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The chill’s a thrill for New England’s winter surfers

With wetsuits and plenty of grit, surfers revel in the beauty of storm-powered waves.

Surfing at Matunuck Beach in Rhode Island after Winter Storm Jonas in late January.
Surfing at Matunuck Beach in Rhode Island after Winter Storm Jonas in late January.Globe Staff Photo by Stan Grossfeld
Catching a wave off Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, in late January after a weekend snowstorm.
Catching a wave off Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, in late January after a weekend snowstorm.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

Dawn is breaking after Winter Storm Jonas, and the waves off the Rhode Island coast are all ice and froth, like a concoction inside a Waring blender. The storm has roiled them taller and more perfect than on many summer days.

Just after 6, the first surfer arrives in a pickup truck, his high beams on, and surveys the scene at Deep Hole near Matunuck Point. Other vehicles soon follow, crunching down the snowy road.

Some surfers strip naked in the warmth of their vehicles, then twist themselves into state-of-the-art hooded wetsuits, grab their boards, and dash into the 43-degree water. These are the hard-core surfers, who duck-dive through crashing waves until they've passed into calmer seas. As they float toward shore, wisps of mist sparkle in the sunlight.

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Like seals, the surfers bob in the icy waters, then paddle madly to catch the next big wave. The ride is the reward, to be skimming the water as long as possible. They can stay out there for hours, dancing.

Kyle Halavik takes some photos of the snow-covered beach before tucking his ponytail into his Hyperflex hood and heading into the sea. He says you have to respect the power of the ocean. "I don't want to do anything to anger the surfing gods."

At this beach and a few others in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, no one admits to being cold, except maybe a little on their exposed faces. Winter surfing is not for the hot tub lovers who can't handle a 7-Eleven Slurpee without complaining about brain freeze.

"People say, 'Oh, you're crazy,' but it's more fun in the winter," says 17-year-old Josh Feld, who surfed in the Saturday snowstorm at Newport's First Beach. "The waves are better. It's awesome. Nobody bothers you."

Surfers are more protective of their favorite spots than even fishermen. Do not put this address in the newspaper, sternly warns one surfer who won't even share his name. "It's not safe for beginners," he says. "Plus, we don't want to ruin paradise."

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Stan Grossfeld is an associate editor of the Boston Globe. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.