Mid Winter Surfing Contest in its 43rd Year

43 Years and Counting

by Peter Pan

This year’s contest is scheduled to take place on February 19th at the Narragansett Town Beach. The contest is on call for Friday night, February 18th. Interested spectators and contestants can call the ESA Hotline at 401-789-1954 anytime after 6:00 PM for updates. Contest information will also be available on the ESA website For email inquiries, interested parties can email the ESA at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

I seriously doubt that in the icy cold winter of 1968, Eastern Surfing Association organizers thought that they would still be running a crazy contest like the Annual New England Mid-Winter Surfing Championships in 2011. The original event, held at the Narragansett Town Beach during the height of surfing popularity in the 1960’s, was a small affair with only a handful of hearty surfers attending. Winter wetsuits had not yet been produced, and those who ventured out in the frigid water had to contend with poorly designed dive suits, stiff ¼ inch helmets, and leaky 3mm boots and gloves. There were no leashes so wiping out was a devastating shock to the system.

We came up with the idea at a University of Rhode Island Surf Club meeting at the Memorial Union on one cold winter night. The club had a few dollars in the treasury for trophies and it sounded like a good idea at the time. While the URI surf club sponsored and ran it, the event drew not only local surfers, but also those from several area colleges and universities. The contest turned out to be a very successful venture and we have been running it ever since as an ESA rated contest.

While different organizations and manufacturers have sponsored winter surfing events since that time, the Annual New England Mid-Winter Surfing Championships is the longest and oldest running winter surfing event in the world. And while the other events come and go, our winter competition has never been cancelled in 42 years.

This event has been witness to every possible winter weather situation over the past 42 years. The contest has been held in blizzard conditions, sleet, rain, and snow, as well as below zero air temperatures. At one contest, the frigid arctic winds blew so hard that the contest jersies froze as they were being pulled off the competitor’s backs after the heat was over. They had to be submerged in the ocean before the next surfer could put the jersey on.

Eight years ago, the contest was held the morning after a snowstorm had occurred. ESA officials had to shovel their way into the town beach parking lot in order to set up the judging stand. Although the snow was over three feet deep, the contest went off without a hitch in perfect 3-5 foot waves.

Last year’s event was held in frigid conditions with solid overhead swells pouring into the town beach. A storm system had just dumped almost two feet of fresh powder the night before and snow flurries came down through most of the contest. Local Narragansett surfers dominated in the quirky shore break, finding ridable walls amidst the ever, present closeout sections. The big winner in last year’s event was Narragansett’s James Pilkington, who charged through to both the Junior Men’s and Open titles. Area surfer Jose Galvez ripped it up to take the Senior Men’s crown, while local Andrew Ragosta captured the Junior Longboard event. Other notable winners included Kitty Pechet, Joe Booth, Ray Jarvis, Sara Parker, and Naoto Ohashi.

Last year’s winners received 5mm Hyperflex Lobsta Claw winter mitts as prizes and everyone was very pleased with the idea. Due to the success of that venture, The ESA has decided to do it again. All finalists will receive a new set of Hyperflex mitts for their effort again this year. As Narragansett’s Andy Ragosta stated at last year’s event, “In this weather, we need warm mitts instead of plastic trophies.”