Category Archives: surfing

The Grommet House

An accountant from Northern Virginia by the name of Myers, owned a cottage on the oceanfront in Rodanthe. It was a ramshackle place, built at a time when, if there were any building codes, they weren’t enforced much. The Myers family used to spend Summers there. Two of their kids were Worth and Gladys. They partied with the locals. In the winter, two of my friends Carlen and Dave, rented the place.

Robin and I surfed in front of it for years. It had a consistently good breaking wave and the mainstream surfers from Virginia Beach hadn’t discovered it.

A bit of a landmark, I photographed it for a period when I thought it was going to wash away. I saw the Rodanthe oceanfront nearly every day, checking the waves and exploring. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I was also witnessing a complex process of barrier island dynamics. It fascinated me, how the beach environment reshaped with each storm.

Then the surfers from the north began coming. And as surfers will do, they name a spot after something they can relate to. From then on it was dubbed the grommet house. Grommet is surfing slang for a young or beginning surfer. In the longboard days, they were referred to as a gremmie. The Grommet House became a popular, packed out surf spot, but by then Robin and I moved on to other secret breaks to elude the crowds. We were always one or two steps ahead of the masses.

The Myers cottage gets some weather in March of 1980.

The house was still holding fast in 1982, and the beach made some accretion. The dune line in the background would later shelter a subdivision called Mirlo Beach.

The driveway got pummeled into the sand.

The ocean eventually took over, and the house fell into the sea.

Surf’s Up

There was a time when surfing consumed a huge part of my life. I checked the waves every morning to dictate the course of each day, so it became a natural progression for me to photograph the ramblings in my surfing world. When the waves got really good, I was often torn between being a surfer or a photographer. Sometimes one action would be sacrificed for the other. Either way it was fun and exhilarating.

I used to shoot a lot of black and white in the early days, and bought film in 100 foot rolls and hand rolled them into individual cassettes. In 1973, I swam out at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and shot Frankie Lagana, one of the Buxton boys. My waterproof Nikonos was a great little camera for that intimate perspective.

Mike Wingenroth had a lot to do with my decision in moving to Rodanthe. He and his wife Mary Jo moved there earlier and put me and Louie up for a while. Mike is shown here in Summer of 1974, for an early morning surf north of town, with Bear at his side. It was a time when taking an unleashed dog on the beach was not a big deal.

My room mate Louie Batzler was, and still is a brick mason. We worked locally building foundations and walls. Being self employed had the advantage of leaving a job when the waves got good. Louie was the boss, so when he said “more mud”, I mixed a batch of mortar. When he said “surf’s up”, I went surfing. Louie was riding a “Hot Dog” surfboard when I made this shot at The Shoals, north of the Rodanthe pier in 1975.

A lot of great surfers have ridden the beautiful waves at the lighthouse’s first jetty. From my water perspective, Greg Loehr was one of the best. He arrived among a contingent of surfers from Florida in the early 70’s. This 1975 photograph was used by Natural Art Surf Shop to screen t-shirts, and more recently on the sign outside their store in Buxton.

Bryant Clark was another good friend of mine, and a component of the Delaware crew. Bryant and his brother Brent, along with Rich Parolski had a company called “Hot Dog Surfboards“. Brent was the shaper, and Rich was the glasser. Bryant did all the glossing and artistic finishing to their boards. Here he is on a nice overhead wave in 1974, riding a fish design at the outside bar at New Inlet.

Robin Gerald and I were nearly inseparable surfing partners. We lived near one another, and some people even thought we were brothers. In an extended sense, we were. Here Robin slides into a glassy wall at the old S-curve in 1978.

Kiel Jennette was still in high school in 1977. He was the adopted son of the last Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Keeper’s son, Rany Jennette. Kiel had a great smooth style of surfing, and was a pleasure to watch. This was taken during a beautiful 3 day swell at the lighthouse. I often wondered if he was skipping school for these waves. Years later, Kiel became quite an accomplished trim carpenter. Unfortunately his life was cut short in an altercation with a noisy neighbor. Kiel confronted him, and as he turned away, the neighbor shot him in the back.

Jimbo Brothers was one of the Nags Head surfers to frequent the Rodanthe breaks. In this early 80’s photo he ducks into a pretty curl north of the pier.

One afternoon in 1984, I walked out on the Rodanthe Pier, and was lucky to see a surfer from Florida in the lineup. Tall and lanky, Mike Tabeling had a very powerful style.

!989 was a good year for tropical cyclones. My cousin Johnny Halminski is from California. He visited me that Summer, and got a good dose from an offshore depression while paddling out at the Rodanthe Pier.

For a while I thought that I’d pursue the life of a surfing photographer, work for a publication and even move to Hawaii. As I got more immersed in life on Hatteras, I could see that my career exclusively as a surfing photographer was not to be. I gravitated toward a variety of other local subjects. By the 1990’s shooting the surfing action became more of a side line to supplement my other work.

Home Boys

Back in the seventies there was hardly anybody surfing the waves of Rodanthe. Nearly everyone coming to Hatteras Island to surf, drove right through Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo, and continued straight to the jetty at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. The waves at the lighthouse were refined and legendary. So it was a the premier, sought-after surf spot.

The waves of the tri-village area however, were mostly overlooked by the masses, so naturally they were less crowded. It became my home, and I began to surf with the locals that grew up there.

Back then, Asa Gray was one of the locals, and was still in high school. Known as “Buddy”, he also worked as a commercial fisherman. Being big in stature, his surfing was powerful, and he went for it. He knew the water, and was fearless, even in the big, crunchy shorebreak which has now made Rodanthe  so popular on the surfing scene. Buddy doesn’t surf any more, but is still actively fishing and running his campground.

