I’m Lance Scott O’Brian and I was born at North Miami General, which no longer exists. I grew up in Coconut Grove and South Miami.
I’m a hippie baby who grew up with a hippie mom. Mom didn’t have it easy. Dad died when I was almost 5. I was the oldest so you can imagine what the other two brothers were like. But I give her a lot of credit. We all had a strong bond.
My two biggest loves in life that aren’t people are surfing and reggae. They were both introduced to me by my mother’s brother, my Uncle Robbie. I can remember surfing with him as young as 4 years old.
But this being Florida, the only times we could catch great waves was during hurricanes. Hurricane Sandy (in 2012) brought some of the best waves I’ve ever surfed in Florida. We didn’t get the full effects of the hurricane but we got the optimal effects as far as the waves. There were probably waves in excess of 20 feet, bigger than a two-story building. It was like nothing I’d ever seen.
It takes a level of bravery to surf during hurricanes. I think Florida as a whole creates hardcore surfers. We constantly have that feeling of wanting what we can’t have. And when you get some, you just want more. That’s the kind of surfer that’s been bred in South Florida. The 11-time world surfing champion is from Florida, of all places. It’s one of the worst in the world for consistently good surf. But we produce hardcore surfers.
We have to be very dedicated, plus we need to have courage and maybe a little ignorance and stupidity. But you also learn when it’s good and when it’s bad.
I remember this one hurricane where they were saying the offshore winds were over 100 mph. I drove my car right up to the beach to check the waves. I had a little car at the time and it was shaking. It almost felt like it was elevating. The winds were so good that I surfed for three hours by myself.
During Andrew (in 1992) they evacuated the beach but I stayed, and with my friend Oscar we spent the night at my place on West Avenue. At the time I was living on the second floor and they said storm surge would be as high as 20 feet initially. So being on the second floor wasn’t even high enough. Then they lowered it to 10, maybe 12, feet.
Oscar and I couldn’t sleep because the wind was blowing so hard it was rattling the windows. At 3 a.m., we heard a loud crash. One of the back windows had broken in the bedroom. The two buildings to the east of me created a wind tunnel, so the sound was amplified. What happened was a pebble went through one of my windows and it was so incredibly noisy.
We tied one of our surfboard leashes around the door handle because it wouldn’t stay shut tight. We had a battery powered radio and were listening to (meteorologist) Bryan Norcross on the radio. Oscar even called him up.
Bryan said, “We got Oscar in Miami Beach. What are you doing in Miami Beach? You’re not supposed to be out there.” We told him we’re on the second floor and that we planned to go surf and jump off the second floor into the water. He called us crazy, so that was funny.
We ended up falling asleep a little bit after it calmed down, probably 5 o’clock in the morning. I think we slept for maybe two hours. I remember being all hot and sweaty and we jumped in the car, grabbed the boat as we went to the beach and it was horrible. There were waves but they were so weak and breaking on the shore. I kept thinking about how I made all these sacrifices for this. I was so bummed.
But it’s always a gamble. When I moved up to the Panhandle we went through Hurricane Eloise (in 1975). It wiped out Panama City. Then we went to Mobile, Alabama, where seven tornadoes touched down. Then I went to North Carolina for college and in my first year there were eight hurricanes that hit southern North Carolina.
So I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes. They don’t faze me. I know what they can do. I know when they’re most dangerous. They’re unpredictable, so you have to be very cautious and on alert. I think I would probably be a better judge than most because I’ve had a lot of experience. But at the same time you don’t want to be stupid.
I’ve definitely taken some risks to surf, when most people are probably getting out of town. I remember driving down Ocean Drive and all the hotels were boarded up.
What surfing does for me is a lot. It’s that whole spiritual, emotional and physical element that it brings to my life. That’s why I love it so much. Nothing else has brought to me what surfing does.
Tell us your story
HistoryMiami invites you to share your Miami Story.
To submit: Submit your story and photo(s) at www.HistoryMiami.org. Your story may be posted at MiamiHerald.com/miamistories, published in Sunday’s Neighbors print edition and archived at HistoryMiami.org/miamistories.
About Miami Stories: This project is a partnership between HistoryMiami, Miami Herald Media Co., WLRN and Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship.