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On the Water

For diehard surfers, swell time awaits

Hurricane Irene may bring worry to many in New England, but some look forward to riding it out

Sandy Kirby of Hampton, N.H., cheered as her surfing son, 4-year-old Jonah Kirby, rode a small wave off North Beach. With Hurricane Irene still far south of the region, the beach was crowded yesterday. Sandy Kirby of Hampton, N.H., cheered as her surfing son, 4-year-old Jonah Kirby, rode a small wave off North Beach. With Hurricane Irene still far south of the region, the beach was crowded yesterday. (Jessey Dearing for The Boston Globe)
By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / August 27, 2011

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HAMPTON, N.H. - Jan Stoklosa had just gotten out of the water yesterday afternoon at North Beach, beyond a stone barricade between the surf and the street known as The Wall, when he paused to reflect on the rolling waves behind him.

“I just had to get wet, paddling around,’’ said the 59-year-old from Hampstead, N.H, as a couple dozen surfers navigated the smallish breaks. “It makes you feel good. But it hasn’t hit yet.’’

“That’’ comes later this weekend.

The arrival of Hurricane Irene along the New England coast could prove to be a menace for many in the region, with potential flooding, downed wires and trees, and possible power outages. But it could turn into a carnival for a hardy group of surfers who wait patiently through lackadaisical surf days through the spring and summer for days like today, possibly tomorrow, particularly Monday.

While Irene will bring winds, she will also bring waves, with forecasters predicting clean, above-head waves in some regions of New England.

“This is when our real surfers get out,’’ said Jared Hay, a 22-year-old college student from New Hampshire who was giving surfing instructions to three young girls for the local surf company Cinnamon Rainbows yesterday.

He may head to Rhode Island today, then return to New Hampshire for more surf Monday, once the chaos of the winds from the storm passes.

Surfing is a hit-or-miss passion in New England, which is essentially the bottom of the rung of the world’s surf scene. A trek to the beach can yield little but knee-high whitewash, enough to keep cool in the summer months but nothing to brag about.

But for a dedicated breed of diehards, hurricanes mean a swell is arriving. The strength of the storm promises big waves. And, with the right winds before and after the storm, the shape of the wave could be picture-perfect.

That could be today in Rhode Island, and Monday in New Hampshire. Depending on wind conditions, Cape Cod could see decent surf throughout the weekend into next week.

When such storms hit, surfers from Maine and as far as Canada often trek to Rhode Island to enjoy the surf in Newport, then follow the swell up along the coast until they can ride it out. Pro surfers from as far as Australia, sponsored by surf companies like Quiksilver and Billabong, often migrate here for significant storms.

During Hurricane Bill in 2009, pro surfer Ian Walsh captivated audiences in Rhode Island, and Chris Ward did the same in New Hampshire. Videos of those surf days have become Internet hits.

“Surfers in New England wait all year for hurricane swells,’’ said Bryan Johnson, 28, a surfer who works at Pioneers surf and skate shop in North Hampton.

Irene may not bring the best riding waves tomorrow, however big, because the storm is expected to crash on shore and its winds could tear through the water. A better storm for surfers, Johnson and others say, would remain far out in the Atlantic and batter ground swells into the coast.

Because of the predicted direction of the storm, beginner surfers should be particularly mindful of wave conditions, Johnson and others said, because rip currents and the strong force of the water are dangerous.

“The hype is there, and that’s why a lot of people want to go. But you definitely want to exercise caution while you’re out there,’’ Johnson said.

After a slow surfing summer, the arrival of Irene marks the beginning of what locals hope will be a busy surf season heading into the fall.

“There’s a lot of buzz out there,’’ said Ronnie Lees, co-owner of Northeastsurfing.com, a surf information site that tracks conditions from New Jersey to Maine. He said more than 8,000 people checked his site’s webcams yesterday, four times the typical attention. He has received 150 e-mails over two days, compared with the usual 60 per week.

“Surfing in the Northeast is a mid-August to June sport,’’ Lees said. “Summers, you don’t see surf so you don’t see surfers. But when this system started to make its way up, everyone started talking, people getting excited.’’

The local surf community may be small compared with other regions, but the sport has made its mark at beach scenes throughout New England. Nantasket Beach in Hull is known for its winter surf, particularly when nor’easters hit, and Gloucester, Salisbury Beach, the South Shore, and the Cape are popular destinations.

Rhode Island waves get big. And New Hampshire, where wetsuits are necessary year-round, has consistent swells, at Rye Beach and at The Wall among other places.

Norm MacLean, a 58-year-old kitchen designer from Stratham, N.H., said he was surprised with the surf scene when he moved here.

“I decided to grab a board and get out there, too,’’ said MacLean, a Florida native, who was at The Wall yesterday.

Surfers have their own little secret spots, , too, but they don’t like to talk about them. However, they are glad to help any beginner, as Hay was helping girls learn the sport at The Wall yesterday.

The youngest was 8-year-old Sofia Camillieri of Chester, N.H., who took a lesson along with her sister Grace and a friend.

“It took balance, which I wasn’t expecting,’’ said Grace, 13. “But I liked it.’’

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@globe.com Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia

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