In the early years of the millennium, Kitty Hawk Pier was a derelict space. Hurricane Isabel had chewed off half of its length, and the remaining structure looked as if it could fall into the ocean at any time. A chain- link fence spread across the dune from one end of the property line to the other. "Do Not Enter" signs were placed at the entrance to the parking lot, and blown sand had covered up the concrete of the old lot. But nobody paid much attention to all that. Sand-trails in the dune grass every thirty yards or so led to skilfully-cut holes in the fence, and in the summer the parking lot was hopping with locals and tourists alike, kicking it Outer Banks style, riding the blunt edge of the law. Surfboards and beach umbrellas moved in and out of trucks and wagons, moms lathered sunscreen on squirming toe-headed kids, and light summer winds mingled with salt and sun on everyone's skin to produce an ineffable collective sensation of freedom.
In the summer of 2004, a small sandbar had formed around the pier, a perfect low-tide summer longboarding sandbar. It peaked almost directly under the pier, which meant that depending on the conditions there were waves on both sides of the pier. And on most days that summer, a perfect, clean, waist-high right-hander peeled from the south side of the pier all the way under and through the pilings. Only one thing to do with a wave like that. Shoot the pier, all summer long, like some old Kodachrome snapshot from the '60's.
Most days the wave wasn't big enough for the rippers, so the longboard crew pretty much owned it. A series of offshore low-pressure systems kept the little rollers coming in almost daily, and the winds stayed light and often glassed off right around sunset. We would stake out a spot just above the tide-line, the girls would set up beach-chairs in a semicircle, and somebody always brought a cooler for beer and water and sandwiches. We'd stay all afternoon, coming in from the water occasionally for refreshment, rest, and quick salty kisses, and the burners would occasionally adjourn to somebody's truck for a little top-off. Everything felt new that summer, even though we'd all lived here for years.
That summer I was riding a 9-footer that Jesse Fernandez had shaped for me, with Endless-Summer stripes painted along its length and the iconic Wave Riding Vehicles logo on the deck. Underneath, he had penciled in "The Mighty Bickford" next to his signature and the board specs. The nickname was an old joke between us, its origin long forgotten. Eventually, the board became known as "TMB", and it was perfectly shaped for shooting the pier.
Mostly I surfed with Tom Vick, and we would vie with each other for the highest wave-count through the pilings. We were like dogs who never tired of chasing a ball. Shoot the pier, ride to the shoreline, walk back under the pier, paddle back out, shoot it again. It was an easy, effortless ride, just the way life seemed to be that summer.
All good things must come to an end. One afternoon I caught a sweet chest-high roller that had a little bump on the outside shoulder, and as I rode through the pilings it heaved up and tossed me smack into one of the old barnacle-encrusted posts that holds up the rickety remains of the pier. I sputtered, stood up in the waist deep water, and saw my board wrapped around the post, snapped in two, the lamination on the deck still holding the board together like a bent popsicle stick. I had a little bruise on my shoulder, which healed fast enough, and a few barnacle scrapes on my arm, which shed entirely too little blood to mark the occasion. The Mighty Bickford was no more.
I borrowed boards from Jesse and Tom the rest of the summer, though by then there wasn't much summer left. In the fall the Hilton bought the pier and the property that went with it. They put a fence around the perimeter of the lot, slapped up a big vinyl hotel, and renovated the pier as a classy wedding venue. Meantime hurricane season was on and we traded our trunks and longboards for wetsuits, shortboards, and trips to Rodanthe. It was time to get serious.
Time moves on, couples break up or start familiies, people move away, then sometimes move back. I haven't seen a lot of that summer crew in a while. I still have the board though, folded over where it split, shoved in the back of a storage space. It's yellowed and rotting, but you can still make out, just barely, Jesse's signature and "The Mighty Bickford" in pencil underneath the lamination. Every now and then I'll take it out just to look at it, and try to remember what it was that made me mighty.
Jesse's always telling me I need to take better care of my boards. They'd last a lot longer, he says. I guess they would.