Hurricane Irene: Are surfers crazy to love hurricanes?

Hurricane Irene: The approaching hurricane brings out 'storm surfers,' those who crave the bigger, more dangerous waves not usually found on the East Coast.

Randall Hill/Reuters
Connor Murray takes advantage of the heavy surf near the Ocean Crest Pier in Oak Island, N.C., prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irene on Aug. 25. Approaching storms are known for improving surfing conditions ahead of their landfall.

What is it about hurricanes that draws surfers to the shore like moths to the flame? When everyone else is wringing their hands about a coming hurricane, some surfers respond with glee.

In his 2009 song “Surfing in a Hurricane,” Jimmy Buffett sings, “I ain’t afraid of dyin’, I don’t need to explain.”

When a major storm approaches, many surfers are thrilled by the much larger West Coast-type waves that churn up the East Coast’s normally flatter water. They peruse websites like or for the latest information on what the surf is doing.

“When they name the storm, that’s when you start planning your schedule,” Mark Mitchell told The New York Times last year when an advancing Hurricane Earl was making waves in North Carolina.

What surfers want is “double overhead” – waves that are 12 to 15 high, or twice as tall as a surfer. Waves that look more like something you would see in Hawaii than on Virginia Beach. But the risks rise too, especially for novices or those surfers who don't have a lot of experience in bigger waves.

Often, surfers find that during the height of a storm, the winds create so much chop and crosscurrents that the wave patterns are too irregular for good surfing. They will typically wait until a few days after a major storm, when the larger-than-normal waves are rolling in nice sets.

Ocean rescue personnel certainly don't appreciate daredevil hurricane surfers or anyone else who decides to have a go at dangerous surf when beaches are officially closed. A Florida surfer died while braving the waves whipped up by Hurricane Danielle last year, and hundreds of swimmers had to be rescued from the treacherous currents. The roiling seas caused by Hurricane Bill claimed the life of a novice surfer in New York in 2009.

Take a look at the adrenaline junkies in this hurricane surfing video. Don't try this at home.

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