A Surfer’s State of Mind

Seagulls are squawking for food, the ocean smells like a salty tuna sandwich from two weeks ago, and the hoards of people flocking to the beach make the search for a parking spot feel impossible. These are all indicators of a harsh truth: you are at a beach in New Jersey. While New Jersey is rarely a sought after surf destination, it should be. It is the home of the best surf break in the world; the Jersey Shore.

Since I began surfing in 2016, I have been searching for the best wave and while many professional surfers look to the North Shore of Oahu, Southern California, or Western Australia for the world’s best wave, I plan to set my sights on the garbage and needle-ridden shores of New Jersey. I believe that the Northeast of the United States does not receive the attention it deserves as it provides a unique set of difficulties that provide the surfer with an opportunity to grow and overcome the obstacles that they face. New Jersey is the best surf destination in the world due the ever-changing breaks, summer crowds, and the challenges of seasonal surfing which provide the surfer an overwhelming sense of satisfaction when they overcome these obstacles.

While the “best” wave is often subjective based on the preferences of the critic, I am going to clear the water. The best wave is the wave that pushes the surfer to their limits, mentally and physically. The best wave allows for the surfer to improve their technique through overcoming adversity whether that be avoiding other surfers on a crowded day or by paddling into double over-head conditions.

New Jersey provides the conditions for a surfer’s growth due to the adversity that is present in the water and on the beaches. Many look to the Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu as the best wave in the world due to its difficulty. However, I disagree because the Banzai Pipeline is too easy. The waves may exceed twenty feet and break onto a solid reef while also creating some of the hollowest barrels on the planet, but it does not provide the challenges that the Jersey Shore produces.

The first obstacle of New Jersey surf is dredging. Each winter, the breaks change which means that a surfer must relearn his home break each summer. That means that the ideal paddle out spot, the perfect place to sit in the lineup, and the place to smash an end-section turn have all changed between seasons leaving the surfer clueless during his first session of the summer. A recent study was conducted by DanaRose Brown and the US Army Corps of Engineering which examined how dredging and beach nourishment affected surfability in the area. DanaRose Brown states, “Short-term results indicate that surfability was reduced within the nourishment area for at least one month post-nourishment with smaller surf zone widths and less sandbars than before the nourishment.” While many think of this as reason to avoid the Jersey Shore, many locals see this as an opportunity to thrive. Surfing requires the mind to remain fluid and adaptable as situations in the water can change on a dime. A surfer in New Jersey will already be in this headspace as they must be prepared to adapt to a new break each season. The mastery a new break each season gives the New Jersey surfer a sense of well-deserved accomplishment.

Another challenge of New Jersey surf is the crowds. Summer surfing in New Jersey draws crowd from all around the Northeast which leads to packed lineups. Surfline, the world’s leading surf forecast site, stated, “New Jersey spots can be very crowded — just try to get a set wave at Manasquan Inlet or off the jetty at Broadway Beach in Cape May during the peak of a hurricane swell.” As someone who frequently surfs Manasquan during the summer I can attest that not even a hurricane is needed for lineups to become cramped. On a sunny day in August, the lineup can attract upwards of twenty people even if conditions are mild or subpar. The crowds add another layer of difficulty because you have be aware of the hierarchy in the water as well as aware of those paddling out while you are on a wave. A priority mistake can lead to a physical confrontation in the water and on the beach while a collision with a fellow surfer while on the wave can lead to physical injury and damage of equipment. This added challenge creates a necessity for surfers to be clear minded and ready for any obstacle that is put before them. However, this contributes the courage and triumph of the New Jersey surfer. Despite the risk of physical injury and destruction of an expensive surfboard, surfers will paddle out nonetheless in hopes of succeeding in these hazardous conditions. The reward for navigating these treacherous lineups is a clean face (of the wave that is) and a fun ride.

While surfing in the summer may have its challenges, the oncoming winter provides challenges of its own. The beaches and lineups clear up while the waves improve, but the water temperature becomes bone chilling as winter sets in. Surfline’s guide to New Jersey surf also stated that, “Water temperatures can reach as high as seventy-five degrees in the summer, but can drop to low thirties in the peak of winter.” This requires the purchase of wetsuits which help prolong time spent in the water, but regardless the cold pierces through the five millimeters of protection. The cold creates a mental battle as surfers struggle to stay warm and loose in the water as larger sets roll through. However, it is this battle with mother nature that makes New Jersey surf so special as it creates a sense of triumph after the session is over.

