Surfing is probably my favorite new hobby/addiction. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been learning to bomb some tasty waves in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica – locations known for their sun and surf. However, we do live close to the ocean here in CT, and while the east coast doesn’t get much press for our waves, they do exist. In fact, we get some pretty big surf, you just have to be a bit more diligent about finding it.
Where to surf in the Northeast
As I learn more about surfing, the more it reminds me of fishing. If you want to catch waves, you have to know where the good spots are, and when to go. The east coast is lined with good breaks, but like good fishing holes, many of them are closely guarded secrets.
A good place to start is by looking online, or checking maps for local surf shops. Surf shops are usually located near consistent breaks so they can rent out boards and give lessons. This will get you to the main spots where you can meet other surfers who might clue you in on the more obscure breaks.
Unfortunately for us in Connecticut, Long Island blocks the Atlantic Ocean’s swells. To find waves, we need to drive about 2 hours to either Rhode Island or Long Island. This season, I managed to make a few trips up to Narragansett Beach, Rhode Island.
Once you find a spot, scope out the conditions. One location can vary from being completely flat to having 10+ ft waves. To get an idea of what’s happening, track the local surf report. Generally, I’ll look for tall waves, longer swell periods, and offshore winds.
Surfing storm swells in Rhode Island
I’ve found that surfers face the dichotomy of not wanting big storms to devastate people’s homes, while hoping for large swells.
A few weeks ago Hurricane Jose was parked off of the east coast driving 10+ ft waves into Rhode Island. It’s rare for us to have these conditions, so after checking the surf reports, I decided it was time to try out New England’s surf. After planning out a quick day trip, I was joined by a couple of adrenaline junky friends. After a 2 hour drive, we were stoked to find the surf in RI cranking.
The surf report had been calling for 5-8 ft waves, and they were definitely topping the higher end of that. These waves had a shorter swell period than the waves I saw in Costa Rica, but they were just as big. The shorter swell periods meant we didn’t get as beat up, but you could still get plenty of speed charging down some heavy waves.
These were awesome conditions, but also rare for us. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye out, and plan around the weather. We don’t get massive waves all the time, but there are still plenty of surf-able days. I’ve been back a handful of times for 3-4 ft conditions. The waves were big enough to toss you around, and I had a hell of a time catching some nice rides.
How much does it cost to surf in the Northeast?
Surfing is like mountain biking – it’s free to go, if you have your own equipment. New surfboards can range from $200 to over $1000. Like with any hobby, it’s better to upgrade your skills before upgrading your equipment.
Renting is a good way to start. Surf shops around here rent boards for around $30/day. This makes it convenient to just grab one right near the beach, and you get the opportunity to try out different boards.
After renting a few times, I found a 7’9″ board I was happy with. It’s made of plastic, and while it isn’t as fancy as the fiberglass boards, it’s very durable. Being the end of the season, I asked the dude at the shop if they were selling any of their old boards. He let me have mine for $120.
Get a wetsuit for peak surfing in New England
Water in the Northeast isn’t nearly as warm as in Costa Rica, and the best surfing is in the fall. For my first few sessions, I was using a cheap short sleeve wetsuit that didn’t fit me very well. Even though 68 degrees doesn’t sound too cold, I was locking up from shivering after 30-40 min in the water. If you want to surf in cooler temps, you need a decent wetsuit.
As luck would have it, I found a used wetsuit for only $50 at a local surf shop. It’s a 4:3 (this indicates thickness of the suit), and fits me perfectly. This particular wetsuit sells for around $350 new, but you can get a cheaper one of the same thickness for about $180.
With the right wetsuit, I’ve spent 3 hours straight in 67 deg water on a day when air temps were in the 50s. It’s like having your own seal skin. I never thought I’d still be surfing in October.
Travel hacking some free lodging!
When the good swells come through, they tend to stick around for a few days. The second time we went, we decided to stay in the area and surf the next day.
I try to hack free accommodations and flights whenever I can. We’ve already gone to Jamaica and Spain for free this year. Although I usually default to using Airbnb (get $40 when you sign up with our link) and found some decent deals, I was able to travel hack a free hotel room using points.
A few months ago, I got a Starwoods card and earned 33,000 points, mostly from the sign up bonus. I checked the RI area, and found a Sheraton for only 3,000 points. So we got to stay in style, and I still have 30,000 points to spend 🙂
If you live near the coast, and want to surf, just get out there!
If you haven’t learned to surf, but want to, then call up a surf shop and get a lesson. Instructors can help you figure out when conditions are best for you, and provide the right equipment. Lessons are usually cheap (around $60), and a little coaching can go a long way. I had my first lesson two years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Maybe surfing in New England isn’t like Hawaii or Costa Rica, but we still have waves. If you want to get good at surfing, you gotta get in the water, and it’s always going to be cheaper if you don’t have to buy airfare. Even if the waves are smaller, I can still practice paddling out and catching them. The hours spent surfing in New England will only help me progress faster, and have more fun on our next trip to Costa Rica.