Get Surfing

Being a surfer is getting popular, as well. There has been a 100% increase in surfers since 1990. There are at least 20 surf shops in the metropolitan area. But you need a tutor to surf. Don’t try it on your own. Any surf shop worth its salty business has a list of surf schools. Rent, do not buy, a surfboard. These vary from $25 upwards a day. It will be a “ding-special,” namely a beaten up board. New boards vary from $350 to several thousand dollars. Get a leash for the board, meaning a tail-rope, which attaches you to the board. This you might have to buy. Get a cheap, sturdy swimming suit, meaning (for a woman) a one-piece job. For a man, no bikini suits. If you catch the surfing fever, which is relatively common, you can buy a good used surfboard. Know that surfing is not a popular sport, so you will not meet soccer mom-types often, and crowds are few…for now. Know also that big money, except for the “Quiksilver,” is not a factor. In cold weather, and most surfers do surf in cold weather, you’ll invest in a wet suit. A wet suit is a rubber-like outfit, usually augmented by a hood, gloves and booties, which lets in that terribly cold water for an initial shock, converts itself into a giant hot water bottle, and recirculates that cold water at bearable (but still cold) temperatures against your body. Wet suits run from about $175 to $500, and should be bought new. You can get both a spring/fall and winter weight wet suit, but a winter weight suit gravely restricts your maneuver span, as it is very bulky.

Surfing, within reason, is a safe sport. “Within reason” meaning no acting unreasonably. The United States government has estimated that only one surfer in a hundred thousand (in a lifetime) will die surfing. This compares favorably to lifetime casualty rates in every other sport. Except for late summer, there is no shark hazard here because sharks usually do not come into shallow LI waters. Those that do are sand sharks, which are non-aggressive and rarely bite at all. Jellyfish are a major problem about the same time. You might get a form of shock, which is also rarely fatal but always painful. Boats and ski-dos gunning into surfing water are a problem. Remedy: surf close to shore.

Women are welcomed into the sport. But with males or females, you must be a very strong swimmer, not a fast one. Laps in a pool (even at Olympic speeds and stamina) do not count. A good surfing instructor will show you the right style of swimming for the sport (usually a breaststroke variant). One admittedly bad aspect of surfing on LI is the undertow current, which can lift you and drag you under and, worse, out to sea. This roughly translates into what is called a riptide, which is a wave that brings you out to sea. Luckily, except for hurricane surf riding in the fall and late summer, there have been very few surfing drowning victims. Most people, ironically, drown just swimming instead. Or fall drunken off boats near piers. And, yes, it is far more likely to drown in your pool than drown surfing.

So where do I go to surf? Well, after renting a board, however dinged up, buying a leash, new, getting a real swimsuit (not just a flimsy bathing suit, and forget about those bikini jobs, which will fall apart and get you arrested), you go where there are no lifeguards, no rent-a-cops (private beach security), and avoid any area with a lot of swimmers. With about 130 miles of surfing shoreline, that leaves a lot of surf space. I’d ask the surf shop owner or his staff for their best guess for you. After all, you just laid out good money for a surfboard rental or used-board purchase, a leash, and even a real surfer’s swim suit—the guy or gal owes you something for your business. Oh, yes, I just mentioned again about no lifeguards. Lifeguards are usually surfers themselves, but the tourists are frightened to death of getting run over by surfboards, so the ‘guards must chase you away from the regular beach-bunny hours of about 10 to five o’clock. If you aren’t a strong swimmer, you shouldn’t be surfing anyhow. And if you got into any trouble, a lifeguard won’t be able to help much, either. It is a fact that surfers every few years save lifeguards from drowning. You have noticed that most lifeguard stations use surfboards—there’s a good reason for that. Everyone will be hanging on the surfboard for dear life.

Okay, if you’re still not spooked away from surfing, you can either go for a morning glass-off (meaning surf early in the morning) an afternoon session, or an evening glass off. You will have very cool company out in the surf line: surfers locally include doctors, lawyers, businessmen and businesswomen, two local mayors, a Federal judge, and the catch-of-the-day Californian nailing down a movie deal in East Hampton. Don’t call them dudes. The language of the Mutant turtles and the surfboards is rarely ever heard among real surfers.

The author uses Smith Point Beach, one end of the Fire Island beach chain. (like Hawaii, the Long Island beaches for surfing basically follow the island chain off the south shore). There’s beach access there, for the price of parking. It’s a county beach, meaning anyone can pay the fee and use the beach. You can walk a half mile or so either west or east and start surfing. East means the Federal park and beach. (Say hello to the Federal rangers, they’re really nice). If you forget the leash, break the leash, or forget the wax you should put regularly on the board, there are surf shops along the William Floyd Parkway leading to the beach. There is a lot of fast food dining along the ‘Floyd, and a Beach Hut on the beach with a good selection of surfing foods including glass-off breakfasts. There are also bars and liquor stores along the way and nightly music spots. If you drink too much, there is a first aid station at the County beach, so get the hint. I have visited beaches all around the world, including California and Europe, and none beat Long Island. None.

Go out on a mild day, meaning wave heights of three feet or so. Those monster waves are in Hawaii and parts of California, and should stay there forever. Those are not pleasure rides, anyway. (You are riding a fifty foot giant). Sun tan lotion is a must, water resistant. Beach blanket, smaller the better. Bottled water. Pot of kimchee. Then…enjoy. Life is not a beach movie, there will be no beach party bingo blankets, but surfing is a magnificent way to enjoy a great LI summer. So much so, you may catch the fever and buy a wet suit. But that’s another story.