A Moral Dilemma

Can East Coast surfers still be excited about hurricane season?

| posted on June 05, 2013

The upside of hurricane season. Photo: Lusk

June 1 marked the start of hurricane season. The water has begun to warm up and the weather has become tolerable, leaving East Coast surfers anxiously awaiting the first signs of tropical activity. Granted, most years it doesn’t kick into high gear until August, but that doesn’t stop us from methodically checking, hoping, even praying for the first sign of swell on the horizon. Best-case scenario: a solid tropical storm or hurricane rounding its way up the East Coast, pushing solid swell along with it.

But is this “hurricane-friendly” mindset still OK, given the battering the East Coast has taken over the past few years? With devastating landfall hurricanes like Irene along the Outer Banks and Super-Storm Sandy in the northeast, should surfers feel guilty when desperately looking forward to the first sign of these oceanic powerhouses? Irene cost approximately $18 billion; Sandy cost $75 billion in damages, not to mention the months of painful rebuilding and loss. That alone justifies non-surfers’ irritation with those who look forward to more hurricane-driven surf.

During the onset of Sandy, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg stated that surfers put unnecessary strain on emergency personnel and that, “For a small amount of pleasure, surfers’ lives could be in danger, while certainly putting the emergency workers in danger.” The mayor then proceeded by issuing court summons to anyone still trying to surf the storm.

While there is certainly some truth to the self-centeredness of wave-hungry surfers, it is also important to recognize that most surfers also have an innate obligation to the coastline, and have been as active as any group in helping to protect and rebuild the coastal areas they love.

For example, charitable foundations like Waves for Water worked as a bridge to connect the global surf community to victims along the East Coast. By addressing survival needs, assisting with first responders, and contributing to rubble removal, W4W served as a vessel for the surf community to funnel their support. Their extensive experience with disaster relief put them in a unique position to help organize, mobilize, and deploy strategic response initiatives for the victims of Sandy.

The core New York surf organization, NYsea, joined the effort by starting their NY Beach Relief Fund. They donated 100 percent of the proceeds to New York beach communities. New York’s Rockaway Surf Club acted as a headquarters for teams of surfers dispatching to help the hardest hit victims. According to local surfer Mikey DeTemple, “As far as I could tell, FEMA hadn’t been there, the Red Cross hadn’t been there, the National Guard hadn’t been there. It was instantly clear that Rockaway didn’t need a clothing drive, they needed man power to get in there and begin cleaning up from the storm.” According to DeTemple, when residents of the area asked which organization the group belonged to, they simply replied, “We’re just surfers who want to help.”

Now that the summertime flatness is approaching, East Coast surfers await the possibility of real swell. They’ll certainly be conflicted, knowing all too well that tropical activity in the Atlantic sometimes has a darker side. But they can take comfort in two things: First, the best hurricanes are always the ones that avoid making landfall, skirt the coast, and give East Coasters solid swell for days on end. There’s no shame being stoked on good waves. And second, when hurricanes inevitably do make landfall, they will continue to be the first on the scene to help bring the East Coast back to life.

  • long island surfer


  • Dave

    We certainly never WANT a hurricane to make landfall…ever. Most of the time the swells don’t live up to the hype anyway, but last year Leslie was perfect. I wish that government ( like Bloomberg) and the beach patrols were a little more informed. Most of the time the swells aren’t that big ( rarely DOH). They don’t realize that waves that size are normal in many other places in the world and that most everyday surfers are qualified and experienced enough to handle themselves. The beach patrols especially need to spend more time training on other coasts. More than half the beach patrols can barely swim well enough to compete in a modest triathalon. The fact of the matter is that bigger swells happen more often then not at other times of the year from other types of storms, yet, people hear the word ” hurricane” and they freak out.

  • HeadKook

    I could write a long post, arguing a point, but, i just believe that people were surfing and hurricanes were coming long before there were outlets like social media where people could bitch and complain and speak their opinion and make you feel morally conflicted. Natural disasters aren’t a choice, they will never stop, people will continue to get hurt, and things will be destroyed, forever, and that’s horrible, but true; with these disasters come something beautiful on the east coast and thats perfect waves, so get out there and make the best of a shitty situation and ride them. No one should ever be made to feel bad for surfing, that’s just silly. But this is just a blog and that’s just my opinion.

  • Aaron

    The mayor is wrong he doent’ have the fact straight to make such an opinion.

  • ryan

    If I want to risk my ass in storm surf so be it not like any lifeguards really gonna paddle out over lil ol me

  • Bingo


  • Matt Johnson

    Here’s some news for you, Mr. Bloomberg: No surfer who jumps into the water during a hurricane swell expects YOU to save them. They’re exercising free will to pursue their bliss. It’s not up to YOU to protect them against their will. Of course, they SHOULD know that one possible outcome of exercising that free will is drowning. If they don’t, they should try some other activity where one’s death it not a possible outcome. How about knitting?.

    It chaps my pitutti when our government, in the form of the Park Service or some other agency closes a beach such as Playalinda in Brevard County, Florida during pumping hurricane surf (not when the hurricane is coming ashore but when it is well offshore and just sending in “dangerous” swell, according to the Nanny State. Post the frickin danger so you can cover your precious liability and let people live or die by their decisions. Stop hovering over our lives.

