To the Sea

The Jersey Shore is home to the best surf break in the world because of the adversity that surfers face during each session. The true triumph of a New Jersey surfer is being able to manage less than stellar conditions, crowds in the water, and the varying temperatures throughout the year to have a year of pleasant memories while surfing as well as to see improvement in surfing technique.

Adversity breeds improvement and the Jersey shore is full of adversity. In addition to being located in between three major cities, New Jersey is home to some the most populated beaches in the Northeast come summertime. As Memorial Day approaches, beach towns prepare for the arrivals of thousands of tourists from the Northeast United States and beyond. An article from The Economist was written in 2015 which analyzed the effect of tourists on New Jersey. The article stated, ” Last year tourism accounted for $36.4 billion of its [New Jersey] GDP, or about 6.6% of the state’s entire economy…about 508,000 jobs, nearly 10% of New Jersey’s total, are in the tourism industry” (The Economist). With so much financial and economic gain being tied to tourism, New Jersey beaches are often cramped during the summer which leads to too many novice surfers in the water. Novice surfers can pose a danger to themselves and others in the water as surfers on a wave weave through bodies paddling out while on their ride. I can recall several instances in which I have bailed from a wave or narrowly ran into someone who due to the number of people in the lineup. However, this should not discourage surfers from visiting our shores.

However, tourism to New Jersey beaches does not occur year round as many visitors have departed by the time the leaves change color. As hurricane season, and some of the best surf approaches, so does colder water. In summer throughout New Jersey, water temperatures average 73.4 degrees fahrenheit, yet in winter the average water temperature is 40.2 degrees fahrenheit (NOAA). While summer surf normally requires only a pair of boardshorts; winter surf requires a five millimeter wetsuit. 

This added layer of clothing not only adds weight to the surfer which increases difficulty of paddling, but also represents another challenge that New Jersey’s surfers face. In winter, surfers are constantly at odds with nature as they struggle to stay warm and loose during a session. However, despite the bone chilling cold of nearly below freezing water temperatures, surfing in the winter is often rewarding as it allows for a surfer to overcome the mental adversity of the cold. Surfing requires perseverance to improve as mistakes are common. This ability to endure the cold allows surfers to learn to endure hardships to improve in and out of the water.

Another challenge of New Jersey surfing is the constantly changing breaks. As a result of the destruction caused by Superstorm Sandy, beaches along the shore replenish the sand by dredging from the sea (The Economist). This creates a new break each year as sand is pulled from the ocean to the beach which results in a different location and different quality of the surf break. A study conducted in 2018 by the Coastal Education and Research Foundation Inc. found that dredging had significant impacts on surf breaks. The researchers, William R. Dally and Daniel A. Osiecki, stated, “Any rides that are obtained are therefore notably shorter and less enjoyable. Associated with this compression, the number of breaking waves in the surf zone is reduced from as many as three to as few as one” (Dally/Osiecki). This change after the nourishment results in surfers learning the new functions of their home break each year.

This allows for surfers to become more skilled at adapting to changing circumstances in the water which is crucial as a surfer. As dredging occurs longshore along beaches, closeouts become more common which necessitates more improvisation from surfers in the water (Dally/Osiecki). Surfers have to either improve their read of incoming sets or make a split second decision on whether or not they will take off on waves. If they decide to take off on waves, the ability to pump around a closed out section or a closing tube become integral for success. This furthers the need for surfers to become quick on their feet as New Jersey surfers become more accustomed to new breaks and closeouts, only for the break to change the following year.

Surfing in New Jersey is difficult. Whether it be the crowds in the summer, the cold winter paddle outs, or the annually changing break; New Jersey surfers must be tough mentally and physically in order to overcome the obstacles set before them. As New Jersey relied further on tourism for economic gain, these issues may only worse, but that will only invigorate New Jersey surfers as it is not an easy session that New Jersey surfers want, but one that pushes us to our limit. Whether it be mentally and physically overcoming the cold or staying mentally and physically loose enough to evade reckless novices and closeouts. The New Jersey surfer feels fulfilled for overcoming a deck stacked against them.


A Shore thing; Tourism in New JerseyThe Economist. 30 May 2015. 6 March 2023.

Coastal Water Temperature GuideNational Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. 6 March 2023.

Evaluating the Impact of Beach Nourishment on Surfing: Surf City, Long Beach Island, New Jersey, U.S.A.Coastal Education and Research Foundation Inc. July 2018. 6 March 2023

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