On an average winter in the Mid Atlantic, the ocean temps drop to somewhere around 38 degrees. There aren't too many people who want to jump into that, no matter how good the surf is. This year, the ocean temps bottomed out at about 34. And yes, wetsuit technology has made leaps and bounds, but think about that. 34 degrees! The ocean freezes at 28.4. So you can imagine, there aren't a whole lot of photographers who want to take that plunge. New Jersey's Mike Incitti does it. The 22-year-old is one of a few truly dedicated who suit up to fully immerse themselves in the drink.
Born in Red Bank, New Jersey, his family had a house in Lavallette, which is just north of Seaside Heights, the town once famed for fun, then known for the MTV reality show, then being gobbled up by Superstorm Sandy, before making national news when its boardwalk went ablaze last September. From a young age, he put in a lot of time driving around both north and south and became very familiar with the coast. And for as much as he's already accomplished, he's still a student at Monmouth University.
"I was always fascinated with the talent of those New Jersey professional surfers," says Incitti. "I learned how to surf in Lavallette and got to watch Clay Pollioni and Sam Hammer surf at Casino Pier a lot."
While not known for consistent swell, storms tracking across the country bring the same elements that make surfing here tough -- blustery winds, heavy beachbreak and unique light -- make for dramatic photos. And the culture of the state, which TV audiences find so fascinating, provides interesting backdrops.
"It only made sense to start shooting surf photos once I started getting into photography at age 13," adds Incitti. "Ever since, it's been a passionate hobby of mine and I've gained a deep appreciation for the Jersey Shore, not like they show it on TV. I've used my camera as a tool to show people what New Jersey surfing is all about."
And if ever there was a time when Incitti came of age, it was this past winter, this brutal, never-ending, superwinter. The storms, snow, ice and waves started in November and haven't let up. (The New Jersey coast got another nice coat of white on April 16 and the surf was stormy and head-high.) Each week, there was a new swell. And whereas surfers in the area are used to closeouts, winds being just a tweak off, funky sandbars or the wrong tides, this past season, everything seemed to cooperate, except, of course, the temperatures. But New Jersey has always been a place where opportunity is at a premium. And when the opportunity to surf or shoot world-class barrels presents itself, photographers aren't going to let frost get in the way.
"Mike's a classic character, always amped, sometimes more than the surfers," says Ocean City's Chris Kelly. "He carries this grin on his face when it's pumping, before you see the waves you usually see Mike in the parking lot. When he has that grin, he doesn't need to give a report, you know it's on."