Clifton Dunn lives in Far Rockaway, New York City. He left his hometown and the beautiful beaches of San Diego to pursue his acting career, his other love in life. However, he still managed to stay close to the waves, ‘I walk two minutes from my doorstep and paddle out,” he says.
He started surfing when he was twelve whenever he could get a ride to the beach. Once he was old enough to drive, surfing occupied the majority of his free time. “Catching my first wave in Del Mar,” he reminisces, “was by far the most exhilarating feeling I had ever experienced, time seemed to slow down… it’s like having a sensory overload.”
According to Clifton, riding a wave that has traveled thousands of miles across an ocean is one of the greatest and most humbling things a person can do in their lifetime.
Year round surfing
Clifton surfs year round. His favorite place is obviously back home in a secret reef in La Jolla, where he believes the waves are the best in the world. “It can get really good here in Rockaway as well, with hurricane and Nor’easter swells,” he says. He also loves Maine and New Hampshire, “they are beautiful places and they have some really good reef and point break set ups.”
“I can’t surf every day here on the East Coast because sometimes it gets flatter than a lake,” he jokes, “but I can usually surf about 4 times a week.” He confesses that he is happiest when the air temperature is 17, the water is 34, the wind is howling offshore with 6 to 8 foot Nor’easter surf, and he is all by himself.
Some of his most memorable experiences surfing outside of the United States took place in Hossegor, south-western France, where he met some “super chill French dudes” that invited him to join them on their van road trip “chasing swell and partying”, and Mexico, where he got dysentery but “the waves were well worth it.”
Surfing is a very exciting and challenging outdoor sport, but it’s important to know your limits and respect the waves, especially when they are big. Some of the main risks involved are: unexpected encounters with marine life, hard sea beds, weather changes, leash tangles, rip tides and currents, crowds and novices, and water pollution. Even your surfboard can become a threat in the heat of the moment.
Clifton explains that most surfers are pretty cool and tranquil people because many have survived a life-threatening experience while surfing that has made them re-evaluate their priorities giving them a different perspective on life.
“I almost drowned at Black’s Beach and that changed me,” he recalls, “I had a 13 foot wave break right on me, it tweaked my back and I couldn’t paddle. While I was being slammed to the bottom and held under, I let my body go into the most relaxed state possible to try and conserve oxygen.” He finally reached the surface and recovered his senses, but it took him almost two hours of kicking and paddling to get back to shore.
After this experience and with his new outlook on life, Clifton decided to dedicate more of his time to the things that were truly important to him, acting and surfing occupy and fulfill his life the most. “Surfing is an extremely therapeutic activity for me, I am always in a better place after I get out of the water,” he says.
“Surfing is something everyone should try”
Clifton explains that you can learn to surf relatively quickly but it can take a lifetime to master it, there is always more to learn and more challenging waves to surf. You can start by renting a surfboard and attending a surf class at the beach or buying some basic new or used gear and joining a surfer friend you may already have.
The gear you will need depends on where you will be surfing. If you are in San Diego, you only need a 4/3 (4 mm thick) wetsuit with 3mm booties, however, in NY in the winter, Clifton wears a 6/5/4 with 7mm gloves and booties with an attached hood.
To learn, he recommends an 8.5ft foam board and a basic beginner’s wetsuit (150 dollars or under). “I know every new surfer wants to immediately start shredding on a shortboard but that takes a lot of time and dedication. You want to use a board that will get you the most waves,” he says.
He has four shortboards: a 5’5” quad (four fins), a 5’11” thruster (3 fins), a 6’2” thruster as his step-up board, and a 6’4” thruster for when the waves are big and barreling from a hurricane swell; but he confesses that he has a lot of fun using his friend’s foam board when the waves are small.
According to Clifton surfing is something everyone should try. He teaches surfing to kids and adults in Rockaway and he assures that no matter how sad a kid is feeling or how frustrated and stressed an adult seems after work, as soon as they catch their first wave, “it wipes the slate clean.” He has seen a 50 year old man catch his first wave and start jumping up and down just giggling uncontrollably like a kid.
“That’s what surfing does, it makes us all children again, no worries, just enjoying the moment,” he says. Clifton believes that life is too short to worry all the time and for him, surfing is the best and healthiest break from that stress, “a unique experience and one of the closest interactions with a natural medium in the world.”