Surfing Santas will kick off its 14th annual event this morning, with hundreds of red-suited surfers taking rips off Cocoa Beach in Florida. This year’s colorful event won’t have the record 837 surfers or 10,000 spectators that it did a few years ago, thanks largely to a cold snap hitting the Sunshine State. But founder George Trosset expects about 300-plus gnarly, Santa-fied surfers to taking on the Atlantic on all manner of boards.
“We see people with long boards, short boards, electric foiling boards, paddleboards and kneeboards,” Trosset told Robb Report. “Typically, these different ‘classes’ are at war with each other, but on this day everyone’s sharing the waves and having a great time.”
Trosset and his family started the event in 2009, with just three surfers—himself dressed up as Santa and his children as elves—behind his beach house in Cocoa Beach, considered the Atlantic’s surfing capital. There was also only one spectator—Trosset’s three-year-old grandson. A local paper ran a photo and the caption, “Surfing Santa,” of Trosset in his red suit. “No explanation, no nothing,” Trosset says.
The following year, 19 surfers and over 100 spectators showed up unannounced. As the years went by and word spread, more Santas began to appear with boards and the spectators ballooned into the thousands. At one point, the surfers were joined by a group of Skydiving Santas. But when the number of amateur parachuters hit 24 and dropped into the crowds on the beach, Trosset decided to separate the events for safety reasons.
Eventually, the Surfing Santas also became involved with a local charity, Grind For Life, which uses its funds for cancer treatment. Trosset says the event has raised $50,000 for the charity, and he expects it to raise another $100,000 this year. “This started out as just a few of us goofing around and now it’s become a benefactor to the community,” he says.
Trosset credits the event’s success to its ability to drum up the Christmas spirit in non-snowy Florida, with wild costumes—including multiple riffs on Santa and Mrs. Claus, Santa’s elves, a woman dressed as a palm tree carrying an infant as a coconut, and, of course, surfing grinches—while locals and snowbirds enjoy the warm weather and ocean swells.
The event goes viral each year, with an estimated 1 billion views online or via traditional media. “Imagine if you’re up in Minnesota and watching this event with five feet of snow outside,” Trosset says. “We believe it brings a billion smiles around the world.”