When most people think of New England, they don’t think of surfing.
They certainly don’t think of it in the dead of winter.
That’s going to start to change if local surfers have their way. Despite the need for rubber suits and a good tolerance for the cold, surfing in New England has been on a steady rise for the past few years, and one can see that by just going to Nahant Beach or Revere Beach or Winthrop Beach on a windy day.
One is sure to catch any number of surfers hanging ten.
“I’ve seen the change in the scene where only a few guys came out to surf, to a few more and then the women started coming. Nahant and its regulars know when to hit it and they know when its kookville,” said Everett surfer Jayne O’Leary.
What really makes surfing different in New England is that it’s not really a summer sport, local surfers said. One can surf in the summer, but really it’s a winter sport in New England. When those Nor’easters start to form and create huge swells at sea, die hard surfers can be seen running for the beach.
Surfer Eddie Traniello, a St. Mary’s graduate from Revere, learned to surf on Revere Beach and now competes and surfs up and down the East Coast and Hawaii.
“I surfed with my friends, Louis and Max Meola, and we would push each other to try harder. There’s a good amount of local surfers that are always around. All the guys over at Winthrop and Nahant are out there every swell,” said Traniello.
Surfing since he was 7, Traniello has won numerous competitions up and down the East Coast.
“I was in Florida at Coco Beach when I did my first competition,” he said. “I was around 12 then. I really wanted to get into contests just to improve and push my surfing.”
More recently Traniello has won the New England Longboard Classic for the past two summers.
“I’d like to come back and defend that (title) each summer,” he said.
Now living in Hawaii, Traniello has continued to surf while studying environmental science at college.
“The level of surfing in Hawaii is amazing. Every person I surf against in Hawaii is so talented, and that just pushes everyone to try harder. There are a lot of talented guys on the East Coast too,” said Traniello.
While in Hawaii, Traniello still keeps his Massachusetts roots and uses boards made here in the North Shore by a man named Keith Natti at Twin Lights Glassing in Gloucester. Natti custom makes boards for surfers around the world, and has does his own bit of local surfing.
“Yes, Twin Lights Glassing out of Gloucester still shapes my boards,” said Traniello. “The owner is a good surfer, so he knows what boards work in the different conditions I surf in. Most of my boards are under six feet. Keith does a really good job designing my boards based on whether I’m using it in New England or Hawaii. I usually ride a wider board in Massachusetts. It seems to fit the wave better.”
Mark Wysocki has been surfing all his life in Boston and even operates a surf shop in Eastie, called ‘Wave N Pave’ on Saratoga Street.
He said he was a late bloomer starting at age 10. Wysocki surfs all year long, but knows the best waves are in the winter.
“Winter is the season; its pretty much all we have,” said Wysocki. “We have more low pressure systems that create more storms.”
If there is a Nor’easter, one can bet they will find Wysocki out there the day of or day after a storm.
“You have to have a flexible schedule, if you work a 9-5 you might just have to leave to catch the perfect waves. It’s so fickle,” he said.
Most days start with Wysocki driving his kids to school. The next thing he does is check the beach. He also checks websites like magicseaweed.com for swell and storm info, but proclaims the best way to find waves is with his eyes.
“When there’s swells the first place I usually go to look is at the rotary between Lynn and Nahant,” said Traniello. That’s a good beach to learn on. There’s a lot of really good spots around here that aren’t too crowded yet, so I’m sure the guys that surf there wouldn’t want it exposed.”
Said Wysocki, “Last winter we had a storm every week, it was sick. This winter has been dead.”
All surfers agreed that winter surfing here in Massachusetts is not an easy sport to be part of. Weeks can go by without any waves and when there are waves it will likely be ten degrees out and a crazy wind chill. These men and women who surf the winter waves are dedicated individuals who don’t have it as easy as other surfers in warmer parts of the world.
“Some of these places with warm weather you can just put your trunks on and your good to go. That’s not here,” said Wysocki.
Jen Morrison, an East Boston resident has been surfing the East Coast since 2007. Originally from New York, she said she has fallen in love with Boston and spent the past eight years here. She is a year round surfer, braving the cold Atlantic Ocean to hit the biggest waves.
“The element of realizing its possible to be in the North Atlantic year round is an incredible concept and the winter surf can be thoroughly worth all the effort of squeezing into a 5/6MM wetsuit, 5mm mittens and 7mm booties, but one tends to be more discerning about when the surf is worth all the effort of dealing with the elements and rubber suits and enduring numb feet especially,” said Morrison.
Morrison has really lived a surfer’s lifestyle.
She spent a season being a lifeguard at Montuak Beach and even lived in a tent there so she could be there all the time to catch the perfect waves. When she came to New England, where the water is much colder because of the cold Labrador current, she needed a wet suit and they are not cheap.
“I got my winter wetsuit by bartering lobsters,” she said.
Morrison worked as a lobsterwomen in Gloucester for a season and lobsters are not the only thing she learned about while on that boat. She learned all the best places to surf.
Today she is looking for a company to sponsor her so she can compete more.
According to Natti, Boston is unlike California and we have an untapped market waiting to be realized.
“I think this might be because New Englanders are a different breed of people,” said Natti. “We don’t follow trends (really). We are just hard working, tough people. Ten years ago at my home break, you would see maybe 15 surfers out in the water. Those where the guys that surfed in rain or shine, Nor’easters, sub zero temperatures, and enjoyed every minute. These were the ‘locals’; my neighbors, local fishermen, teachers, bankers and my friends. Now I go out and there and there might be 40 people out in the water. I might know only a handful of people.”
Traniello, Wysocki and Natti all share a common love of the water and just want to ride waves and be happy.
“As long as there are waves there will be people to surf them. Only time will tell how we will be impacted on the growing surfing culture in New England,” said Natti.