By Christy Swift
Photos Courtesy of Surfing Santas
He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna wipe out at least once or twice. Santa Claus is shooting the curl…
At least on Cocoa Beach he is. Or rather, they are, because on December 24th each year, hundreds of Surfing Santas and their elves take to the shore.
“It’s a great day,” says Surfing Santas founder George Trosset. “I love surfing, and I love Surfing Santas, and magical things keep happening.”
There does seem to be a sprinkling of Christmas magic surrounding the event, which started as a family gathering in 2009. George had seen a Honda commercial featuring surfers getting up at the break of dawn to ride the waves with Santa costumes on. Their tagline was you have your holiday traditions… we have ours. Coupled with the surfing Santa toys and ornaments his wife Nihla bought him over the years as well as his mother’s embroidered Surfing Santa sweatshirt, the commercial sparked an idea.
Have a Holly, Frothy Christmas
“On December 23rd, I called my son George and said, ‘I need you to be at the beach house tomorrow. I need you and your wife to get elf costumes. I’m gonna be Santa and you two are gonna be elves, and we’re gonna go surfing’,” George recalls.
He and Nihla went to the thrift store and picked up a shiny red raincoat, which she customized with pieces of a white felt around the cuffs and hem. “From thirty or forty feet away, it looked like a Santa Claus outfit. Up close it looked like a raincoat from a thrift shop,” jokes George.
George then called the Florida Today newspaper who sent a photographer out, and on December 25th, 2009, in the bottom right-hand corner of the front page was a picture of Santa and his elves surfing, labeled “Surfing Santa.” His three-year-old grandson, Anderson, was their sole spectator that year.
“I thought it was fun. We did something goofy. The newspaper covered it. We had fun doing a little family thing and we’re sharing some Christmas joy,” George says.
Last Christmas, I Gave You My Board
There must have been some magic happening because in 2010, some of George’s friends asked about his Surfing Santa stunt from the previous year and whether or not he was going to repeat it. George said, “I don’t know. Come to the beach house and we’ll figure it out!” That year they had 19 Surfing Santas, some in genuine, velour Santa suits.
George said they learned a few things that year. “You can’t surf in a 100-pound Santa suit safely. My son wore his outfit, red stockings like an elf might wear, but you can’t stand on a surfboard in red nylon stockings, either.”
In 2011, they had 87 people come out for the event. If that wasn’t magical enough, something else happened. “This guy called me up and said, ‘My name’s Chuck Julian and I’m a stunt parachute pilot. How about if we come and parachute in on your Surfing Santa event?’ I said, ‘Bring it on’,” George explains.
Six parachuters in Santa garb jumped out of a plane and landed on the beach. George recalls the surprise and excitement of that day: “You’re out surfing, having a good time, and then you look up!”
Meanwhile, the event kept growing year after year, and the parachuters came back, too. In 2014, Surfing Santas had grown to over 300 people, with 48 parachuting Santas jumping out of three planes. “How exciting was it to have a couple hundred surfers in the water and 48 skydiving Santas! There was all this excitement around the event and it set the tone that Surfing Santas is fun,” George says.
But at the same time, all that excitement worried him, too. While the parachuting was done safely, George was concerned about potential accidents and liability. He and Nihla also had to acknowledge that Surfing Santas had outgrown their little beach house.
“We had only one bathroom, and—no regrets—but it was a big clean up,” he says.
Oh, There’s No Place Like the Beach for the Holiday!
From 2015 onward, with the help of now-retired director Melissa Byron, the City of Cocoa Beach began hosting the family-friendly event in front of Coconuts on the Beach, located at 2 Minutemen Causeway. Today, thousands of people come to surf or spectate, and there’s lots to do. The event is free. Water and crowd safety personnel are provided by the City. And it’s still loads of fun!
Here’s what you need to know if you want to be part of this uniquely Florida magic.
Get there early! While Cocoa Beach has no shortage of (paid) parking, you’ll have a long walk if you get there after 7:30 AM. The event begins at 8:00AM with an invocation by Pastor Keith Capizzi in front of Coconuts on the Beach. Then the entertainment begins with Bill Yerkes playing Christmas music on the ukulele followed by the Harbor City Trio’s cool, smooth jazz. Line up for the costume contest begins at 8:30 AM, and the contest itself starts at 9:00 AM. Prizes include hotel rooms and boat rentals. Other entertainment includes Sam Sims’ mellow beachy music and the Brevard Hawaiian Dancers’ hula show. Don’t miss joining the crowd at 9:30 AM for the group photo in front of the stage. Ten o’clock is the official surfing kickoff time, and the crowd heads to the beach to watch.
I Saw Mommy Hanging Ten With Santa Claus
So with all of the “surfing Santas” out there on Christmas Eve, is there a REAL Surfing Santa?
Actually, yes. His name is Clifford “Peanut” Kuehler, and you can find him sitting in a lifeguard chair under an umbrella, taking pictures with visitors of all ages. He’s a bit thinner and sportier than your typical Santa, but he embodies the Surfing Santa vibe. His wife, Terri, plays the role of Mrs. Claus. Pictures are printed out right on site with a high-speed printer and given away free. George has seen Christmas magic come out of this aspect of the event as well.
“If someone handed me a picture of myself, I’d smile and say thank you, and that’s that,” he says. But the joy he kept seeing on the faces of people, especially adults, boggled him. “Some guy explained it to me. He said, ‘George, when I stood there with Surfing Santa and I saw the picture, I was smitten. It took me back to when I was 10 years old and got my picture taken with Santa at the mall’.”
George has had other people approach him with moving stories, including families torn apart who were able to make new memories and traditions through Surfing Santas.
“I never expected it,” he adds. “We did it for the fun of it, but it struck a nerve. It was magical.”
The “Red Coat” Effect
Not only has Surfing Santas changed the holidays for the people who show up to Cocoa Beach every year to experience the holiday magic, it has touched those in need as well. Over the past several years, the event has raised over $200,000 for local charities, including the Florida Surf Museum, who sponsors local high school surf teams under the direction of John Hughes, and Grind For Life, which helps families dealing with a cancer diagnosis and is run by cancer survivor Mike Rogers (he’ll be the guy handing out donuts and coffee at the event).
Much of the money is raised through T-shirt sales, which are sold at local stores and also online at https://surfingsantas.org/shop/. This year, for the first time, they will also be raffling off a vehicle donated by local car dealer Mike Erdman.
Over the years, Surfing Santas has reached across the globe and become a viral news story. George has met people in remote areas of Greece who have heard about it, and he’s seen Surfing Santa footage featured on Russian TV. The Office of Tourism reported 8 billion media impressions of Surfing Santas’ photos and videos worldwide. “If that’s true, I say we’ve created 8 billion smiles,” George says.
The family is still very much involved—both George and Nihla as well as George Jr. and their daughter Trina Christiansen. All eight of the grandchildren have been “in the water” during Surfing Santa events.
George is just glad to be able to facilitate some Christmas magic at home and around the world. He adds, “Mike Rogers calls it the ‘red coat effect.’ You dress up as Santa, you wear red, you do good things, and other good things happen. It’s real.”
For more information, to watch Surfing Santa video footage, or to purchase T-shirts or raffle tickets, visit www.surfingsantas.org.