June 1 marked the start of hurricane season. The water has begun to warm up and the weather has become tolerable, leaving East Coast surfers anxiously awaiting the first signs of tropical activity. Granted, most years it doesn’t kick into high gear until August, but that doesn’t stop us from methodically checking, hoping, even praying for the first sign of swell on the horizon. Best-case scenario: a solid tropical storm or hurricane rounding its way up the East Coast, pushing solid swell along with it.
But is this “hurricane-friendly” mindset still OK, given the battering the East Coast has taken over the past few years? With devastating landfall hurricanes like Irene along the Outer Banks and Super-Storm Sandy in the northeast, should surfers feel guilty when desperately looking forward to the first sign of these oceanic powerhouses? Irene cost approximately $18 billion; Sandy cost $75 billion in damages, not to mention the months of painful rebuilding and loss. That alone justifies non-surfers’ irritation with those who look forward to more hurricane-driven surf.
During the onset of Sandy, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg stated that surfers put unnecessary strain on emergency personnel and that, “For a small amount of pleasure, surfers’ lives could be in danger, while certainly putting the emergency workers in danger.” The mayor then proceeded by issuing court summons to anyone still trying to surf the storm.
While there is certainly some truth to the self-centeredness of wave-hungry surfers, it is also important to recognize that most surfers also have an innate obligation to the coastline, and have been as active as any group in helping to protect and rebuild the coastal areas they love.
For example, charitable foundations like Waves for Water worked as a bridge to connect the global surf community to victims along the East Coast. By addressing survival needs, assisting with first responders, and contributing to rubble removal, W4W served as a vessel for the surf community to funnel their support. Their extensive experience with disaster relief put them in a unique position to help organize, mobilize, and deploy strategic response initiatives for the victims of Sandy.
The core New York surf organization, NYsea, joined the effort by starting their NY Beach Relief Fund. They donated 100 percent of the proceeds to New York beach communities. New York’s Rockaway Surf Club acted as a headquarters for teams of surfers dispatching to help the hardest hit victims. According to local surfer Mikey DeTemple, “As far as I could tell, FEMA hadn’t been there, the Red Cross hadn’t been there, the National Guard hadn’t been there. It was instantly clear that Rockaway didn’t need a clothing drive, they needed man power to get in there and begin cleaning up from the storm.” According to DeTemple, when residents of the area asked which organization the group belonged to, they simply replied, “We’re just surfers who want to help.”
Now that the summertime flatness is approaching, East Coast surfers await the possibility of real swell. They’ll certainly be conflicted, knowing all too well that tropical activity in the Atlantic sometimes has a darker side. But they can take comfort in two things: First, the best hurricanes are always the ones that avoid making landfall, skirt the coast, and give East Coasters solid swell for days on end. There’s no shame being stoked on good waves. And second, when hurricanes inevitably do make landfall, they will continue to be the first on the scene to help bring the East Coast back to life.