NORTH HAMPTON — Imagine waking up at the crack of dawn to surf the New Hampshire waters in freezing weather conditions during a snowstorm. Now imagine driving more than 60 miles to snowboard in the White Mountains after such a surf and driving back to the Rye Airfield Skate Park for a skateboard nightcap.
According to staff members of North Hampton's Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Company, there are a few patrons from the area who have completed this type of triathlon with boards. Though such a feat is only accomplished by a few local diehard athletes, winter surfing in the Seacoast has become increasingly popular over the past decade, making New Hampshire a winter surf destination.
Rich Harty of Hampton suited up in his 654 wetsuit for a surf Sunday at Jenness Beach in North Hampton. Harty said growing up in cold weather conditions has prepared him for the winter waters.
"If you're going to call yourself a New Hampshire surfer, you have to do it in the winter," said Harty.
According to Ross Kunkle of Cinnamon Rainbows, the best waves for surfing in New Hampshire typically occur in the winter months due to swells from snowstorms. But are the potentially hypothermic conditions worth the risk of catching seasonally high waves?
Rick Evans of Hampton is a 43-year surf veteran and said despite freezing conditions, the technological advances made in surf gear over the past 10 years has allowed for the sport to become more accessible year-round and thus helps build a surf community in the New England seacoast. The 654 wetsuit is designed for 32- to 45-degree water temperatures and costs less than half the price it did 10 years ago.
The Cypher Heat Vest by surf company Quicksilver is worn under wetsuits and has two battery operated heat pads strategically placed at the kidneys. According to Kunkle, the $200 vest is well worth the investment because it heats surfers at their core, allowing for better overall circulation and the ability to stay out in the water for a greater length of time.
"When it comes to surfing in the winter, you just have to be more careful about listening to your body," said Kunkle. "When you start getting the shakes, you're done, because it's harder to get up on your board."
Megan Bradt of Cinnamon Rainbows said a woman came into the shop after surfing during the winter without the proper equipment and was so fatigued, 911 had to be called.
"One minute she was talking and looking around the store, and the next minute she wasn't making any sense, and I was wrapping her in towels and calling for help," said Bradt.
According to Cinnamon Rainbows staff members, these types of incidents are rare because today's surfers look out for one another and are regimented about taking care of their bodies.
"We call ourselves a tribe," Evans said. "It's not like we're a bunch of dope-smoking hippies like people used to be. There is a real sense of community when it comes to surfing, and it's great to see kids I've known since they were in grammar school become better at the sport."
Kunkle agreed, adding that he used to smoke cigarettes and when he stopped, he noticed a significant difference in his surf performance.
"It's the greatest cardio exercise you can get because you are using your entire body and you're on a board in the water," he said. "There are times when I'll go to bed at 8 o'clock because I'm getting up early and I want to take care of myself."
Kunkle said surfing has not only helped the Hampton community become closer but it has allowed him to join a worldwide surf community. Traveling to Hawaii, California, Puerto Rico and beyond, he said other surfers know about winter surfing in New Hampshire.
"There is definitely a level of respect when people find out where I'm from," Kunkle said.
"Those guys from California are a bunch of babies," Evans said in response.
Now in his 60s, Evans said he doesn't have it in him to surf in New Hampshire during the winter and has limited his winter exercise to snowboarding.
"I can't do it anymore with ice chunks passing by me," Evans said.
Chuck Buckets of Narragansett, R.I., traveled to North Hampton to surf Sunday and said he practices the sport in the winter because of the meditative qualities.
"I don't listen to music beforehand because I need a clear mind," said Buckets. "But the result feeling is incredible, you feel like the only person out there."
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