Surfing doesn’t just involve the ocean. Surfing embodies the soul. Waves crest and break, each one a breath from the ocean that surfers sit on and ride. Most people are drawn to looking at the ocean because it is alluring and constantly changing, but surfers run right into the ocean and face the challenge of a good ride.
Cape May is a town that draws in people of all kinds. A walk along the shore finds sunbathers, dolphin watchers, beachcombers, and surfers of all skill levels along the breakers. The surf in Cape May is legendary, because of the offshore winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Those winds create great swells for local surfers, like DeSatnick Real Estate Salesperson, Chad DeSatnick.
DeSatnick started surfing in Cape May in 1983, on the Philadelphia Avenue and Queen Street beaches with his older brother, Todd and his group of friends. Chad’s surfing experience was cut short in September 2001, when he injured his C6 and C7 spinal vertebrae while surfing at Poverty Beach.
“In comparison to other beach communities, Cape May is arguably one of the most dangerous because of the way the beach replenishment has been distributed on the beachfront. It’s the pink elephant in the room,” DeSatnick said. “There are inherent dangers with any type of sports, but with the number of injuries in Cape May, there is a definite connection between beach replenishment and spinal injuries.”
But the surfing way of life cannot be stricken that easily, even after an event like DeSatnick’s spinal injury. “I still surf, but on a conscious level. I factor who is in the water and what the tide is doing, the period of the swell and the swell height,” DeSatnick said. “In the past I would catch as many waves as I could. So now it’s gone from quantity to quality.”
The roots people have in Cape May and south Jersey are strong, evident to DeSatnick by the unique power of community that exists among his fellow local surfers. DeSatnick started the DeSatnick Foundation to answer the need for local support for victims of spinal cord injuries.
The Foundation has two events planned this summer: the Cape to Cape Paddle on June 26 and a benefit concert by Donavon Frankenreiter on August 2, at Beach Creek Oyster Bar & Grill in Wildwood (visit the DeSatnick Foundation Facebook page for information). “Even though the Cape to Cape Paddle is a race, the big winners are the local victims of spinal injury, who we’re raising money for,” DeSatnick said.
DeSatnick also works with Life Rolls On, a spinal cord-specific foundation that hosts They Will Surf Again. The event helps victims of spinal cord injuries surf with the assistance of volunteers, and it takes place in Wildwood on Father’s Day, Sunday June 19. “People really take care of each other and look out for each other,” DeSatnick said. “It’s evident with the support that I’ve had, and it’s been a great experience for me to be a part of.”
There is a unique dedication that local surfers in south Jersey have. For instance, they have to battle the weather conditions that affect the ocean: winds, cold temperatures, and nor’easters. DeSatnick said that these storms are the first thing that come to his mind when he thinks of surfing in Cape May. He believes that those weather factors all contribute towards making a South Jersey surfer sharpen the skills necessary to become a professional.
Wildwood Crest native Maddie Peterson agrees with DeSatnick that nor’easters are legendary for the massive waves they bring to the shore. Hurricane season gives September and October the best wind and waves for surfing area beaches. Many people automatically think of the Pacific Ocean when they think about pro-surfing, but as evidenced by Peterson, starting a surfing career in the Atlantic Ocean is entirely possible.
Peterson is a rising star in the surfing world. She was recently ranked 18th in the HOT 100 Women, which is the definitive ranking of the world’s best young surfers. She is 18 years old and getting ready to start online college classes and continue her surfing career. Her pure surfing talent has led her out of the cold New Jersey oceans to training in Costa Rica.
When she was five years old, Peterson got her surfing start on Rambler Road beach in Wildwood Crest. She attended Ocean Outfitters surf camp many summers growing up, and at age ten she participated in her first surfing contest. She has been competing and traveling ever since. Peterson has spent the last six years all over the world, traveling to Australia for a photoshoot, China for a contest, and Costa Rica to train.
Deciding to pursue a surfing career in New Jersey meant Peterson had to make sacrifices. In addition to taking her high school classes online, she has to leave her family and friends behind while she trains for her next competition, and spends a lot of time surfing in California. “Honestly, growing up in New Jersey has been a blessing and a curse in disguise,” Peterson said. “There are times when there are waves, but it’s not as consistent as other places. It involves patience and hard work.” Surfing in New Jersey also required dressing in ways that surfers in other places such as California, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, don’t have to do.
“It’s unique to be a surfer who has to be covered from head to toe in gear. Having been surfing all over the world, I’ve grown so complacent of the water temperature; so I stay as far away from the cold water as possible [now],” Peterson said. Of course, she didn’t mind putting on the gear when she was here, because her dedication to surfing was so potent.
When Peterson finds herself back in New Jersey, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, and finds herself surfing on Broadway Beach and Headquarters (Grant Street Beach) when in Cape May, especially when she’s home during the fall season. “I’m almost always surfing on the road, so it’s nice to get time off. I do go surfing in New Jersey if there are waves.” She, like DeSatnick, believes there is a big difference in the surf because of the beach replenishment here. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” she said. “You see tractors and pipes and you think ‘oh no,’ but it is what it is.”
Just a few miles away from her home, Peterson looks forward to exploring the offerings of Cape May, including the Washington Street Mall shops. “Cape May is so beautiful with all of the cottages and older homes. It’s really clean and family friendly,” Peterson said. She enjoys eating meals at her favorite Cape May restaurant, the Rusty Nail. Peterson’s personal history in Cape May goes back to her younger days, when she and her sisters would act in Elaine’s dinner theatre. She played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol one year. “I really enjoy going to eat there and watch their plays,” she said.
A typical day in Peterson’s life is comprised of many hours in the water. “As a surfer you’re always waking up early, drinking a lot of coffee and eating a big breakfast. You check the waves to see if there is good surf. In between surfing I eat lunch, train and work out, and then head back to surf some more.” Peterson also enjoys modeling and working with brands. She recently signed on to represent Sanuk footwear. “There is always little stuff in between surfing, like photoshoots with a company and meetings. But mostly it’s wake up, surf, train, eat, surf,” and wake up and do it all over again, she said.
The remainder of 2016 represents Peterson’s last year competing in the pro-juniors. She is training hard to win her events and she hopes to finish first in the U.S. In 2017 she will start the qualifying series tour in North America, which will help her qualify for the world championship. It’s a big step for 2017, she said.
If there is one in every crowd, then there must be one on every beach. Cape May vacationers might not have heard of “Local Lou,” but they would sure know him if they saw him. Loudini “Local Lou” Fermonte is a Cape May who surfs with a unique twist that causes spectators to do a double-take: he does headstands while on the board. “I’ve been doing headstands since I was a teenager. I think 1969 was the first time I saw someone do one. I have an athletic background so it was something I tried,” said Fermonte. He started surfing in Wildwood in the 1970’s, after a surfer friend said to him, “Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of Wildwood.”
Fermonte has become well known for his surfing-on-his-head trick. “I’ve Googled it, and I’ve never seen anyone do that stand and get back up,” he said. “I can get back up. I once did three headstands on one wave; I hold a record for that, and wish I had a video of it.” Fermonte added that he can also do the headstand while skateboarding.
Loudini wants to teach his headstand trick and spread it to others. He enjoys watching kids on the beach try to imitate him, and has seen five generations of kids take up surfing, including his own. Fermonte can often be found surfing on Queen Street or Headquarters. “Most people have to work, but I’m just fortunate enough to surf whenever there are waves,” he said. Fermonte ended our interview by telling me he was heading to Headquarters later. “They’re calling for waves.”