Surfing the Hamptons in summer is great fun. The South Fork has plenty of good surf spots from Westhampton to Montauk. Some are very well known and crowded, others are secluded, rarely break and are often crowd-free—for the latter you will have to be willing to search.
The brisk, 60–66˚ water temperature of May and June gives way to 70˚ water in July and August. The Hamptons sun still warms you fast in your spring or summer wetsuit and the waves are often clean and glassy, albeit not as big as the swells of fall, winter and early spring.
The Hamptons has a few well known public surf breaks, including Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays, Coopers Beach in Southampton, Main Beach in East Hampton and, of course, Ditch Plains in Montauk. These first three breaks are very mercurial since the quality of surf depends heavily upon the configuration of their sandy bottoms.
Coopers Beach in Southampton has been good for the past year or so, but that could change any day. A large swell or windstorm could easily wipe out or change the bottom contours from good to nonexistent. In fact, the last time Coopers was a good surfing spot was around the year 2000—a long time ago indeed. Ponquogue and Main Beach are much the same: good for a few months or a year or two, and then dormant for the better part a decade.
Ponquogue Beach is a decent beginner’s beach with plenty of mushy, low-consequence waves and a relatively friendly softcore surf crowd of weekenders, older surfers and kids who are just beginning to learn to ride. This is a lifeguarded, public Southampton Town beach, complete with a snack bar that serves up fries, hot dogs, ice cream and the like. Last year it had a nice setup for beginners and a nice family-friendly atmosphere, but only Mother Nature knows what she’ll do to the sandbars.
Main Beach East Hampton is the kissing cousin of Coopers Beach, complete with showers and a concession stand and lockers, but it hasn’t broken well in years.
Luckily, however, Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk offers something better in the township of East Hampton. “Ditch” is arguably the most reliable summer break in terms of consistently rideable waves, and it has the Ditch Witch food truck for snacks and drinks and burgers between sessions. Ditch is where all the city surfers flock, but local shredders know if you want to be where it’s at, go hit the close-shore-pounding, gnarly beaches up and down the coastline. Still, Ditch is arguably the most consistent wave in New York, and since the bottom is a cobble rock reef, the waves are almost always exactly the same. It has been called New York’s Malibu, but it isn’t. Not by a long shot. Malibu is amazing. Ditch is more like a local version of Waikiki—flawless but slow, peeling, mushy longboard waves with plenty of lolling little rollers and soft shoulders to play on. Aside from the rocks beneath, Ditch is home to the ultimate beginner’s wave.
Now, for more advanced surfers, there are many miles of secluded white sand beaches to explore from Westhampton to Montauk. It’s tough to name specific spots because the shifting sands keep surfers guessing from week to week and month to month as to where and when to hit it best.
The ocean’s bottom is in a constant state of flux—and the best spot for seasoned chargers depends not only upon the sandbars, but also on swell direction, wind, tides and the size of surf. A dedicated surfer has to hunt around to find the best and secret surfing spots. Many of these are undiscovered on any given day. Some spots break only on certain tides, swell angle or on a specific wind.
One of the most fun aspects of surfing is discovery—hunting around to find your own secluded spot alone, or maybe with just two of your closest friends, and surfing perfect empty waves in the middle of the summer frenzy we call the Hamptons. That is a thousand times more inviting than battling crowds at the most frequented summer breaks.
Regarding equipment, usually in May a 3mm fullsuit and a pair of 3mm boots are all you’ll need and things warm up from there. Surfboards vary according to skill level, however. So, if you’re surfing the mushy slowpoke waves of Ditch, anywhere from shin- to waist- to chest-high, then you’ll most likely need something like a 10- or 11-footer, or some other giant, beefy/cruisey/glidey longboard. But, if you’re hitting the tube-riddled, punchy Hamptons beach breaks, your best bet will be some kind of high-performance barrel board. Something shred-able, say between 5’ 10”–6’ 4” by 19” by 2 ¼–2 ½” depending on the model, your skill level, weight and height. A custom built Rich Price 5’10” x 19” x 2” swallowtail or a Channel Islands 5’10” x 19” x 2 5/8” Rob Machado Motorboat roundtail barrel and carve board does beautifully in most of the summer’s rare but punchy barreling swells. Just remember that most people aren’t ready to ride a board like that until after at least 2–5 years of consistent year-round surfing.
Happy hunting and happy surfing!
Surfer/Artist Lutha Leahy-Miller has more than 30 years of experience riding Hamptons waves. He was formerly rated No. 3 in the Eastern Surfing Association for the Northeastern United States. To see Lutha’s art or to book a surf lesson, visit lutha.net.