Welcome to Bert's Surf Shop
Mr. Pearson, still surfing after 60, looked back over the growth of a Southern subculture. He began selling surfboards over 30 years ago in his shoe store in Kinston, an inland North Carolina community. Now Bert's Surf Shops populate the Carolina Coast.
"I used to surf every Sunday after taking my wife and kids to Sunday school," he recalled. "There's a whole different atmosphere now. Surfing has become and accepted sport."
Surfin' the South
Beach Bums Chase Waves from Carolinas to Gulf of Mexico.
By Bob Dart, Journal-Constitution Washington Bureau
Originally published on September 10, 1989. (The Atlanta Journal and Constitution.)
WAVES, NC - Swells spawned by a tropical depression far out in the Atlantic were peaking along the Carolina Outer Banks, and some rejoiceful surfers were shredding the breaks.
"We chase hurricanes - like riders of the storm," said James Orr, 25, who had driven from Fort Lauderdale, FL. "We follow them up the coast."
September is a favored month for down-home surfing in Dixie. While of the region is entwined in rituals of football, its surfers are studying fall storms on cable TV's Weather Channel and rushing to beaches where big waves come crashing ashore.
Even inland, a surfing fad is rising high. Youngsters who have never seen an ocean are returning to school in outfits from Pacific Coast Highway, Quiksilver, O'Neill, Jimmy'Z, Gotcha, Rip Curl and other beachy in-brands.
"Kids want that surfing look, sort of a California style. They want something different than the Izods and Polo shirts," said Bert Pearson, whose string of Bert's Surf Shops is advertised as "Rockin' the Carolina Coast from Nags Head to Myrtle Beach."
Most of his clothing is sold to non-surfers. "There's a certain feeling that you get from dressing this way," said Mr. Pearson, who started surfing in 1965 at the age of 35. "It's an attitude."
It's an attitude that has ebbed and returned like the tide since the first surfing craze arrived with Beach Boys music and Beach party movies in the 1960's. Now, after more than two decades, surfing has gained acceptance in the South as a sport as a style.
Everywhere saltwater touches shores of the Old Confederacy, surfers can be found in surprising numbers. There are about 800,000 recreational surfers on the East Coast - including Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, said "Doc" Couture, 46, of the Easter Surfing Association.
The sport is equally popular along the region's other coastline.
"There are surfers in every state that borders the Gulf of Mexico - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida," said Cliff Schlabach, 41, president of the Texas Gulf Surfing Association.
Some of the world's best surfers are Southerners. Frieda Zamba, four-time women's world champion hails from Flagler Beach, FL. Top pros Wes Laine and Charlie Kuhn grew up surfing off the North Carolina Outer Banks.
The hottest young surfer anywhere is Kelly Slater, 17, from Cocoa Beach, FL. A heartthrob of the bikini set, Mr. Slater has appeared on televisions "The New Mickey Mouse Club" and in Seventeen magazine, as well as the cover of numerous surfing publications.
It took years for Southern surfers to gain respect of contest judges from the West Coast and Hawaii, said Kurtis Loftbus, publisher of Swell magazine, which has a circulation of about 27,000. "They've had to work hard to overcome regional bias."
Swell, published in Jacksonville, FL, covers southern surfing.
For surfers, wave size and consistency are the main differences between America's coasts.
"Our surfers are more hard core - not spoiled by the better waves" that regularly roll into California and Hawaii, said Roland Moorhead, 26, of Daytona Beach, FL. "You have to travel" to surf in the South."
And you need to be a meteorologist as well as an athlete. Wind and tides weather all affect the waves.
Standing near the Rodanthe Pier on Hatteras Island, SC, Stuart Kruger recalled that "when Hurricane Dean hit Bermuda, the surf here was perfect -8feet and glassy."
Mr. Fruger, 34, who started surfing on Virginia Beach, came to North Carolina for the offshore storm from his law office in the nation's capital. "When you say in Washington that you surf, people look at you strangely," he said. "Most lawyers play golf or tennis."
Not all surfers are bony, blonde boys, however. Many defy the stereotype.
Curtis Wyrick, for instance is a 33-year old computer software consultant from Duluth, GA, who has been surfing for 14 years. His friend George Howard, is a surfing mechanic from Richlands, NC.
A lot of Southern surfers drive pickup trucks. A favorite surfer lunch spot on the Carolina coast is Bubba's Barbecue, located not far from the famed Cape Hatteras lighthouse.
