By Susanna Graham-Pye
Orleans isn’t renowned on the professional surf circuit, but surfers born and bred on this sandy spit and have travelled the globe in search of the biggest and best waves, say there are moments of unutterable beauty here. They struggle to describe it – floating on a board in the early morning with the just-risen summer sun shining green through glassy swells. They tell about watching the wild, messy beauty of a winter Atlantic, watching and waiting. And they describe how every now and then, sometimes at the least expected moment, the ocean throws them the perfect wave.
“There are really good Cape Cod waves,” said local surfer Brendan McCray. “We get world-class barrels here. Not every day, but we have them.”
“When the waves are really, really good, it’s like a special occasion. You don’t want to miss it,” he said. “The tricky thing is, it could be 80 degrees and there are thousands of people on the beach. Or it could be the middle of February. It’s twenty degrees and you’re standing there staring at perfect surf trying to find someone who wants to go out with you.”
Many factors go into good waves for surfing. McCray, who grew up on the Cape and now owns a business and lives here with his family, said that where to find good Cape surf is always changing. Unlike a Hawaiian break, for example, created by a reef that doesn’t move, Cape Cod’s best waves migrate up and down the ocean shoreline. And of course the weather here is changeable too. But those periods of transition, McCray said, make for the best waves.
“Typically the best waves are when the seasons are changing,” he says. “The more volatile weather patterns happen as summer changes to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring. Those transition months create conditions for good surfing.”
“A lot of places go flat in the summer,” McCray says. “But the Cape always has something for kids to learn to ride waves on.”
Orleans is the perfect place to learn to surf said Matt Rivers, another surfing native.
“Summer time on the Cape is an excellent time to learn to surf,” Rivers says. “What the waves [then] may lack in size, they more than make up for with consistency. The size of summertime surf on average is typically one to four feet, all summer long. This is ideal for long boarders and stand up paddle boarders of any skill level.”
“The surf scene has grown a lot over the years,” said Rivers who opened the Pump House Surf Shop 19 years ago when he was still in high school, “but it still relies heavily on the grass roots forum of surf movies, festivals and local contests … Any time our immediate surf community gathers together, it always results in a positive way to inspire young and old to get on the water and get stoked!”
A spin-off board sport growing in popularity here is stand up paddling (SUP).
“It’s been growing immensely,” said Simeon Watson of the Goose Hummock Shop, “I’ve been seeing more and more people in our estuaries and marshes, out on the open water. They’re everywhere.”
It is precisely the variety of paddle opportunities here that make Orleans such a good place for the sport.
“We have all these great backwaters,” he said. “You can start in one of our beautiful ponds and go all the way out through the marsh right out to the ocean. The same is true on the bayside – there are all the little marshes you can cruise into.”
While only the best and most experienced SUP enthusiast will take to the open waters or search out big surf, the sport is a good workout at any level, said Watson.
“It’s a good core body work out, between balance and paddling,” he points out. “It’s a quiet, serene way to get exercise and see lots of wildlife along the way.”
Speaking of serenity, last year’s lessons offered by Goose Hummock included paddle board sunrise yoga sessions.
Stand-up paddle boards are lighter than they look. Watson recommended renting before buying, “make sure you’re going to stick with it before investing in the equipment.”