Each December 23rd for the past 29 years John Fulton has been playing Santa Claus. So what you say? Well, he’s a Santa like no other. You see, John Fulton AKA,”The Surfing Santa” has been sailing the frigid and sometimes frozen Niagara River ever since 1985.That makes him the longest running surfing Santa in the world.
53 year old Fulton of Fort Erie, Ontario a local gym owner and former Windsurfing instructor says, “I started doing this as a way to promote my Windsurfing school almost three decades ago. The school is long gone but went worldwide on the first try and I’ve been donating the media coverage to bring attention to the homelessness ever since.” During his -8 degree Celsius inaugural voyage unknown to him 100km/hr winds were whipping up Lake Erie. He entered the river near the mouth of the lake and midway into the 1.6 kilometre trip his mast snapped sending Santa over to Buffalo without a return ticket .
Once back in Canada media got the story and twisted it referring to exaggerated 12 foot waves and border guard arrests. But the stunt became an instant sensation around the globe and has been ever since.
In 2002, the year after 911 U.S. Border patrol arrested the Surfing Santa for illegally entering the United States after he landed in the U.S. during a squall to adjust his sail. He was finger printed, photographed and released without charges once things got sorted out. The story, “Santa Claus Arrested” made headlines throughout the world for weeks.
This year’s 29th crossing is supported by the U.S. Border Patrol, Niagara Parks Police, Niagara Helicopters and The Niagara Parks Commission. Fulton reminisces about his previous trip, “I sailed the icy waters with a small crew on shore and a cell phone in a zip lock. The support I’m getting today is amazing.” Today’s Surfing Santa makes the trip wearing a high tech dry suit with gloves, booties, hoody and personal floatation device.
The affable Fulton says, “It’s no longer a publicity stunt. It’s now part of the folklore of the community.” Several charitable organizations that support the homeless population in the region benefit from the event. One pack a backpack campaign (www.socksforsanta.com) has a goal to gather 2000 pairs of new warm socks.
The United Way of Niagara Falls and Fort Erie and their partners will be at this years crossing to promote an initiative to start Canada’s first Canada Veterans and Community shelter in Niagara Falls. At present there is no facility in the falls area for men living on the street.
The Agenda for Monday, December 23rd, 2013
-John Fulton, AKA Santa Claus will arrive about 10 am via Niagara Helicopters near the shoreline of Old Fort Erie south of the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie.
-If there’s a strong North-East wind he will make the trip on his windsurfing board to the U.S. side of the border with the Buffalo skyline in the distance and return back to Canada. He will be safeguarded by the Niagara Parks Police and the U.S. Border Patrol, -if the wind is not favourable, he will take a helicopter ride at approximately 11:00 am to a launch just south of Miller’s Creek Marina( the old Niagara Parks Marina) and cross over to Beaver island Park, Grand Island N.Y.
-About 1p.m. he will return by helicopter to the Niagara Heliport in Niagara Falls at 3731 Victoria Ave, near the intersection of the Niagara Parkway. Bring your camera and have your photo taken with Surfing Santa. People are also encouraged to bring along a pair of new socks at either location for the Socks 4 Santa campaign. Representatives from the United Ways of Fort Erie and Niagara Falls will be on hand to assist.