Sunday, August 12, 2007

Playing “Outside”

I recently read a cool blog about the virtues of outdoors exploration and play for kids. It was inspired by Richard Louv’s, “Last child in the woods”, which I’m fixing to read.

Yep, I sure enjoyed the outdoors part of my childhood. I get nostalgic thinking about walking in the woods, fishing at the beach, or biking around the hidden parts of the nearby Evergreen State College campus. This picture is the famous Evergreen Clock Tower.

Last Saturday I felt like a kid again, doing a different kind of “outside” play. It was at a special place called Factory Point, perhaps the most wonderful, exciting, awesome place to windsurf in all of Southeastern Virginia. What makes it wonderful? Well, I can answer that best with a bulleted list.

1. Natural beauty. Factory Point is at the mouth of a minor estuary called Back River, which opens into the main stem of Chesapeake Bay. There are a couple of small marinas in the area, but other than that it’s as “wild” as you can get in Hampton Roads. The only sign of the namesake factory is a line of rotted pilings north of the river mouth. After the factory was abandoned the military used that land for target practice, leaving it full of unexploded ordinance. That’s a good thing because nothing less than the threat of explosive dismemberment could keep developers away from such excellent waterfront.

2. Wildlife. The mouth of Back River is partially closed by a sandspit and island, which shelter an extensive, shallow eelgrass bed, one of the healthiest in the Bay. The little island is a seabird rookery, with a nice colony of skimmers and oystercatchers. Recreational boaters like to park along the island to sunbathe and carouse, but apparently that doesn’t stop the birds from making more birds.

3. Diversity of conditions. The sand spit makes for relatively smooth water on the inside, while the open bay on the outside has sizeable waves when it’s breezy. If the tide is high enough, you can cut across the spit to get “outside;” otherwise you have to go around the island and out the river channel Directly in the lee of the low island the water is ultra smooth- perfect conditions for speed runs.

4. Cool people. Whenever it’s windy, there are a lot of windsurfers at Factory Point. Just like a good joke, windsurfing is most fun when it’s shared.

On Saturday lots of my local buddies were out, including fellow instructors Bruce Powers and Joachim Pfieffer, and technical wizard Todd Ferrante. I was chasing Todd around in the channel area when he pulled up to the shore of the island. I followed him there and stopped to chat. He said, “Want to go OUTSIDE?” I was like, “YEAH!” So we headed out and zipped around in the breaking waves zone, trying for the biggest jumps we could do, and politely exaggerating how high we estimated the other person to have jumped. We encountered a big, old yacht foundering just offshore of the island, and learned from some people on the beach that it had broken down there that morning. As we watched, it cracked apart in the breaking waves, spilling out all sorts of weird stuff. Todd was super excited about the “shipwreck” and convinced me to help raid it. We picked through the debris washing up but didn’t find anything particularly amazing. The best find was a floating refridgerator that had unopened water bottles in the freezer section, because we were thirsty. On the way back to the launch at Bell Isle Marina, we went for some super duper speed runs in the flat water. YES!
Anyway, if I hadn’t had the outdoors upbringing I did, I probably would have spent Saturday playing videogames like this guy.

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