Sussex County surfers score over Thanksgiving holiday
A northeast swell had Sussex County surf lineups looking like Southern California on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — minus the sunshine and balmy temperatures.
“That crowd was a little too much,” commented Bethany-based pro Colin Herlihy after a five-hour surf session. “I think a lot had to do with the swell falling on a holiday, and all the kids were out of school and stoked to surf.”
According to Micah Sklut of swellinfo.com, a surf forecasting website, a south swell and strong front that moved off the coast, combined with strong south winds overnight, set up some of the best surf conditions that the Delmarva coast has seen since the spring. The winds came in from the west as the front pushed off the north, creating clean surf conditions the next day.
“I wouldn’t say that it was out of the ordinary,” he explained. “We get these swells a lot in the winter when the frontal systems tend to be stronger.”
While the waves certainly had more size and power than the area has seen in a while, according to Herlihy, local surfers were expecting even bigger surf and even better conditions.
“The swell didn’t quite meet the hype, but it was long overdue and welcomed for all of the East Coast surf community,” said Herlihy. “When we woke up, the buoys off Delmarva were 11 feet and the Diamond Shoals buoy down south was 17 feet, so we were on the beach waiting for first light, thinking we were going to see some big surf.”
With 6-, 7- and even 8-foot sets, local hotspots were still packed, with surfers and bodyboarders, photographers and spectators battling air temperatures as low as 34 degrees, strong west winds, and off-and-on rain all day. The wind started coming in from the north around mid-day, which created some side-shore choppiness, but many local surfers stayed out to battle the elements. With water temperatures in the low to mid-50s, local surfers’ dedication and love of wave riding was on display.
“It was the most crowded I’ve ever seen it,” described Sklut. “It was a good day on Delmarva. People were stoked. I think it says a lot about the surf in Delaware that may be off the radar for the bigger surf communities.”
Surfers from all along the East Coast flocked to surf one of Delaware’s more dangerous surf spots and one of the heaviest — if not the heaviest — waves on the East Coast. Herlihy explained the dangers of some of Delaware’s more infamous breaks.
“The thing with [some of these breaks] is the thickness of the wave, how shallow the wave breaks in and how close it is to the beach — it never loses its energy.”
The wave, of course, changes with the incoming and outgoing tides.
“The danger at high tide is not being able to kick out the back of the wave in time and literally getting thrown onto the beach. Low tide breaks a little farther off the beach, but the problem there is that sometimes there’s only a foot or two of water underneath you if you fall.”
He went on to highlight some of the standout performances on the day.
“Brian Stoehr had the beach hooting with his barrels and big airs off the closeout sections. Virginia Beach pro surfer Raven Lundy always turns some heads when he paddles out. And Joel and Tim Tice and Brent Clark always gets great waves out there. [Brent] is one of the guys that pioneered surfing around here. His son Ben is the young guy to watch out there — he is humble, an all-around great kid, and will charge any wave put in front of him out there.”
Despite what the crowded line-up would suggest, it takes a certain kind of waterman to suit up and drop into heavy winter waves along the Delmarva coast.
“It says a lot about our group of surfers in Delaware,” said Herlihy. “It really just shows our passion and love for the ocean. It’s one of those things that non-surfers don’t get. I hear it all the time: ‘You’re crazy.’ But it’s not that were crazy. It’s just our passion that gives us the motivation to surf in the extreme cold.”