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Athlete of the Month: Dan Sura

By Tom Kilpatrick


“It’s like an adventure going around and trying to find the best spot,” Daniel A. Sura ’03 told me early last Saturday morning as we headed out to the beach for a surfing session (yes, surfing). His statement ended up defining the day as we visited beach after beach in his Dodge Astro, all the way up to Maine in search of suitable waves.

Most people don't know you can surf in New England; fewer know you can in the winter. That’s what the Stuart, Florida native has been doing since his freshman year, braving sub-40 degree water temperatures and frigid air. “Wetsuits are lined with titanium...your hands and feet stay warm for about an hour,” Sura said without a hint of irony.

The Atlantic is so cold in New England that surfers must even wear wetsuits for much of the summer. To add insult to injury, the waves have less power than those of a similar size in, say, Hawaii. This is because the Eastern continental shelf is so flat that the waves lose most of their energy before reaching shore. (In Hawaii there is a steep gradient as the islands rise out of the ocean floor, so waves lose less of their energy).

However, Sura doesn't seem to have any particular longing for California or Hawaiian shores. He mentioned that he may go to Brazil this summer after graduating but he’s returning to MIT’s Ocean Engineering department for graduate school in the fall.

Local waves messed up by winds

The forecasts called for chest- to head-high waves as a mini-Noreaster blew up the coast, so we headed out and stopped in Medford to pick up some surfing buddies of his. Sebastion, Alex, Tash, and Josh came along in two separate cars.

Our first destination was Revere Beach, which actually can be reached by T on the blue line. On the way there Sura explained that only under certain conditions are there proper waves for surfing.

Almost as important as the size of the waves is the wind speed and direction. No wind is best, or light offshore winds to blow against the face of the wave as it breaks. “Most spots today will be messy because the wind's blowing out of the East,” Sura said.

He turned out right as Revere Beach’s waves were both small and choppy. We headed north to Gloucester where it was the same story. At some point during the morning Sura auto-dialed the New Hampshire wave report and heard there were chest-high waves (but onshore winds) at “The Wall,” a big beach and one of New England's most popular surfing spots.

One of the things I realized Saturday is that Sura has amazing knowledge of how waves in a particular place can be an indication of wave conditions in others, which comes with years of experience surfing in the area. When he heard about the swell in New Hampshire he immediately thought to find a beach north of Massachusetts that faced south or southwest, to help reduce the effect of the strong east wind.

The nearest such beach was in Kennebunkport, Maine-the Bush family’s summer hangout. Sebastion was the only one of the four friends who wanted to make the drive up there, as it was already three and a half hours since leaving MIT and no one had even entered the water.

“There better be waves, there better be,” Sura said at some point during the three-hour trip from Gloucester to Maine. We were greeted by a nice April snowstorm on the way, slowing down the trip considerably.

In one of the more amusing events of the day, Sebastion and I had to get out and push Sura’s car out of a snow embankment after a failed U-turn. “Maine sucks dude, don’t go unless you're snowboarding,” I heard someone mutter as I caught my breath.

As we made the swing around the last turn of Beach Avenue and the water finally came into view, Sura and Sebastion let out a yell as chest- to head-high waves could be seen, clean and peeling -- that means the wind wasn’t messing them up and they were breaking nicely from side to side.

“That’s the best, when you find something you don’t expect,” said Sura.

Six or seven other surfers were out enjoying the conditions. Sura and Sebastion went out and caught some nice rides; Sebastion had to come in early because of a hole in his wetsuit (brrr ...), but Sura stayed out for an hour or two. The tides finally started winding down around four-thirty or five and the two put their boards in the trunk. “This is the only place on the East Coast like this, right here,” Sebastion commented as we finally left Kennebunkport.

Sura piped back and laughed, “unless you go up in Maine, where there’s glaciers for sure.”