I hypothesized in a “View” published in early August that “The Beach Boys,” whose music regularly celebrated muscle cars, the power of the internal combustion engine, and California car culture had an influence on Americans’ early reluctance to buy electric vehicles.
I did not expect to ever consider their music in another essay, or in this case, a little bit of their musical homage to the beach and surfing; but we are approaching the fall of the year and my grandson, “H”, who turned seven earlier this summer, graduated last summer with a few of his New Jersey cousins from surfing camp and returned home, schooled in, “The practices and values of the surf and ocean lifestyle.”
My impression of his surf camp experience is that this coaching focused on technique and safety rather than the physics and science of the sport; and did not even acknowledge the robust body of music that contributed to “surfer-cool.”
Consequently, as duty called, I present some of the science of the sport in this essay, and like the essay on electric vehicles, refer, but only briefly, to the surfing song list published by “The Beach Boys.”
This essay is also presented as something light as we enter Old Lyme’s campaign season 2023.
“Gen. Alpha,” is the cohort born between the early-2010s and the mid-2020s.They are the most globally-connected generation of children ever and could also end up being the most formally educated. They are the children of millennials and the immediate successors of the “Zoomers” of “Gen. Z,” and are the first generation to be born entirely within the 21st century.
COVID-19 had a substantial impact on their childhood and acclaimed social demographer and futurist, Mark McCrindle, who coined the term Generation Alpha, defines and analyzes the generations in this article. He notes, “Generation Alpha will be the largest generation than ever before. Each week there are over 2.7 million Gen Alphas born. They will live for longer and are more culturally diverse compared to their older counterparts.”
All of Christina’s and my grandchildren are Alphas. “H” was born in mid-2016, a remarkable year; which I illustrate below:
- The Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers, 24 to 10 in Super Bowl 50 on Feb.7; and a month later, Denver QB, Peyton Manning retired after 18 seasons in the NFL.
- “Spotlight”, a very troubling “docudrama” that dramatized the “Boston Globe’s year-long Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, won two Academy Awards on Feb. 28:– “Best Picture” and “Best Original Screenplay”.
- That same evening, Leonardo DiCaprio won his first Academy Award, “Best Actor”, for his role as a frontiersman mauled by a bear in “The Revenant.”
- President Obama and his family visited Cuba in March — the first visit by a sitting POTUS since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. His visit included talks with Cuba’s leader, Raul Castro, the Cuban people, some dissidents; and served as a symbolic capstone on more than a year’s effort to normalize economic and diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, after more than 50 years of Cold War hostility. Notably, the Obamas and the Castros attended a baseball game together at Havana’s 55,000 seat “Estadio Latinoamericano” between the Cuban National Team and the Tampa Bay Rays, marking the first visit to the island by a Major League Baseball team since 1999. Note, Rays, 4 to1.
- The Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1, was the deadliest hurricane season since 2008, and the first above-average hurricane season since 2012.
- On June 19, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship by defeating the Golden State Warriors — their city’s first professional sports championship in more than 50 years.
- Unlike the Academy Awards, a fantasy-based drama, “Game of Thrones,” won 12 Emmys on Sept. 18, the year’s top winner.
- On Nov. 2, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series since 1908, snapping the “Billy Goat Curse,” one of the more infamous curses in sports, and baseball’s longest World Series title drought; surpassing Boston’s own “Curse of the Bambino” by almost a quarter-century.
- On Dec 10, Army finally beat Navy 21 to17 in double overtime; after blocking a Navy field goal with essentially no time left in the game — the first win over Navy since 2001. Army’s 14-game losing streak was the longest by either academy in a series that began in 1890.
Clearly, I have no idea whether surfing will be a long-term interest for “H,” and if so, whether his family will support his quest for the perfect wave. Nevertheless, here is some of the science that impacts the sport.
He is, however, an early and eager reader, and also a fan of the “View; and so, this essay might provide the basis for some, “What I did on my summer vacation” presentations, or a paragraph or two as he moves beyond first grade.
Waves form when the wind blows across the surface of the ocean, transferring energy through friction. Several factors affect the size and shape of waves. These include wind speed, wind duration, fetch (i.e., the distance over which the wind blows), water depth, and shoreline shape.
Generally, waves on the West Coast of the United States are bigger than those on the East Coast. The prevailing winds on the West Coast are behind the waves, which increases the waves’ energy; while on the East Coast, the prevailing winds usually blow against the incoming waves, decreasing the waves’ energy.
Further, the Pacific Ocean has a greater expanse than the Atlantic Ocean, which means that the fetch is greater on the West Coast.
Surfing is a good example of how several forces act together to enable a ride on the waves. I am going to discuss a few: gravity, buoyancy, and inertia; and consider the “center of gravity” (COG).
The forces of gravity and buoyancy work against each other. Gravity pulls the surfboard down, while buoyancy pushes it up. “H” will eventually understand that the latter force is referred to as “Archimedes’ Principle,” which states, in simple terms, that, “A body at rest that is completely or partially submerged in a fluid is acted upon by an upward, or buoyant, force.”
Because the materials used in contemporary surfboards are much lighter and less dense than the materials used in the past, the boards are more buoyant.
The early surfboards on the California beaches were essentially long redwood planks, sanded smooth; which absorbed water and became very heavy, even with the best protective finishes available at the time. These boards ranged from 10 to 20 ft. long and were not maneuverable, versus the modern boards that are much shorter and “steerable”.
