The St. Augustine Issue

The Golden Era Of St. Augustine Surfing

Jimmy Wilson

A photographic retrospective based on St. Augustine’s early 2000’s surf scene.

Jimmy Wilson

I can’t speak to the surf scene in St. Augustine before I moved there, but I’m sure it was rad. Blowhole — in Anastasia State Park — was known as one of the premier surf spots along the East Coast. The dredge was a long way off. Talent was being fostered. And I know when I arrived in 1995, the scene was booming. I call the 2000’s the golden era of St. Augustine surfing as an opinion more than a fact, but there are a couple key reasons that lead me to believe I’m right. Mainly, it was the explosion of talented surfers that came up in the Aughts — many who have yet to be matched. That, and we experienced every phase of coastal transition along these Florida beaches, and that transition was extreme.

In the late nineties, the coastline had a very distinct curvature. There was Vilano’s shorebreak that thumped on every high tide with swell. Just across the St. Augustine inlet to the south lived a sandbar that resembled the Outer Banks more than it did Florida. Further down in the State Park you had Middles, which was absolutely legit, with reeling lefts and short, rippable rights. This was easily the mecca of town.

FA’s was a unique wave and when it was on you saw barreling rights behind the rocks and novelty reforms on the inside. The pier down to 4th St. was mostly a write off at that time, but a couple of the town’s best surfers would surf it alone at good windows. You also had 3rd St. to A St. where anyone who wasn’t at Vilano would surf at high tide.

Few to this day realize the potential of Matanzas Inlet. It’s the only natural inlet in the state and has always been rarely explored by crowds because of the random sandbars that will come and go quickly. I can remember days out there that would blow your mind. From perfect Lowers-esque peaks,
novelty lefts into the bridge and even Kirra style slabs way
out the back.

That was the general layout until the dredge pipes arrived. In the end, they ruined five of the seven spots mentioned above. It’s still argued how much dredging affected Vilano and Matanzas Inlet.

But the dredge wasn’t all bad news. It did create some of the all-time greatest Florida surf.

I began documenting surfing around town at age 15. I steadily got more involved, until I eventually became the full-time Photo Editor for Eastern Surf, in 2006. At the time, I always preferred to go to down to Puerto Rico to shoot, because when St. Augustine was firing, I had a hard time ditching my own board.

Here are a few moments, all shot on film, dug up from part of this Golden Era of St. Augustine. (Additional commentary by Zander Morton)

Jimmy Wilson

Jeremy Creter and Gabe Kling

Jimmy: St. Augustine’s demi-gods. The two best surfers our town has ever seen. It’s a shame, not many outside of St. Johns County witnessed Jeremy’s talent, because it was right up there with the best from the East Coast. I’m talking Asher, Benny B, and Hobgoods level. From my perspective, there was always a brotherly rivalry going on between Jeremy and Gabe. This photo of Jeremy dropping in on Gabe represents their relationship well. Gabe was out doing his thing on the world stage, but when they surfed together at home, Jeremy would go the extra mile to try and outshine everyone. Many times, he did.

Zander: Some would say Creter was a more naturally gifted surfer than Gabe. And they might be right. While Gabe worked hard to maximize every ounce of his talent, Creter was in and out of the shadows locally. Sometimes we wouldn’t see him in the water for six-months at a time. And then he would just show back up. Borrowed board. Old trunks. No leash. And it was like he never lost a step. Creter is seriously one of the most talented surfers few have ever heard of.

Jeremy Creter Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson

Jody Davis, The Pier

Jimmy: The “mentoring the younger generation” thing you see now didn’t exist back then. We were lucky if the older guys would give us the time of day, much less a set wave. But we were also raised to respect our elders and truly looked up to guys like Jody. I mean look at this legend.

Zander: Jody — along with Gabe Kling and Jeremy Creter — comprised the big three of Saint Augustine surfing in the early 2000s. All three inspired me tremendously; after all, it’s not like every town has CT talent in its local lineups. While it took them awhile to warm up to me and some of the other guys in the younger generation, they eventually took us under their wings — both in the lineups, and in the local bars (RIP Dunes).

Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson

Vilano Beach

Jimmy: There’s nowhere else I’ve ever seen where you can pull your truck up on the beach, take ten steps and five paddles and be air-dropping into a wedging barrel. V-Land was always the ultimate proving ground in our town. The boys would be drinking beers watching and talking shit and rednecks from inland would come out of the woodworks and get the worst sunburns you’ve ever seen.

Zander: I feel so old and bitter whenever I say, “It’s not like it used to be.” But in the case of Vilano, it’s true. Whether from the shifting of the shoals, the inlet dredging or just the passing of time, Vilano’s thumping shorebreak just isn’t what it once was.

Jimmy Wilson

Ross Howatt, A-St.

