The Surfrider Foundation rates beach access in Massachusetts as "poor," but after last week's strong easterlies and high tides, access difficulties have reached another level. Over the past few days, the struggle of getting to the surf has little to do with the 1647 Colonial ordinance that grants shoreline property holders ownership of the beach, and everything to do with mother nature's ability to reshape the coastline at will.
As the land erodes into to the surf, turning ocean view property into oceanfront and oceanfront property into sand bars, steep virtually impassable cliffs are left in the wake. This is nothing new. It's been happening along this stretch of beach for the last 6000 years, and it's those newly formed sandbars that make everything worthwhile for the surfers who call this closeout-plagued stretch of beach home.
This weekend marked the beginning of the season that ESPN blogger Jon Coen calls "late winter." Late winter runs from March to about Memorial Day along the coast of Massachusetts. For the first time in weeks the sun was out, and for the first time since November the air actually felt kind of warm. With the promise of finding a brand new sand bar in the "heat" of the late winter sun, a few friends and I struck out in search of waves. Most of the beach access points had been closed during the past week, after waves washed away the walkways. Without stairs to help us down to the water's edge, there was no reason to stick to one of the regular spots, and the hunt for the perfect sandbar began in earnest.
As it turned out, we might have needed a magic sandbar. The swell was chest high and dying, but a few decent looking waves were coming through. We suited up and made our way down the dune, which at that point would be more accurately described as a shear cliff.
The surf was fun enough to stay in the frigid water for a couple hours, but enough to risk losing an extremity to the cold. As soon as one person got out, we all followed.
It was at this point we received an important lesson on what coastal geologists call "angle of repose." Without getting too technical or plagiarizing too much Wikipedia, The angle of repose states that: "there is no way you and your boys can climb up a 60 foot shear cliff of sand with your boards." Faced with miles of freshly cut cliff and partially numb hands and feet from the thirty-something degree water, it looked like a long, unpleasant hike was in order. Luckily we had a grom with us who wanted no part of such hike, and attempted to scale the cliff every 100 yards or so.
Eventually we made it up the hill, but it wasn't pretty and we certainly caused a fair amount of sand to slide down behind us. The good news for the next guy who stumbles upon our perfect sandbar is that not far from the bar there is a path up the hill that has as close to a stable slope as anything for miles.
If you plan on visiting this summer, respect the locals and take a couple minutes to find your own sandbar. Make your plans soon though, at the current rate of erosion, any hint of these Massachusetts beaches will be gone in 1000 years.