New York winters are brutal. The teeth-chattering wind howls through the trees and angry waves crash upon the snowy shores. For the winter warriors of the Long Island surf community, that means just one thing: empty slabs for the taking.
To capture the beauty of these cold water cruisers, 30-year-old Montauk local James Katsipis started a project to bring the scenes to life. The “Cold Water Surfer Series” is a collection of photographs showcasing the artistry of winter surfing from New York to Ireland. When all the weekenders from Manhattan have vanished, only the locals remain. Clad in 5mm neoprene wetsuits, hoods, booties, and gloves, these winter surfers brave the wind, snow and near freezing water to surf perfect barrels with no one else out.
“A lot of surfing shots depict typical crystal clear blue water and palm trees with bikinis and suntans,” Katsipis said. “Well, that’s just not true for us. We have a little bit of a different program going and I just wanted to show our side of the spectrum a little. Plus I just truly do love the winter. I like the cold. I love the dark blue skies. I love having Montauk all to ourselves in the off season. It’s our playground. When it snows, I get excited because it’s like an adventure for me.”
From a simple Instagram post, the Cold Water Surfer Series grew into an entire collection. Katsipis photographed good friend, and fellow Montauk local, Jesse Joeckel surfing a heavy winter swell one night. “The wind was blowing like 30 mph and just freezing,” he said. “It was getting super dark and just intense. After he got a pitch black blind ride down a good one, he came in and we were walking up to the lighthouse. There was still one light on over by the fence and he was shivering. I’m always about capturing the emotion and feeling of a moment. It was just this really moody dark winter shot. The lighthouse was all lit up in the back for Christmas and Jesse’s face just said it all, especially with his hood on and his surfboard. You could actually feel the cold.”
After spontaneously tagging the photo with #coldwatersurferseries, Katsipis received a big response from Instagram fans and local friends. “A lot of people have no idea that we are out in the ocean surfing during these snow storms and Nor’easters,” he said. “They totally trip out when I show them a shot of one of the boys surfing with the snow in the background.”
The positive response inspired him to create something bigger. To help fund the project, Katsipis launched a Kickstarter campaign. He wanted to showcase the images of weathered surfers fighting the cold to score the next big wave. But, he wanted to mount them on large sheets of plexiglass, which would cost thousands of dollars. “Plexiglass is the next step for my work,” he said. “One of my friends Dalton Portella is an amazing artist he inspired me so much. I went to one of his shows and all his work was on plexiglass. It just blew me away. The way it just hung on the wall–it looked like it was suspended in air. I loved how the images were just so free–no borders, no caging with frames. Limitless. It was just so clean and modern looking. The quality of the images as well were just on another level. It looked like a high-def LCD screen.”
After launching on March 15, Katsipis managed to surpass his goal of $8,500. To date, he has raised in excess of $9,500 with the support of over 130 backers. “I’ve had a huge response to it,” he said. “I get messages and e-mails from people all over the country. One really touched me. It was from a person who has been really ill and told me that they have been living through my photos. That was amazing. Thats’ why I do what I do. I want to convey my emotions though my photos. I have so much gratitude on a daily basis. I’m truly blessed and I dont take life for granted at all. I thank the big man upstairs everyday. I get inspired by all the people who msg me. People truly believe in what im doing.”
The Cold Water Surfer Series photo exhibit will open at Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett, NY on April 26. The show will run until May 22.
The Kickstarter campaign will still be up until April 14 if you want to make a donation and you can still purchase limited edition prints! To find out more details, watch the video below and visit the Kickstarter page for more information on James Katsipis.