Jimmy: The waves were flat so often, I shot more bands and skateboarding than anything. I tried putting a flash into a waterhousing. It became a no-brainer. At the time, Seth Stafford and DJ Struntz were the only other guys on the East Coast shooting with one, so it was an easy way to stand out and get photos published. You only had one burst per wave so timing was everything. Ross always had a nasty vertical bash on his backhand. This was like shooting fish in a barrel.

Zander: As a photographer, Jimmy hustled hard. I was out this evening. It was basically flat. But Jimmy had an idea for SURFING Magazine’s International Surfing Day issue, and he made it work. I’m pretty sure one of his flash photos from this session made the magazine, even though the waves were hardly rideable.

Jimmy Wilson

Chris Ropero, The Pier

Jimmy: This ended up running in Surfing Magazine’s ESA Easterns program as a spread. The thing I remember most about it was Surfing’s Larry “Flame” Moore writing me a letter stoked on what I was doing. A week or two later, I was leaving a typical day of 10th grade at Menendez High School when I got a call from SURFER Photo Editor Grant Ellis offering me a spot as a SURFER Staff Photographer. I pondered it and later respectfully declined the offer, but it was this photo that put me on their radar.

Zander: Back in 2002, I won the ESA Easterns. The day I got back from Hatteras, Jimmy shot a photo of me at the pier that would end up being his first published image — a postage stamp in ESM. The next year, Chris won the Easterns, and shortly after, Jimmy shot this photo of him at the pier that would end up a spread. It’s pretty cool how our group of friends worked together and inspired one another. It was a really unique and special thing.

Jimmy Wilson
Glass perfection at Middles Jimmy Wilson

Middles

Jimmy: The holy grail. This is the wave you cut school or work when it turned on. It was usually crazy crowded but that lightened up significantly when beach driving was banned in Anastasia State Park, after to a couple of girls were run over by a truck. I never heard exactly what happened to the girls but it sounded gruesome.

Zander: Middles was special. It was Mecca. Saint Augustine’s best wave. When I was about 13 I got a ride down after school (back when you could still drive on the beach) from Brian Hornung and Scott Calvin on a legit 6 to 8-foot day. Top to bottom tubes. The biggest and best I’ve ever seen it. And I didn’t paddle out; I was too scared.

Jimmy Wilson

Pat “Pcon” Conner, Sebastian Inlet

Jimmy: This was on the first roll of film I ever shot in the water. It ended up as a ¾ spread in ESM and is probably the most important photo I ever shot.
It gave me a virtual thumbs up to chase surf photography as a career.

Zander: I watched Jimmy swim out this day at junky, 2-foot Sebastian, just out of the competition area during the Sebastian Inlet pro. He linked up with Cory Lopez a couple times, as well as Pat and a few others. I remember Jimmy being really excited when he got this roll of film developed and realized he had actually nailed a few shots.

Cullen Traverso, Kai Hayes and the F.U.C.C.

Jimmy: St. Augustine was always a pretty safe town. Minimal criminal activity, drugs were a rarity (excluding weed), and DUIs and house parties probably accounted for the majority of arrests.

It must’ve been super boring for police officers because they knew us all on a first name basis. I would argue we bent the rules more than broke them, but the F.U.C.C. always seemed to roll up at any sign of a fun time, like this harmless wakeskate session in a flooded ditch.

Jimmy wilson
Jimmy Wilson

The Dredge

Jimmy: While we’re on the subject of St. Augustine’s bored-as-shit police department, I might as well bring up the days these geniuses would send out helicopters, boats and dozens of officers to clear the water, barring us from scoring epic point breaks formed by the short-lived dredge projects. Your tax dollars at work! Here’s a rare session when they mysteriously decided not to bust us (or ran out of helicopter budget). You can see the clearly defined right and left point stemming out from FA’s.

Zander: For a short while, The Dredge created the best sandbars Saint Augustine has ever seen. I remember the first time it came to town, we were in shock. The sand spewing pipes moved down the coast—north to south—starting in the State Park and ending at A-Street, building new point breaks as it went. While we didn’t know it at the time, The Dredge was the beginning of the end. When the sand eventually washed away, we were left with deep holes and uneven sandbars. To this day, the sandbars in Saint Augustine haven’t been the same.

Gabe Kling Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson

Gabe Kling, The Pier

Jimmy: Take a guess how many East Coasters have qualified for surfing’s biggest stage since Gabe fell off tour in 2011? 0. His combination of flow and power in every condition made Gabe a nightmare to draw in a QS heat. No tailpad, no leash, just raw explosiveness. Mr. Kling is forever the king of St. Augustine surfing.

Jimmy Wilson

Jonny “Bucky” Barclay, The Surf Station/16th St.

