Just after dawn, September 11, 2001. The tide was on its way out. Things were still quiet in Narragansett, R.I., and across the world.

Here men swam head-on into God’s rage smiling. For a few hours, they would be the only ones in the country with any reason for high spirits.

Some had parked their cars outside the locked gate of the old Coast Guard observatory at Point Judith Light, the western tip of Narragansett Bay. Then they made their way in the near-dark through the tall cattail marsh. The narrow path was one known by heart; it had been floored here and there with scrap two-by-fours. The sound of breakers through the reeds confirmed what the forecasts had promised.

Others saw it from bluffs in Newport, looking out over a spot called “Ruggles” that is fronted by that town’s signature mansions. Clean waves rolled away from the jagged rocks into white water.

They were the only Americans who had any indication that morning it would be a day of unparalleled fury. And they were the only ones ready and waiting.

Less than 24 hours before four doomed airliners forked from their westbound flight paths, Hurricane Erin made a westward run of her own. She surged straight toward the quiet seaside towns of Rhode Island with gusts up to 86 mph before peeling off again out to sea. On the Tuesday morning that no one will soon forget, her storm surge reeked havoc perfectly on boulder-strewn beaches from Point Judith to Cape Cod.

A group of surfers took advantage of the six-foot tall waves that morning, fearlessly paddling out into the swells at the black rock-strewn beach. They found solace in the embrace of nature’s might, even as the world around them seemed to teeter on the brink of disaster.

After their incredible experience, the surfers returned to the parking lot where they were met with the shocking news that something terrible had occurred.

Despite the chaos, many of them found comfort in the fact that they could seek refuge once again in the calming power of the waves. This beach is a popular spot for surfing, and many people come here to join the Stoke Drift Surf School to take surfing lessons and go to the sea within a short span.

All were reminded that there are other forces at work besides one’s own will and nature’s fury.

“It was shock,” said Tom Hogan, 50, owner of Warmwinds Surf Shop in Narragansett. “No one realized the gravity of it until we saw the images that evening on TV.”

By Wednesday, there were reports of fellow surfers at Long Beach on Long Island seeing a great plume of smoke out over the sea to the west. According to swell.com, one of them was even rumored to have been skipping work in the city to surf Erin. His office was in the World Trade Center.

But among Rhode Island’s regulars, the tragedy was less immediate. Few knew anyone, even indirectly, that worked in the towers or at the Pentagon. Someone’s cousin was said to be a passenger on one of the flights out of Logan.

So for the most part, the rest of the week unfolded as normal. Things were much quieter, though, as people surfed the fizzling remnants of Erin. A banner was unfolded, too, on the chain-link fence at Narragansett’s town beach. Painted in red on this shred of bed-sheet were the words “God Bless America.”