Montauk was recently ranked number eight out of the Ten Best Surf Towns in America by Surfer Magazine, much to the chagrin of local surfers. Although it’s no secret that surfers are territorial and secretive, the ocean is a vast and limitless beast, and if you’re just starting out you don’t need to surf the biggest spots. Stick to this guide for beginners and you’ll find a welcoming wave with small crowds and friendly faces.
Get the Gear: If you don’t have your own surfboard or wetsuit, head to Main Street where Montauk’s premiere surf shop Air and Speed has everything you’ll need. Owned by local Stu Foley and his environmentally-conscious family, the store will help you find just the right board and fit in a wetsuit for reasonable daily rates. Even better, Air and Speed offers surf lessons, private and group, which include a board and wetsuit rental. One of Stu’s strapping sons will give you a professional lesson, starting with pop-ups on the sand and ending with you catching plenty of waves. If the surf makes you nervous, ask for a lesson with Bob, a local surfer, who has more than twenty years as a lifeguard under his belt.
Rise Early: Familiarize yourself with the term: Dawn Patrol. The best time to go surfing in Montauk is early morning; as long as you’ve got a sliver of sunlight you can get in the water. The wind is calm, which keeps the water glassy not choppy. Suit up and take the plunge. The grogginess will wear off as soon as you’re out in the ocean, amidst a spectacular sunrise.
Pick the Right Spot: If you’re just learning how to surf, or have only paddled out a few times, you’ll want to surf a beach break. A beach break is a wave that breaks onto a sandy beach, as opposed to one with a jetty, reef, or rocks. Anywhere you hit the beach in town will suit your needs, but be aware of swimmers. If there are lifeguards on the beach, it’s a good idea to ask them where they’d like you to surf. A popular beach break that pumps out consistent waves is located at Ditch Plains.
Enter the beach from the first parking lot and make a right. Walk down the beach for about five minutes and enter the water where the cliffs start. (Yes, this break does have a name, but if I told you, I’d have to kill you.) Remember that you only need a small wave to learn how to surf. Don’t be discouraged if the water looks relatively flat, it always looks bigger when you’re in it, and anything breaking will suit you just fine. If you’re surfing this spot at Ditch, you might be curious about the crowd you see surfing to the East. Don’t be tempted to join the line-up; you’re better off taking smaller rides and not risking a collision or local’s glare.
Safety/Etiquette: The following is a list of tips that will keep you safe in the water and on land—the last thing you want is a ticked off local waiting for you in the parking lot. Most locals and serious surfers only take issue with beginners who compromise safety, so stick to the following:
1. When you’re about to catch a wave look both ways, just as if you’re crossing a street, to make sure the wave is clear.
2. Don’t drop-in. If there is someone on the wave, don’t go. The guy closest to the peak (where the wave is tallest) has the right of way.
3. Be aware of your fellow surfers. Always know where others are in the water to avoid collisions.
4. Try to paddle out in a channel, not through the line-up. If you are paddling out and someone is riding a wave right at you, paddle like crazy to get behind them—even if it means taking the whitewater on your head.
5. Don’t let go of your board. A surfer should never rely on their leash as a way to hold onto their board. If you bail your board, not only can it jerk you in a direction you don’t want to go, it can become a serious danger to other surfers.
6. Always cover your head. When you wipe out and find yourself doing somersaults underwater, protect your head by covering your face with your arms and cupping your head with your hands. The last thing you want to do is stand up quickly and catch a fin to the dome, so stay underwater for a few extra seconds, and don’t uncover your head until you’re already standing.
7. Don’t panic. The worst thing you can do is freak out in the water. If you find yourself in above your head, remember the shore is never far away. Point your board towards the beach and hold on, the waves will take you in.
8. Always remember to be respectful, to the ocean and others.
How to Get There: Montauk is easily accessible by rail and road. The Long Island Railroad offers daily trains to and from Penn Station. Check out lirr.org for a full schedule. Two tips: Be prepared for crowds on the weekend and pack a sweatshirt for the relentless air conditioning. The Hampton Jitney also offers daily service to the east end and departs from various locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Or consult oM’s mini guide to hybrid rentals. And if you need a break from surfing, Air & Speed is now renting Electra Bikes.