Surfing Santa marks 30 years with smooth sailing

By Sarah Ferguson, Fort Erie Times

As a crowd waited, the hum of a helicopter signalled the arrival of Surfing Santa.

John Fulton, dressed in a jolly red suit and boots, was delivered via Niagara Helicopters to Mather’s Arch Tuesday morning in Fort Erie. As the helicopter landed behind the arches, more than 70 people rushed to gather nearby for a chance to greet Fulton and snap a photo.

He wished everyone a Merry Christmas and asked the children in the crowd what they hoped Santa will bring them this year.

After he greeted his fans, Fulton put his paddle board into the water and prepared himself for smooth sailing across Lake Erie from Canada to the U.S. and back.

“In 30 years, I have never been graced with such good weather,” he told the crowd.

Last year, Fulton’s trek was delayed in Niagara Falls due to fog which wouldn’t allow for Niagara Helicopters to bring Fulton to Mather’s Arch where was was expected to begin his journey.

Fulton has faced many other challenges over the course of the last three decades. The 54-year-old has had run-ins with border patrol in the U.S., and was even arrested one year for illegally entering the States.

When Fulton made his way into the U.S. waters Tuesday, he didn’t need to provide border patrol with any identification documents.

“Santa doesn’t need a passport,” he laughed. “Santa is an international figure.”

Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of Fulton making the trek in order to raise awareness of homelessness in Niagara.

For 27 years, Fulton made the journey alone but people began to take notice of what he does each December and the Niagara Parks Commission, Niagara Helicopters and the U.S. Border Patrol have signed on to help ensure Fulton’s safety.

“I can definitely say it has been emotional,” Fulton said. “I’ve been doing this for so many years. Some people just don’t understand it but it’s amazing to have such support.”

Fulton, who has always “been interested in helping people" originally began dressing as Old Saint Nick as a way to promote his wind surfing school. But Fulton also wanted to help people so encouraged individuals to ask him why he makes the journey each year. He also uses his web site as an educational tool to teach people how they can help.

Fulton’s crew also took up a collection of socks Tuesday which will be donated to shelters this Christmas.

“I’m hoping many people will grab a pair of new socks and underwear and bring it to the local shelters,” Fulton said.

Most people don’t think about donating new undergarments and these items are “greatly needed at this time of the year especially when it’s cold outside.

Fulton’s new Iphone game is also becoming more popular. Players must match three presents to help Surfing Santa surf from Canada to the U.S. while facing obstacles such as wind and border patrol officers. He said the app is available on his web site and the game is a fun way to encourage people to give to others in need in their own community.

To learn more about how to help the homeless in the region, Fulton encourages the public to visit his website at

Surfing Santa has made waves around the world and has become an icon for Fort Erie, which is why Mayor Wayne Redekop watched as Fulton launched himself from the shores of Lake Erie.

“This is a great event for the people in the community,” Redekop said. “It also helps to raise Fort Erie’s profile. I think it’s wonderful what Fulton is doing to raise awareness for homelessness.”

Fulton’s longtime friend Rex Mitchell remembers the inaugural Surfing Santa event in 1985.

“It was cold,” he laughed. “No, I don’t (think he is crazy for surfing each year). He has done it (surfed) all his life and he’s doing it to raise awareness for others in need.”

Mitchell wasn’t concerned about his friend’s safety because Fulton is an experienced surfer. Fulton always wears a dry suit, gloves, a dry hoodie, socks and boots under his merry attire.

“I think it’s great what he is doing to help others,” Mitchell said, who admitted he wouldn’t make the trek himself.

“None of us are that brave (to paddle board into U.S. waters and back),” Mitchell laughed.


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