Santas of all stripes descended on Florida’s Cocoa Beach this Christmas Eve — not to deliver presents, but to ride some waves and raise funds for a good cause.
Beginning early Sunday, the beach filled up with thousands of adults and children alike dressed as St Nick, elves or reindeer for the annual “Surfing Santas” celebration.
Launched in 2009, the event raises funds for Grind for Life, a charity helping cancer patients travel for treatment, as well as the local surf museum.
While dozens of wetsuit-clad surfers headed out into the chilly water — albeit much warmer than the North Pole – others were content to lounge on the beach under cloudy skies, sipping cocktails and taking in the programming, including a costume contest and Hawaiian dance show.
Under a tent, volunteers were selling T-shirts and raffle tickets to raise funds.
Cocoa Beach lies along Florida’s so-called Space Coast, just south of Cape Canaveral.
‘Warms my heart’
“Surfing Santas” was born in 2009 from the mind of Cocoa Beach resident George Trosset after he saw a TV advertisement in which several people dressed as Santa take surfboards out of a car and jump in the ocean.
Inspired by the ad, he went to a thrift store, bought an old red coat, tailored it to look like Santa’s and went surfing. With him were his son, dressed as an elf, and his three-year-old grandson, who watched from the shore.
A local photographer captured that moment and published the image in the press.
“The second year, we had 19 Santas. The third year we had 80… and now look at this. There’s thousands of people,” Trosset, now 70, told AFP.
“It’s so exciting to see what this goofy little thing has turned into.”
Teresa Dell’Oglio-Garrett, an Italian native who lives outside Cocoa Beach, visited the festival for a second time to enjoy the “camaraderie and the happiness in the air.”
She remembers that when she first attended, back in 2017, there were only a few people, nothing like the crowd gathered Sunday morning on the beach.
Trosset still can’t figure out how a little joke with his son and grandson turned into this celebration.
When hundreds of people started joining the party, he thought maybe he could use the pull to do some good, and the charitable part of the event was born.
“I’m told that we get millions of media impressions every year from surfing Santa,” said Trosset.
“If that’s true, then we create millions of smiles every year — and that warms my heart.”
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