On Christmas Eve 2009, George Trosset went surfing dressed as Santa out back of his beachside residence in Cocoa Beach, Fla. His son and daughter-in-law dressed up as elves. The local newspaper published a picture on the front page of its Christmas Day edition. When Trossset's buddies spotted the picture, they asked about joining in the holiday spirit. The following year 19 turned up to hit some gnarly waves.
Flash forward to 2016. Surfing Santas is a full-on, mega event. As the sun poked in and out of high clouds on Christmas Eve early morning a steady stream of 772 Saint Nick costumed surfers (topping 648 in 2015) grabbed their surfboards and carved the waves, while an estimated 8,000 spectators poured onto the sand near Coconuts restaurant in Cocoa Beach.
Dressed in themed outfits – Frosty the Snowman, Santa and Mrs. Claus, gingerbread men, reindeer, elves toy soldiers and other holiday characters-- the spring-break type throng stretched out over two city blocks. They stayed for hours entertained on the main stage by the surf-roots band The Aquanauts, Balsa Bill singing Mele Kalikimaka on the ukulele, and the Brevard Hawaiian Dancers.
Smiles flashed as far as the eye could see. This year founder and organizer Trosset hopes to round-up 1,000 surfers in St. Nick attire hitting the ocean. Spectators are predicted to approach 10,000. A star attraction this year is the Surfing Santas cherry red 1953 Pontiac Woodie purchased last summer in Omaha, Neb.
“We're the small wave capital of the world, so it’s no surprise Santa comes here to catch the best waves and mix with his fans," Trosset said with a grin. "We call it the ride of Christmas magic. It’s very spirited, zany and diverse. This is Central Florida’s best Christmas party and there’s nothing else like it."
Trosset is not kidding. Last year the action included a canary yellow helicopter that buzzed the swelling crowd transporting a top-ranked surfer from Jacksonville and a videographer. When the helicopter door opened the duo jumped into the Atlantic from about 60 feet above, scooped up their surfboards and rode a wave into shore as the crowd roared. Previous years saw a pack of skydivers landing on the beach.
The Christmas Eve event has morphed into a friendly international competition with Australia for global Surfing Santas bragging rights. This year Aussie Robin Vandekreeke, founder of the Santa Rashie clothing line, is challenging Cocoa Beach. Vandekreeke's event is Christmas Eve in Perth, Australia. The good news is Perth is 13 hours ahead of Cocoa Beach so Trosset and his gang will know exactly the number of surfers needed to whip the Aussies.
"Over the past few years we've been battling various Aussie groups," Trosset said. "This one is at Manley Beach near Sydney. I thought the competition would benefit each other's fundraising efforts. All in good fun, but we will win!"
The Cocoa Beach event has attracted plenty of media attention in recent years with surfers from all over the U. S. and across the globe wanting to join the effort.
"Surfing Santas is a great example of a community-based tourism event where guests are invited to join locals in this holiday celebration Cocoa Beach-style," said Eric Garvey, executive director of the Space Coast Office of Tourism.
Last year sales of the official Sufin' Santas T-shirts were brisk. They ran out by 11 a.m. Trosset has ordered 3,000 this year. Still, behind all the merriment are a pair of special causes.
Proceeds from donations and sales of the T-shirts benefit a pair of local organizations. Grind for Life is a cancer support group whose mission is to provide financial assistance to cancer patients and their families when they travel long distances to visit doctors or hospitals. The Florida Surfing Museum, based in Cocoa Beach, documents all aspects of the unique history and culture of the Sunshine State's surfing. The event has raised more than $60,000 over the years, according to Trosset.
Carroll Distributors, the regional Anheuser-Busch Wholesalers, have donated funds plus space on a number of their digital billboards promoting Surfing Santas throughout Brevard County. The Florida Beer Company has also joined in on the fun. They're brewing a special Surfing Santas Triple Chocolate Stout. Singer songwriter Anna Lusk, who has starred in previous Surfing Santas music videos, will perform a new official anthem, "Oh, Surfing Santa."
"We've got lots of happy people coming to our quirky, cool little surf town," Trosset said. "Surfing Santas makes people smile. I want to share the joy with everyone."