Passings: A Tribute To New Jersey’s Charlie King 1955-2021

February 25, 2021 • Passings

By Bruce Chrisner

Charlie King being gone is still so surreal to me as I write this tribute for him. It’s been almost two weeks since that fateful call from his son Raymond – 7:45pm February 9th and it’s still so hard to reconcile that about a man who had such an impact on my life and my surfing, along with so many others. It’s just that 65 seems way too young for one of my best friends in the world – and the Best Man at my wedding – to leave us so suddenly. But he also left us with so many indelible memories and stories of our own to tell. Here are a few of my own that Eastern Surf has asked me to recall as we mourn his passing.

The King surveying his domain on the north side of the Manasquan river jetty, circa early 80s, with the iconic “Heaven Can Wait” catamaran on the beach just a few steps from his home. Sadly, Heaven could wait no longer. Surf In Peace hermano. Photo: Bruce Chrisner

New Jersey’s Charlie “Snappy” King was a key fixture at Manasquan Inlet for quite a long time. One of the Rulers Of 1st Peak, one of the best and most crowded waves on the east coast, possibly the country. He would tell you the rules of the water and of the line-up if needed, which could done in 2 different ways: brutally honest if you back talked, or like a Dad teaching his son, arm around your shoulder, about the nuances and dangers of the Ocean, all depending on your attitude. If you were the guy that showed promise in your surfing ability, he noticed it. If you showed respect, that’s what you got back from Charlie. IF he took you under his wing, he would pass down his vast knowledge of how to surf and better yourself in the act of wave riding. He did so for many others and he never stopped trying to see others surfing abilities improve with his spot on critiques as an un-official coach to so many groms and grown ups alike, including me.

Puerto Rico power carve, October 2004. Photo: Chad Oakley. “Charlie was a “surfers surfer”. Respect was earned and given in the lineup when you surfed with Charlie no matter your ability. He mentored many groms on the etiquette of surfing any lineup, they don’t make em like this anymore. He leaves a lasting impression on us all. – Gary Germain / President of  the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame  –

I’d been shooting Charlie since 1982 when I set out to become a surf photographer. This was back in the days of just two monthly surf pubs, no internet, no Instagram; all the while doing it with slide film, slow lenses and no auto-focus, point and shoot computerized camera gear. From the get-go, just as with my surfing, Snap pushed me and believed in me. No words suffice to describe the motivation it gave me as a newbie and I am forever grateful. It was kinda funny in some ways. Charlie didn’t want his picture taken unless he was surfing, but if I asked him to pose for shots with his quiver, sit on the jetty rocks at Inlet for photos, or paddle out with me after dark for a water photo session, he was always willing. Many times, the water photography sessions were his idea and he’d get me pumped up to swim out with my housing with only 35 chances (36 if you got that lucky, extra bonus slide in that roll of Kodachrome 64 ) to get the shot which we did more than a few times over the many years and sessions we had together.

Deadmans, June 1985. “Charlie didn’t want his picture taken unless he was surfing, but if I asked him to pose for shots with his quiver, sit on the Jetty Rocks at Inlet for photos, or paddle out with me after dark for a water session, he was always willing. Many times the water photography sessions were his idea and he’d get me pumped up to swim out with my housing with only 36 chances ( 37 if you got that lucky, extra bonus slide in that roll of Kodachrome 64 ) to get the shot which we did more than a few times over the many years and sessions we had together”. Photo and quote Bruce Chrisner

One of my Best Friends in the world, Inlet regular Stevie Stillman said something to me on the phone after he heard the sad news that really hit me : “Ya know Harri, none of us would be the Surfers and Watermen we turned out to be without Charlie’s influence, and guidance”. Sometimes being told you f-ed up by Snappy was what was needed.

