Are Winter or Summer Waves Better in Montauk?

winter sunset session at Ditch

It was mid-afternoon in early December of the quite-universally-agreed-upon-wretched-year of 2020. The sun was shining low and strong across the sea and sand of Ditch Plains and the air was a crispy 35 degrees. The dark green water at the jetty had just formed into a rideable wave right before my eyes, and the wind of the nor’easter had finally just calmed down. So I decided to go back to the house and wedge my winter weight into a 4:3 suit and haul my board out of the basement.

So there I was, standing in my booties and hood, rubbing a fresh bar of cold water wax onto the frozen fiberglass surface with such enthusiasm and pent up surf urgency that I was noticeably breaking the silence of my surroundings. This exact spot in the summer is normally packed with beachgoers and surfers, but right now it was tranquil and empty except for me–and the birds.

I left my board resting on the wooden bench as I ran back to put the wax in the truck and grab my thick winter neoprene mittens. An elderly woman appeared out of nowhere and when she saw me flying around in my frenzy and she turned around and said, “Are the waves better in the summer or the winter?”

I honestly had to stop in my tracks. I did not have time for a question like this. This question was too complex to answer, there were far too many factors to consider, too many aspects to analyze, but I wanted to appease her. So I paused for a second and then said “Winter, because there are less people.”

Anyone who surfs will admit that surfing is far better with less people in the water, because you simply have more opportunities to ride a wave. So, while I love the social side of surfing in the summer, the isolation and sheer emptiness of the winter ocean is compelling, even with those drawbacks of frozen toes, fingers and nose. So, into the freezing 53 degree sea we go!

In our current global health crisis, with COVID-19 essentially having eliminated crowds and gatherings, separateness is left as our only healthy choice. And what better way to stay apart than by being on a board–any board–in a body of water–any body of water–at ANY time of the year because that has ALWAYS–by definition–been a naturally self-isolating and socially distanced experience. For me, the habit of being on my surf and paddle boards more days than not since the pandemic began has single-handedly kept my mental and physical health intact. I would have been lost without it.

The frozen toes I had to thaw out two hours later was worth the fresh perspective. Those invigoratingly dense, cold and slow waves ridden by us lucky few under a fiery red sunset sky filled me with unbelievable gratitude. I was outwardly giddy to be a part of the ocean’s pulse yet again, before returning to the somber sobriety of terra firma. There are plenty of warm waves elsewhere in the world to ride, but for now, this cold wave could not be more perfect. And it’s not even technically winter quite yet 🙂

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