Article

Alabama Barrels

Sterling Spencer finds perfection along an unlikely coast

| posted on December 05, 2013

When you think of Alabama, you’re more likely to picture football, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Forrest Gump than surfing. But Alabama has a short nub of coastline sticking into the Gulf of Mexico, and while it looks unassuming, the right combination of offshore storms and near-shore winds can produce something extraordinary. Last week, Sterling Spencer saw this firsthand when he drove across the border from his Florida home to check an Alabama beachbreak and found himself pulling into pumping barrels. See what Sterling has to say about surfing in Alabama below, and watch his “interview” about the session with Anderson Cooper above.

What was it like getting interviewed by Anderson Cooper?

It was a good interview. We did the interview over Skype but he called me personally to congratulate me later. I thought it was a joke at first, but it wasn’t. I guess Garrett [McNamara] kind of opened a lot of doors for surfing in mainstream media—he really blazed the trail for me. So when Anderson saw the big swells in Alabama, he knew he had to get me on CNN.

OK, that video was clearly a joke, but there were actually solid waves in Alabama right?

Yeah, I was actually really surprised. It was just a big cold front and I guess there was a little low-pressure system off Texas too. The wind got up to 50mph in the Gulf, so the next morning I checked it in Florida, and was like, “Holy cow!” It was huge for the Gulf Coast of Florida. It was just white water to the horizon, and it only really does that during hurricanes. I drove over to Alabama and it went offshore and turned on.

You live in Pensacola, right?

Yeah, I live on the border of Florida and Alabama. I can actually see Alabama from where I live. There’s just a little body of water between my house and Alabama because I live on an island. I just get on the bridge to go to Alabama, and it only takes like 20 minutes.

So where in Alabama did you score those waves?

It’s a beachbreak that’s basically like ten minutes across the border. It’s kind of like the Outer Banks—just a long stretch of beach that all breaks pretty much the same. There are a bunch of waves all down the beach, and you can just keep driving until you find your own peak. It can be really fun, but it’s pretty much impossible to catch it when it’s like that. Nine times out of ten, you will get skunked for sure. So it’s one of those things where you just have to live here or you won’t really be able to time it right.

How many times have you gotten it like that?

That was for sure the biggest I’ve seen it hold. The video footage was just from the afternoon. The morning was even bigger. I’ve seen it bigger than it was for this swell, but it’s usually just stormy and impossible to surf. That was the biggest rideable swell that I’ve ever seen here in the Gulf for sure. It was offshore wind, and it’s rarely offshore when it’s that big, you know? A lot has to come together to get waves like that here.

How long was it like that? What was the timeframe?

It was only like that for maybe five hours. The wind went offshore at 9 a.m., it was really good into the afternoon, and then it was dead flat the next morning. It was so brutal. I literally surfed all day long, because you know it’s going to be flat in just a few hours. You can’t wait for the tides or anything, you just have to paddle out and surf for as long as you can. I mean, that was last Tuesday and it’s been flat ever since, which is pretty standard.

Is there much of a surf scene in Alabama?

There’s a crew of surfers in Alabama for sure, but they’re a different breed. They’re all like hardcore fishermen who also surf. No one else was surfing when it was that big, but there are other spots in Alabama that were a little smaller with a lot of guys surfing. Sometimes the local surfers can get a little eggy.

Do you think they’re bummed about Floridians surfing their waves?

I’m sure they’re just scared that more surfers are going to come. But it’s basically impossible for someone to just come out here and score. There are too many variables. But it’s rad when you can catch it like that, and there’s a pretty sweet vibe. There’s a huge bar right on the border called Flora-Bama where they make these Molotovs, and the whole scene is pretty epic. You definitely feel like you’re in Alabama when you are surfing there.

Were people just hanging out at the bar watching you surf?

Yeah, it was a huge scene. When I first paddled out, a couple of people came out to watch, and then all of a sudden there were like a hundred people on the beach. I felt like a hero, like the guy from Big Wednesday or something when I came in. Everyone was cheering. It was pretty weird, but awesome.

Photo: Shell

Photo: Shell

Photo: Gillis

Photo: Gillis

Photo: Shell

Photo: Shell

Photo: Shell

Photo: Shell

Photo: Shell

Photo: Shell

  • max

    Track ID?

  • Bobby Fisher

    Hey wherever we can get waves. If we can score them the lo-cal is irrelevant. Because we(humans) put names on the oceans, gulfs, seas, and the states. But its all under the same sun.

  • Dingus

    shoulda had a GoPro to get footage of all that barrel dodging. smh

    • Jerry Heard

      sooooo true.

  • Alabama

    You are a douche

  • CA

    the awkward moment when alabama has better waves than you

  • Jerry Heard

    lol… what 1 or 2 actual barrels?

  • The Joker

    He said it was rare but let me tell you… I learned to surf on the
    Gulf Coast from 1980 through 1992 and it gets this good about ONCE A
    DECADE. Yes once every ten years and that’s if your LUCKY. It’s usually
    shoulder to head high and closed out, washing machine mess when it does
    get decent size and then once the front passes for about a hour it might
    clean up slightly, then for about 30 minutes its really clean lines,
    then it’s flat as a lake.

