Ocracoke surfer Christian Mabry catches a barrel.

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Editor’s note: Ocracoke Island surfers don’t let a bit of cold weather stop them.

Text and photos by Will Adams

Surfing in the winter on Ocracoke requires ample dedication.

When the north wind howls, the temperature drops, and the waves begin to violently pound the beach, most people head inside, turn up the heater, and settle into their favorite, cozy chair with a copy of their winter read.

But a handful of resilient and dedicated surfers of Ocracoke grab their boards of choice and head-to-toe neoprene wetsuits, and pile into 4×4 vehicles hoping to score their next barrel with the whole break to themselves—regardless of the water temperatures.

Sea temperatures (seatemperature.info) reach as low as 53 degrees in February, compared to 84 degrees in August.

Christian Mabry, who began learning to surf on Ocracoke in 2011, said, “The head-to-toe neoprene took some adjusting, but the surf this winter has produced some of the best waves I have seen here.”

Undoubtedly, hurricane season in the fall is widely regarded as the most likely time of year to catch good to epic swell conditions on the Outer Banks.

Known for its stormy seas, and proximity to the Continental Shelf, this area ocean, known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, can produce sizeable swell when a storm blows into town. 

Surfline.com statistics show an average swell height of seven feet in September with 45 percent of the days having surfable swell.

With the storms and nor’easters, the winter months stack up considerably. February produces an average swell height of eight feet and a 38 percent likelihood of swell.

Look at July, with an 8 percent probability and an average height of three feet. One can see why handfuls of surfers on Ocracoke trade in seasonal jobs for battling the frosty cold and an opportunity to catch top-notch waves to relish with only their closest friends and family.

Island surfer Nat Schramel says he has too many treasured surfing memories to count.   But if he had to choose one?

“Post-hurricane Arthur at the lifeguard beach (the July 4, 2014, storm),” he said. “The power was out and the waves were firing with all my friends out.”

If you talk to surfers young and old around the island, many have surfed world class breaks all across the globe, from Costa Rica to Hawaii to Bali.

Overwhelmingly they proclaim Ocracoke to be their favorite place to surf in the world, no matter the time of year.

An Ocracoke surfer braves winter temperatures to catch good waves.


Will Adams

Will Adams grew up in Chatham, VA, and became a resident of Ocracoke a year ago after spending a couple seasons on and off the island. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics, as well as minors in Real Estate and Agricultural Economic Management, from Virginia Tech. Without a mountain in sight, he soon traded his Burton for a surfboard from Ride The Wind surf shop. He has since picked up the pen for The Ocracoke Observer.

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