A surfer dashes for the water as snow falls on Wrightsville Beach in January 2009.
SOLITUDE AND SWELL
Cold-Water Winter Surfing at Wrightsville Beach
THE smell of burning firewood wafts on the stiff northwest breeze. The gray, dark sky foretells ominous,
snowy weather. It’s 32 degrees, and not a soul dares to appear on these sands. The weather outside is
nasty, but this might just be the best time to paddle out into the icy ocean.
To the uninitiated, this proposition seems ridiculous. But to the core constituency, winter surfing at
Wrightsville Beach represents the pinnacle of the local surfing experience.
With wetsuit technology evolving exponentially in the last 15 years to increase flexibility and warmth, it can now
actually feel as if you’re wearing a heated, cozy sweatsuit out in the lineup, even during a rare ice storm.
As for swell, the combination of snowstorms in the Northeast, local regional low pressures, and predominately
north to northwest winds can generate near perfect, well apportioned A-Frame shaped waves. The weather from
February to April produces the largest waves, aside from the odd hurricane, which tends to send waves with too
long of a period interval for this beach.
Surfline forecasters say the long-term outlook for this late winter and early spring is showing an elevated level for
storm activity in the Northeast, which should provide ample opportunity for great waves in the coming weeks and
Of course, there are a few drawbacks. There’s the potential for the dreaded “surfer’s ear” if not wearing a hood
and/or earplugs, a lack of lifeguard support, and even hypothermia without the appropriate wetsuit.
Still, to the properly prepared, weather-informed and hardiest of souls, late winter here promises solitude, free
parking, and the best waves of the year with glimmers of a world-class break. — By Peter Viele
WBM FILE PHOTO