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Grab your board and get in the car, as long as Edouard and Fran are in town, then . . . // SURF'S UP

Surfing is like religion. Only faith will carry you through times of doubt.

"Don't worry, it will be here," Pete Schroeder said as he gazed out across the plate-glass sea. "It's just a matter of time."

The Orlando man had been watching the ocean near the 12th Street beach access for signs of Hurricane Edouard since Wednesday evening.

"It was beautiful out here with the sun setting and the full moon rising," he said. "We had everything but waves."

Now, 12 hours later, things didn't look much better.

"It's flat!" Casey LaLomia declared as he joined Schroeder on the wooden steps that led down to the beach. "So much for meteorologists."

The St. Petersburg man had left his house at 2 a.m. hoping to be among the first to ride the waves that "Eddie" kicked up as the storm traveled north.

Surfers dream of a hurricane like this, which spins harmlessly at sea, too far from land to do any damage, but close enough to generate epic surf.

It takes wind blowing over a large distance, or fetch, to create the long lines of perfectly formed waves called "swell."

Wave riders worship this natural phenomenon and revere occurrences like holy days of obligation. People still talk about the Halloween Swell of '91 as if it had signaled the Second Coming.

The surf faithful up and down the coast had similar hopes for Eddie. He looked good in the satellite photos, a spiraling mass of destruction with a mean eye winking.

By 6:30 a.m. Thursday, however, Eddie apparently had lost his will to fight. The perfect hurricane was nowhere to be found. LaLomia began to wonder whether he should have stayed in bed.

But just as he was about to crawl into the back of the pickup truck and cover his head with a towel, somebody yelled, "Look!"

All eyes turned to the water where a thin, dark line, a half mile long, rolled toward the shore. The wave hit the outer sandbar and doubled in height, white foam flying as it peeled left to right.

A collective cheer shattered the predawn silence: "It's here!"

The surfers grabbed their boards and shuffled down the stairs, laughing about the doubting Thomases who thought Eddie wouldn't show.

But by the time they paddled out past the last of breakers, the swell had disappeared.

Was this a test, or some cruel twist of fate? They'd traveled so far to be met by disappointment. Their hopes were buoyed, only to broken like a board on the rocks.

They sat in silence and remembered that patience is virtue, good things come to those who wait, cleanliness is next to godliness, always brush after every meal, look both ways before crossing the street and all those other axioms that come to mind when you are waiting for something to happen.

Then the sun popped up above the clouds and illuminated another long line of waves rolling in from the horizon. They picked them off one by one and rode them into shore.

When they paddled back out, the water went flat again. But they didn't worry. Faith would carry them through. But of course, it was a little easier knowing that they had timed the last set and another batch of waves should be rolling through in 15 minutes.

So the surfers sat on their boards, basked in the sun and talked about how bad they all felt missing work.

"Are you sick, too?" one of them asked.

"Yes, sir," the surfer responded. "I'll probably be sick again tomorrow if the waves get any bigger."

Everybody laughed, but not for long because another set was due to arrive. Waves are funny that way. They have always been and always will be. Almighty and powerful, they are one of three things in life that you can always count on.

That's why surfers' faith never falters. They realize that a ride may last only a few seconds, but waves _ they're eternal. How many other sports offer a chance at immortality?

Fifty or so rides later, Schroeder paddled in to take a break from the sun. He felt content with his morning's work. The day was early. The swell had just arrived.

The waves were big and would only get bigger. He knew life was good and would only get better.

You gotta go!

So you want to ride the Big One? Eddie's rocking Florida's east coast, so hang the "Closed" sign on the door and leave now. Fran and Gustav are dancing across the Atlantic in a conga line right behind him, so tell your customers you'll be gone at least a week.

If you've got to call in sick to work, be creative but not too original. Just avoid big-name diseases like malaria and typhoid. They scare people, and you just might have the health department show up at your house.