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In New England, surfers catch waves through the chilly winter


Forget board shorts or bikini weather. A growing number of New England surfers say winter is their favorite season. Maine Public reporter Murray Carpenter is one of them.

MURRAY CARPENTER, BYLINE: I'm on a beach in southern Maine, but you wouldn't really call it a beach day. The air temperature is about 30 degrees, and the water is a chilly 40 degrees. But there are nice little waves rolling in off the North Atlantic. And there's a lot of Mainers who just can't wait to jump in the water.

So you were waxing up here?

GABE BORNSTEIN: Yes, I am - frantically, because I tend to move fast and recklessly when I get excited.

CARPENTER: Gabe Bornstein has his hooded wetsuit on and neoprene mitts and booties, and he's about to hop in at a beach where clean, chest-high waves are rolling in. And there's not another surfer in sight. He says the cold doesn't bother him, even when he gets an ice cream headache on a tough paddle out, because one good ride changes everything.

BORNSTEIN: I think if I can get one decent ride today, it will dictate the course of my day. I mean, yeah, one little wave can just, like, course-correct, you know, your entire day, your entire week. It's crazy.

CARPENTER: Another attraction is that the New England surfing scene tends to be friendly, and it's even more so in winter. You run into each other on the beach, scoping out the waves or sharing a thermos of hot tea after a good session.


CARPENTER: Walking up the beach after catching a few waves, David Taplinger says that's part of the reason he loves this season.

DAVID TAPLINGER: One thing that really, I think distinguishes Maine surfing is that you have to really want to be out there. And that's kind of common to everybody. It makes a really nice community. So it's a really, really cool vibe.

CARPENTER: He's right about that. But still, some days can feel like an Arctic adventure when it's windy and big waves are thumping under low grey skies. On those frigid days, you return to shore with icicles draped from your hood. And then there are calm days when bright winter light shines through green waves with long, glassy shoulders. Walking down the beach to the water, Franny Martelle says bigger swells from winter storms churning offshore are only part of the season's appeal.

FRANNY MARTELLE: I love the cold. I love wintertime. And I think the big pull for me is just the quietness out there. Surfing in the summertime is a totally different vibe. There's, you know, tons of people out in the water. But in the wintertime it's quiet, and it's just a different kind of beautiful. Yeah.

CARPENTER: It is beautiful out here, but it's too cold to stand around on the beach. And these fine winter waves won't last forever, so I'm paddling out.

For NPR News, I'm Murray Carpenter in southern Maine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Murray Carpenter