  • Haywood Newkirk

    As a young, single guy in my 20’s, I loved seeing Hurricanes come right at us here in Wrightsville Beach. The swell got large enough to “weed out” those that couldn’t handle 8+ surf; the hurricane parties often led to other “land based opportunities”; and if my house got wrecked I just called the landlord and said “fix the roof.” Now as a husband, father and property owner in my late 40’s, my views have changed somewhat. I love to see that Cat 4-5 bend and go “right up the chute” halfway between Wrightsville Beach and Bermuda. The swell is better defined; secret spots break; winds tend to be light, and 8-12 foot surf will put most of the guys around here “on the beach.” But when we get a direct hit, your family’s safety and the security of your property, tend to outweigh the thrill of catching another Hurricane Swell.

  • Jupiter Jack

    I can’t stand the term “SUPER STORM SANDY”. Just because it hit New York and New Jersey doesn’t make it a SUPER STORM. Y’all just got your lickens like the rest of us have been getting (just paying our dues for the killer waves). What about SUPER STORM HUGO? Or SUPER STORM ANDREW?? Or any of the other 100 storms that were devastating to some southern state! Nope…those storms didn’t cause any problems for the ego-centric New Yorkers/Jersey Shore folks! Buncha dicks. VIVA LA HURRICANE SEASON…COME AND GET ME!!

    • Njsurfer42

      Hey jack, news flash: the term “superstorm” has nothing to do w/ where landfall occurred & everything to do w/ the meteorological conditions surrounding Sandy. Sandy merged w/ a powerful nor’easter as she was turning to come ashore, her strength & windfield blowing up exponentially. Then there’s the fact that the stir lasted 3+ days for most people, not the 24 or so hours a typical hurricane lasts. Also, something completely unrelated to the rest of it: the NY metro area is one of the most densely populated in the nation, meaning more people were in the path of Sandy than any other recent storm.
      Sorry you got your panties in a bunch over nothing.

      – an NJ surfer

  • Tom

    The question being asked is: “But is this “hurricane-friendly” mindset still OK, given the battering the East Coast has taken over the past few years?”

    The answer is: Yes

    Oh, and Mayor Bloomberg is a nanny state tool of the 1st order

  • Billy Thornton, Norfolk, Virginia

    I would hate to think that any surfer really prays for a damaging hurricane to ravage the coastline and reap all sorts of destruction. I do know that we are a unique group that looks forward to hurricane season. Ideally, the best case scenario is the system that sits and spins 100 miles off of the coast and moves slow if at all. They bring in tropical breezes and large ground swells. The sun is out and the worst damage is the higher than usual tides. These types of storms are rare but they do come from time to time.

    Unfortunately, the surf we receive from a tropical storm, hurricane or even a nor’easter, come with a price tag in some areas. However, if my family and community is safe and there is no pre-existing need for me to attend to as a result of the weather, I am going surfing. As for the local authorities wanting to keep us out of the water, that is a 2 headed beast. There are some people like myself who are experienced watermen that are able to not only handle and thrive in these swells, but, too, have probably surfed a lot bigger and more dangerous waves abroad. It is the seasonal or beginner surfer that needs to be held accountable for the local authorities attitude because they are the ones who have no idea when or how to paddle out. They underestimate their ability to navigate currents and the caliber of wave that they are able to surf. They are the rescues or drownings that give us a false characteristic that we are a dumb and misguided sort who ignorantly put our life in danger when in fact, we surfers have probably made more water rescues than your local lifeguard.

    All I can is that as long as we exist, there will be someone somewhere, doing something ridiculous, that will take the focus off the true art of surfing, who we really are, and how we really do it. When the chips are down in our communities, we surfers share another unique bond of “stoke” and that is helping one another.

    I pray that this hurricane season brings us great waves and no casualties.

    Keeping the Faith,
    Billy Thornton

  • Tyler

    I dont remember this being a issue when katrina/ike/etc… hit the gulf. So a few Yankees got their corvettes and beaches ruined. Cry me a river,,, I mean there has been way worse destruction to way better people, then what little ole cat 1 sandy did.

  • Harry

    I am tired of Bloomberg and his idea of a perfect society,we should all be wrapped with bubble wrap and stay inside.This is the biggest blowhard.and its not just him,two years ago they cancelled the ECSC in Va. Beach because of heavy surf…what?and then no one was allowed out.Next big storm I see,I’m gonna fill up my 64oz.ultimate gulp,grab my board and to hell with all these ninnies.We have let government have more power than the average citizen.If choose to risk my life,I know the consequences.Stay your ass on shore,don’t look if it scares you.

  • Doug

    Bloomberg over shot on this for sure, but blame also lies on the week coastal building standards that have been allowed over the years. In the name of freedom and progress we have told government to butt out when we want to make a buck. Then when things are destroyed we look to the government to fix it.

    This, as much as anything, has to do with climate change and rising sea levels. We foster our own destruction, but it sure has been good for the surf. Down here in Florida we have scored the best waves from the most destructive storms. I would give that up to avoid any person suffering though.