Surfing in St. Augustine? Looking deeper at the thriving surf scene

Surfing2By Patrick Fallon |

St Augustine is known for many things like Flagler College — being the Oldest City in America, its beautiful weather and location, it’s beaches, or nightlife even. But one thing that most people forget this city is known for is its overwhelming surfing community.

Understandably so given the lack of waves, the onshore winds and all the other attributes of the city. That said, how is it there are so many surfers here? So many talented ones? And what keeps surfers coming here and calling St Augustine home?

If you know anything about surfing, you know how much surfers hold their hometown dear to them. If you “diss” or disrespect another surfer’s town it’s like calling their mom fat. For the amount of passion St. Augustine surfers give to representing their town, you can tell right away when you paddle out how special this place is and why people choose to call this city home.

“No matter where I travel, or life takes me, or surfing takes me, something always keeps me coming back to St. Aug,” said Zander Morton, former professional surfer and now assistant editor and writer for Surfing Magazine. “I mean I live out here (California) with three guys who are from St. Augustine or have close associations with St. Aug, and that’s not just a coincidence.”

Surfing and St. Augustine have always had a strong relationship. With the surf scene so prevalent in the local community, with help from Flagler College and other surfing wanderers, many surfers have found their way to the city and even gone on make a name for themselves in the a multi-billion dollar surf industry.

Since the 1970s and 80s people like Sal Ropero, owner and trainer at Saloman Services, and Tory Strange, owner of the Surf Station surf shop, have pushed for a tight relationship between the St. Augustine community and its surfers.

“It all started with the older generations, people like my dad and Tory, back in the day,” said Chris Ropero, St Augustine local, personal sports trainer and former professional surfer. “They really did a good job of establishing respect while creating a positive relationship between surfing and the community of St Augustine and passing it down to younger generations like myself and the kids around town. I think the goal of preserving that respect and vibe has really allowed the relationship to grow stronger as time goes on.”

As time went on the surf community became more involved and evident within St Augustine. We see it now more than ever. While driving down A1A on the island, one may come across the huge billboard for Coquina Beach Club, a restaurant in St Augustine Beach, with perfect barreling left peeling across the ad, or The Mcleod firm or Bailey Group with pictures of waves making up a majority of the designs for their ads. Or maybe the Surf Station caught an eye with their in your face surf ads or the unforgettable appearance of their surf shop.

“You’ll see judges, successful businessman, college professors, influential people in the community. They all support the various surfing related events around the community and you rarely see the negative stigma attached to surfers like in other communities,” said Eric Taylor, Flagler alumnus, former professional surfer and St Augustine homeowner.

“Its like a little surf community, everyone is bound together by the beach and beach activities and trying to keep a community feel with a surf vibe to it as opposed to just doing it for the community. We try and do things around the beaches and living that kind of ‘surfin’ life,” said Brooks Bailey, a Flagler alum and surfer who was born and raised here.

Today St. Augustine has a total of six surf shops, holds a number of local surf contests every year, has countless surf-related charity and social events, and has more surf-related businesses, occupations and talents than, arguably, any other single coastal city on the east coast.

Local talent is something that St. Augustine is familiar with professional surfers like of Gabe Kling, Jeremy Creter, Jody Davis, Chris Ropero, and Zander Morton among others. There are Ryan Miller and Jimmy Wilson, staff photographers and editors for Surfing Magazine and Transworld Surf.

“St. Augustine does nothing but produce talent,” said local up-and-comer Chase Stevens, a local 15-year-old who recently won the ESA Eastern Surfing Championship.

Anyone you talk to in St Augustine can instantly give you a list of names that have made a reputation for themselves as talented surfers from the back in the 70’s right through today. But it’s not just the born and bread locals that are making waves down in the Oldest City.

Having Flagler College as a big part of the community around here, surfers come from all over the world to settle in St Augustine. Flagler presents surfers with opportunity, and a number of Flagler alumni and students have stirred things up in surfing including Seth Stafford, world-renown surf photographer; Dustin Miller, one of the biggest surf cinematographers in the industry; Ryan Ripco, a brand representative for West wetsuits; and Eric Taylor. Not to mention the Flagler College surf team, which since its establishment in the early 2000s has placed top 15 in the nation at the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championship in San Clemente, Ca., and top 3 on the east coast, every year.

“I moved here in 2002 and really pushed for a surf team out of Flagler. I captained it and we did really well with absolutely no backing from the school for years. The whole team was comprised of transplants, not one local,” said Matt Ollis, longtime St. Augustine transplant, Flagler alum and former Surf Station manager.

As a whole, both locals and Flagler students and alumni make up what has become the deeply intertwined St. Augustine surfing community. The constant influx of surfers that filters through St Augustine rejuvenates and pushes the talent level, not to mention interest in surfing this unique community.

“It’s not the waves,” said Eric Taylor. “It’s who you get to expereince them with. I would rather surf junky waves with all my friends than perfect waves with no one to share them with. College is where you make some of your closest lifelong friends and getting the chance to surf with them everyday is rad.”

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