Right off the bat I am going to state that I know that I’ll get A LOT of nasty-grams for this post. I am about to trash a Marylander’s favorite beach town, but I don’t feel bad about it. After all, when you take away the cotton candy, crowded boardwalk, trashy hotels and trashier bars, cops, red lights, junk food and sand renourishment projects, the place is CLEARLY lacking, right?
Ocean City beckons to those who, in my view of the world, don’t know better. Whether they haven’t been exposed to other beaches, or the place is just a “home away from home” or a “place they grew up with”, there are masses of people that love and swear by this place. And that’s certainly their right.
I’ve scoured the East Coast from top to bottom, and I can safely say that, unless you like stepping into the quintessential cliche of a trashy beach town, give this place a miss. But, as a surfer who wants to get the best waves I can, I find myself there time and time again. For the many times I ask myself why, occasionally I am reminded of exactly what I am doing in OCMD (as stickers and those “in the know” refer to the place).
Waves. That is the reason, but the answer isn’t usually satisfactory. Leaving behind all of the land-born atrocities OCMD dishes up, the ocean provides all the respite any surfer needs from the dismal on-land situation. At its best, Ocean City offers up steep, peeling waves that will barrel all the way through their short lives on the local sandbars. But the place is fickle. At times, the place can be a surfer’s dream, but usually the reality is far from that.
Any beachbreak can get good on its day, some more often than others. This Eastern Shore “city” is a maddening place in the surf, almost as much as it is on land. My drive to get there and surf takes about 2 1/2 hours without any traffic. If the surf forecast doesn’t look good I usually don’t go. Marginal doesn’t cut it, because, well, the place IS fickle.
I do have to consider the better parts. On a good day, as Friday morning was, hollow walls peel off in every direction up and down the beach. On a quality swell with some south in it, as Leslie has provided, there are shortened versions of the super bank in Queensland wherever you look. Snag one of these runners and you’re smiling for the rest of the day. Snag a bunch, and the smile takes a long time to fade. It’s the true redeeming quality of this seedy spot by the sea. But Friday was an exception, definitely not the rule. These beachies go from spinning perfection to wonky weirdness if you even look at the ocean wrong. In my 20+ years of surfing, I don’t think I’ve seen a more temperamental beachbreak.
Start with the tide. Anything other than low to rising is pretty much out. And dead low can create sand-sucking death bomb closeouts. Once the tide gets too high, the backwash destroys any perfection you may have been enjoying. So there’s usually no more than a two to three hour period to get optimal waves in the tide cycle.
Then there’s the wind. Anything but offshore tears the place apart, turning hollow dreams into ugly, wonky, clam shell closeouts. And even on the days with perfect wind forecasts, the local breeze has a way of being off just enough to turn the waves to crap.
In summertime the denizens of the thousands of condos come out and clog up the inside, so even when things do fall into place you’re likely to run some clueless kook over before you can kick out.
I could go on, but there’s not much point. You get the idea. It’s not my favorite place to surf. In my opinion, there are more utilitarian spots in the vicinity. But when the elements DO come together, then there is no better place to be on the Eastern Shore (save for some secret spots, but no names be named here).
Yes, Ocean City displays all of the characteristics of any annoying and frustrating beachy in the world. Yet it also shares one with the best of them too–sick barrels. And Friday was all about sick barrels, and ultimately bliss. The trick is to not let the scenery ruin the stoke as you drive out of town post-session.
Here’s some of the local groms getting sand-thrashings in OCMD. Represent.