The Outer Banks is well-known for cold water and chocolatey barrels. Photo: Stafford/SPL

The Inertia

Considering the East Coast of the United States includes three times more surfable coastline than the West Coast and Hawaii combined, it’s odd that it’s so widely misunderstood. I must admit I was once one of those people. I had my own misconceptions about the place until I actually went there, and eventually lived there, for myself. I suppose, in an effort to dispel those misconceptions, I’ve chosen to debunk the four common false beliefs about surfing on the East Coast.

1. Everyone just surfs in the snow all winter.

While there are in fact people who brave the icy lineups of the Northeast, there are plenty more people getting by just fine in 4/3’s, 3/2’s, spring suits, and even the occasional a pair of board shorts during the in the south. Those same ice covered beaches most closely associated with East Coast surfing during the winter melt and transform into high-temperature coastlines with water well into the 70°’s during the summer and fall.

2. The surf is always small, sloppy, and powerless.


The East Coast has some of the best sandbars in America and maybe even in the world. In comparison with its sister coastline to the west, there are ideal barreling sandbar setups that don’t require the sun, moon, and stars to align in perfect sync to work properly. The trade off  (because there always is one) is that not too many of these same places in the east can handle the size that you’d find more often on the opposite side of the country.


3. Hurricanes are the best.

Not necessarily. They actually tend to be fickle. Thanks to the continental shelf’s position in relation to the coastline, this region prefers shorter swell periods rather than longer ones. Since hurricanes are unpredictable and don’t always pass by close enough to tighten up the periods, hurricanes are often less eventful than true Nor’Easters.

4. The water is dirty on the East Coast. 

Like they say, don’t judge a book by its cover. Photos and videos certainly show plenty of brown water and waves here, that’s a fact. But one should also realize the entire coast is made of bays, inlets, and barrier islands. This means water from within those bays and sounds are constantly flowing into the ocean. That leaves sediment (tar from the trees) along the ocean floor, so when there is swell that sediment gets stirred up and thus giving the water its brown appearance. This explains why the water on this coast is mostly crystal clear when there’s no swell.


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