You only saw the gnarly side of him if it was needed. If it got dangerous out in the line-up, or if an argument occurred, he became part of that conversation immediately and nipped it in the bud quickly without missing a beat or a set wave. As the ultimate referee of many a situation, he would let you know right away what was right and what was wrong. This was his domain, and he knew it, and let you know that in no uncertain terms. And man, he could make you laugh with that Jersey sensibility and Jersey sense of humor. The nicknames that were in his brain, and that sense of humor was bar none EPIC, and we all had many a laugh with some of the nicknames he threw out there when we were all surfing together.  Some of the off the top monikers he bestowed, “The Gray Wig”, “The Rubber Rat”, Goose Call and Rubber Chicken, were like right out of a mob movie – Goodfellas or Bronx Tale. So many hilarious stories, so many damn laughs lurked inside that man.

Did Charlie King have a sense of humor? Ask former Pipe Master Champ and fellow MB team rider Joey Buran what he thinks. Photo: Bruce Chrisner

So yes, you could call him an enforcer back then. Every major line-up that was crowded had them and it was a time-honored tradition and, at times, a much-needed person or persons to have. He once told me during a rather large swell out on first peak that he didn’t ask for that job out at the Inlet, it was bestowed upon him and handed down to him by the generation before him that surfed there, by guys like Charlie Duerr, Scotty Duerr’s older brother.  Our Inlet is a sacred place as well as an amazing world-class wave and that’s exactly how Charlie surfed it. He also kept the peace out in the line-up, like it mattered, and it did! When it got dangerous, and you gave him shit, you woke up the BEAR in him. But he also had a big heart, as big as the Grand Canyon, as most guys with his personality type do and if you needed something, he’d be the first guy in line handing you the shirt off his back.

“Besides being a total ripper I loved to shoot, Charlie King was a dominant force at Manasquan Inlet all through the 70’s, into the 90’s and early 2000. He was the Ying to Scotty Duerr’s Yang. He was a calm, subdued “enforcer” when being one was necessary and respected at zoo’ed out breaks up and down the east coast, especially during the summer months. Not afraid to scrap if needed, “Snappy” ( a nicknamed earned for his hard, bucket chucking snaps off the top, not for losing it on kooks ) could usually quell a flare up out in the line-up or show an out of towner acting like an asshole to the beach just by verbalizing the local attitude toward that ilk. He was our Clint Eastwood in a wetsuit with that steely, grey eyed squint that silently telegraphed to a disrespectful interloper a clear message, “you’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”. A locals local, a legends legend and a totally classic Jersey guy who could plain surf his ass off with the best of them”. Photo and quote Dick “Mez” Meseroll

My fondest remembrance was the morning after he and and Maryann’s first daughter Katie was came home from the hospital. Out of the blue I got a call from the man nicknamed “Snappy” asking me to come to their quintessential, old school Jersey Shore beach house they lived in to meet the baby and take a few pictures. After we shot a few images he stepped down off the porch and, in one swift, gentle  motion, literally thrusts this tiny, newborn baby into my arms and says, “Here, hold her, she won’t break and get used to it, you’re her God Father”.  I was blown away and deeply honored just as I was when he asked me to take on that sacred duty for son Raymond. I love both of his kids like they are my own, and I know they both made him such a proud papa. Ray has grown up to be a full, big wave charger in his dad’s name all over the world while Katie is surfing and teaching school up in Maine and waiting to start a surfing family of her own with Charlie’s first granddaughter expected this year. If there are two things I want people to know about Charlie King it’s that he was a very proud father and family man and one hell of a surfer.

The King Clan hitting trail in PR with Raymond, Katie and wife Maryann during a family outing. “Charlie King was many things. Surfer, husband, father and business owner. For the last 30 years, he was a phenomenal Dad who fiercely protected and cared for our family. I’ve never met anyone with a style like his, in or out of the water. Firm Kindness: that’s how he operated. Making sure everyone around him was on top of your game. The outpouring of condolences from all over the globe is a testament to how he lived his life. Our family thanks everyone who took the time to reach out and share a funny story. He is loved and missed beyond comprehension”. – Katie King –

His wife Maryann has loved him and stood by him no matter what happened, not always an easy task with “Charles”.   Many people from so many far-flung places are sending their love and support to his family. He is also survived by his sisters, Suzie King-Garrod, Barbara Smoot, and Carol White-King.

