By Holly Peterson | June 26, 2015 | Lifestyle
Daredevils continue to challenge the local breaks, seeking the perfect waves as surfing booms on the East End.
Certain animals are more territorial than others. Some guard their domains as if the survival of their species depended on it. Remember that before grabbing your new surfboard and venturing out into the various surf breaks that the Hamptons offer up this time of year. Each surf area, from Westhampton to around the tip of Montauk, has a specific code of behavior in the water and on the sand. This unwritten set of rules, codified through generations, needs to be heeded. If you care to fit in with the group out on the water and not blast your way into the lineup, stop for a minute on the sand at each break and try to sense it. Some surf areas out here are welcoming, helpful, and more family-oriented; at others, it’s wise to tread lightly if you’re not an expert or you didn’t grow up on the waves in front of you.
Westhampton and Hampton Bays are the most protected, the rules enforced by the local guys. Newcomers and tourists are not very welcome, although, of course, beginners can enjoy the ocean, and a few schools successfully operate in the same waves. If you wade into these waters, it’s a matter of respecting the better surfers and the people who grew up out here.
Shane Dyckman, who grew up in Hampton Bays with well-known surfers such as Steven “Bedford” Brown and Chris Rempe, moved to Southampton after high school. He knows the surf scene out here as well as anyone and runs the successful Flying Point Surf School in Southampton, which teaches surfing and stand-up paddleboarding and charters boats for fishing and water sports trips to Block Island and around the East End. “Most of the best surfers who come out of Hampton Bays are known for ruling the lineups with a strong arm,” says Dyckman, who now resides in Sag Harbor with his wife, Tisha Collette, the owner and manager of the Collette designer and home consignment stores. “If you do paddle out to those locales, you have to respect the pecking order around the Westhampton jetty and in and around Shinnecock Inlet.”
While there are rules to obey in the water, some surfers out here are open to the flocks of new people enjoying the sport and the ocean waves in the East End. “At the least, we are sharing something we believe has great value and sharing that eye-opening experience of standing up on a wave for the first time,” explains Corey Senese, owner and manager of CoreysWave, a surf school in Montauk. His team also works with the YMCA of Long Island’s Leaders & Lemonade program (2 Gingerbread Lane, East Hampton, 329-6884) to produce its Wave Share events, which give local kids free surfing experiences.
“Our philanthropic work can also [lead] kids who can’t afford lessons to other activities that relate to surfing, like water photography and ocean rescue,” says Senese. “The Hamptons is a breeding ground for creative and talented people as well as entrepreneurs. The ocean is just one ground for inspiration. Helping people learn gives us a chance to share a resource that has provided and given so much to us personally and professionally.”
Tony Caramanico, another instructor based in Montauk, has watched the popularity of the sport explode out here firsthand. “I think surfing has to do with freedom and free spirit; it’s self-expression and removes people from their norm,” he says. “The executives and bankers who try it aren’t thinking about [their] daily lives; instead they’re getting hit by waves. Overachievers like to surf because it’s in their nature. Once they get into it, they realize they can get better and have something to strive for.”
The surf scene in the Hamptons starts in the water, but then it spreads onto the land, where you will find shops, cafés, and restaurants that cater to a more relaxed—thus surferlike—vibe. There are Sagtown coffee bars in Sag Harbor and Montauk for an aprèssurf espresso; La Superica in Sag Harbor for fish tacos and a strawberry margarita; or Joni’s Kitchen in Montauk for a Chaiwallah or a Get Naked smoothie. More and more women are found in the wave lineup, and they’re wearing designer wet suits found at Flying Point Surf & Skate in Southampton or graphic sweatshirts from the New York Sunshine Surf Club on Nugent Street. “For me, surfing is a way of letting go,” says Food Network chef and author Katie Lee. “I like to maintain such control in so many aspects of my life. In the ocean you can’t be in charge; it’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. The word is out among the women in the Hamptons that this is something that is really fun and empowering. I think it builds confidence in women.”
Lee surfs regularly and is part of the Southampton surf community, which has a bit broader demographic. In the water here, you find people from a wider area, including North Sea and Water Mill, along with a diverse group of locals and summer visitors. On these beaches, perhaps because of the variety of surfers, you’ll find the atmosphere a little more relaxed and welcoming.