Jimmy: Bucky was like everyone’s little brother. You’d see this tiny little blonde kid all over town launching huge airs and flaring out impossible laybacks. He was “in” with the older generation way before anyone else.

Jonny was one of the first handful of surfers in the world to stick a rodeo and had the potential to find a place in the freesurf world, but always flailed in contests. To this day, kids on the East Coast have a hard time getting recognized by the surf industry out west.

Zander: Jonny was (and likely still is) another super talented surfer. He didn’t always make the best life choices, but he’s a good kid. Just had a knack for finding trouble. Here he is, in the parking lot of The Surf Station, after slinging mud on his Chevy. Like most of us, Jonny spent countless hours hanging at The Surf Station.

 

Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson

Lauren Hill, 16th St.

Jimmy: In my opinion, you’re either born with style or you aren’t. Lauren always had it and became one of the best female longboarders only a few short years after she started surfing. I always tried to push her into riding a shortboard because she ripped at that, too, but I’m so glad she didn’t listen to me. Longboarding is what she was meant to do and has led her to an incredible life in Australia with her partner and baby’s daddy, Dave Rastovich.

Zander: Years before Lauren’s first visit to Australia, we joked with her about how she’d be a perfect fit for Rasta, based on their shared surfing and environmental interests. I guess some things are just meant to be.

Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson

Will Tant, Vilano

Jimmy: Will is a style master from Flagler Beach who rarely came up north to surf, but rode for the Surf Station. He went on to become a big time model in New York and LA. One of the most humble, awesome humans you’ll ever meet and I get stoked anytime I randomly run into him.

Zander: Flagler Beach is only 30 minutes south of Saint Augustine. But it might as well be in a whole different world. Will was another local surfer I looked up to tremendously, though, as Jimmy said, he didn’t visit Saint Augustine very often, so I didn’t get to surf with him as much as I would have liked.

Jimmy Wilson

Karina Petroni, The Pier

Jimmy: Karina was a child prodigy who grew up bouncing from Panama to the Gold Coast to Neptune Beach. She seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of fellow Floridians Frieda Zamba and Lisa Anderson. After a disappointing rookie year on tour, Karina disappeared into the abyss of the Bahamas and still lives there today. While she didn’t fulfill her competitive potential, Karina is easily dominating the game of life, scoring flawless waves with minimal crowds.

 

Jimmy Wilson

Modest Mouse, Café 11

Jimmy: That one time Modest Mouse showed up to play a show at Café-freaking-11. We were tripping out because they were already a hugely popular band, but had only put out a couple albums at that point. I think this happened right after The Moon and Antarctica dropped.

Zander: Modest Mouse. Back-to-back nights. At a venue for a couple hundred people. How lucky were we?

Jimmy Wilson

Zander Morton, Back Bay

Jimmy: Some guys from the older generation surfed it way back in the day, but at this time it was really only Brad Evers and the Vilano skimboard crew that gave Back Bay a look. There was one particular day that stood out above the rest. A freakish, head-high barrel section was wrapping around the end corner. On my first wave the bottom dropped out below sea level. I ate shit and was held under while my board got sucked straight into the middle of the inlet. No chance I was going to swim after it with the raging current and excess of sharks. I had to watch it disappear into nowhere and ended my session. Tory Strange put up a note on the surf report and a few days later a man found it one-mile into Salt Run, laying on a bed of oysters, completely shredded. RIP magic Dan Taylor 6’0”.

Zander: Saint Augustine has (or at least had) more variety of surf spots than any other town in Florida. Back Bay is the most unique one. Sure, it’s novelty. But anytime the weather got nasty, and the wind picked up from the northeast, we were out there. It’s a cool feeling riding a wave that looks into downtown, even if it’s only 2-foot. Back Bay is our version of surfing under San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. The wave itself is average, but the location is what makes it memorable.

Zander (not at Back Bay) Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson
Jimmy Wilson

This article was originally published in our St. Augustine issue and was made possible with the support of  Vans, Design Within Reach, and Flexfit.

Order your copy today:

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Also, be sure to check out the Vans Duct Tape Festival in St. Augustine, September 20-22nd.

Jimmy Wilson

If he died tomorrow, Jimmy would like to be remembered for Tackle Tuesday, killing the double grab air, having the most fun ever, and being genuinely passionate about nearly everything in life. After growing up in the nation’s Oldest City, Jimmy relocated to Puerto Rico before stepping into Dick Meseroll’s shoes as Eastern Surf Magazine Photo Editor. From there, it was onto California for a nine-year run with SURFING Magazine. Aside from being a decent photographer, he’s a surprisingly average writer who is always willing to give an honest opinion, regardless of consequences. Jimmy currently resides in Cardiff, CA working as an Online Content Editor for Vans spending most of his time playing dad, watching his beloved Jaguars and Seminoles, surfing, and snowboarding down mountains during winter.

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