In a 2009 song, Jimmy Buffett sang about living on the edge. “I ain’t afraid of dyin’,” he crooned. “I got no need to explain, I feel like goin’ surfing in a hurricane.”
If fans needed any further proof that Buffett — the beach-bum-hippy-turned-multimillionaire-mogul-and-Broadway-composer — actually lived the life he writes about in his popular tunes, they got it this week, when he really did surf storm swells on the Carolina coast.
Just a couple days before the life-threatening force of Hurricane Florence was set to thrash the Southeast coast, the 71-year-old Buffett grabbed his surfboard and hit the waves at Folly Beach, an island in South Carolina that’s one of the state’s best surf spots.
On Wednesday, Buffett posted a photo to his Instagram account, showing him and a companion beaming as they posed with their longboards and Buffett threw up the “hang loose” shaka hand sign. The picture was stamped with the words “That hurricane swell” and captioned with the lyrics of Buffett’s “Surfing in a Hurricane.”
Later Wednesday evening, the mayor of Folly Beach closed the bridge onto the island, cutting off inbound traffic, but officials had long been encouraging residents and visitors to evacuate the area. A mandatory evacuation has been in effect there since Monday.
Buffett, and many other surfers, apparently did not heed this warning.
But to the singer’s credit, he appended his post with a caution to any potential copycats (or parroting Parrotheads, perhaps): “On a serious note — respect mother nature, please be safe and listen to your local authorities.”
In the comments section of Buffett’s post, fans and followers asked the Mayor of Margaritaville to be careful and told him to write another song about the day’s escapade. Some lamented that they had already fled inland and missed their favorite artist.
“NOOOO the love of my life is at my home while i’m stuck in savannah playing it safe!!! @jimmybuffett please stay till I get home!” one user wrote.
“I’m right down the road. Come have a beer,” another wrote.
Buffett even earned some respect from his fellow surfers, one of whom sounded impressed that he was out riding in tough conditions: “Super cool that my surf spot is Jimmy’s too — but man is that long shore current rough at Folly when there’s hurricane swell.”
Buffett could not be reached for comment. But a pair of surfers at Folly Beach told The Washington Post that pre-storm was the best time to go to the beach.
“We’ve lived here all our lives,” one said. “Surfed many a hurricane swell. You know, these are chances that we get to surf actually big waves … we’re getting the waves in right now, but it’s going to be a prolonged event and that’s what we’re more afraid of.”
New Yorker writer William Finnegan, whose memoir “Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life” won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, wrote in the magazine about how waves form, beginning with a storm and ending with their crash onto the coast:
Here’s how ridable waves form. A storm out at sea churns the surface, creating chop — smaller and then larger wavelets, which amalgamate, with enough wind, into heavy seas. What we are waiting for on distant coasts is the energy that escapes from the storm, radiating outward into calmer waters in the form of wave trains — groups of waves, increasingly organized, that travel together.
A storm like Florence, which at one point had Category 4 winds, creates increasingly large waves as it nears the shore — menacing for coastal communities but magnificent for fearless surfers.
Buffett, as he writes in his songs, is no stranger to hurricanes. He was born in Mississippi, raised in Alabama and spent formative time in New Orleans. He has put on concerts and raised money for disaster relief efforts. He wrote the song “Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On” for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and their families and recorded the ballad “Bama Breeze,” an ode to oceanside bars plentiful on the coast before the 2005 storm destroyed many of them.
As Hurricane Florence begins to wreak havoc in the Carolinas, though, Buffett may be best suited by obeying the lyrics to one of his older tunes, a ditty from 1974 called “Trying to Reason With Hurricane Season,” on which he sings:
Well, the wind is blowin’ harder now
Fifty knots or there abouts
There’s white caps on the ocean
And I’m watching for water spouts
It’s time to close the shutters
It’s time to go inside
Because if Buffett is injured while living out a lyric, it could be his own damn fault.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Buffett wrote the song “Bama Breeze.” This post has been updated.