SCARBOROUGH – Local members of the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation gathered at Higgins Beach on Sunday to celebrate International Surfing Day and its role in a town effort to buy a parking lot that gives the public convenient access to the beach.
The event featured an oceanside yoga session, followed by surfboard and stand-up paddle board demonstrations.
More than 50 people suited up to ride the waves — or what there was of them.
Jeanne Gribbin of Cumberland took a lesson in stand-up paddle surfing, a sport that is gaining popularity in Maine. Paddle surfing allows the rider to stand on the board and use a paddle to move, compared with traditional surfing, where the rider uses his or her arms to paddle out to the waves.
“It’s a lot harder than I thought,” Gribbin said. “It’s not a good wave day. That’s what you get.”
A.J. Curran of Cape Elizabeth stood back and watched the waves before putting on his wet suit. Curran, who surfs year-round, said he wanted to show his support for the Surfrider Foundation and catch a couple of waves for Father’s Day.
“I have to get wet for Surfing Day,” Curran said. “The surf has been flat for the past couple of weeks. At least there’s white water out there.”
The sixth annual event was held to unite surfers across the United States and encourage people to give back to their communities.
The local event raised awareness of Surfrider’s mission to protect the coastline by cleaning beaches, doing water quality testing and ensuring public access to beaches.
Janice Parente, chair of Surfrider’s Northern New England chapter, said one of its goals is to help modify beach access laws in Maine.
The group is involved in litigation over public access to beaches in Kennebunkport, Eastport and Cape Elizabeth.
“Surfing at Higgins is the best-kept secret,” Parente said. “It is wonderful. It’s the condition of the waves, the space between them and the shape of them. You look for consistent lines of waves with space between them. Right now, we are not seeing that.”
The group held last year’s event at Old Orchard Beach. It decided to use Higgins Beach on Sunday to celebrate its efforts at working with town officials and members of the Trust for Public Land to buy a family-owned parking lot near the beach.
The Vasile family told the town last year that it wanted to sell the property but wanted assurances that the lot would remain open to provide beach access.
On-street parking is prohibited at Higgins Beach, so visitors would have had a long walk without the parking lot.
Sean Sullivan, treasurer of Surfriders’ regional chapter, said the group is thrilled to have the parking lot close to the beach.
“Surfing is a lifelong sport,” he said. “It has had a positive effect on all our lives. You have to do it to understand.”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: