For two days it had blown hard northeast as a classic early spring rainstorm blasted through. Then on Tuesday the front passed, the skies cleared to sparkling blue, the wind swung northwest and it blew all day at 20 knots.

The significance of this shift was not lost among the perennially bleached young men who call Ocean City home.

They went straight to the beach. Never mind that the water temperature hovered around 40, which the canoeists will tell you can kill a strong man in five minutes.

They weren't worried about the cold. They stood on the sand in their tattered jeans and watched, whispering superlatives.

"Check that tube, man."


"Clean, man. Clean."

And when they saw a set of big rollers thundering in from the sea they yipped and hollered to the early arrivals, who were already bobbing in the swell on their surfboards 75 yards offshore.

"Outside, Billy. OUTSIDE!"

Billy Todd flipped his board around with an easy sweep of a rubber-mittened hand, paddled fast to where the wave would break, gave two quick lunges as he hit the crest and was upright, sweeping down the four-foot face of the roller, ducking down to ride in the tube, finally collapsing in a cascade of white water.

"Sweet ride, Billy," cheered the beachbound.


Then the others were off, scampering up the beach to their vans and then back again in what seemed like seconds, zipping up black frogman suits and clutching at six-foot styrofoam and glass surfboards.

These are the men of the Sundance Brotherhood, an alliance of Ocean City surfers who don't go out hunting for the endless summer-they simply stretch summer on either end to make the endless season.

"I seen those boys out in February when the ice was piled high on the beach," said Darrell Nottingham, a boat captain at the Talbot Street Pier.

"Now I'm not saying those boys are crazy . . . "

"Sure, we were out here in the ice.Some of our best surfing is in the late fall and early spring, and sometimes in the winter," said Ed Charpin, who was taking photos of his buddies from the beach.

Added Mike Nottingham, who claims no kinship to Darrell: "The worst thing about the cold is your head. It's not bad until you go under. Then you get what we call the ice cream headache. You know, like when you were a kid and you ate too much ice cream too fast?

"All of a sudden you realize that the back of your neck and head is balled up so tight you can hardly move it."

For Mike and the others that's a small price to pay for great waves, uncluttered by summertime hordes of (ugh) swimmers.

When Nottingham got too cold to continue on Tuesday he came out and danced around in the sun, seeking warmth. Then he stole a little kid's bicycle and rode it into the biggest wave he could find.

When he brought it back he took a litte time to wax philosophical about waves.

"Swells from the south, that's what makes it good right here. South swells break here by the breakwater first.

"We want an east wind to build the sea and then a west wind to make the surf clean and carve out the tubes."

It helps to have an incoming tide, too, which gives the rollers added impetus.

All those factors came together on Tuesday, and a couple of Ocean City aces, Todd and Eric Greene, showed off with some "inside" rides.

That means they hunkered down and rode inside the tubes, while the waves broke over their shoulders.

This particular feat, which is hard to do in Ocean City's moderate-sized surf, is the apex of achievement for serious surfers.

For the flaxen-haired Todd and his frizzy friend Greene, the thrill was short. Maybe a second, and then the waves came crashing apart around them.

Brief thrills that may have to last awhile.

"You have to understand us," said Charpin. "We work all summer long, take it easy, have some fun."

But when will the tourists be back?

"I hate to say it, but you're looking at it. Easter weekend. This is it for us." CAPTION: Picture, Stan Griffin rides a boogie board down a wave face in chilly waters off Ocean City breakwater. By Ed Charping-The Washington Post