Surfing is hard. It requires mental and physical perseverance in order to improve which is why New Jersey is the best surf location. The best surf allow for a new set of obstacles each time a surfer enters the water which will provide them an opportunity to overcome adversity and improve. Whether it be changing breaks, crowds, or the cold; New Jersey surf provides obstacles that only allow for physically stronger surfers, but mentally as well.

The Jersey Shore is home to the best surf break in the world because of the adversity that surfers face during each session and the elation that results from overcoming these setbacks to have an enjoyable experience. While some waves such as the Banzai Pipeline, Lower Trestles, or the Box may provide more satisfying rides or may provide the rider with better footage, the Jersey Shore provides an enjoyable experience because of the obstacles that are present each and every session. The true triumph of a New Jersey surfer is being able to manage less than stellar conditions, an ever-changing surf break, 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. It is emerging victorious over obstacles that makes the Jersey Shore the best surf spot.

Adversity breeds improvement and the Jersey shore is full of adversity. New Jersey is in between three major US cities; Philadelphia, Washington DC, and New York City which draws hoards of tourists to the area. On top of the locations adjacent to these major metropolitan hubs, is the fact that New Jersey is a beautiful summer destination for many in the Northeast. This results in beaches and lineups becoming cramped and overcrowded during the summer. 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.” 

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 missed someone due to the number of people in the lineup. However, this should not discourage surfers from visiting our shores. If anything it should motivate them.

The Jersey Shore provides the unique opportunity for surfers to better their awareness, anticipation, and knowledge of the wave by forcing them to avoid kooks on nearly every wave in order to have an enjoyable ride. Overcoming this challenge adds to the enjoyment of surfing by increasing the risk of surfing and while also allowing for a surfer to better their skills in the water.

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. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, or NOAA, stated that “In summer throughout New Jersey, water temperatures average 73.4 degrees fahrenheit, yet in winter the average water temperature is 40.2 degrees fahrenheit.” 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 while also catching some of the best waves of the year. 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. It also provides surfers with a sense of accomplishment as they have gone toe to toe with not only the ocean, but the cold as well and have emerged from the frigid waters, victorious.

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. 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. Dally and Osiecki also stated that, “As dredging occurs longshore along beaches, closeouts become more common which necessitates more improvisation from surfers in the water.” 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. This keeps New Jersey in the mindset of change and adaptation as no aspect of their favorite break remains the same from the previous summer. 

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 by facing a season of obstacles in and out of the water, but emerging from each session better than the last.

Despite, the satisfaction that New Jersey surfers feel, there are still those who cite other notorious waves as being the best on the planet. The most common being the Banzai Pipeline.

The Banzai Pipeline, located on the North Shore of Oahu, is considered by many to be the best wave in the world. It hosts multiple contests annually, including the Billabong Pro Pipe which pits the best surfers in the world against each other in a competition each January. Some surfers have made a career by simply mastering this wave, such as Jamie O’Brien and John John Florence, while others have clinched world titles at this location, such as Kelly Slater and Italo Ferreira. However, despite the massive conditions and global attention that this reef break attracts, it is not the best wave in the world. It is simply too easy.

Despite claiming the lives of countless surfers and sending many to the hospital every year, the Banzai Pipeline is too easy a wave to be the best surf break in the world. However, it is not easy in the traditional sense. The beauty of New Jersey surfing is that it pushes surfers by placing them in situations that are uncomfortable, but not those that will risk their lives. The triumph that New Jersey surfers feel is that of facing a new and challenging obstacle upon entering the water for every surf session, but conquering these challenges nonetheless.

The challenges at the Banzai Pipeline are different. Jonathan Warren, a journalist for Surfline, wrote that, “The conditions reach may reach up to twenty feet, but the wave also provides a channel for surfers to paddle out easily.” The conditions at the Banzai Pipeline are treacherous in their own manner, but it does not provide the same challenges or satisfaction that many New Jersey surfers must face. New Jersey surfers can face waves up to about twelve feet, but there is never a channel. Due to dredging in the winter, waves are prone to breaking often and everywhere which leads to a difficult paddle out. While the waves are not bigger, the satisfaction of finally making it into the lineup after taking set after set on the head is a feeling that only a New Jersey surfer will feel.

