Gathering grows from family fun to community event.
COCOA BEACH, Fla. — More than 210 Christmas-costumed surfers — a record-shattering turnout — braved the waves beneath drizzling sprinkles and gray skies Tuesday morning during the city's "Surfin' Santas" event, organizer George Trosset estimated.
And next year, the fast-growing, fourth-annual Florida-centric event may move to downtown Cocoa Beach, Fla. — with an accompanying block party — to accommodate burgeoning crowds.
By 9:30 a.m., hundreds of spectators had gathered before a gaggle of crazily clad Santa Clauses, North Pole elves, snowmen and miscellaneous Christmas characters, who sang carols and posed for photos backed by a picket fence of surfboards.
Then, the surfers descended on the ocean en masse, tackling the waves with paddleboards, boogie boards, longboards and the like. Noel-inspired swimwear included wetsuits, white beards, sunglasses, Santa caps and scattered bikinis.
"As mayor of Cocoa Beach, I'm officially declaring this the largest surfing Santa event on the planet," Dave Netterstrom proclaimed, watching the action from the sand.
The mercury stood at 63 degrees when the Santas — er, surfers — barged into the Atlantic shortly before 10 a.m., National Weather Service records show. Elsewhere across the U.S., temperatures were -6 in Duluth, Minn.; 25 in Spokane, Wash.; and 32 in Boston.
Regardless, numerous attendees grumbled about Tuesday's "chilly weather" — Monday's high in Cocoa Beach hit a balmy 85. Netterstrom said he doesn't venture into the sea unless it's at least 70 outside.
A low-lying shroud of clouds forced cancellation of a Santa Claus skydiving display from a World War II-era Douglas C-47 Skytrain.
"I think we'll have to move. If we can move next year to downtown Cocoa Beach, that's probably what we'll do. We are definitely maxed out," Trosset said, speaking on the beach in full St. Nick regalia holding his black Nash stand-up paddle.
Cocoa Beach's colorful Christmas event traces its roots to a 2009 Honda commercial featuring a group of friends surfing in Santa Claus attire. Seized by the Yuletide spirit, Trosset copied the commercial behind his home with his costumed son, George Jr. and daughter-in-law, Britteny.
Some of Trossset's buddies joined the fun in 2010, and 19 surfers participated.
Word spread quickly, and attendance skyrocketed to 84 surfers in 2011 and 159 surfers last year.
"The whole idea has gone from being a little family party to being a community event. It's very, very heartwarming to see that it's occurred like this," Trosset said.
T-shirt sales and donations collected from attendees netted $4,007 for Grind for Life, a Cocoa Beach non-profit organization that helps Space Coast cancer patients commute to medical treatments in Orlando, Tampa and elsewhere.
Cocoa Beach resident Matt Scales, 18, has surfed for roughly a decade. The Florida International University freshman marine biology major rode his 8-foot, 6-inch Quiet Flight dressed in a black wetsuit, red board shorts, red suspenders and a red Santa cap.
Scales estimated Tuesday's waves measured 3 feet to 4 feet.
"They're a little choppy today, but they're pretty solid for Cocoa Beach. It's pretty cool. It's kind of crazy seeing so many people dressed up in the water," Scales said, shaking his head.
Neale also reports for Florida Today.