Riding the wave of Nahant’s surf culture

It may come as a surprise to those who aren’t experienced surfers that there is a specific method of preparing when, where, and how to catch waves on any given day. What may be more surprising is that surfers are finding Nahant to be a more-than-adequate answer to the question of “where.”

Amber O’Shea and Tim Oviatt are the current stewards of the surf-shop presence at Nahant Beach. Ocean House Surf and Skate moved from Swampscott to Nahant last year, bringing a surf shop back to the beach for the first time since the 1970s. O’Shea and Oviatt do everything they can to help grow the Nahant surf culture. They instruct and provide beginners with the proper information and equipment they need to get started. Both have a passion for the sport themselves, and know what it takes to be prepared for a day of surfing success.

“Because the surf culture is relatively new around here, so many people are first-timers,” said O’Shea.

Ocean House is equipped with a camera on its side overlooking the beach, and surfers can use it to watch footage of themselves and improve on mistakes. In addition, Oviatt has recommended phone apps surfers can use to know upcoming wind and wave forecasts.

With the COVID-19 pandemic in the rear view, O’Shea is excited to get her surf programs up and running again.

“We’re gonna start our programs again this year,” explained O’Shea. “We were doing 900 kids a summer for the kids’ camp… 40 kids per day.”

For hardcore surfers in Massachusetts, summer can actually be the least desirable time of year to catch bigger waves. As wetsuit technology has advanced, veteran surfers have been able to spend more time in the colder months of the year, when the surf is often larger. 

In turn, summer has become a great time to bring aspiring surfers to Nahant. 

Local instructor Nick Bacon, with lots of experience on the waves himself, finds the Northeast surf more than enough to scratch his itch.

“If you are local and closeby, there are days that are just amazing, and you live for those days,” said Bacon. “A lot of people still don’t know that there’s surf here… they’ll drive by Lynn Shore Drive and see little ripples, but I know a little ripple might be a one-foot wave over at Nahant.”

Originally from New York, Bacon found a passion for surfing during his 20s when he lived in California. He started a family here with his wife, who is a Wilmington native. He recently moved to Swampscott from Somerville and claims being closer to Nahant Beach was a primary motive for his relocation.

“Surf culture is totally growing. Living here for nine years there were pretty dedicated people nine years ago, but now I see a lot more people out there in the lineup, more people stoked,” said Bacon.

Bacon taught a lot of his own independent lessons during the pandemic. He always tries to emphasize surf etiquette when teaching, which he claims gets more important as the sport’s popularity grows.

“It’s about being safe… I think a lot of times people think it’s just water and they’re not looking around,” Bacon explained. “They don’t understand things like dropping in and always looking over your shoulder when paddling for a wave.”

Ocean House, similarly, has a poster hanging in its entrance titled “Surf Etiquette 101,” which lists ten things to keep in mind when riding the waves.

Chrissy Vacarro is a homegrown New England surfer, and will be teaching yoga to Nahant surfers through her business Wild Sea Wellness this summer. She too sees a big surge in the sport’s popularity over recent decades. Her unique background as a marine scientist gives additional credibility to why she feels Nahant is a great spot to surf.

“The shape of the sand can shift and, in turn, shift waves,” explained Vacarro. “Nahant is more accessible at different tides… During hurricane swell a lot of people go out because Nahant has a little more sheltering and the waves tend to hold up a little better, as opposed to a place like Gloucester, which sticks out to the ocean and is more exposed.”

Vacarro also credited the fewer parking restrictions than at other area beaches and Ocean House’s arrival as positives for Nahant’s surf culture.

For people looking for a new hobby this summer, Nahant Beach might just have everything they need to hang ten.