The Banzai Pipeline is a proving ground for up and coming surfers and as a result, it has a way of dealing with crowds that New Jersey surf does not. Massive sets and a dangerous, shallow reef prevent surfers from taking on this wave despite the crowd it attracts. However, this is not new as Pipeline has been a challenge since its inception as Warren wrote, “For nearly 60 years, this frightening gift of nature has stood out as one of the most challenging and perfect waves on the planet. While first believed to be unconquerable, Pipeline soon became the wave by which all others would be judged.” However, despite this legendary reputation, it does not provide the same challenges that New Jersey surfing provides. The waves in New Jersey are smaller and break on a soft beach break which means that most tourists and kooks will paddle out regardless of their lack of skill. This results in a dangerous situation for all surfers in New Jersey as a ride consists of weaving through many first time surfers before reaching a clean face to do any maneuvers. However, this is a challenge that many New Jersey surfers enjoy as it tests their ability to react quickly and adapt to new and difficult circumstances.

This further adds to the challenges that make New Jersey surf the best because every aspect of surfing is challenging here. From the crowded lineups to the small, mushy surf which breaks in different places every year. Pipeline has been breaking on the same reef since its creation which allows surfers like Jamie O’Brien and Eli Hanneman to make a career of surfing just one wave. New Jersey surfers must find where their favorite break has moved to each year and adapt to the changes that dredging brings.

Pipeline is also located in paradise. NOAA recorded that, “The average water temperatures in Hawaii range between 73 degrees Fahrenheit and 81 degrees Fahrenheit while many New Jersey surfers often battle with temperatures just above freezing.” This means that while surfers at Pipeline are sitting out in an empty lineup in board shorts, Jersey shore surfers are in five millimeter wetsuits with frozen beards. New Jersey surfers struggle to stay warm out in the lineup while Hawaiians enjoy balmy ocean temperatures.

Another aspect of the Jersey Shore that makes it the best surf break in the world is its accessibility. New Jersey beaches are open to everyone and all surfers while Pipeline has had a history of denying women from surfing and competing in contests there. It was not until 2022 that women could officially compete at the Banzai Pipeline in competition. A New York Times article from 2022, written by Talya Minsberg, discussed the issue of women at Pipeline throughout history after this revolutionary breakthrough had been made, “women surfing Pipeline, a reef break producing huge waves, stuck out like sore thumbs.” While women are now able to compete in contests and in free surfs, their inability to do in the past has hindered their proficiency in surfing this wave which takes time to understand. Unlike Pipeline, the Jersey Shore has always welcomed women in the water and in contests which highlight how the surf breaks in the Jersey Shore are a place for everyone to feel challenged and subsequently satisfied in the water

The fact remains that New Jersey surfers deal with more difficult conditions than those of their Hawaiian counterparts. The Banzai Pipeline is a dangerous wave, but is manageable by the number of professional contests that occur annually. Jersey Shore surf tests every aspect of a surfer from their mental toughness in order to paddle out in frigid water to their quick thinking in order to handle crowds in the water to their adaptability to ever-changing lineup conditions. The New Jersey surfer embraces adversity and paddles out regardless of the struggles that lie ahead.


Minsberg, T. “Finding Gender Equality in the World’s Most Dangerous WavesNew York Times. New York Times. 22 December 2022. 2023.

An Evaluation of the Short Term Impacts of Beach Nourishment on Surfability in Long Branch, New JerseyStevens Institute of Technology. 2020. 4 March 2023.

New Jersey Travel and Surf GuideSurfline. 2023. 4 March 2023

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

Mechanics of Surfing Pipeline and BackdoorSurfline. 6 January 2022. 19 April 2023.

This entry was posted in Portfolio RowanStudent6, Research, rowanstudent6. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Research-rowanstudent6

  1. davidbdale says:

    Some clumsy transitions between sections (You fail to acknowledge when “new” topics enter the narrative that you have mentioned them before, for example), but overall a compelling storyline throughout. The late addition of gender inclusion comes just as our attention is beginning to flag. Terrific work overall.
    Graded SUN APR 30.


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