Surfing in New England

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.

Rhode Island

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.

For reference, my friend is 6’7″, and this was his first time surfing…

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.

My $50 wet suit, and a sahweet rental board!

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 πŸ™‚

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.

12 thoughts on “Surfing in New England

  1. Looks cold! I’ve never tried surfing in a wetsuit. I tried surfing in Hawaii and thought I was good until I tried it without an instructor. It’s hard!

    Tofino (here in the PNW) is apparently great for surfing too (wetsuit will be needed lol).

    • Oh, cool! Learning to surf in Hawaii must have been awesome! I’m still learning myself, but picking up some new skills each time I go. And the more I learn the more addictive it becomes πŸ™‚

      You guys probably have some killer waves being on the Pacific πŸ™‚

  2. For a few years I lived in walking distance of Maine’s more popular beaches. Several more were within a half hour drive. The best waves came a few days after a hurricane passed Bermuda. While hurricane season offered good waves with water temperatures as warm as it gets winter offered the most consistent surf. From mid December to February there were surfable waves most days. I worked nights for two winters just so I could have daylight time to surf. Back then most serious winter surfers wore drysuits. Today there are thicker, warmer wetsuits. I do miss surfing but I doubt I’ll move back to the coast. I’m enjoying myself too much in a different sector of Maine’s tourism industry.

    • Dude, you get the hard core surfer award! I didn’t think I’d still be in the water through October, but don’t think I’ll be going through February!

      I’ve never been a big fan of the cold, but this year I’m trying to embrace it. As the weather gets colder I’ve still been taking dips in the pool. Yesterday the water was 54 deg, it was a short swim πŸ™‚

      You’ll have to let me know what other sector of Maine’s tourism industry you’re in…

      • The town where I live has year-round tourism. Lakes, hiking and ATV trails bring people here in in the summer and winter attractions are snowmobiling and skiing. Mountain biking is its own growing niche in oth summer and winter. My part of the industry has been various positions at the ski resort and summer weekends as a whitewater raft guide. I’ve also led guided ATV, snowmobile and canoe/kayak trips.

  3. Looks like fun Mr. CK. I’m actually really surprised the water is warm enough to surf in October!

    Seems like a pretty frugal hobby if you don’t have to fly somewhere to do it!

    • Yeah, I just went again last Thursday. Water is still around 65 deg. With air temps in the 50s, and a lot of wind, the water actually felt nice. I can see myself still going into November at this point. Of course I wouldn’t make it very long out there without a wetsuit πŸ™‚

  4. Awesome story just voraciously went through the blog. Who were your early retire mentors in the blog world? If you started the ROTH conversion latter what are you doing to supplement income first 5 years while that vests? What % qualified money to non qualified did you have when you retired.

    Yea I think 3.5% of investable assets in 30s is reasonably sustainable.

    • Hey Matt,
      Glad you’re enjoying the blog! I’m always happy to see new readers πŸ™‚

      Part way through our journey to financial independence we ran into the MrMoneyMustache and GoCurryCracker blogs. Then right before we quit I was reading a lot of the FreedomWithBruno blog.

      Now I read many more than just those. You can find a lot of great bloggers commenting on here.

      Mrs CK quit her corporate job before me to go teach community college. It was a big paycut, but covers our expenses for now, and she gets plenty of time off to travel. If and when she gets tired of doing that, we will live off of our after tax investments while working the Roth conversion ladder.

      While more than half of our investments are tied up in retirement accounts, we still have well over 5 years of expenses in after tax accounts πŸ™‚


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