Since catching his first wave at age 7, professional surfer Kurt Rist has been hooked. The 28-year-old Southampton native has slowly raised the stakes over the years, from spending his pre-teen years compulsively surfing Flying Point Beach to chasing big waves in Hawaii, and most recently, Ireland.
While destinations like Puerto Rico or Tahiti may be more common, Rist followed friend and fellow co-worker Dylan Stott to the Emerald Isle in October 2010 after seeing pictures of the huge waves on the northwest coast.
Rist admits the conditions were harsh, with a great deal of rain, wind and darkness. But the waves made up for it.
“[This past winter] we were surfing 20-to-30 foot waves every two weeks,” says Rist. “The next piece of land in the way of those huge storms [that were hitting the Northeast] is Ireland. All those snowstorms equaled huge waves in Ireland.
“It is the most big-wave time I have ever spent,” Rist adds.
Admitting that he broke a few boards in the big swells of Sligo County, Rist says his surfing crew made safety a priority, going out with a rescue team on jet skis if the waves were bigger than 20 feet.
This past winter, Rist rode a 60-foot-plus wave off the coast of Sligo. The ride put Rist on the map of big-wave surfers internationally and earned him a lead role in surf film Empire Now. The ride also earned him an entry into the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards Contest. It was one of five rides he was able to enter and, though he didn’t win, he was invited to the awards ceremony in Los Angeles last May.
“It is a very rare wave, it breaks once every five years. It is two miles off the Sligo coastline,” says Rist. “Dylan towed me in at the perfect spot. That was the fastest I have ever gone on a surfboard.”
When he is not chasing big waves, Rist runs his surf school, Surf Hampton, inherited from his uncle, Vinny McGann. Rist first began working at Surf Hampton when he was 13.
The camp has anywhere from 20 to 30 kids with zinc faces and wetsuits, running around in the sand and boasting about the 13-foot wave they caught the other day. Although the instructors say that, “No, that 10-year-old did not catch a 13-foot wave, and no, there is no way we would let a kid out in that kind of surf,” the enthusiasm is contagious as they scarf down watermelon for their mid-morning snack.
“A lot of people think of New York and they don’t think of ocean culture. But I want people to know that there is a great ocean culture out here,” says Rist.
Ready to go surfing but don’t have the gear? Rist recommends Sunrise to Sunset in Southampton as one of the longest running surf shops on the East End.
Have the gear but don’t know where to go? Rist gives an exclusive look at the best breaks in Southampton Town this year.
Ponquogue Beach Pavilion – Located on the western side of the Inlet, this beach has consistent surf thanks to the jetty.
Shinnecock East County Park “Flys” – Located on the eastern side of the Inlet, this is also a fairly consistent break. To park, you need a Green Key permit, available at the entrance.
Cryders – A Southampton Village beach located west of the Bathing Corporation, this outside break is great for big swells. You need a Village parking permit until September 15.
The Cut – Located between Scott Cameron Beach and Flying Point Beach, there can be great surf when Mecox Bay is dredged through to the ocean.
Mecox Beach – Rist believes Mecox was the best surfing break in Southampton this summer, thanks to several small sandbars off the coast.
Sagg Main Beach – This has a great break when Sagaponack Pond is dredged to the ocean.