Further east, near Georgica Beach in East Hampton, you witness the old guard: locals who are stellar athletes, like Chris Harmon and the Dayton brothers. “East Hampton has a group of hotshot young guns, ages 17 to 24, who are dominating the East Hampton jetties,” says Dyckman, describing the rooted culture that has grown through the generations. “It’s definitely super territorial over there on that one little spot near Georgica Beach. At Main Beach and surrounding breaks, there’s less of a problem for the more novice or intermediate surfer.”
Another thing to remember about surfing is that nothing is ever quite what it appears. Waves closer to shore may seem more approachable than waves breaking far out on a sand bar, but in fact it’s the closer waves, called “shorebreaks,” that pack a much more powerful punch if you wipe out. When you fall from five feet or more atop a wave near the shore, you can land in six inches of water on your head or shoulders, and it will feel like concrete.
Though falling off your board is safer in deeper water, there are other dangers to consider that might not occur to newcomers. Any break, for instance, serves up its own set of perils, with novices wiping out amid experts who are carving up turns with little regard for others in their path. Also, a calm ocean can suddenly turn monstrous—producing waves, undertows, and rips that can scare even the strongest swimmers. It’s best to respect the all-powerful ocean and its hazards, while at the same time keeping your eyes open to avoid more experienced surfers. “There’s always a hierarchy in any lineup that’s heavily localized,” says Montauk’s Cory Senese. “There are rules you must obey to earn the respect of others— and to a degree these rules are just common sense. You wouldn’t go tromping into someone’s house uninvited—you’d knock on the door first. On the top of the food chain, the older local surfer knows when it’s his or her turn and will not hesitate to take that wave when the time comes. And if it isn’t your home break, you just have to chill and be patient.”
“First into the lineup, first onto the wave, like an inventory system,” explains Rick Drew, operations manager for Main Beach Surf + Sport. “In a surf competition, if you drop in on someone, you’re out. In a heat, you lose that scoring. And in the more casual Hamptons waves, should another person drop in and interfere with someone who is in first position in the lineup, they are not using proper etiquette.”
Etiquette must rule on Montauk’s more dangerous breaks, which get the biggest Atlantic swells. Montauk is the epicenter of East Coast surfing and has by far the most famous break out here. In season, this area is the most crowded, and it is here where you will find some of the most talented surfers, including Charlie Weimer, Leif Engstrom, and Jared Bono. Montauk’s local surfing community has no doubt seen its waves become overrun and overcrowded. In the off-season, there’s a tight-knit group that enjoys relatively empty waves, but in the hotter months, there’s no way for these surfers to maintain any kind of control or respect in the water, especially among the beginners, hipsters, and wannabes who are paddling out. Nonetheless, there are beaches with waves that surfers of all levels enjoy together.
“The crowd has gotten much heavier at Ditch Plains, but I feel like the vibe remains the same,” says Senese. “Surfing Ditch is usually pretty casual and, in my experience, it’s always been that way. It just used to be the case with a fraction of the people [now] in the ocean. A lot of the time the surf is on the smaller side here, and sometimes it’s more fun for an advanced surfer to goof around with friends and have fun.”
Regardless, those who grew up surfing out here— or who are lucky enough to be adopted by that group—understand the joys inherent in spending so much time together in the water. “There’s nothing better than having a community with surfers in it,” says Dyckman. “It’s something that helps you become grounded and rooted in the collective. From the summer community to the brave souls [of the] winter arctic community, you have that common denominator: The ocean becomes your home base. There’s no better way of changing your attitude on life than from a good day of surf. It’s a total sickness, and at the same time it’s so therapeutic because it takes you out of yourself.”
Many surfers agree that the surge in surfing is good for the entire community, no matter the season. “As a whole, it’s good for the Hamptons,” says Mark Zucchero, owner of Flying Point Surf & Skate. “It helps people understand a lifestyle that is more relaxed and less chaotic than the city. It’s good for those who want to enjoy all kinds of water sports, and it’s great for the Hamptons because it teaches people respect for the water, the planet, and the ocean.”
“Montauk and the Hamptons have always had waves and an abundance of beautiful coastline,” says Senese. “As surfing becomes more popular and accessible, it promotes itself. Anyone can see the look on a surfer’s face coming out of the water and understand there is fun to be had. Once someone tries and gets into surfing, they’re usually hooked, just like the rest of us.”
photography by James Katsipis
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