Buddy Gray on a nice right at the Salvo Shipwreck back around 1974.

Asa’s powerful style is seen in this backside off the lip at S-Curve in 1978.

Irvin Midgett was a home boy that surfed, and also a commercial fisherman. He was a smaller guy, but had a go-for-it style in the waves. He still surfs as a goofey foot, which means he’s a lefty. Irvin contnues fishing, and coincidentally also runs his own campground.

Irvin riding his Plastic Fantastic in 1977.

Irvin Midgett riding high on a nice glassy face just north of the Rodanthe pier.

more Home Boys later….

More Soul Surfers

Soul surfers ride waves for the sheer pleasure and experience, not to prove themselves through contests or competition. It doesn’t matter if someone has an ability better or worse. It really all comes down to one person, one wave and the interaction between the two.

One of my best friends in life has been Robin Gerald. We arrived on Hatteras in the early 70’s, exclusively to surf. Others came and went, but we have remained to this day. In the process we found ourselves a way to earn our livings that would permit us to drop everything when the waves got good. In our heyday, if the surf came up, one of us would know and alert the other. For years, it was sort of an unwritten pact of loyalty.

Robin is shown here dropping into an overhead wall at the old S-Curve site, October of 1976.

This 1998 photo shows Robin on a nice fun wave on the north side of the fishing pier at Rodanthe.

Robin was very adept at waterfowl hunting. He would often provide friends with hearty meals of fish or fowl or both. He was affectionately known as Marshman. Here in 1987, he retrieves a nice black duck from a fresh water pond in Buxton.

Another friend of mine was Ed Corley. He already lived on Hatteras when I arrived, and was an outsider, turned local. A short time later, he was involved in a horrible truck accident that landed him in a coma for 2 weeks. His recovery was slow, but he eventually gained most of his former self back. Ed and I bought 2 of the original Boogie Board kits and did a lot of body boarding together. It was good therapy for him in his recovery.

This photo of Ed was taken in the Fall of 1974 during a swell breaking near the ruins of the original Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton.

Ed Corley surfing the S-Curve in 1976.

Ed on a nice left at Salvo Shipwreck, 1974.

Ed chose commercial fishing as a way of life. Like many of the locals that fished for a living, he did it more because he loved it, than the financial rewards. This is a shot I made in 1977 when Ed, holding a sturgeon, was gillnetting in Pamlico Sound. He later went to work on offshore fishing trawlers, and relocated to Coos Bay on the Pacific coast. It was there that the boat he was working on sank on a stormy new years eve, taking him down with it.

to be continued….

Soul Surfers

My interest in surfing began in the 60’s, when I saw a Surfer Magazine for the first time. Even though it took me a few more years to actually ride a wave, I was hooked on the beauty and nature of surfing.

As a young college student, I knew it was time to jump ship when I found myself in chemistry class with a copy of Surfer wedged into my textbook. I left and moved to the beach. That was a turning point for me, and life’s path was narrowed down to where it would lead me today.

Louie getting ready for a paddle at the Shoals in Rodanthe, 1974. Back then nearly everyone surfed at the Lighthouse, and bypassed our villages.

I drifted into a network of friends that were also absorbed in the surfing culture. To us, it wasn’t a sport at all, but an almost spiritual way of life. Living carefree and day to day, we were essentially dropouts from what was typical America. Most of us weren’t looking for the two-car garage and the white picket fence dreams of most of our contemporaries. Waves were the most important thing, at times super-ceding jobs and even girl friends.

About 1968, I met Gary Revel at South Side, Indian River Inlet. His surfing took on a dynamic quality. He was among my new found surfing companions and could have easily gone into professional levels, but chose not to. We became life-long friends and still keep in touch. This photo of him cutting back at South Side was taken over 40 years ago, when I was just beginning to hone my photography skills.

Louie Batzler at South Side circa 1970. We surfed and traveled together for many years. As a trained brick mason, he found us construction jobs that provided our income.

Mark Foo was a very young kid, but hung around the older surfers. He was very driven and loved surfing more than anything. He used to wake me up for dawn patrol by tossing pebbles at my bedroom window. He could be a pest at times. Mark went on to the Hawaiian Islands, became a world renown big wave rider, and a highly successful entrepreneur. In 1994, he tragically lost his life while surfing Maverick’s in California.

The gang at Barton Decker’s surf shop circa 1974.

Summer of 1975, we gave these two hitch-hiking surfers a ride, while driving to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse for a big north swell.

Mike Langowski, known as the Polock, rode his long boards even after board designs got shorter. 1977 photo taken at the lighthouse.

Dave Elliot and Jeff Ray checking the waves in the village of Waves. That was the first order of the day, to dictate what you did with your time. No waves, then you do something else, like go fishing or work on your broken down car. Dave was a stylish surfer, especially longboarding. Jeff was also a competent and well-traveled surfer. He later introduced me to Costa Rica in 1982.

Robin, Bryant, Brent and Roger all pitch in to sand a hot coat on a board that I shaped for Roger. We lived in 2 trailers on the oceanfront in Waves. Little did we realize that there would be million dollar beach houses on this property 35 years later…. nor did we care.

Brent Clark on a beautiful Pea Island wave in 1974. This secret spot had a hard bottom well offshore. From the beach, the waves looked much smaller than they actually were. It was a really long paddle, several hundred yards out, and broke like a reef point for about five years. It had some of the largest and best shaped waves that I ever rode, and only about 10 people knew about it.

Classic car collection at the Hatteras Island Surf Shop.

Another classic car ready to roll.

“Holly” waits for the next duck hunting trip, while Robin Gerald sits on his  VW squareback, ready to find the next wave.