BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Surfing Santas typically draws national television coverage with colorful images of costumed surfers joy-riding across a sun-splashed Florida beach — while most of America shivers amid wintry December weather, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
But this Christmas Eve morning, Cocoa Beach is in for a North Pole-esque reality check. Surfing Santas organizers wonder how many warm-blooded souls will brave the waves if wind chills plunge into the upper 20s and temperatures tumble into the mid-30s, as the National Weather Service predicts.
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“It’s going to be pretty chilly. Gusts could reach up to 25 (mph). Definitely going to be a cold one,” said Brendan Schaper, a meteorologist at the NWS Melbourne station.
“It’ll be pretty memorable, I think,” Schaper said.
The 14th annual Surfing Santas takes place Saturday morning, and hardy costumed surfers and stand-up paddleboarders are encouraged to hit the waves. Admission is free, and the action is centered around a stage on the beach off Minutemen Causeway in downtown Cocoa Beach.
Surfing Santas founder George Trosset said the event typically draws 8,000 to 10,000 spectators and anywhere from 300 to 500 costumed surfers — but organizers say the actual numbers are likely higher. Why? Volunteers distribute wristbands to attempt to keep a head count of surfers, but many hit the waves without bothering to “check in.”
Citing Saturday’s freezing forecast, Trosset predicted “we’ll be lucky to get 300 surfers.”
“Obviously, you’ll need to wear a wetsuit if you’re going in the water. It’s that cold air that’ll get you,” Trosset said.
“I’ve talked to a couple of people who said they’ll be wearing booties and gloves with their wetsuits,” he said.
“One person even said they’re going to wear a wetsuit hood — you never see those in Florida. But it’d be a good idea to keep your ears warm,” he said.
The Surfing Santas slate of activities kicks off at 7:30 a.m. Saturday with an invocation, and “Balsa Bill” Yerkes will play the classic Bing Crosby Hawaiian-themed Christmas song “Mele Kalikimaka.” Other key events:
- 8:30 a.m. — First round of the costume contest begins.
- 9 a.m. — Second round of the costume contest begins.
- 9:30 a.m. — The official Surfing Santas photo shoot takes place, which annually features a horde of hundreds of costumed surfers packing the beach, waving and smiling.
- 10 a.m. — Santas will start surfing en masse.
Musical acts include Sam Sims at 8 a.m., the Brevard Hawaiian Dancers at 10:15 a.m. and the Harbor City Trio at 10:45 a.m. Surfing Santas wraps up at noon.
The event website, surfingsantas.org, also encourages surfers and spectators to dress in other winter-themed outfits — think snowmen, gingerbread men, reindeer and elves.
Trosset said participating surfers should check in and get wristbands at the Grind For Life tent near the stage. The Cocoa Beach Jr./Sr. High, Satellite High and Florida Institute of Technology surf teams will attend the event, along with the Rockledge High cheerleaders.
The temperature in Cocoa Beach could be a brisk 35 or 36 degrees about 8 a.m. Saturday, Schaper said.
“We will see temperatures climb a little bit through midday. Though by noontime, temperatures are only going to be in the mid-40s. So it’s not going to feel warm per se — but it’ll be about 10 degrees warmer than it was earlier in the morning,” Schaper said.
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“We’ll have a northwest wind around 10 to 15 mph. It’s going to make it feel like temperatures are a lot colder than they actually are,” he said.
“So we’ve got wind chills starting around 8 in the morning in the upper 20s. And it’s still going to feel like temperatures are in the mid- to upper 30s by midday,” he said.
Last week, Trosset chatted about Surfing Santas during an appearance on NBC’s “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”
“Usually when you picture Santa, he’s in his reindeer-powered sleigh lugging bundles of toys and battling the winter weather,” Clarkson told the audience.
“You don’t envision hundreds of surfers dressed up as Santa and his elves riding the waves on Florida’s East Coast,” she said, laughing.
Trosset briefly outlined the history of his homespun event.
“Back in 2009, my wife made me this awesome Surfing Santa outfit. The newspaper (FLORIDA TODAY) took a picture and published it and labeled the picture ‘Surfing Santa.’ Over the years, the event has grown and grown and grown. It’s unbelievable,” Trosset said.
Clarkson announced that her show’s partner, Pilot Pen, will donate $1,000 to the Florida Surf Museum in honor of Surfing Santas.
“Your family created this long-lasting tradition that’s probably going to carry on for the next generation and the next generation. It’s such a cool thing, George. Thank you so much for starting this and sharing this,” Clarkson said.