The waves are head-high in Long Beach, the cue for dozens of winter surfers to put on their wet suits, grab their boards and head to the beach.
Just south of Long Beach’s Laurelton Boulevard, nobody’s yelling “Surf’s up!,” but there is excitement in the 36-degree air. A line of wet-suited surfers paddles just offshore, waiting to catch one of the waves rolling in at 5 feet or higher.
“It’s a perfect day,” says winter surfer Kevin McAvoy, Jr., 29, of Long Beach, walking with a 6-foot surfboard under his black rubber-covered arm. Even in the dead of winter, he says, surfing offers “the freedom of being out in the ocean. You leave all your problems on the shore.”
Looking to enjoy the surfer’s version of a polar plunge? All you need is a wet suit, a surfboard and a love of surfing that transcends the need for warmth.
“As long as there’s waves, it’s not too cold,” says winter surfer Randy Nichols, 43, of Long Beach.
You also need patience, because good surfing days can be few and far between, say local surfing experts.
“When you are a winter surfer, you can go for a month at a time without being in the water,” says Anthony Salerno, 46, of Long Beach, a surf instructor at Skudin Surf in Long Beach.
WHERE TO GO
Despite the drawbacks, winter is prime surfing time on Long Island. Surfing conditions tend to be more consistent, with the swell typically topping off at about 8 feet, says Lutha Leahy-Miller, 39, a surfing instructor who lives in East Quogue.
Through March 31, you can surf one of the island’s gems: the point break at Montauk Point. The waves are more consistently high at the beach below the Montauk Point concession building than at beaches where sandbars form waves, say surfing experts. “Parking is free and you can just go down to the surf,” says Montauk State Park Complex manager Tom Dess. At other times of year, the area is reserved for striped bass fishing. In Montauk, you can surf year-round at Camp Hero and Hither Hills state parks, Ditch Plains and Turtle Cove, Dess says.
Elsewhere on the East End, Coopers Beach in Southampton, rated tops in America by Stephen Leatherman (aka Dr. Beach), is this winter’s trending surf beach.
“Coopers is the new really good break,” says Savannah Donohoe, 25, who works at the Sunrise To Sunset Surf & Sport in Southampton, one of the Island’s year-round surf shops.
GETTING ON BOARD
“You have to be a meteorologist and pay attention to the weather every day,” says Bobby “Flip” Bellinzoni, 38, of Baldwin, who also surfs Long Beach. Hurricanes and nor’easters, which send some Long Islanders to the market for bread and milk, draw surfers to the beach in search of the bigger waves that often accompany foul weather.
And then there’s surfing etiquette. One hard-and-fast rule, according to Leahy-Miller: “Whoever is furthest back in the wave, who can make it, has the right of way.”
But really it’s about getting out there whenever the opportunity strikes.
Eric Fernandez, 28, who drove from Brooklyn to surf Long Beach on a recent day, says, “You have to surf all year-round if you want to get better at it.”