roof. I pulled on the small shorty wetsuit I'd gotten for my birthday and headed for a slightly worn path that seemed to go down the cliff toward the beach. When I arrived on the shore I was unprepared for the rocks and boulders that littered the beach. It being the pre-leash days, and me not having full control of my new board, I wondered if this was such a good idea. But the light green and seemingly perfect waves beckoned to me and I rushed into the ocean to meet the first significant challenge of my young surfing life.

The waves were ideal for me, each one almost perfectly formed with enough power and size to make them easy to catch and ride, yet not critical enough to punish me for my many mistakes. They moved in slowly and broke evenly along a sand-filled rock reef, tapering down to knee high as they expired at the base of the red cliffs. Crisp, clean air, mild temperatures, slight offshore winds and warm water made my first experience in Montauk the thing dreams are made of. In between waves I just sat in wonder at my good fortune and marveled at the brilliant blue sky and green ocean. Equally amazing, I caught and rode nearly every wave I tried for.

As I sat and waited between sets I noticed an old looking cement house with chimneys on the cliff overlooking the break. I had no idea what this place was nor why it was there, and at this moment didn't really care. But I did find it curious to see my Dad nosing around the outside of it. Soon my attention was fixed on the fact that the surf was indeed building, and what were just headhigh waves when I first started, were now easily becoming well overhead on sets. I sensed my surfing was actually getting better with each successful wave. The quality of the waves made catching, turning and trimming seem instinctive. The practice and experience I was receiving in these waves made the afternoon a benchmark session for me. I really could do this and the incredible rush I received by this knowledge made me shout with joy. "YESSSSSSSS!!!!!"

By the time I waded out 4 hours later, I was certain I had just experienced the best surfing conditions of my young life. My Dad was waiting by the car, smoking his pipe and holding a towel for me, smiling with the obvious joy that was on my face and knowing full well he had brought me to a place we would both remember for a long time. As we pulled away, passing the crumbling old cement house, I asked him what it was? "Just an old Lookout House," he replied. "They used ‘em in WWII." I thought nothing more of that information, but filed away the fact that it stood directly in front of one of the best surf breaks I'd ever ridden. I knew it was a place I would return to many times.

surfing stories and photos from alt.surfing s Foondoggy

1969 The Secret

Tomas and I had just returned from a summer on the West coast. We'd lived off our friend Brian in Venice Beach and spent the entire time surfbumming our way from breaks in Mexico up to Santa Barbara. When we weren't surfing we were attending parties in Topanga, Tuna, Malibu and Laurel canyons as guests of a friend of an acquaintance of someone. The high (low) point of the summer was crossing the police lines early one morning at the Manson Murders scene and getting a glimpse of the carnage that had occurred, before getting thrown out and almost arrested. It was a sight I will never forget.

Yeah, going back to college on Long Island was going to be a major drag. After all we had our short boards, long blond hair, and tricked out Dodge Surf Van. We were too cool to hang with the other students. Why bother with campus protests and demonstrations against the war, when we could saddle up and go out to Montauk to surf. Every weekend there seemed to be good conditions, and Tomas and I would head out in search of waves equal to those we'd experienced in California. We knew if there was any place on Long Island that could do it, it would be the Lookout House.

surfing stories and photos from alt.surfing s Foondoggy

Camping in Montauk was a cat and mouse game. If you snuck into military property you had to watch out for the MPs. If you trespassed on private property, you had to worry about local cops. Either way, it was a bare bones type of survivalist trip, consisting of surfboard, sleeping bag, wetsuit, and gearbag with essentials like water, food, and coffee. You'd drop off your stuff near where you could hike in to the surf spot, then ditch the van somewhere in town and hitchhike back. You never hiked in until after dark then hunkered down in a low spot or protected area and ate Chef Boy Ar Dee Ravioli heated over a little Sterno, or cold out of the can. Carrying in shelter like a tent was never an option. If it seemed like there was going to be bad weather the only place you could camp and stay somewhat dry was the Lookout House.

On this particularly wretched night we'd just gotten our gear stored when the first line of several thunderstorms roared in from the Northwest. The inside of the building was divided into 4 rooms about 8x10, with thick, rough cement walls. Since the wood and shingle roof on the place had been burned off many years before, the two upper rooms were useless for protection from the elements, but afforded a much better view of the surf. The lower rooms were not exactly water tight since the rain and wind would blow in the openings that faced the ocean. Years of graffiti and garbage littered the place and any trip there found you spending the first hour or so cleaning up the shit (literally) that others had left. The cement floor was a hard bed, but hopefully the great surfing would let you sleep on almost anything. On this our first night in October, the day before my birthday, I stood and looked out at the raging ocean as Tomas cooked up the big two pound can of Ravioli, burning the bottom as usual and washing it down with a couple of warm Rheingold Beers. Makes me involuntarily heave just thinking about it.

My thoughts went back to the first time I had surfed the Lookout House and I hoped the next day the waves would be equal to what they were that first time. I clung to that memory since it was one of the only times I ever went somewhere with my Dad to go surfing, and the conditions of that day were etched in my mind as the real beginnings of my love for the sport. Though I was a total rookie that day, I never felt any fear, knowing my Dad was an superb swimmer and would look out after me.

As the night wore on I found it impossible to sleep due to the never ending thunder, lightning and driving wind. Tomas had no trouble, he could sleep on a bed of broken glass, which was approximately what he was doing that night, assisted by the 5 Rheingolds he'd had with the luke warm Ravioli.

