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New Jersey Shore Winter Surfing
May 18, 2018

Winter Surfers Chill Out  

By Felecia Stratton

New Jersey Shore Winter Surfing

While most Jersey Shore residents anxiously await the arrival of spring’s warm weather, a small group of brave souls are sorry to see winter go. They are the dedicated surfers and skimboarders who don’t let cold weather stop them from enjoying their sport.

“When you are passionate about surfing or skimboarding, the temperature outside doesn’t make a difference,” says surfer/skimboarder Sean Stratton of Sea Bright.

“More often than not, the winter waves along the Jersey Shore are better than in summer,” he explains. “While everyone else complains about the winter weather, surfers cheer because coastal storms and nor’easters produce good waves.”

In fact, winter is the best time to surf, especially if there is an active storm season, notes Middletown resident and long-time surfer Andrew Dillon. “Hurricane swells will provide waves for longer time spans – days on end as opposed to summer’s quick, head-high waves in the morning and dead flat conditions by evening,” he says.

Andy Dillon

Andy Dillon doesn’t let a little bit of cold water get in his way.

The Jersey Shore is rife with great surfing spots throughout the winter. Deciding which of those spots to choose is a group effort: Friends scatter to investigate different beaches, and call each other when they find the spot that looks best.

“It’s not uncommon to start a trip at Sandy Hook, and check spots all along the coast, including Sea Bright and Monmouth Beach, all the way down to Seaside,” says surfer Ted Osipowitz of Matawan. “We have 100 miles of coastline to cover.”

Not only can these scouting expeditions be long, they can also be tough. Surfers often drive through bad weather just to get to the beach. “There’s usually good surf in a stormy location,” Stratton notes.

Veteran surfers and skimboarders are comfortable riding waves in the winter. But they do offer some advice for younger board sports enthusiasts who might be considering winter participation.

First, never surf alone. “The beaches are unprotected during winter months, so if you’re going to surf or skimboard, regardless of age, it’s best to find a spot with at least a few other people,” says Stratton.

Second, know your abilities and your limitations. “It’s not a good idea for novice surfers to paddle out just because good waves are coming in,” notes Dillon. Young surfers and skimboarders can consider taking lessons in the summer to boost their skill levels, so they’ll be more proficient and confident when handling winter’s larger, colder waves.

Andy Dillon NJ

Andy Dillon riding the waves.

Third, wear the proper gear. Osipowitz recommends a 5/4/3 wetsuit with a hood, 7 mil boots, and 5 mil gloves.

Even with the proper gear, surfers still get cold. “You’re generally cold the whole time you’re on the beach,” admits Stratton. “But you warm up once you start moving around and paddling.”

The extra gear winter surfing requires makes the sport even more challenging because the wetsuit is heavy and holds water inside, restricting movement. “Wearing a wetsuit makes something as easy as paddling around in the water twice as hard compared to wearing just a bathing suit in the summer,” Osipowitz says.

Scouting the perfect location. Driving through storms. Struggling with heavy wetsuits. Braving the cold. With all these challenges, why do surfers and skimboarders pursue their passion in the winter?

“Because you’re out and surfing,” Dillon says. “The cold and the hunt become rewarding and satisfying when you find that money spot. When you get some great rides, it makes the struggle well worth it.”

Winter surfers also gain satisfaction because they know not everyone else is doing it. “There’s a sense of pride in being out there when no one else is,” Stratton says. “Surfers in the water during winter share a mutual respect because they know what it takes to be out there. They are all putting in the effort.”

He adds: “We do it for the love of surfing.”

Photos courtesy of Taryn Rich