"I'm a soul surfer," said Jim Robertson of St. Simon's Island, GA. "I shun the popular breaks and really enjoy pioneering [finding new places to surf]. The best surfing I do, there's no one there but my wife and me."
Mr. Robertson, 35, is a mortgage banker and real estate investor who admits to scheduling his life around surfing.
"I'm self-employed, and I live around the swells," he said. "You know, they say working is for people who don't surf."
Mr. Robertson and his wife, Cay, bought a tiny island in McIntosh County, GA, and set up a camp from where they can go out by boat and surf the waves that break on the sandbars off Sapelo and Blackbeard Islands.
Since the late 1960s, Southern surfers have benefited from technological advances such as smaller surfboards, which are much more maneuverable. When Jan and Dean first sang "Going to Surf City," the typical board was more than 9 feet long. Today's boards, called "sticks" or "thrusters," are closer to 6 feet long with pointed noses and three more fins.
In the movie "Back to the Beach," a young surfer looks at Frankie Avalon's "Big Kahuna" board and says, "Man that's not a surfboard. That's a pier."
Surfers slide the small boards up and down waves like skateboarders doing tricks on a ramp. "You can do a lot more on the small boards," said Skip Sacks, 32, and attorney from Norfolk, VA, who has surfed for 20 years.
After learning and practicing on their coast's small, inconsistent waves, some Southern surfers have become stars when given the opportunity to rip into big, well formed waves.
Ironically, there has been a resurgence of sorts for the big boards of yesteryear. Nicknamed "logs," the longboards are being reclaimed by middle-aged surfers who started out in the '60s.
Longboards provide "more flotation" for older surfers who are heavier and "not in great shape," said Mr. Sacks. "It's easier to catch waves on a longboard."
The jargon has changed as much as the equipment.
"We used to call a fin a 'skeg.' All of a sudden, if you said 'skeg' people looked at you like you were prehistoric," Mr. Sacks says.
Nobody uses the term "hodad" now to describe a non-surfer who adopts the clothes and manner of the sport. However, some surfers are wary of the widespread popularity of the surfer "look."
"It's killing itself. Instead of being a lifestyle, it's become a fashion statement," said Carol Busbey, 37, who has surfed since she was 13. "I'm afraid what is happening is that the real surfers will stop wearing the stuff."
Mrs. Busbey and her husband Scott, own the Natural Art Surf Shop in Buxton, NC. They work around the waves.
In the summers, they take turns minding the store. "In the fall, it if gets good, we just close the shop," she said. "We put a note on the door saying that we'll be back."
For six weeks or so in January and February, they take surfing trips. Destinations have included Australia, Hawaii, New Zealand, California and the Caribbean.
Such devotion is not unusual.
"When I'm not working, I'm surfing. That's it," said Eric Dotson, 20, a house painter from Virginia Beach. He watches surfing videos to improve his techniques. He surfs every weekend, year-round. Sometimes he stays at friends' houses on the Outer Banks. "Sometimes I get hardcore and sleep in my car," he said.
"I guess you could say we're into the fad - the beach life," he said. Girls in bikinis "are part of the scenery."
At the Rodanthe Pier, 13-year old Johnny Correll tossed back his blonde hair, hitched up his Jimmy'Z shorts and cheerfully conceded that the culture and clothes helped lure him into surfing.
"It's fun and it's in style," he explained. "Half of it is style."
Surf wear is a $2.5 billion a year business, said Mr. Luftus, the Swell magazine publisher. Its manufacturers are just beginning to realize the potential of the Southern market, and are increasingly signing the region's top surfers to endorsement contracts.
The typical professional surfer has at least three sponsors - a board manufacturer, a clothing company and an accessories sponsor, which can be anything from suntan lotion and sunglasses to surfboard leashes and waterproof watches.
In return for endorsing their products, the sponsors provide the surfers with gear, pay for their worldwide travel to surfing contests and pay them a fee.
Mr. Pearson, still surfing as he nears 60, looked back over the growth of a Southern subculture. He began selling surfboards 25 years ago in his shoe store in Kinston, an inland North Carolina community. Now Bert's Surf Shops populate the Carolina Coast.
"I used to surf every Sunday after taking my wife and kids to Sunday school," he recalled. "There's a whole different atmosphere now. Surfing has become and accepted sport." -end.