HARDCORE is one of the most overused words in surfing. But in this age of high-performance waveriding, hardcore is still the best word to describe the surfers in New England--not necessarily for their skill, but for their ATTITUDE.
Don't get me wrong, there are some hot riders out there (contrary to popular belief, Peter Pan is not a kook -- he rips). However, it's the spirit of the New England surfers that set them apart. Cold conditions won't numb their enthusiasm--they're making the best of a bad situation.
I got a chance to surf and bodyboard in Rhode Island and New Jersey in April (1993), and here are some of my impressions:
When it comes to driving, I still have an ISLAND MENTALITY. Mainland surfers don't think twice about going one or two hours to get to the beach. For me, anything longer than the drive from Town to Country is a full-on surf safari.
At the beach, the whole atmosphere was always somewhat gloomy and gray, with overcast skies and even a little fog. Winter hadn't quite left, and the bare trees and cool temperatures were grim reminders to that fact.
Sizable surf is a direct result of weather fronts travelling over the area, so surfing in marginal weather is status quo. The surfers looked like seals in the lineup, bobbing up and down in their black fullsuits.
Duck-diving in cold water is an experience everyone should "enjoy" at least once. With the water temperature just under 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), I got ICE CREAM HEADACHES every time I dipped. A hood helped, but then all I could hear was my own breathing and the sound of water splashing on my head.
I got to check out a DRYSUIT for the first time. It looked like a loose inner tube for your body, sealed at the ankles, wrists and neck. They wear regular clothes underneath for warmth--a guy I talked to goes to the beach after work, throws his drysuit over his work clothes (three-piece suit, not aloha shirt) and jumps in for afternoon sessions.
Surfing has always made me feel closer to nature, but using all that wetsuit gear made me feel detached from it. But yet, the surfing experience was still just as intense--maybe even more so, because of all the crap I had to go through just to get in the water. Riding even the smallest of waves was still a joy.
I was fortunate to score some good surf while I was there. One day it got overhead, with glassy conditions and no one out. With some patience and a little help from the weatherman, good waves can be had.
Of course, it didn't seem to be as consistent as Hawaii, but that made the waves that did come in all the more precious. The waves weren't real powerful--not as good for bodyboarding--but were excellent for longboarding. Looks like there's a lot of potential, though.
The surfers over there laugh at the ASP's "Cold Water Classic" contest. In December, they held an ESA contest in 20 degree weather and 15 mph winds, with water temperatures at a bone-chilling 34 degrees. It was even supposed to SNOW at the contest!
If you're in the Rhode Island area check out Peter Pan and Dave Levy at the Watershed Surfshop (in Wakefield). They are all-around nice guys and can set you up with everything you need.
When it comes down to it, being hardcore isn't about what you ride, what you wear or even how you surf. Its all about the ATTITUDE you take in the water. The next time you're pissed about small surf, think about what your East Coast bro's have to endure. Appreciate what you got, and always stay stoked.