Charlie, I never got to actually thank you for all that caring and friendship but your family – including your granddaughter to be – will get to enjoy all those photos I was able to take of you from 1982 forward – that much I promise you, my friend. 

– Bruce Chrisner

Charlie & Ray Fish Skateboard ad shoot, November 1998. Photo” Bruce Chrisner. “I would paddle out with him at any line up (indicators, the point , Manasquan inlet) doesn’t matter who was out he would get the best waves and keep the lineup in order. Shit he would even burn me and call me a pussy but we always laughed everywhere we went. He was my best friend, surfing buddy and father. He always said live everyday like a Saturday and to surf fast and furious. GoMental”. – Raymond King – 

Puerto Rico October 2004. Photo: Chad Oakley. “As a young grom surfing in PR, I was scared shitless of hitting the reef without having a 4 mm wetsuit on to protect me like back home. With no surprise after surfing the point enough with Ray, Katie and the Holts on top of being a greedy grommet, I sure as hell hit that low tide coral head we all know. Charlie was there by my side to paddle me to the beach and made a lesson out of it. There isn’t a day I paddle out over reef or out at a rocky point where I don’t think of Sir Charles’ kind and soothing words. Him and Maryann raised two of the best people I have ever met and I feel so blessed to have spent so much of my childhood around their family. His legacy will surly continue on forever and we all should strive to live a life of love and laughter as he did. Sending all my love to you and all the Kings at this time”. – Kody Grondin –

October, 1985. Photo Dick “Mez” Meseroll. “The Inlet experience was never complete until you ran into CK – all bark, rarely bit. He was true blue and had your back with that streak of sly humor. Will miss his wit and his “what’s it all about Alfie?” greeting or “I’ll give you a buck for your surfing gear” and too many more to list. We surfed a lot of big swells together and I’ll never forget any of it”. – Bob Duerr – 

Snappy slappin’ it circa 1990’s. Photo: Ray Hallgreen “He made us all better surfers.The big inlet sessions locked in my brain with him are nothing short of epic. He was gnarly, funny, hard working, loved his family and demanded excellence at first peak and with surfing in general. We all knew where we stood in the heiarchy and we all stood by him as he held that torch/attitude for many years. It was what was right. Put your time in, know where to be, where not to be. His regulation of the line up kept us all safe… He will be missed”. – TR Deveny –

Charlie and Maryann with a very young Raymond photo bombing the picture at lower right. Photo: Bruce Chrisner

Manasquan Inlet, Sept 1998 Photo: Bruce Chrisner. “We have truly lost a master and legend! Power style and grace all the time ! Not only could he outsurf most of us he was also a chief physiologist, business genius, and astute negotiator! He took the time for anyone in need and I was in the need more than once! His antics with jokes and mind games must never be forgotten! His pet ( rubber) rat scared the crap out of more than one tourist! Or the duck and geese calls made many folks think it was the real deal! Adios senor Charles ! Let’s all have a pork chop dinner and toast to the boss. Family forever!!!!”. – Kevin “Doc” Grondin –

Surfing Manasquan Inlet, mid 1980’s. Photo: Dick “Mez” Meseroll. “When I first started bodyboarding Inlet as a grom, Charlie used to really give me the business out in the line-up but I quickly learned that he was teaching me…just like everyone else at the Peak. Charlie was a Regulator. If you didn’t follow wave riding etiquette, if you didn’t show respect, if you f$cked up, he let you know about it in no uncertain terms. Charlie, and all the Inlet regulars, really pushed me to be a better wave rider and earn my place in the line-up. I am eternally grateful for that. Thanks, Charlie!”.  – Steve Jackson –

Charlie at 409 First Ave in Manasquan, May1985. Photo: Bruce Chrisner. “Walking toward the beach on main Street. I hear a yell from an upper motel deck party: “Scuorzo….what the F are you doing here!” . I Looked up and it was Tuna so I shouted back, “I’m just goin drinking at the Osprey!” and he shouted right back, “Ok…you can stay!” We need more of that!”. -Mark Scuorzo –

