Stuart and Catherine Foley, Air and Speed Surf Shop
Chuck Weimer, Tony C and Walter Iooss
THERE ARE ROUGHLY 26 surf breaks between Southampton and Montauk. You, the reader, likely know about three, four—or quite possibly none. You’ll have to put in your time on the water and find them yourself. Trust me, though, it’s worth it. The reason? A very simple and pure 10 seconds.
Rarely does the ride last more than 10 seconds. But those are what get people out of bed at 6 AM for dawn patrol, all of this happening on a level playing field where the ocean is the great equalizer. That’s part of the appeal, and it’s definitely where the story of surf culture in the Hamptons begins.
Surfing out East brings together an unlikely cast of characters who would otherwise probably never meet. From the Ditch regulars to the Montauk locals to the Golden Breed (i.e., the old guard who have been on the scene since the beginning), the Hamptons surf community transcends social boundaries, and the friendships formed through the art of riding waves are lasting because they’re based on a very simple shared pleasure.
A TYPICAL DAY AT DITCH PLAINS
One sunny morning in July, as I hang a right into the dirt parking lot of one of Montauk’s most frequented surf breaks, the scene unfolds. Ten yards into the lot, I spot Jimmy Buffett’s super-van, tricked out with every possible amenity: satellite TV, flatscreen, kitchen, shower, surfboards and paddleboards. It runs on fryer oil he recycles from his Margaritaville restaurant chain. Still looking for a spot in the carnival-like atmosphere, I watch two Wall Street types pull thousands of dollars of gear out of their Lexus hybrid and make their way to the water. Their boards are suspiciously missing wax from the crucial nose and tail areas, but the two seem unfazed.
Out of the corner of my eye, my childhood fantasies are reignited by an age-defiant Christie Brinkley as she makes her way to the water’s edge in a well-fitting spring suit. Cory, a surf instructor, begins to run her through the surf-lesson land drills. Chris Coleman, the ex-day-trader gone local real estate tycoon, jokingly rubs it in that the surf was better earlier. I watch pro surfer and filmmaker Mikey DeTemple stroke effortlessly into a beautiful left-hander. I look for a spot to post up and find a nice little place next to Chris Martin from Coldplay, who tells me he’s exhausted from touring but couldn’t pass up the waves today.
This group maintains old-school values with hierarchical pecking orders. If you surf well and play by the rules, all will be well; if you don’t, things can go wrong quickly. At the top of the heap—if not by skill alone, then by sheer stature—sits Charlie Weimer. His ability to hold his own at Hanalei Bay in Kauai and Tavarua in Fiji has earned him respect from guys like big-wave charger Reef McIntosh.
But perhaps the most impressive surfing talent that has risen out of the Montauk locals’ camp are Quincy Davis and Leif Engstrom. Both have promising futures in the world of professional surfing, but it’s Davis who has managed to showcase the whole package—and at the tender age of 15. Volcom, the multimillion-dollar surf brand, has given Davis a big push forward, and with good reason: She has the contest results to back it up
In an online interview, ESPN called Engstrom “one of New York’s most legit surfers ever,” and he’s highly underrated (he currently lacks sponsorship). The Engstrom family as a whole is probably one of the East Coast’s most talented surfing families, and by any surfer’s standards, we can say Leif is still living the dream.
THE GOLDEN BREED
Most of these guys are in their fifties or sixties and still surf regularly. Their contributions to East Coast surfing history, as well as to the community and beyond, are too vast for this article. But in speaking with Lee Bieler, I got the best sense of what the vibe is like now, compared to what it was when they started:
“Last August, Hurricane Bill provided Montauk with some of the best waves anyone had seen all year, and the line to get into the parking lot was backed up for about 20 minutes. Some guy in a Mercedes station wagon asks to cut ahead of me, and I tell him he’s gotta wait like everybody else. This guy gets out of the car and starts cursing at me and wants to fight. I can’t wait to get down to the cove, ’cause all my boys will be down there and we’ll get this straightened out! But when I got down to the beach, I saw 100 people standing there—and I didn’t know anybody. I had never seen anything like that before.”
This tableau is a far cry from 1971, when Bieler arrived in Montauk and it was still a crazy, magical cowboy town. Bieler and Tony Caramanico opened the Albatross, the first surf shop in Montauk, which also served breakfast. They hired a decorator named Sam Sloman, whom they’d met in the nearby campground (which now houses trailers for a half-million dollars); he outfitted the Albatross with indoor-outdoor carpeting and white twinkle lights. “Nobody had ever seen anything like it. It changed the face of Montauk,” says Bieler. In his estimation, it’s always been the creativity of surfers that has forged the landscape of this town.