In The Magazine

Crashing the Hamptons Party Wave

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The breakers in the Hamptons are seldom ripe for true surfing beginners. In the rough conditions, a hierarchical structure is born. And it’s not the one that weekend warriors are accustomed to, where money and titles matter above all. A surfer’s ability and roots factor in. But they’re not the most important qualifications.

“The overriding governing rule on the ocean is, in order to get respect, you have to give it,” says Evelyn O’Doherty, a local surfer and a stand-up paddleboard and yoga instructor who frequently surfs in Montauk.

There’s a saying in beach towns: “Never turn your back on the ocean.” The phrase refers to the fact that the conditions can change in an instant. But surfers need to be cognizant of more than just the waves. They self-govern, and the best—and, truthfully, only—way to break into a surf lineup is to show proper respect.

It’s not hard. At Ditch Plains in Montauk, the rules are written on a sign at the entrance: Surfers already on a wave have the right of way. Surfers closer to the wave have the right to catch that particular wave. 

Few at Ditch, which has become known as a beginners’ break, heed those rules.

Summer weekends bring dangerous conditions to the spot, which is heralded as one of the best places to surf on both the East End and the East Coast. When an overwhelming number of surfers vie for the small number of waves, safety issues arise. Boards fly. Fins slice through the air. Collisions happen. “It’s such an easy wave that any moron can and does paddle out,” reads one review of Ditch on TripAdvisor.

With roughly 120 miles of coast on Long Island, finding a less crowded break is more than possible, suggests O’Doherty. Local places “100 percent exist,” confirms Shane Dyckman, who heads Flying Point Surf School. In lesser-known spots, conditions often determine who paddles out. If the waves are big, only those who know what they’re doing will be in the water.

Locals know how to deal with crowds. “When you have so much influx in your home waters, the local people look out for each other,” says O’Doherty. But they also know that a strictly nativist attitude shuts out the potential for new friendships and relationships.

Regardless of where they’re from, people who respect the surf and the lineup are generally welcomed. “If you’re a good surfer, you’ll be able to deal with [any hostility you encounter], and soon you’ll all be trading waves. You’re never going to win over some guys. They can’t adapt to change,” says Dyckman. “But that goes along with anything in life.”

Once a sport for beach bums, surfing is now much more mainstream, attracting everyone from kids to moms—like author Holly Peterson—to people looking for a new challenge, continues Dyckman. The paddle out is its own adventure, but the reward comes when gliding down the face of a wave and rushing toward shore.

“Surfing is so popular because it’s the most fun thing to do,” says Dyckman. “But it takes time to be able to enjoy it. You have to be dedicated, and half the road to becoming a real surfer is having etiquette.”

“If you’re a New York surfer and you love it, you’re pretty gritty,” says O’Doherty, referring to the dedicated group, herself included, who surf the East End year-round. “It’s become a nice little surf community,” adds Dyckman. He contrasts the Long Island break to California, where surf culture is so pervasive that every spot is crowded. Here, there are enough waves to go around, if you know where to look.

Surfing is as much about preparation as it is about patience and timing. On any given day, you can either wipe out, or catch the ride of your life. People who respect the rules open themselves up to the thrill of either possibility. The ocean is the ultimate equalizer. 


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