An understanding of the COG is also important. Conceptually, the COG is the point around which the body’s weight is evenly distributed or balanced in all directions. The COG affects the stability of objects. The lower the COG, the more stable the object. The higher it is, the more likely the object is to topple over if it is pushed.
Beyond surfing, the COG is also important in designing buildings and bridges; aircraft, race cars, and Humvees. (Note to “H”: It is also why you do not stand up in your dinghy and why you keep low when mountain biking.)
In practice, managing the COG is one of the most important skills a surfer can master. For example, to remain balanced, surfers crouch, keeping their center of gravity low. Surfers can also change their position on the board. If a surfer stands in the middle of the board where buoyancy and weight are balanced, the board will be flat. If the surfer moves back, the nose of the board will go up, making it much easier to turn in the water compared to the long wooden boards described above.
This difference is due to the physical principle known as inertia, which describes how difficult it is to change something’s motion once it has started moving. Of course, “H” will eventually know it as “Newton’s First Law,” which states that an object at rest remains at rest, and an object in motion remains in motion at constant speed and in a straight line unless acted on by an external force.
Although long boards may not be as nimble as short boards, they reach higher speeds, mainly because their larger surface provides more area for water to push the surfer along.
According to the “experts”, Long Island Sound has only modest fetch, so epic waves are hard to come by, but the following beaches are worth checking out:
- The prime surfing season in Connecticut is typically from late summer through fall when hurricanes and tropical storms can generate larger swells.
- Rocky Neck State Park has a sandy beach with a mix of sandbars and rocky sections that can create some challenging waves.
- Hammonasset Beach is good for longboarding and beginner surfers.
- Fairfield Beach offers a consistent break with hollow waves that can be quite powerful during the right conditions.
However, if you want an ocean experience that is close by, there are a few places in Rhode Island worth considering:
- Misquamicut Beach has reliable, consistent, and beginner-friendly” surf. Like Connecticut, the best time of year to surf Misquamicut is Spring and often, the month of September; when you’ll get rideable swells and light offshore winds.
- East Beach in Charlestown also has consistent waves, and can be challenging.
If a surfer’s search takes him or her beyond New England, The Beach Boys also chronicled a possible surfers’ travel program, identifying sites with “cooking” surf on three continents, Hawaii, and the Caribbean in two songs from the early-1960s, whose abridged lyrics follow below:
Let’s go surfing now, everybody’s learning how;
Come on a safari with me.
At Huntington and Malibu they’re shooting the pier;
At Rincon they’re walking the nose.
We’re going on safari to the islands this year, so if you’re coming, get ready to go.
They’re angling in Laguna in Cerro Azul;
they’re kicking out in Doheny, too.
Surfing’s mighty wild, getting bigger every day,
from Hawaii to the shores of Peru
You’ll catch them surfing’ at Del Mar,
Ventura county line,
Santa Cruz and Trestle,
All over Manhattan
And down Doheny way,
Haggerties and Swamies
San Onofre and Sunset,
Redondo Beach, L.A.
All over La Jolla;
At Waimea Bay.
The Perils of Surfing:
In 1866, Mark Twain spent a few months in the Sandwich Islands (i.e., Hawaii) as a correspondent for “The Sacramento Union” newspaper. He reported on his own attempts at surfing: “I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in three-quarters of a second… and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me.”
Should you meet “H” on the beach, he may greet you with the Shaka sign, which is a friendly hand gesture usually associated with the surfing culture. He’ll extend the thumb and pinky finger of his hand while holding the three middle fingers curled, Depending on the context, the gesture can mean ”hang loose”, “chill out,” or just hello. ” You might also warrant a “Cowabunga, Dude!”, which is an expression of amazement or enthusiasm. Remember, he turned seven a few months ago.
I anticipate that my next “View” will be about children’s books.
Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.
About the Author: Tom Gotowka is a resident of Old Lyme, whose entire adult career has been in healthcare. He will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK. A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.
Carter, Christine M. “The Complete Guide To Generation Alpha, The Children Of Millennials”. Forbes.08/18/2019.
Francis, J.F. “The Ultimate Guide to Surfing in Connecticut.” Surf Atlas. 12/04/2021.
Hall, D. “Currents, Waves, and Tides”. Smithsonian Ocean. 08/2020.
Kesten, P. “The Physics of Surfing.” Santa Clara University. Illuminate.08/19/2019.
Klein, C. “What Was the Curse of the Bambino—and How Was Baseball’s Greatest Hex Broken”? History. 09/30/2021.
Larson, S. “Spotlight and its Revelations.” The New Yorker. 12/08/2015.
McCrindle, M. and Fell, A. (2023). ”Generation Alpha”. Sydney: Hachette Book Group. 2021.
Sanchez, R. “What is the Chicago Cubs’ billy goat curse”? CNN. 10/28/2016
Spotlight Team. “Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for Years. The Boston Globe. 01/06/2002.
Trinastic, J. “Waves of Physics: The Science of surfing”. Science Connected. 05/11/2021
Twain, M. “Roughing it”. The American Publishing Company. 1872.
Surfing Safari (The Beach Boys, 1962)
Surfing U.S.A. (The Beach Boys, 1963)