Bottom turn off the Peak, circa early to mid-1970’s. Photo: Dick “Mez” Meseroll. “I remember Charlie when he was 15 ….hitch hiking all around Manasquan….which made him a “look at” back then especially in those days…Man, I thought he was way cool ….long hair, hitch hiked, and surfed all the time and very well to boot ….a true rebel . So many stories I have with him from those years. RIP and Bless him and his family. I will miss him”. – Scott Duerr –

“Charlie didn’t want his picture taken unless he was surfing, but if I asked him to pose for shots with his quiver, sit on the Jetty rocks at Inlet for photos, he was always willing. Not a poseur at all but happy to pose for long time sponsor, Michael Baron Surfboards for an ad photo that ran in East Coast Surfer Mag in the June 1988 issue”. Photo and quote: Bruce Chrisner

From small beginnings with Charlie’s first board. Photo: King Family. “My brother was truly one of a kind and I learned so much from him, not least of which is that there is an unconventional path in life. To not let stress get to me. That there is joy in following your passions. That the opinions of most people just don’t matter so don’t worry about them. That dignity and respect are found in actions, not appearances. That people who get really drunk can act like idiots. I remember biking with him to Leggetts Sand Bar on Labor Day weekend so that he could show me how dumb many people looked stumbling out at closing time. That a tough exterior can hide the tenderest of hearts and fiercest love. I am so sad that he will not get to hold his grandchild. He lived his life on his own terms to the very end. I was lucky to have him as a big brother for 51 years”. – Suzie King-Garrod

Off to the races at the inside Bowl, early 1980’s. Photo: Dick “Mez” Meseroll. “So many super sessions with Charlie growing up as well as crazy evening raids at the cove. I worked for CK and his Dad’s roofing company for a couple summers. Fourty feet up on hot summer days, covered in tar we would laugh so hard our sides hurt. From the very first time we surfed together as a young teens all the way thru epic hurricane swells, your humor and talent will be forever etched in my memory and heart”. – Bobby Howell –

Downshifting into The Bowl, early 1980’s. One day we are sitting outside the Peak and some guy paddles out sucking on a smoke. It was Johnny Belair, a Point Beach “businessman” and a known shady, sexist, chauvinistic character who felt that females were placed on earth to clean the rooms at his Motel. When he blatantly dropped in on Ellie Keck – a hardcore Inlet loc, one of the best female Jersey surfers ever and a member of the New Jersey Surfing Hall Of Fame – she offered to modify his anatomy for him. John would not take shit from the other sex so Ellie’s good friend Charlie paddled over to lay down the Law in no uncertain terms and Johnny Belair was never seen in the line up again nor was he missed”. Photo and quote Mike Vuocolo 

“Charlie “Tuna” King, genuine surf brother, good waterman, good businessman and a crazy sense of humor! Always good for a great photo and one of the best ever from the Inlet”. Photo and quote New Jersey Surfing Hall Of fame photographer Ray Hallgreen.

Charlie holding court at the bench and bathroom surf check area at the foot of the Riverside Drive beach and jetty access circa 1976. That bench and rail was the equivalent of the wall at Malibu where your every wave and move ( or lack there off ) was analyzed, critiqued and or mocked and you either got torn to shreds or praised, Jersey style, for your performance. It was a tough, tough room to work, especially when CK was in the house. ( R-L ) Robbie Morris, Steve Hatch, Snappy, Cali transplant Mike Grassley and a vey grom-ish looking Scotty Duerr. Sadly, out of that A-Team of ‘Squan regulars, only Scott is still here with us. Photo: Dick “Mez” Meseroll

Charlie King, passing under the Brielle bridge, July1984. Photo: Bruce Chrisner. “With character, strength, and deep knowledge of the ocean, Charlie was an important part of a place and time. He is an actual legend. Rest In Peace my friend. Love and prayers to the King family”. – Gary Blank –

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 Gone but not forgotten, especially with so many great images like this one to remind us. A “Snappy” backside crack at Brielle Road, 1983. Photo: Bruce Chrisner. Our condolences to all of Charlie’s many friends and to the entire King family. Special thanks to Bruce Chrisner and to everyone who helped  www.easternsurf.com pay this tribute to an inimitable Jersey legend.