Southern Maine, between Portland and York, offers some great surfing and there are more remote points, river mouths, ledges and bars moving north to the Canadian border.
It can get cold so ensure you have the right gear. Winter surfing is best if you like your waves big and challenging but the water and the winds are very cold so beware hypothermia.
Popular surfing spots are Crescent, Popham, Higgins, Scarborough, Gooch’s, Wells and Ogunquit Beaches, Reid State Park, Fortunes Rocks, Ogunquit Rivermouth, and Long Sands/York. Each of these spots offers its own unique features and suits different types of surfers.
Sharks in the waters of Maine
Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias)
The spiny dogfish are the primary shark species in the Gulf of Maine.
Spiny Dogfish are not known to attack humans but surfers should be careful of their venomous spines, which could inflict injuries. However, these are small sharks that are not often found closer to shore.
Blue Shark (Prionace glauca)
The Blue Shark is a requiem shark. Requiem sharks birth living pups, tend to prefer cooler waters, and migrate for food and breeding. They are a rich indigo blue which fades to a sapphire blue; hence the name.
Blue Sharks can be found offshore in summer.
The Blue Shark is near threatened.
There have only been 13 reported cases of Blue Shark attacks on humans. These attacks usually happened during shipwrecks and were opportunistic rather than aggressive. Blue sharks don’t usually attack humans; but they’re not particularly timid either and should be treated with respect. They are curious and may approach to investigate and may bite if spearfishing has occurred.
Shortfin Mako Shark (oxyrinchus)
The Shortfin Mako is believed to be the fastest of any shark, able to swim up to 30 miles per hour. They lunge vertically up and tear off chunks of meat with the second strongest bite of any animal; roughly 3,000 lbs. of force or 13,000 newtons.
The World Conservation Union has listed the Shortfin Mako as Near Threatened, due to its use in shark fin soup. The species is classified as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
They can be found in the Gulf of Maine around July.
Despite menacing looks, formidable speed, a ferocious bite and an effective hunting technique, there are only nine recorded attacks on humans, including one fatality accorded to the Shortfin Mako Shark. However, if you happen to notice a Shortfin Mako Shark swimming as though following the outline of the number eight and approaching with its mouth open, then beware, as this means it’s pondering attack.
Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
Great White Sharks are fast and furious when they attack. They can swim at speeds approaching 25 miles per hour (40 km per hour) with burst speeds to 35 miles per hour (56 km per hour).
The appearance of Great Whites in Maine waters is relatively rare, although there was a fatal attack in 2020 in Harpswell Cove. It’s thought that environmental pressures and food needs may be bringing more to the waters. As a result of this attack, the number of shark sensors in the area has been tripled.
The Great White Shark is known to make unprovoked attacks on surfers but usually these are non-lethal. It’s likely the shark mistakes the surfer for one of their prey species. They are not labelled as aggressive but the rapid nature of attacks makes them especially dangerous. When they do attack it’s serious.
Sand Tiger Shark (Carcharias taurus)
Sand Tiger Sharks most often found close to shore, but are also found in shallow bays, coral and rocky reefs. Sometimes they can be found in deeper areas around the outer continental shelves.
Sand Tiger Sharks have a unique way of hunting. They collect air in their stomach from above the surface. The resulting buoyancy allows them to be very still and approach prey undetected.
A rather macabre fact about the Sand Tiger shark is that it eats its siblings in the womb [source: Parker].
Sand tiger sharks migrate towards shorelines but there have only been three sightings of them in the waters of Maine.
Basking Sharks (Cetorhinus maximus)
Basking Sharks are so named because they have a penchant for basking in the upper layers of water.
The Basking Shark is the largest shark the Gulf of Maine hosts. They can be spotted from May to October, both inshore and offshore.
Basking sharks are classed as Vulnerable on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list and are at risk of becoming an endangered species.
Gentle giants, these sharks have huge mouths that filter plankton. They do not attack humans. They may at first be mistaken for the Great White Shark, having a similar torpedo body shape, but they are not actually very similar at all.
There have been recorded deaths associated with Basking Sharks, but this is because of collisions with boats. They aren’t predatory.
Porbeagle Shark (Lamna nasus)
The name Porbeagle is thought to be a combination of porpoise and beagle because the Porbeagle Shark has physical characteristics reminiscent of porpoises and beagles: a rounded body and hunting methods similar to those of dogs. They are sometimes referred to as Salmon Sharks, but actually there are differences between the two species; though also a great deal of overlap. Like Salmon Sharks, Porbeagle Sharks are endothermic.
Porbeagle Sharks prefer cold water.
Like the Salmon Shark, the Porbeagle Shark is viewed as potentially dangerous to man but has never been positively identified in any shark attack. Unsubstantiated reports regarding this species could be confusing it with the Great White. Divers have reported no antagonistic behavior from them.
Thresher Shark (Alopias vulpinus)
The Thresher Shark is a Vulnerable species. The way the Thresher Shark uses its long tail fin to herd and stun multiple fish at once is unique to sharks.
The thresher shark is shy and harmless to humans and is unlikely to attack.
Maine offers some exciting surfing, particularly in fall and winter, if you can brave the cold. There are sharks, but then you’d expect there to be as the ocean is their habitat. Humans are far more of a threat to sharks than they are to us but when surfing, be shark aware and take care.