A Fiery Passion in the Cold Surf: Winter Surfing

Jacques gets ready to surf.

“If we are going to make it to Kennebunk, we gotta haul ass,” says Josh Jacques as he sprints to his car. He quickly throws the transmission into reverse and leaves the parking space.

It is winter in Maine and he is losing daylight. A storm occurred the night before causing waves to be up to 11 feet tall. He arrives at a beach in Kennebunk and quickly changes into his wetsuit.

Jacques gets his board and runs for the water

With board in hand, he jumps from the road and onto the sand below.

“Woo!” he screams as he leaps into the waves and paddles out into the surf.

“Winter surfing truly defines me,” he said, “Filling my heart for the last 12 years, it is truly my passion. Here there are no worries.”  

Jacques, a senior at Thornton Academy, used to surf semi-professionally and was sponsored by a local Maine surf shop. For more than half of the year he embraces the cold of New England and hits the waves at local beaches.

Highschool surfer, Willy Jones, met Jacques through a local surf shop where the two used to work.

“I surf in the winter because of  the worth of the reward,” Jones said, “After a good session in freezing water, it is rewarding to know the cold was worth the waves, and that’s one of the best feelings.”

According to Jones, to have a perfect surf the ideal conditions include a nice offshore wind, distinguished sets that are visible from the shore, and long swell periods.

A swell period is the time between successive waves in seconds.  

Jacques enters the water

Maine is one of the better surfing locations on the East Coast, but like every expert at their craft, surfers are constantly on the hunt for a location where the waves are great.

Jacques stops paddling and he floats as oncoming waves move him up and down. He waits, pensively. Like a hunter stalking his prey, he studies the horizon for the perfect wave. A wave begins to slowly rise above the heights of the others.

“I’m extremely passionate about [winter surfing]. I love to continue and get better, watch my own film, to just grow as a surfer,” said Jacques.

“It’s very spiritual, something about being out in the water when it is 3 degrees outside and the water temperature is 28 and there is sea smoke in the background, maybe a sunrise,” he said.

When Jacques was younger he was never into the sports his peers were playing. When he was six he played baseball, but the sport never interested him.

Before he moved to Maine he used to live on a beach in Massachusetts where surfing was common. Surfing seemed right to him.

Winter surfing is exploding on the east coast in places like Maine and Massachusetts.

“The sport was popular before, but it was under the radar, but now more people know about it,” said Caleb Dolloff of Black Point Surf Shop.

Sign at the entrance of Black Point Surf Shop.

Dolloff associates the rise in winter surfing to the improvements in wetsuit technology, causing them to be more flexible, and better able to handle the cold water.

“Because it is less expensive than purchasing a ski pass and driving three hours to the nearest mountain,” Dolloff said, “it is more accessible.”

The cheapest season pass option for all ages at one of Maine’s most popular skiing destinations, Sunday River, is $649 yearly. That price doesn’t include the price of renting or buying skis. Dolloff said that, for around $1000 dollars, a person can start winter surfing, and unlike the slopes, one does not have to pay to use the ocean.

Close up of the waves.

The white of waves’ crests and the grey of the sky paint an oceanscape to the likeness of a Winslow Homer piece. Jacques is there, on his board, taking in his surroundings. Even 60 feet away, the grin on his face is visible from the shore.

Jacques, like all athletes, bleeds with passion for his sport. To him, the sport means not only his future, but it illustrates a facet of his personality. “The energy, the ocean pulls, it’s really a part of me.”

According to Jacques, winter surfing does have its risks. Like all types of surfing, there is a risk of dislocation. One could hit a rock and drown. Because of the cold, winter surfing raises different challenges.

In winter surfing one type of risk is a fire hose, which is when a wave takes off your hood, gloves, or boots. Fire hoses can eventually lead to a common risk for the sport, hypothermia.  

The risks of winter surfing are apparent. But Jacques believes that his love for the sport outweighs the risks.

“The ocean can hold you down, you could smash into a rock, and end up dead, but my love for the community, sport, and the ocean will always outweigh the risks.”

He emerges from the water.

The sunset peaks through the grey clouds with an orange hue. With the sun getting lower, Jacques decides to hit one final wave before returning  to shore. When he emerges from the water, his face is red and he is smiling ear to ear. He looks out to the ocean, taking in the beauty of the waves and sighs.

“Why can’t the sun be out longer?”

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