Locals, big names alike praise NH Seacoast's wave culture
HAMPTON - Aubrey Hill spent Wednesday afternoon doing a little extra ?research to follow up on a project she did last year for her fourth-grade class at Newmarket Elementary School.
But this was no arduous summer assignment; Wednesday's research required only a wetsuit and surfboard - and produced a gigantic smile.
As her mother, Amy, watched from the sand on the hot, sunny day, Hill joined a throng of surfers, paddleboarders and boogie boarders in the chilly water at Jenness State Beach in Rye.
Hill, 10, said she did a report on New Hampshire surfing last year, after receiving her surfboard as a Christmas present. Holding the pink, purple and white board with both arms, she said her favorite pro surfer is Bethany Hamilton of Hawaii, whose return to surfing after losing her left arm in a shark attack was the subject of the 2011 movie "Soul Surfer."
"I did a report on her, too," Hill said.
Big waves Wednesday drew a crowd to the Jenness, where vacationer Luc Berube of Montreal described the conditions as "cold but awesome."
Surfers young and old also flocked Tuesday to Hampton Beach, where pro stars Ian Walsh and Bruce Irons signed autographs and posed for pictures during a stop on the Foxhead surfwear company's "Fox We Live Surf Tour" at Cinnamon Rainbows Surf Co.
Cinnamon Rainbows owner Dave Cropper, manning his store in flip-flops and a tank top, said surf season is going strong on the Seacoast after a long winter.
"Now that the (summer) weather is here, people are ecstatic," he said.
Not far up coastal Route 1A, known locally as Ocean Boulevard, Ryan McGill said New Hampshire's comparatively small coastline and short seasons make surfing in the state a unique experience.
"The small coastline means we have to share a little more; there's not as many secret spots as you might have up in Maine," said McGill, who along with his brother owns Summer Sessions surf shop, across the street from Jenness State Beach."Just as we appreciate summertime because of our seasons, we appreciate good waves when we get them, because it can be a little inconsistent," he said.
That appreciation can create camaraderie that was evident last week all along 1A, where beach chairs, colorful swimsuits and boards of all sizes were everywhere.
Rye resident Sam Claytor, 16, stopped by Cinnamon Rainbows to have Walsh sign his board Tuesday. Claytor said he loves surfing in his home state.
"In New Hampshire, everybody's so humble and nice," he said.
When he was surfing in New Jersey recently to catch waves fueled by Hurricane Arthur, Claytor said, many surfers were "dropping in on people" - a term used to describe riding waves on which other surfers are already positioned, a serious violation of surfer ethics.
"Up here, everybody's relaxed and just trying to have fun," Claytor said.
Claytor said Walsh, who has conquered massive waves at Maui's legendary "Jaws" break and earned several "Wave of the Year" nominations at the Billabong XXL Awards, is "probably my favorite surfer."
"He's just a charger," Claytor said. "He has no fear."
Walsh's manager, Christian Saenz of the Fox Surf Team, said Tuesday that Walsh simply is "one of the best big-wave surfers in the world."
The large crowd at Cinnamon Rainbows certainly was familiar with his skills. Saenz called Irons "one of the biggest icons of surfing history in his generation."
Rye resident Brooke Taylor, 22, compared Walsh's status among surfers to the celebrity of pop legend Michael Jackson. She brought an aging yellow-and-green board for Walsh to sign Tuesday, with a special reason.
"It's my very first board that my dad ever gave me, and he just passed away," Taylor said.
Walsh approved of Taylor's ride.
"This is a rad board!" he exclaimed, flipping it over in his hands and whistling in appreciation of its old-school fin. "They don't make many of these anymore."
Lizzie Ferris, also of Rye, was hanging out with Taylor around noon and said the influence of Walsh and Irons was evident in the line leading to their table at Cinnamon Rainbows.
"The little kids have been waiting here since 10 this morning," Ferris said.
Cropper, the store's owner, said Tuesday's tour stop was a rare event for the Seacoast.
"It's not often you get guys of this caliber (here)," he said. "For most of these kids that surf, it's like seeing David Ortiz."
Walsh said he thoroughly enjoys interacting with young surfers on the Fox tour.
"I love it. It brings me back to when I was their age," he said.
Walsh noted that younger surfers aren't riding the waves to compete or make money, but rather just to have fun.
"That's the purest form of surfing," he said. "It starts with fun, and you can see it in their eyes."
Relaxing in the Fox tour bus after Tuesday's signing session, Walsh said he had flown in from Mexico on Monday night, after a West Coast swing with the tour. Expressing a little weariness with constant travel, he said the Hampton area seemed like a great place to slow down and relax for a summer. "It looks awesome," he said. "Beautiful houses, and all the people seem really, really nice."
Known for long, flat breaks and relatively tame waves, Seacoast beaches are considered especially friendly for families who surf.
Michelle Morris of Newburyport, Mass., attended Tuesday's tour stop at Cinnamon Rainbows with her husband and their two sons, ages 10 and 12.
"The surfing is long and flat here," she said of Hampton Beach. "It's great for kids."
But surfing the Seacoast isn't just for kids.
Amy Hill, Aubrey's mother, said that she began surfing a few years ago, as she approached 40 and decided to attend some "Ladies Night" lessons through Summer Sessions. She said she progressed to individual lessons and has kept up with the summer hobby ever since.
"For somebody my age, it's as much about being out there on the board and not having the kids asking for anything," Amy Hill said with a smile. "Surfing is way more relaxing than I thought it would be. I've recommended it to a lot of my friends."
Wednesday at Summer Sessions, McGill summed up the relaxed attitude of New Hampshire's Seacoast surf scene.
"Good weather, good waves, big smiles," he said.