Night Surfing: An Escape From the Crowds, But Watch Out for Sharks

Source: The New York Times/Jared Whitlock - April 21, 2017 in Adventure

Night Surfing: An Escape From the Crowds, But Watch Out for Sharks
Photo: Richard Rydge/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND-2.0)

The ocean and the sky melted together in a gray mass, making it tough for the surfer to size up the coming waves. Would they crash down on top of him and hold him under — or break in just the right spot for him to catch the perfect ride?

By day, the surfer, Helmut Igel, is not fazed by six-foot waves. But it was after midnight, on a moonless sea. Surfing is not the same in darkness.

Igel, 55, is among a small subculture of surfers who dot coastlines from San Diego to Sydney after sunset, pursuing an adventure that’s a subject of curiosity on social media these days thanks to pro surfers on LED boards. Visibility is but one of the perils.

Sharks, while rare along the coast here, can hunt at night. And surfers cannot count on being rescued by lifeguards; they left hours ago.

So why paddle out under the stars? Elbow room, mainly.

“These days on a full moon, you can still paddle out to a crowd. On other nights, it’s like stepping into a time in California pre-‘Gidget,’” said Igel.

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