Drifting Amidst the Atlantic
Surfing off the coast of New England
By Matt Reevy // PHOTOS BY Jim McGinley
Here's a way to win at least one free drink from someone: ask them if they knew that if you laid the coastlines of Maine and New Hampshire down flat, stretched out, you'd have more than 3,400 miles of tidal shoreline. That’s a lot of coast that’s ripe for surfing, and (maybe surprising for some to fathom) in Maine and coastal New Hampshire surfing is a year-round sport.
“Surfing Maine, if you're doing it all year round, kind of turns into a lifestyle,” says Charlie Fox, owner of Maine Surfers Union, a Portland-based surf shop. But that's not all that different from the SoCal lifestyle that monopolizes your imagination when you hear the phrase “surfers.” What's the New England edge?
“Here in Maine, and maybe even all the Northeast, it's not as much about the latest surf brand or contest,” says Jim McGinley, a Falmouth surfer who grew up in New Hampshire and now works with brands like Quiksilver, Hurley, and others. “We like good beer and good coffee and good surf. It takes some serious stones to paddle into cold and dark Maine water, so where anybody can jump into the water in the warm California waves seen in magazines—you're only going out here if you really want to surf. It's the community of surfers that gets you beyond the cold, not just the waves.”
The water is sure to be chilly for those bold enough to venture out in the winter, dropping to 30 degrees in the throes of hibernation season, while summer months are a balmy 60 degrees. According to Andy McDermott, who co-owns Black Point Surf Shop in Scarborough, winter surfing is more peaceful, with some of the best wave quality happening on those sub-zero days. “You need booties, gloves, and a winter wetsuit,” Andy half-joked. “In the summer you can just grab a summer (wet)suit and your board.”
For those that surf, it isn’t just a pastime or running fad. It’s a hardcore lifestyle. Meaning that you take every advantage to hit the water, temperatures be damned. Plus, once you've got the wetsuit and the surfboard, you're not paying for anything beyond, maybe, parking. That ideology binds the surfing community together here, many of whom you can see shredding waves from Quoddy Head to Hampton Beach.
“There's just something about the group of people here—everyone seems to be a little friendlier, people are a little more raw,” says McDermott of the Maine/New Hampshire versus West Coast vibe one can find on the water here.
You're not going to find the pecking order here that defines so much of what surfing is. Partially because there's so many spots, but mostly because no one's hung up on that sort of stuff. You show up to a spot, you can surf it, no questions asked. That might not sound like much, but it makes all the difference.
(AKA Kennebunk Beach)
Meet at the center lifeguard stand
(across the street from Crescent Ave.)
July 15, 5:30 p.m.
August 18, 5:30 p.m.
Free. Registration open for 100 kids and 50 volunteers per lesson.
Old Orchard Beach
1 Old Orchard St., Old Orchard Beach, ME
The longest coastline in Maine, with 7 miles of rideable waves.
Where to ride
For the best surf you're going to want to loiter around the pier, but there's 7 miles to scope for waves, so don't be afraid to explore.
Best time to surf
Around low tide, when the tide is rising.
Ocean Ave., Scarborough, ME
A popular beach to surf due to the ease of access with waves coming from all directions.
Where to ride
If there are other surfers out already, start near them—and don't be obnoxious. You'll get your waves.
Best time to surf
Weekday mornings, when it's least likely to be crowded.
Scarborough Beach State Park
418 Black Point Rd., Scarborough, ME
Free in the winter. In the summer, if you're
willing to chip in for a beach pass, you can
get the whole beach to yourself and a car
full of friends.
Where to ride For waves, you're going to want to head north. Not only will there be fewer beach-goers, the surf is nicer.
Best time to surf Anytime, but avoiding the crush of families and beach-goers means later in the afternoon is best, assuming the tide works out.
MORE INFO scarboroughbeachstatepark.com
North Beach, Hampton
27 Ocean Blvd, North Hampton, NH
}Home to “The Wall,” New Hampshire's most consistent spot usually features a bigger swell than the rest of the state's coast.
Where to ride Look for parking along the Seawall. From there, pick your spot
wherever someone isn't—that's why it's
got the “consistent” label.
Best time to surf Surf is rideable at every stage of the tide, so dodging the crowds is paramount—try earlier in the morning or later in the evening.
MORE INFO nhstateparks.org/explore/state-parks/north-hampton-state-beach.aspx