This morning, as Joel Tudor, Justin Quintal and I sat floating and attempting to psychically actualize one ridable set wave from the gutless northeast wind swell pushing through on the Jacksonville Beach Pier’s south side, San Diego surf legend Joel Tudor took a long look around before asking, “Didn’t this pier used to be made of wood?”

Of course, the high priest of classic logging is a noted surf history buff. And though he hadn’t been to Northeast Florida in roughly two decades, Tudor remembered the old Jax Pier—which jutted into the Atlantic from 6th Ave. South until ‘99s Hurricane Floyd took her to Davey Jones Locker—was indeed made of wood.

“If you wanna get wet you’re going to have to surf s*** at some point. But it makes everything better.” Wisdom: Joel Tudor // Photo: Mikey Sasser

Tudor’s been coming to Florida since he was a teen to surf in contests and stay connected to the frothy, ever-growing contingent of Sunshine State-based wave riders. And he’s returned this weekend for the Van’s Duct Tape Festival in St. Augustine. So, after a sub par session at the pier, we took the opportunity to ask Papa Joel a few questions about Florida’s place in global surf history and the state of surfing in the Sunshine State today.

You’ve been coming to Florida for a long time. Do you remember your first impression of the surf scene here? Did you have any preconceived notions about it?

I don’t know how many kids read SURFER [Magazine] front to back these days, but when I was a kid, that was my Bible. At that time, there were contest results in the back and all this other coverage. So you were learning about who’s who on both coasts. Back then, if you were surfing contests, at some point you were going to come to Florida. It’s such a major part of the big picture of surf in America. It’s at least half—maybe 60%. So Donald [Takayama] always made a point to say, “Don’t ignore Florida. You’re going to need it.” He always reiterated the importance of having friends on the East Coast. 

People might say it’s flat or whatever here, but you can go to California and get sh** surf. It’s whatever. It depends on your luck. But there was no Surfline when I started coming here, so it was luck of the draw. But having a longboard, like [when we surfed] today, there’s no excuse. You can surf every day. Nat [Young] used to tell me, “Dude, you ride a longboard, don’t say a word. You’re riding a board made for riding sh**. You got nothing to complain about.

Right. And of course Florida’s produced a ton of talented surfers, starting with Dick Catri’s Hobie team. Bruce Clelland and Larry Miniard are from this area. Then you go down the coast, from [Mike] Tabeling to Gary Propper then Kechele and Slater, Hobgoods, Lopezes…

I call it short-interval surf club [laughs]. Because if you can ride that you can ride anything. So when you finally get to a groomed, perfect surface it’s like a joke.

Yeah, that’s what I was going to ask. Do you have a theory as to why the state produces so many talented surfers?

That’s my theory, yeah. I’ve watched it from Kelly to the Hobgoods, if [marginal surf] is your standard, and you have to surf flat spells til the swell comes, when you actually get real surf, it’s a lot easier. You have a different eye for sections than say someone in California who may just get spoiled, like, “F*** I’m not surfing. The period’s not 18 seconds.” I’ll go out in anything. People get lazy.

So, yeah, if you can get good here, everything else is a joke. And Florida guys, you’d think because the surf never gets really big here that they wouldn’t be good in big waves. But it’s that thing of never having it that makes them want to do it. I know so many guys in Hawaii that quit when they get older. They get jaded. I’ve spent so much time on the East Coast and if you wanna get wet you’re going to have to surf s*** at some point. But it makes everything better. 

Photo: Wesley Parsons

So what place does Florida hold in border surf culture? Where does it fit within the culture’s shared history?

Well, first of all, board building—there are so many gnarly dudes building boards here. And there always has been. So much attention to detail, here. You have to remember the good majority of boards made in California in the early days were being sent here. So a lot of the guys got to look at really cool sh** and make stuff off of that. It’s funny, California has a ton of good board builders, but Florida is next on the list for talent for mowing foam. You’ve got pockets in other places, but it’s really California and Florida.

You’ve been bringing the Duct Tape Festival to distinctive surf enclaves around the globe—Tofino, the North Shore, Basque Country. How does St. Augustine fit with those other places?

The festival thing is more about giving back to these communities who have given us so much. Contests are a lot of take. The festivals are more of a give thing. It’s tents and food and board demos and music and art. It’s a connection without having to have a competitive side to it. It’s nice to take care of the shops and communities that take care of Vans. Without being a shop promotion [laughs], which can be really lame.

What boards did you make for this event?

I made two boards—and 8’3 and 9’1. They’re both pintails. I don’t know the measurements. I’m not a big fan of measurements. I used almost-full-board templates. I don’t know why people don’t make full board templates, because whenever you do that half and half thing, you have to find sh** to make the middle. That’s the hardest part. Also, planers scare the sh** out of me. I’ve electrocuted myself accidentally cutting through the cord before. I also had shitty tools. I could have found better tools in the kitchen. But they came out good. I thought they were going to be bad. But I rode them the other day and they both ride good.

I wasn’t really looking to do something specifically for Florida. I just liked these outlines. They were off a Phil Edwards Honolulu template we found. It’s pretty rad.

How’s the new crop of Florida loggers looking? There are a ton of kids riding classic longboards now.

I think there are a lot of good kids I don’t know about yet. Justin [Quintal]’s not new. But Saxon [Wilson], he’s rad. He came out to California this summer and did the van tour. It’s cool to see these kids coming west and just fitting in, surfing really good. You’ve got a whole batch of kids now all over the world, in these little pockets, they’re so good. It’s cool to see.