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When it's freezing out, Maine's winter surfers find comfort and comradery in the waves

It’s not really a beach day during a recent visit by surfers to the coast of southern Maine. The air temperature is about 30 degrees, and the water is a chilly 40 degrees.

But there are nice little waves rolling in off the North Atlantic, and there’s a lot of Mainers who just can’t wait to jump in the water.

Gabe Bornstein is one of them. He has his hooded wetsuit on, and neoprene mitts and booties, and he’s about to hop in at a beach where clean, chest-high waves are rolling in, and there’s not another surfer in sight. He says the cold doesn’t bother him, even when he gets an ice-cream headache on a tough paddle out, because one good ride changes everything.

“I think like if I can get one decent wave today it will dictate the course of my day," Bornstein says. "I mean one little wave can just like course-correct your entire day, your entire week. It’s crazy.”

Another attraction is that the New England surfing scene tends to be friendly, and it's even more so in winter. You’ll run into each other on the beach scoping out the waves, or sharing a thermos of hot tea after a good session.

Walking up the beach after catching a few waves, David Taplinger says that’s part of the reason he loves this season.

“One thing that really I think distinguishes Maine surfing is you have to really want to be out there," Taplinger says. "And that’s kind of common to everybody. It makes a really nice community, so it’s a really cool vibe.”

He’s right about that. But still, some days can feel like an Arctic adventure, when it’s windy and big waves are thumping under low gray skies. On those frigid days, you’ll return to shore with icicles draped from your hood. And then there are calm days when bright winter light shines through green waves with long, glassy shoulders.

Walking down the beach to the water, Franny Martelle says bigger swells from winter storms churning offshore are only part of the season’s appeal.

“I love the cold, I love wintertime," Martelle says. "I think the big pull for me is just the quietness out there. Surfing in the summertime is a totally different vibe, there’s tons of people out in the water. But in the wintertime it’s quiet, it’s just a different kind of beautiful.”

It is beautiful out here, but it’s too cold to stand around on the beach, and these fine winter waves won’t last forever.

So this surfer paddles out.

Murray Carpenter is Maine Public’s climate reporter, covering climate change and other environmental news.
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