Surfers Gear Up For Hurricane-Sized Waves

A surfer catches a rare 12-foot wave at Folly Beach in Charleston, S.C., Friday, Aug. 26, 2011, as Hurricane Irene causes larger than normal swells along the South Carolina coast. Hurricane warnings remained in effect from North Carolina to New Jersey. Hurricane watches were in effect even farther north and included Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Mass.

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What is it about hurricanes that draws surfers to the shore like moths to the flame? When everyone else is wringing their hands about a coming hurricane, some surfers respond with glee.In his 2009 song “Surfing in a Hurricane,” Jimmy Buffett sings, “I ain’t afraid of dyin’, I don’t need to explain.”

When a major storm approaches, many surfers are thrilled by the much larger West Coast-type waves that churn up the East Coast’s normally flatter water. They peruse websites like or for the latest information on what the surf is doing.

IN PICTURES: Storm surfing

“When they name the storm, that’s when you start planning your schedule,” Mark Mitchell told The New York Times last year when an advancing Hurricane Earl was making waves in North Carolina.

What surfers want is “double overhead” – waves that are 12 to 15 high, or twice as tall as a surfer. Waves that look more like something you would see in Hawaii than on Virginia Beach. But the risks rise too, especially for novices or those surfers who don’t have a lot of experience in bigger waves.

Often, surfers find that during the height of a storm, the winds create so much chop and crosscurrents that the wave patterns are too irregular for good surfing. They will typically wait until a few days after a major storm, when the larger-than-normal waves are rolling in nice sets.

Ocean rescue personnel certainly don’t appreciate daredevil hurricane surfers or anyone else who decides to have a go at dangerous surf when beaches are officially closed. A Florida surfer died while braving the waves whipped up by Hurricane Danielle last year, and hundreds of swimmers had to be rescued from the treacherous currents. The roiling seas caused by Hurricane Bill claimed the life of a novice surfer in New York in 2009.

Take a look at the adrenaline junkies in this hurricane surfing video. Don’t try this at home.

RELATED: Are you smarter than a hurricane tracker? Take the quiz.

This post originally appeared on The Christian Science Monitor.