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)