Hurricane season is equal parts exciting and terrifying. As summer melts into fall, surfers from the southern Caribbean to Nova Scotia turn their attention to West Africa, windy.com, and NOAA’s Hurricane Center, obsessing over every new spinning cloud of dust as it tracks west across the Atlantic. This year, with hurricane season on the heels of six months of COVID-19 lockdowns and canceled international travel, it was a welcome change of pace (and surf), despite the inherent risk of having your home leveled by a Category 5 monster.
That didn’t happen this year, fortunately. While the 2020 season was hyperactive, it wasn’t destructive (unless you live in Louisiana, which bore the brunt of a few Gulf landfalls). By September 25–two weeks past the peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season–NOAA ran out of names. That’s 23 storms (eight hurricanes), with ten forming in the month of September alone. For perspective, dating back to 1966, the average amount of named storms by September 25 is eight. By that metric, the 2020 season was three times as active as the average year.
On paper, a flurry of storms should equal an all-time surf season. But that wasn’t exactly the case. The majority of this year’s storms either flamed out or stayed way out to sea. And the storms that did send solid swell coincided with bad local winds more often than not–especially here in Northeast Florida.
But that’s not to say the 2020 season sucked. There were some really memorable days–as the group show of images that follows certainly proves.
Out of that September frenzy, Hurricane Teddy was the premier swell producer. A Category 3 storm that curved way out at sea, it lit up the Caribbean and East Coast, with select spots from Barbados to Nova Scotia seeing the best day of the past decade. Soup Bowl was all-time (and nearly empty thanks to COVID travel restrictions). Puerto Rico looked like the North Shore in winter. And in the Northeast and portions of the mid-Atlantic, where Teddy’s swell combo’d up with an early-season cold front that supercharged the swell, it was impossible not to score, so long as you went surfing.
As always, local surfers Asher Nolan and Justin Quintal were all over each storm. Both drove up-and-down the East Coast (and over to the Panhandle) multiple times, the multi-talented Quintal traded getting tubed on a variety of different craft in a bunch of different states, while Nolan swapped between surfing and shooting, depending on the day, and how his body was feeling. “Teddy was a pretty special swell,” Nolan recalls, about the storm of the season. “So many places got good. Wish I could have surfed more. My nerve pain in my neck was unbearable to paddle. I surfed for 20 minutes on the good day and got three tubes on three waves. That’s all I could handle. That said, it was fun swimming in some heavy conditions.”
Ultimately, while the 2020 hurricane season won’t be remembered as being all-time, it kept us surfing tons. And considering we didn’t get smashed, that’s all we can really ask for.