A small fishing town encompassing the tip of Long Island, famed for its picturesque landscape and local seafood, embodies a young, dedicated community that heads for the ocean long after the tourists have packed their bags and seasonal businesses have closed their doors. This is winter surfing. This is Montauk.
It was ten minutes to five on a wind-whipped Sunday afternoon in mid-November, the sun crashing into the Atlantic off the easternmost edge of Long Island, and everyone was hustling to The Dock for last call. Montauk on the cusp of winter is always, for a cluster of its inhabitants, in a strangely compelling transition period. A place normally known for its sun-soaked summer beach life and fisherman-fueled populus was, on that crisp evening, ushering all its locals into its most popular bar for a last drink not just for the night, but for the entire season, closing its doors, like most businesses in the area, until the warmth of spring creeps back in six months down the road. But with the ocean, like the art of fishing, passed down from generation to generation, from father to son, comes an equally die-hard dedication that, rather than hibernating for winter, flourishes in the coldest months of the year, especially for locals: surfing.
“When you leave and it gets cold and all the businesses close down, that’s our time. We enjoy that. That’s what we look forward to,” explained Jesse James Joeckel, Montauk local and founder of Whalebone Creative, a surf-and-Montauk-fueled clothing line produced and sold on its south shore. “The waves are the best in the winter. It’s the most consistent. It’s like that all winter long. There’s always weather. There’s always storms. There’s always nor’easters. There’s always waves to surf.”
Joeckel founded Whalebone, and single-handedly designs and prints it streetwear, on the equal pretense of the local dedication to Montauk culture (his storefront boasts the original flooring from the space’s previous purpose, an ice shack, paying homage to its bloodline) as well as the vibrant surfing community. “If you live out here, you’re part of the ocean,” he explained. “You’re fishing. All of my friends’ fathers are fishermen, lobstermen, clammers, you name it. You’re involved in the ocean some way or another, and with that definitely comes surfing,” he continued. “Mom, dad, brothers, sisters, they all surf. I guess now a days it’s in the blood. Just like fishing is in the blood. It’s just what you do what with your life.”
And with that special type of blood comes remarkable surfers, some of whom, like 18-year-old Quincy Davis, break out of the local scene and rise to international stardom. “Everyone is so surprised when I say I’m from New York. No one thinks that there are waves there,” said Davis, formerly the third-ranked junior surfer in the world, who has traveled to the likes of Hawaii and Australia to compete. “These kids are doing things [on a surfboard] that no one else is doing and these kids grew up out here in Montauk,” Joeckel attested, echoing Davis’ sentiment.
The conscious distance from other parts of New York is not lost on Montauk locals, who pride themselves on utilizing their own little nook of Long Island for themselves, a preservationist mentality that keeps the fishermen fishing year after year and the surfers tackling waves throughout the winter. “Once you commit to a winter here, you’ll love it forever,” confided Joeckel, sitting on the couch in Whalebone, sipping a Coors Light. “You could be in the most tropical place ever, on vacation, and you look at your phone and you’re getting pictures from your friends and you’re like, fuck, I’d rather be home freezing my ass off and surfing empty waves.” And it’s not just committing to a certain season and a certain activity that keeps Montauk in the hearts of its local community, but rather an intrinsic, daily fulfillment to live the life that Montauk has built for many generations past. “Montauk is full of hardworking, creative individuals. These guys have been doing it [their own way] since day one,” continued Joeckel. “We are so far away from everybody; we aren’t trying to get a hand from anyone else up-island or in the city. We’re out here and stuck here. That’s Montauk.”
For Joeckel’s generation, where Sunday afternoons after watching football cap with catching waves, sipping a few beers and watching the sunset rather than a movie or video games, surfing in the winter has become a cloaked oasis for them, a period of calm retreat, a place and time where Montauk is sufficiently theirs, where the main purpose of this place existing is right at their fingertips, crashing into the peninsula’s north shore over and over again with every deep breath and furious exhale of the bay. “We will wait for that moment—could be a couple days, a week, maybe a month—and when it’s good, we will be out there. And it will only be us. It will only be your boys. We will drive up, jump out of the truck, head down the cliff, and there’ll be no one around. Could be snow on the ground, could be freezing, could be hailing sideways, but we will be out there. I feel like we live for that shit. The winter. That’s our time.”