An Unbiased Comparison of Hearty New England Surfers and Picky SoCal Shredders

The author’s used to this much rubber. Photo: Brian Yurasits

The Inertia

Who’s tougher, the Maine surfer hopping snow drifts or the SoCal ripper dodging sting rays? 

Before moving to Southern California, I logged long, shivering hours in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and my majestic birth state of Rhode Island, but I’ve never surfed elsewhere on the East Coast (Ocean Staters aren’t typically allowed out of the vortex of hot wieners all-the-way, coffee milk, quahogs and organized crime, so I’m already ahead of the game). 

We’re only comparing surfers from New England and Southern California here, so let’s get ready to rumble East vs. West style, like B.I.G vs. Tupac in the ‘90s, but with hopefully better results (double RIP).

Rebels Without a Clue

In Southern California…every. Single. Person. Surfs. Your dentist competed on the WCT, your neighbor spent 2020-23 at the Billabong House, and you could have sworn your mailwoman snaked you at first light yesterday on a purple bonzer. Surfing’s outlaw roots have been replaced by families and funboards, and youthful rebellion in SoCal would be to reject surfing – No, Dad, I’m not practicing my stupid cutbacks anymore! – and embrace red-blooded American sports like football and basketball.

Surfing has lost some of its rebel status back East, too, but we still get funny looks from the shoveling masses when we stack boards on the roof mid-blizzard. We also still act like outlaws. Meaning, we so rarely get good days that when a swell hits, we’ll drive all night, sleep on the side of I-95 in a board bag and ditch our friends at the Dunkin’ just for one rippable right.

We’re giving a point to the New Englanders on this one, especially those who go surfing during Patriot’s games to avoid the wicked big lineup.

Crowd Pleasers

I didn’t comprehend what a crowd was until I paddled into a vast sea of neoprene. Sure, on a hurricane day in September, New England’s lots fill up and bored Staties exhaust ticket quotas; but on a waist-high Monday, we’re not greeted by 15,000 of our closest friends. Plus, icicle-averse surfers can still find uncrowded breaks hidden in the rocky shores of Maine and New Hampshire.

Admirably, SoCal surfers take the backwash of eager kooks and jaded pros in stride. I confess, the crowd sometimes makes me wish I’d stashed a Valium in my Sticky Bumps. I mean, even on flat days, the Pacific is packed with people who, apparently, really enjoy….floating.

Battling the crowds at nearly every good break requires both inward Zen and outward attitude. Point to the Left Coast.

Sharks and Rays

Like many of us, I’ve surfed sharky waters on both coasts, and my wetsuit has never been warmer. However, while surfing an icy Cape Cod break many moons ago, a Masshole buddy gleefully pointed out that in our thick boots, hoods and gloves, “we look just like seals!” 

Seal-suits aside, I got sting-rayed at Swamis last year and by the time I jogged to my bike and pedaled home, I wanted to crawl into a tank of hot tequila headfirst.

Many of New England’s best breaks boast charming, razor-sharp barnacles atop slippery rocks, but point goes Westward on this one by the slimmest of rails.

Southern California: Surfing's Paddle Battle Capital

Southern California: where everybody surfs. Photo: JP Van Swae

Water Temps and Wimps

No joke, I’ve seen surfers out here pull on 7 mil gloves just to eat ice cream cones. Just in case the water or air temp dips below 62, SoCal surfers have their poncho, portable shower, wool changing mat and heated artificial grass stored inside a pressurized camper that doubles as a pop-up kombucha stand.

In New England, the gloomy winter means frigid, uncrowded barrels. At dawn, steel-eyed surfers pour scalding Dunkin dark roast into their booties, cross icy fingers and say the holiest of quiet prayers: “fuck it.” 

Ever walk down a snowy beach in Gloucester, MA after a crisp dunk with numb lips? Then you’ve never sounded like a wounded seal cub. Nope, it doesn’t count when you sobbed at In-and-Out because they refused to “animal style” your Coke.

This point flocks to New England faster than cheating scandals and underachieving Red Sox teams.

Wave Juice and Weed Delivery

In New England, any day we can ride our shortboards is a frickin’ jamboree. Of course, the Atlantic has its moments, and from Hurricane Lee onward, this fall was epic. 

SoCal waves pack far more board-breaking power and consistency. Yet, despite the crowds, many surfers are so picky some of them won’t paddle out when the wind puffs a few knots side-shore. If the ocean is creating rollers of any kind, hearty New Englanders will drop in, no fucks given, and whatever happens, happens, Kid.

SoCal gets the nod for better waves, and a bonus point for the fact that when a rogue bomb rattles your bones, you can head home and get some “relief” delivered to your door. Holy Purple Punch, this place is magical.

Wait…California wins?! I demand a recount! Please, I mean…have you even seen the Patriots play this season? 

And nope, I’m never moving home.

Glossary of Terms:

-Dunkin’:  Average coffee brand that New Englanders swear by (see Ben Affleck)

-Qhahog :  Fist-sized clam New Engladers dig out of the mud, brag about, eat

-New England Patriots:  AFC football team that used to be good and now sucks

-Masshole:  Everyone from Massachusetts

-Animal-Style:  Mustard-fried patty plus pickles, chopped grilled onions and special sauce

Kid:  Slang for Dude, Buddy, or Bro, as in “Whatup Kid? You see this Qhahog I dug or what?”

-The Red Sox:  AL East Team that also now sucks

-Purple Punch: California marijuana strain I know nothing about

-Statie: State cop

Wicked:  In this context, “really;” also can mean ‘awesome’ or whatever New Englanders frickin’ want it to mean, Kid.


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