    Don’t let this article fool
    you. The Gulf Coast gets decent waist high waves in the winter/spring
    but waves like this hardly ever happen.

    • Drew Coalson

      and its cold as ice in the winter!

  • Scott

    Ya, that sucked. Im from the gulf and should be stoked on this, shit i got more barreled in west fl on that day. Pretty shitty surfing from a “pro”

    • Larry

      lets se it

  • brasilianpimpslap

    why didnt you go right?

  • Olsurfer

    Good job Yancy Jr.

  • Drew Coalson

    the joker is absolutely right. You CAN’T score P-cola or Flora-bama anywhere near that size, unless you are a local. No chance of zipping in on a plane or something to catch the swell, it comes and goes way to fast. You would sit on it and wait, and let me assure you unless you are from those parts, no way you last more than a couple days at the ‘Redneck Rivera’…

    • Surf Life Tours

      Yes and when your ready throw on some soft racks on your 89 z camaro and come surf the west

  • slayer

    You guys seriously think anyone’s gonna try for a surf trip to bama? No need to be defensive we all know its Shiite there

  • Jeb

    Im from mobile, Alabama and yes this is as clean and perfect as i have ever seen and it probably wont happen again for a long time. BUT, saying that we do get surf you just have to be patient and keep your fingers crossed and it happens. waist to chest slop and occasional clean days. Our waves may not measure up to yalls but our stoke for surfing goes beyond it, TRUST. Either way it sure beats having nothing… check out surfsmooth.com videos

    • The Joker

      Yea, from south Texas all the way around to the Florida Keys, there are surfers on the Gulf Coast and on average the waves are small, weak and disorganized unless there is a hurricane or large front moving in. The patient surfers on the Gulf live for the day after the front or after the Hurricane passes and the winds go offshore and if they are lucky they get one great morning of perfect head high to slightly overhead surf that dimenishes into a waste high, weak, perfect longboarding afternoon.

      And they have just as much stoke on those days as anyone from the east coast or west coast does when they get those double overhead perfect offshore bomb days.

      We are all Surfers with the same stoke for the waves.

      p.s. Congratulations to Mick Fanning on the ASP World title yesterday! Congratulations to John John Florence on winning the Triple Crown! And big congratulations to Kelly Slater on another Pipe Masters victory!

  • GordonBombay

    Yea bama has terrible waves, and it’s never good. Ever! Don’t listen to Dane Reynolds Jr. – I mean Sterling! It gets waist to shoulder high maybe once a millennia (I’m serious) and the water is so churned up and sharky, you’d have to be Laird Hamilton or God to even think about getting in. I saw a surfer (he was sponsored) get his board broken by a macking knee high slab – and that was in October. Heavy bro! Right? Don’t go to bama to surf.. Go there to marry your cousin and drink moonshine. Pensacola is where the REAL Gulf Coast surfers shred. At the pier, I saw 3 dudes on one board. They were naked and perfectly positioned for coitus. I cried as they glided across the face of the wave and each others genitals. Pensacola waves are so good, they don’t even come to Bama when there is swell! They stay in P’cola, shred the pier, and post their GoPro footage to facebook. I’m gonna go work on landing my Triple Deke. #KnucklePuckTime

  • SrfPanhandle

    Spencer is liar all the way through this article. I see this guy as a mediocre surfer in the pro community who pays some local photographer to make him look better than he is ten times over in a place that almost never has true surf. He is bankrolled by mommy’s assets while trying deflect his mediocrity with sophomoric humor. He lies about Alabama surfers who are in fact, not a bunch fishermen but can make him eat his lunch, lies about the surf conditions, lies about the breaks, lies about the people, lies about being able to see AL from his house, and even lies about the length of the drive (I guess he wants it to be his home break? Pathetic). Pure BS start to finish.

    • stinky

      its a joke dude, don’t get your panties all knotted up. Rule #1 about Sterling Spencer: don’t take it so seriously

    • CalmerThanYouAre

      Professional means getting paid to surf, which is what he does. And Really?? Have you seen any of his videos? Do you really think he is serious in them. True, photos lie, but only people who were IN the water there know how the conditions were, who dodged what. If it gets people to stop saying that the gulf doesn’t get surf, so what. I shoot and surf just about every swell and from all my travels I am not sad about living in the panhandle. Lighten up Francis

  • Stu Azole

    I hope Sterling gets all the attention he desires for Chrstmas this year.

  • Spoiler

    All this talk about how crappy it is makes me think is a super secret spot!!! Im planning my trip now with all my aggressive friends! woot!

  • stinky

    I caught Alabama on a firing swell back in ’86. Split a peak with the Loch Ness Monster, grabbed rail and got shacked

  • gorka

    I am from the Basque Country in Spain. A local surfer from Bilbao sent me this article as I live in Birmingham. Alabama never stops surprinsing me. I love it!!! These waves are definitively Alabama football fans!!! Roll Tide Barrel!!!

  • b. schultz

    anderson cooper? i am not even going to watch this.

  • Whales vagina

    Hey hillbilly haters – shut up. No one but your creepy cousin is coming to surf your shangri la. That interview is classic.