Steve Estes’ new book Surfing the South dives into an endless summer

North Carolina is a great place to live, but let’s face it: when it comes to surfing, we’re not California or Hawaii.

Neither the rest of the Southeast, nor the Gulf Coast. Our coastline generally does not have point breaks or reef breaks that generate the biggest waves. (“Point Break,” by the way, isn’t just a 1991 surf movie starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, but a headland or pier that bends the course of a wave.)

Unless there is a hurricane watch, we rarely see anything resembling a pipeline.

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Still, Southern surfing has its own charms, says South Carolina native Steve Estes, a former student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a surfer for three decades. Surfers here must develop keen senses for incoming waves, and they learn to maneuver from one wave front to another, taking a new lift, so to speak, to extend their rides.

Lots of people surf here, and many are characters.

As detailed in his book, “Surfing the South: Finding the Waves and the People Who Ride Them,Estes – who teaches history at Sonoma State University – took a regional surfing tour from Galveston, Texas, to Ocean City, Maryland. Accompanied by his daughter Zinnia – 11, soon to be 40 and already suffering from teenage boredom – he sampled the local waves, talked to local surf masters and generally explored the scene.

The result is a laid-back, meandering narrative that’s part story, part profile, part travelogue.

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On the Cape Fear coast, for example, Estes spoke with Joseph “Skipper” Funderburg, co-founder of the Wrightsville Beach Surf Club in 1964. Skipper owned a used hearse, ideal for shipping longboards to the beach. He and his buddies fought a skirmish with Wrightsville Beach Police Chief Millard “Stinky” Williamson, who exiled the surfers to the north end of the beach. (Some Wrightsville town fathers wanted them banned altogether.)

The reasons were practical. In the days before leashes, a surfboard could turn into a rogue missile, aiming directly at an unfortunate splashing tourist near the shore.

Estes also interviewed Wilmington native Will Allison, a surfboard shaper whose handmade boards have become a trademark.

Between sessions, he and Zinnia also discovered Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn, where Estes overcame his California traditionalist qualms and actually enjoyed a shrimp burrito.

Elsewhere, surfers Estes encountered included a riverboat captain from Mississippi, an alligator hunter from Louisiana, a factory worker from South Carolina who heads to Folly Beach every chance he gets and a former teenage surf shop tycoon who now runs his businesses from the back room. of a Buffalo Wild Wings.

Estes, the historian, notes that the history of surfing is very similar to the history of modern America. There are African Americans and women struggling to spend their time in the water, and surfers everywhere are often at the forefront of environmental crusades.


‘SURFING THE SOUTH: Finding the Waves and the People Who Ride Them’

By Steve Estes

Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, paperback $19

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