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By Alexander Morton
I was born in Jacksonville but moved to the Old City when I was seven, after my parents, who opened Ragtime, decided to bring another brewpub called A1A Ale Works to St. Augustine. My family bought a lot a stone’s throw away from the Surf Station, and in many ways, the proximity of our home to the shop defined my career.
While the Surf Station was my first sponsor (at 10!) and also my first job (at 15!), it was much more than that. It was also a meeting place. A skatepark. A classroom. From the day we moved to St. Augustine, if I wasn’t at school, or sleeping, or surfing, I was at the shop.
When I was 12 years old, longtime Surf Station employees Scott Calvin and Brian Hornung, both in their early 20s, started taking me surfing after school. I don’t know if they really wanted to, but I didn’t give them much choice. I’d show up at the shop at 2:15 in the afternoon with my surfboard, and 45 minutes later, when their shifts ended, I followed them out to their cars. This was back when you could still drive on the beach in Anastasia State Park.
One afternoon, after the winds shifted west on the tail end of a strong nor’easter, I hitched a ride like I’d done so many days before. But when we got to Middles that day, it might as well have been Pipeline. Double overhead teepees were barreling both ways. Terrifying.
Scott and Brian quickly paddled out and started trading tubes, while I sat on the beach with my friend Richard Barile, both of us in our wetsuits already, but with our tails between our legs, sure that if we joined them we were going to die. It didn’t matter that these were the best waves we’d ever seen. We would die. We were convinced.
Against Brian’s wishes, Bob Moseley gave us a ride back to the shop. But Brian wouldn’t let me live it down. He passed word down that I wasn’t allowed back inside Surf Station — or to hitch a ride to the beach — until I copped a 10-minute red belly (the grom abuse of choice back then).
After a week hiding at home I decided to face my punishment. The second my red belly began, I vowed to myself that I’d never turn my back on good waves again.
That day, I learned to face my fears (shortly after I copped another red belly from Brian for wearing rollerblades inside the shop. I hated it at the time, but I’m forever indebted to him for making sure I never wore those stupid things again).
When I was 13, Tory Strange, owner of the Surf Station, found me hanging around at the shop and drove me to Gabe Kling’s house over on Vilano. Gabe was one of my heroes and I was both nervous and excited to meet him. The waves were tiny, but Tory wanted Gabe to give me pointers on my technique. So he asked him to watch me surf. I’m not sure if he did it begrudgingly or not, but Gabe sat in the sand for about an hour. I thought I was ripping and came in hoping to hear Gabe’s praise. Instead, he told me I was hopping around too much and that I needed to slow everything down. It was a painful lesson from my hero, but that day I learned what it meant to be humbled.
A year later I skateboarded up to the shop at 8 a.m. on Saturday for a bar of wax. The shop opened at 7 back then. To my surprise, the door was locked, lights still off. What was going on?
I waited in the parking lot for someone to open up, practicing ollies between the concrete islands where the fuel pumps had once been. 30 minutes later, Tripp Turner, another Surf Station OG, showed up. Normally Tripp was smiling and happy, but this day he was tired, quiet, with shiny red eyes.
I loitered around the way I always did, bar of wax in hand, perusing the latest surf mags, while Tripp struggled to answer the phone, keeping his sunglasses on inside. After awhile I asked him what was wrong — was he sick?
Tripp just laughed. “Self induced sickness,” he told me. “Never touch Wild Turkey.”
That morning I learned what it meant to be hungover (of course I would learn the hard way many times later).
It went on like that. Year after year. Something new every day. I met Kelly Slater and Rob Machado together in the shop while they were ranked first and second in the world. They signed my surfboard! Tory brought me surfing with Chris Ward at A Street after his biopic “Psycho Ward” was released. He told me I was ripping! Those moments taught me my heroes were human.
By the time I was 16 I had a job at the shop and I could drive. But nothing changed. I’d hang out there before my shift started and stay after it ended. For my friends and me, the Surf Station was, without exaggeration, at the center of our lives. Bored? We’d go to Surf Station. Looking for friends? We’d hang out at The Shop. Those were the days!
While I’ve been living in California for the past seven years (with a 14 month stint in Indonesia), and don’t get home as much as I’d like, from what I hear, the “shop grom” has gone the way of the surf magazine. It hardly exists (a bummer, but social media has made the world infinitely less social, unfortunately).
Jeff McNally. Daniel Lewis. Kelly Conway. Matt Hesson. Jake Burghardt. Ross Howatt. Jimmy Wilson. Chris Ropero. Collin Wicker. Jeff Logan. The list of late 1990s and early 2000s kids raised by the shop goes on and on. We all have similar stories. And we all owe the Surf Station for setting us up for success.
Because we’ve all learned as much inside those walls (and outside in the parking lot) as we have anywhere else in life.