When surfer George Trosset paddled out in the big red suit in 2009, he just wanted a goofy picture with his family.
Now, 10 years after a FLORIDA TODAY photographer first snapped Trosset on the waves, dressed as Santa and flanked by his son and daughter-in-law in matching elf costumes, Cocoa Beach's annual Surfing Santas event has become a bonafide phenomenon.
"I had no idea it would turn into this," Trosset said, gesturing toward the buzzing crowd. "What I like to say is, Surfing Santas has become it needs to be."
The beloved holiday spectacle annually draws hundreds of Santa-clad surfers and thousands of spectators to the sleepy beachside town for a Christmas Eve tradition that's been featured on the Hallmark Channel, the Jumbotron in New York City's Times Square and, most recently, Good Morning America.
"We had 882 million media impressions last year," Trosset said with a touch of pride. "I like to say, Surfing Santas makes people smile. Today, we're creating thousands of smiles on the beach. When the media picks this up, we could make a billion smiles this year."
The holiday spectacle — which also features food, live music and a costume contest — has become a draw for people across the nation, Trosset said, and for good reason.
"If you walk through the crowd, there's an energy. It's hard to explain," he said. "The people are happy, they're taking pictures. They're not (complaining) about the government, they're not (complaining) about politics. They're here to have a good time."
The event was a little smaller this year, down from an all-time high in 2017. That was probably due to the weather, Trosset said, which was chilly and overcast. But the occasional spurts of rain didn't keep away the crowd, which enjoyed the colorful Christmas revelry with gusto.
It was still a far cry from 2009, in which Trosset said he paddled out with son George Jr. and daughter-in-law Britteny to a whopping crowd of one.
"Dad called me up on Christmas Eve's eve about 7 p.m. and he said, 'George, I need you to find two elf outfits and you and your wife meet me on the beach tomorrow to go surfing,'" George Trosset Jr. recalled. "I looked at the phone like, 'Dad, have you been drinking?'"
We asked other local residents and officials to tell us their favorite thing after a decade of Surfing Santas:
Melody DeCarlo, president of the Florida Surf Museum: "I loved when we'd go to George (Trosset's) house and we'd all bring food, and we'd surf and hang out and talk to all our friends. Now it's for the world, which is great."
Jackie Dwyer, local resident: "The costumes! I love the costumes. Everybody gets so creative, more and more every year."
Hunter Joslin, East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame inductee, Surfing Santas host: "I just like the family affair that's going on here. ... Grandma, grandpa. Mom and dad. The kids and grandkids. It's a family deal."
Capt. Laitham Kellum, Cocoa Beach Fire Department: "Just the big groups of everybody dressed-up and down in the water. ... A big positive vibe, all around."
Angela Noble, local resident: "Everybody stopping for a moment of prayer. ... At that moment, there are no dividing lines. Everyone stops and stands in a moment of peace, united. It's amazing."
Mike Rogers, founder of Grind for Life: "It's amazing to see all the kids, all the Santas surfing out there each time. It's the only event in the world you see this many Surfing Santas at one time."
Marie Wolfe, retired teacher, author of children's book "Santa Has Retired": "Whenever I come here, I meet my old teacher friends, I meet my students. We have a good time. ... Normally we meet at Coconuts and have breakfast and Bloody Marys."
Contact Rogers at 321-242-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @EricRogersFT.