University of New Hampshire (UNH) students and avid surfers Crowley Gentile and Lars Hamilton did just that when Hurricane Dorian brought high surf and churning seas to the New Hampshire coast last weekend.
Dorian passed well off the coast of New England, bringing clouds and slight rain, but the overhead waves were the biggest sign on our seacoast of the powerful storm that rocked the Bahamas.
Hampton Fire Chief Jameson Ayotte via WMUR warned citizens from getting too close to the swells, and asked that people heed no-swimming ordinances, avoiding the coastline if possible.
So naturally, New Hampshire’s local surfers headed straight for it.
“As soon as I saw the hurricane pop up, I tracked it all the way ‘till it got to us.” Gentile said. The junior at UNH is a local surfer on top of being a member of the UNH Ski Team.
Lars Hamilton, a good friend of Gentile and fellow New Hampshire native shared in the excitement of tracking the storm’s activity. Hamilton cited enjoying the anticipation and build-up, from seeing the storm pop up on swell models to when it finally brought waves to the coast.
“We just kind of sit with our fingers crossed watching them come up the coast, hoping it stays on a good track to send us some proper surf” Hamilton said. “It wasn’t forecasted to be massive, but there was definitely some hype,” he continued, especially after a “relatively flat” summer.
The report stayed strong despite the tendency for Cape Cod to block southern swells, and “delivered some heat for NH,” Gentile said.
It was about time according to the surfers, who hadn’t seen sizeable waves since early spring of last year.
“Surfing here is a waiting game, and patience is key,” Gentile said of the inconsistencies of New England beaches. But despite the frustrations of sometimes 2-3 weeks with no swell, “every time you get in the water you get better and the progression is what keeps you going back,” he said.
Gentile and Hamilton, friends since kindergarten, have been surfing together for years. Despite being pretty seasoned locals, they still “can barely contain” their excitement each time they paddle out.
Being from New England, people expect someone’s choice of adventure to be on the snow. Both Gentile and Hamilton are avid skiers, with Gentile participating in NCAA Division 1 alpine racing and Hamilton frequenting popular backcountry bowl Tuckerman’s Ravine. But when they’re not staying busy on the snow, you can find them in the water.
Both surfers got their start messing around with friends around the age of 7. Hamilton says that once his parents realized he was “bored of sandcastles” they bought him a board and an old wetsuit and it went from there.
“I always felt a connection to the ocean and nature, and there is something addicting and captivating about how you’ll never see the same wave twice” Hamilton says.
Normally when people think of surfing, they imagine the pristine beaches and 80 degree water of Hawaii or the competitive scene of California. But New Hampshire, according to Hamilton, has a much more vibrant surf culture than most people think.
Hamilton says that being a talented surfer is definitely harder here, with the inconsistencies in swell making it hard to get high-level practice in. But, Hamilton says, when they aren’t in the water, they stay busy skiing, fishing, paddle boarding and enjoying the ocean, so New Hampshire surfers are “more amped” than anyone to get out on the waves and never take a good day for granted.
Especially with a hurricane rolling in.
The swell came on Saturday afternoon – a fortunate weekend day where skipping class wasn’t even a concern. With the biggest sets coming in the afternoon, the students even got to sleep in. After checking the surf cams, they to a notoriously good spot in Rye called Rye Rocks.
Despite warnings of large swells and rip currents from local authorities, Gentile says that the media “hypes” hurricane waves up and makes everyone thinks they’re going to be huge. With experience surfing big waves “double the size” of these, Gentile had no nerves facing the overhead swell, nor did Hamilton. The biggest fear isn’t waves or rocks, but other people.
“I’ve surfed waves bigger, so it was really just a fun and entertaining session” Hamilton says, with most of the nerves being colliding with the crowds out in the water. With waves like this highly sought after and only about 10-20 people “who actually know what they’re doing” among almost 40 packing into “one little take off area,” the biggest fear according to Hamilton was getting run over by someone in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Despite overhead swell and a crowded break, Gentile had “no scary moments, only good vibes.”
The mentality on days like this is making sure the local guys catch the good waves, people are being respectful, and we make it back to the car with a bunch of good rides and no broken boards or bones,” Hamilton agreed.
The best part for Gentile was “being out there with all the locals” surfing waves that got bigger and bigger as the day went on. “Hooting your friends into some bombs and getting a few myself was definitely the highlight” Gentile said. The community is one of Hamilton’s favorite parts of surfing as well, despite the common attitude of disliking surfing with other people. Hamilton says that he loves sitting out there with friends sharing waves and stories.
Adrenaline pumping, they caught wave after wave until the sun set as onlookers watched and local photographers snapped photos.
“For early September to have warm water, a beautiful day, and firing surf was pretty awesome,” Hamilton said.
What was next on the agenda upon return to campus?
Get up at 4:30 a.m. Sunday and do it all over again.
“You can never surf enough to be satisfied,” Gentile said. “…it’s an endless feeling.”