How New Jersey winter surfing compares to Icelandic winter surfing

Sam Hammer has made a living in the most amount of neoprene a surfer can put on. The New Jersey native thrives during winter and has become known throughout the greater surfing world for best-representing the hashtag #LifesBestInA5Mil.

How good was Jersey the other day… #winterstormstella

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Not just one to reap the benefits of New Jersey winter surf, Hammer has long made jaunts all along the Eastern seaboard as far as Nova Scotia, as well as exploring other cold water regions of the world. He is a surfer who thrives in the cold and is most comfortable in it.

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Hammer was also part of the 2015 winter trip to Iceland that is documented in Chris Burkard’s upcoming film “Under an Arctic Sky”, which premieres next month at the Tribeca Film Festival after a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign.

So it got us wondering: how does surfing in the dead of winter compare from New Jersey to Iceland? We rung up Hammer to find out.

First off, how has this winter in New Jersey compared to last year’s El Nino?

This winter started really slow. It had just been mediocre, but this last swell [Winter Storm Stella] changed the whole thing. That was the best day we’ve had since that doomsday swell. That kind of saved the winter.

So what was the trip for “Under an Arctic Sky” like?

I had been to Iceland a bunch of other times, but I had never been to that region or during the heart of winter. It was pretty crazy, it was a much different trip. The conditions getting from point A to point B were absurd: road closures, avalanches, white-knuckle driving at 25 mph and you can’t see 10 feet in front of you. There were some stressful, stressful drives.

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They had the biggest storm they had in 10 years when we first got there, and then they had the most powerful storm they had in 25 years while we were there. But it was awesome.

So how did this trip compare cold-wise to New Jersey winters?

I haven’t felt too many places where the water is actually colder than it is in New Jersey. I don’t think there’s too many places that get too much colder than what we experience everyday here. Plus, when you’re surfing those bigger waves, your adrenaline is going so much that you don’t even think about the cold. You’re just trying to figure the wave out.

What’s the worst thing about the cold on a trip like this?

The worst thing about places in the North Atlantic is you get a lot of wind that can cut right through your suit. That raw, cold, damp vibe, that’s the coldest part — the wetness of the air and the coldness combined.

What about the lack of sunlight in the winter there?

[Laughs] There was minimal sunlight. I think we had five or six hours of light, but you don’t actually see the sun. It’s pretty wild. We only saw the sun on the last day that we were there. We were on the south coast the last day and we ended up getting this phenomenal session of just barrel after barrel. We saw the sun for maybe a half hour just on the surface.

I didn’t love it, that’s for sure. Waking up at 8:30 in the morning and it’s still pitch black out. It gave you some time to get around and where you wanted to be I guess.

So what about that Northern Lights session?

I was actually asleep during that Northern Lights session [laughs]. Justin Quintal and Timmy Reyes were the ones surfing. They woke up at like 11 or 12 at night – I didn’t even know about it until the next morning. They scored some really good surf under the Northern Lights. It looked pretty insane because Chris is such a talented photographer that he’s going to make the most out of those situations.

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