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By Lura Readle Scarpitti
Photos by Kate Gardiner
The effects of filmmaker Bruce Brown’s iconic documentary, which took the country by storm in the late ’60s, are still felt today. If you bring it up around any surfer worth his weight in salt water, they’ll animatedly start talking about the first time they saw that movie and what it meant to them; how seeing it inspired them and made them want to do the same thing.
The epic surf journey of two friends, chasing the perfect wave and the “endless summer” around the globe captured the imagination of millions of people across the nation (those not living in California and Hawaii, that is, where the sport took root in its early days) who hadn’t been exposed to this exciting new sport called surfing. One of those people, St. Johns County Judge Charles “Chuck” Tinlin, was one of the millions, who found themselves sitting in a darkened theater completely taken in by the fun, adventure and camaraderie playing out in front of them on the screen.
“I started surfing because I saw the movie ‘The Endless Summer’ when I was a teen in Memphis,Tennessee,” Tinlin states matter-of-factly. “That was it. From the moment I saw it, I said, ‘I want to learn how to do that.’” Granted, the Birthplace of the Blues isn’t the first place that comes to mind when thinking about the sport. Unless you’re riding the wake behind one of the huge barges traveling up and down the Mississippi River, landlocked Tennessee provides zero opportunity to paddle into a wave. What’s a surf-obssessed boy to do?
The eager youngster was fortunate, though. “My parents would vacation in Florida every summer. The year that I saw ‘Endless Summer,’ we went to Boca Raton. I begged a board off a kid I didn’t even know and tried my hand at it. That’s how I spent every summer after. Wherever we were, I’d borrow boards from whomever I could and taught myself how to do it.”
Tinlin started surfing in earnest in 1974 when he took off for the University of Miami after high school but didn’t stay because “the waves aren’t any good down south,” he concedes, “…so I came up here and went to Flagler (College) because the waves were a lot better.” After receiving his degree in both Social Science and English in 1979 and having no luck gaining employment, Tinlin decided law school was the next step… and of course, it had to be someplace near a good break.
“I went to San Diego because I knew there would be good surf there,” Tinlin readily admits. Three years later, he received his juris doctorate from California Western School of Law and headed back east to start his career. “I had always planned to come back and I had offers here which made the decision easy.” Easy access to the ocean helped seal the deal.
These days, that easy access allows for surf sessions when court isn’t in session. Tinlin admits that if the waves are up, he’ll quickly exchange his robes for baggies and paddle out during lunch (always sure to make it back to court on time!) or before/after the day’s proceedings.
Throughout the years, surfing has remained a constant in his life and he’s been a fixture on the local surf scene for decades. He’s also become a fixture in a group of equallyavid surfers who make it a point to travel together to destinations all over the planet in search of great waves and a good time. Their excursions have taken him to Indonesia (seven times), the Maldives (twice), Hawaii, Tahiti, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Mexico.
Once again, Tinlin points to “The Endless Summer” as the inspiration for wanting to experience new places, meet new people, and surf different spots. He’s navigated faces up to twenty feet in the past, but these days he admits to taking it a little easier. Now, it’s more about the experience and not being quite as aggressive as he was when he was younger. His last adventure was when he spent a couple of weeks in Sumatra’s Telo Islands. Put one more pin on the map.
Traveling with his buddies is a way to reset and recharge. “We surf, eat, and drink…and do it all again the next day,” he’s says with a laugh. “It’s always a great time. You can only do it for so long because it’s expensive and you have come back and work to pay for it all,” Tinlin says with another chuckle.
In the end, he believes that all the time spent chasing down waves makes him a better legal professional. “Being a judge is stressful,” he admits. “Getting out on the water helps me get away from all the stress of the job. It’s not easy having to hand down judgments which end up sending people to prison. Surfing keeps me grounded and is like a form of meditation. It helps me in the courtroom, too. There are times I’m out there and I find myself working out a particular issue between sets. But even though it’s relaxing, I still have the same passion for it as I did when I was a kid. It’s as exciting to me now as it was then.”