With each bolt of lightning I stared out to the horizon looking for signs of a big swell. At one point in the distance I thought I could detect the outline silhouette of a ship. I wondered what it was like for the men who manned the Lookout House during the war and how they managed to stay up all night. I imagined a couple of guys sitting out here in the middle of nowhere, during a raging storm, trying to scan the horizon for suspicious shapes and forms. It must have been terrible thinking that if you slipped up, the enemy could land a party of saboteurs or soldiers. I strained my eyes to make out the horizon and could not focus on anything due to the poor light and constant movement of the ocean. The booming thunder made me wonder what would it be like if the Lookout House came under attack from offshore guns. Geez, the war must have been a nightmare.

KaBOOM!!!! The concussion sounded like a howitzer going off down the beach. It snapped my head up from a fitful sleep and I realized I had curled up against the cold, wet cement wall of the room and dozed off. KaaaBOOOOOOM!!! What the.....? I got up slowly seeing that it was just after dawn. The sky was fish scaled with pink and orange clouds and the wind had come around offshore, blowing steadily from the Northwest. As I peered out the opening on the ocean side of the house I caught a glimpse of a bright green A-Frame wave collapsing about 200 yards offshore snapping down with a substantial thump. It was only one of a set of five well formed large waves that were throwing a gorgeous veil of spray off the top. The waves peeled perfectly for about 100 yards and died quietly in a deep water trench before reforming as a shore break. "Tomas!!!" I hissed, "Get your ass up and make some coffee boy, have I got a surprise for you!"

surfing stories and photos from alt.surfing s Foondoggy

The rest of the morning was spent gouging and carving the deep green walls of 8 foot faces and tucking ourselves into the light green rooms of the tumbling water. In between waves I would sit and gaze up at the Lookout House feeling as if someone were looking down at us. The place had acquired a very special spot in my heart.

As the tide slipped out, the paddle to the lineup got a little dicey. Tomas and I both took waves in and headed back out facing an unusually large set coming in like a runaway train. Tomas was stronger than I was and took the lead but I was directly behind him. We scratched through the first two and it looked like Tomas was just going to make it through the third and biggest one, but I was definitely not going to make it. In fact, I was at ground zero in the impact zone. I figured Tomas would just make it through the lip but just as the wave went vertical I saw him pull up fast and jump back hard on the tail of his board sinking it deep and straight down, at the same time swiveling it around back toward shore. He was going for one of his patented no stroke, crucifixion free fall, late take offs, and since his eyes were riveted on the lip of this 10 foot monster, he had no idea he was coming back right on top of me.

With barely a second to react I filled my lungs with air and half shrieked, "TOMMMASSSSS!!!!!" and dove, scratching and swimming for the bottom as deep as I could go. The primitive surgical cord leash I used in those days snapped like a flimsy rubber band and I hoped my board didn't get in Tomas' way. The wave washed over me and I didn't hear any tell-tale thunk of boards so I surfaced quickly to observe the end of Tomas' wave. As I broke the surface I could not see him just inshore of me, so I knew he'd made the drop. Farther inside I could see what was left of the reeling wave as it unwound toward shore. Behind the green curtain of the breaking wave I could just make out Tomas' bright red shorts. The boy was slotted deep and solid. Just as the back spray from the top of the wave dispersed Tomas came smokin out the end with a giant "WHOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" Stoked way beyond words. He saw my board bouncing in toward shore and paddled in to retrieve it, then dragged it back out to me by the snapped rubber cord. I surfed the rest of the day with a four foot piece of surgical cord literally tied to my ankle, dreading getting caught by even the smallest wave. When we finally got out, we both knew the Lookout House had finally given up one of the finest days of surfing we'd ever see. Even then I sensed the place had more of offer me sometime in the future, and I knew I would be back to find out what it was.

1978 Secret Revealed

It had been almost 10 years since I last surfed the Lookout House. I'd finished college, married, moved to California permanently, started a family, moved back East, got divorced, went through some terrible times, stopped surfing, and was rescued by a wonderful woman. Two years prior my Dad had died a very ugly death at the hand of a monstrous cancer. I'd decided to travel once again to Long Island to visit my childhood home, and introduce my future wife to my beloved Montauk Point. On the way out I stopped by my Moms where she tearfully was ready to give up some things of my Dad's; his old Coast Guard Pea Coat, Black wool watch cap, binoculars, service medals and wartime journal.

During this first week of October, to celebrate my birthday we explored all of the Montauk area, staying in a very nice motel on the North shore. Many things had changed about the place. It was more populated. Fabulous beach houses had been built by celebrities and overall the area seemed crowded for it's small size. One thing that had barely changed was the Lookout House. On my birthday we explored the cliffs where it stood. The crystal clear and cool air was crackling with the sound of waves snapping along the various sandbars and reefs. In the distance I could see a dozen surfers, surf skiers and even catamaran riders challenging the waves of Ditch Plains. It was just overhead and building.

I'd decided to take my Dad's journal up to the Lookout House and honor his memory. While sitting in the crumbling ruins of this surfshrine that occupied my fondest adolescent memory I turned the page of my Dad's journal and read a passage written on Oct.6, 1944.

"Tom and I are waiting for duty orders from headquarters. I expect we'll be on some scow out of Block Island, but in the meantime they've got us logging lookout duty at this godforsaken place in Montauk. There's nothing to do out here and last night there was a goddamned storm that kept us up all night, so I decided to leave a little remembrance of me to the place .I'll be glad when this is all over. I miss my family."

I closed the book and walked down around the back of the Lookout House checking along the irregular dirt line of the foundation. Finally I found what I had seen described in the journal and wondered why I had never noticed it before. Scratched faintly into the coarse cement of the Lookout House were my Dad's initials and the date. I took a screwdriver from my car and scratched mine next to his. A strange sensation came over me as I remembered previous visits and the feeling that someone was always watching over me from the place. Now I knew why.

When I'm in the water, the spirit of the Lookout House is always with me.

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