NJSHOF ESM Article
If the NJSHOF was a surf comp, Gary Clayton and his Metal Mulisha combo’d the rest of us attending. The man from Seaside riffed like he was talking post-session shit to his bro’s and he had the rest of the inductees and remaining attendees laughing from start to finish. The man who’s credited with launching countless surf industry careers, including some who may have back-paddled lines he was repping, was gracious, funny, and appropriately inappropriate. Every induction year’s event is hoping for a Gary Clayton to bring the fire and lend the atmosphere some Jersey irreverence. Way to bring it Gary!
Who else brought it? Hurricane FUCKING Larry! That’s who! As the attendees filtered in, surfers huddled like giddy 10 year olds the day after Christmas waiting to one-up their friends with just-told Larry-gifts. I hadn’t been on the East Coast for a hurricane swell in decades and heard tales of pumping surf everywhere. Many credible voices calling it one of the best hurricane swells in decades. My highlight included a session uptown (Atlantic City) with three generations of Beschens: Mike the Patriarch (one of this year’s inductees), his well-known sons Shane and Gavin, and Shane’s boys Noah and Koda. All of them snagging sets waves and ripping. It was an amazing experience for me because I’d known who Mike was since I was a grom, but never met him until that Friday because he left for Southern California after high school a decade ahead of my own migration west.
But enough about Larry – the dynamic that gains momentum throughout each induction event is the anticipation felt by the 12 separate communities attending because each attendee brings a community of their own waiting for their guy or girl to step up to the podium and give their thanks. Once the inductees begin their speeches, it’s like a series of lulls waiting for their honoree’s moment. I’ve been in countless settings where people are called upon to speak in front of a group. It’s not easy. But surfing is so public. Somebody’s always watching and listening. Calling friends into waves, endless heckling, post-session shit-talk… As a group, surfers do ok at the podium, but it’s still a long night and it requires polite patience. Surprisingly, imbibing surfers from Jersey manage just enough restraint to allow each podium standee their deserved glory.
The event setting was the classic Flanders Hotel in still-blue-law-dry Ocean City, but being dry only means there’s no bars nor alcohol sold on the island. You can definitely go off the island, buy some, and bring it back for merry-consumption – always a welcome additive to the proceedings. The members of the 12 separate inductee-communities muster the deserved level of stoked love that greets the end of each recipient’s podium time. And this is where the lasting vibe of the event coalesces: a dozen communities come together for each surfer’s moment of glory – and then on to the next. Like a lully session shared among 12 friends respectfully giving each other space for their turn at a set wave. It’s a thing of beauty.
Another bringer-of-the-fire…? Keith FUCKING Eaves!!! This bro is Brian Heritage’s fixer. Keith has taken on and mastered EVERY conceivable task needed by the NJSHOF. Whether it’s behind the scenes clerical, organizing, endless communications, and/or last minute tech equipment collection/setup/breakdown or can-do troubleshooter – Keith does it all. Dudes like Keith are always behind successes like the 2021 Ceremony. The world doesn’t run without good humans like Keith. Long Live the Keith the Fixer!
The night’s tear-jerker? Jim Kirk’s son Ellis speaking for his recently passed father. Jim put so much love and energy into making the NJSHOF a reality. The catalyst was the formation of the Steering Committee that met in 2015 to give the Hall a set of faces behind the voices. Without Jim’s constance, there’s no NJSHOF. Well done Ellis. You did your dad proud.
And now… The 12:
Hometown & Homebreak: Margate, NJ, Gas Chambers, Atlantic City
The skinny: World class surfer who maintained that level from the longboard to shortboard eras then grew a family of world class athletes who followed suit.
Bona fides: Mike Beschen led the ESA 3A Men’s ratings in 1971 ahead of East Coast Hall of farmers Jeff Crawford and Greg Loehr among other East Coast noteworthy and his nomination and induction would more than qualify. Mike went on to accomplish much more in surfing and in life. A successful competitor locally and regionally in NJ and the greater East Coast. Mike migrated to California in 1968 and as he says, “never looked back”. But he definitely came back for a couple summers anyway. Mike continued to compete in the west advancing through rounds of the US Championships in Huntington Beach as the shortboard revolution changed surfing and Mike made the transition seamlessly. As his boys Shane and Gavin grew into their surfing so did their interest in competing and Mike got involved as an organizer. He co-directed the first OP Pro in San Clemente, served as Competition Director for the USSF, and represented the US in ISA meetings. For Mike’s trip back to NJ for his induction, he brought three generations which coincided with the epic swell from Hurricane Larry. On Friday, September 10th, three generations of Beschen’s were surfing “uptown” Atlantic City between Steel and Central Piers. It was an generational happening.
DOB: August 15th, 1953
Hometown & Homebreak: Ocean City, NJ, 7th Street
The skinny: David brought world class talent honed and influenced by his world class peers back to South Jersey and made sure that influence was shared and lived by the local talent.
Bona fides: seminal figure in the first wave of professional surfers from NJ; along w/Brigantine’s Linda Davoli, David was among the original group of NJ surfers who traveled to surf and compete and brought the international scene home with him. An invite to the historic 1974 Smirnoff Pro Am. A great surfer and style master, David influenced countless South Jersey surfers including Jim Kirk, the Ocean City Beach Patrol’s only surfing beach lifeguard who passed on David’s style legacy to every grom he mentored.
DOB: December 23rd, 1943
Hometown & Homebreak: Margate, NJ, Chicken Bone (New York Ave, Atlantic City)
The skinny: what Ron Curcio Sr. started in Absecon Island’s first surf shop, Jim reinvented when the Curcio Shop faded by starting Reef Surf Shop in Margate – the most influential local shop of the 70s.
Bona fides: Taught to surf in Hawaii by legendary Waikiki Beach Boy Rabbit Kekai, Jim was taught by surfing royalty and recreated the magic of the Curcio Surf Shop through his Absecon Island Kingdom when he opened Reef Surf Shop in Margate. Alpha pack leader of the Curcio Surf Team of the mid-to late 60’s, Jim’s iteration bridged the gap from the longboard era to the shortboard revolution and cut a timeless figure with his beautiful wife Joann. Surf royalty came to Absecon Island and Jim ruled his kingdom with a hard stare and no-nonsense attitude. The man WAS the island.
DOB: June 5th, 1943
Hometown & Homebreak: Brigantine, NJ, Sea Horse Pier/The Castle & South Jetty
The skinny: OG surfer of Brigantine. Bridged the gap from longboard era to shortboard and mentored Brigantine’s favorite daughter: Linda Davoli.
Bona fides: surfer, husband, father, grandfather, fireman, sage
Claim to Fame: Brigantine Surfing OG, pioneered the local breaks, mentored countless groms, perennial finalist in local and regional comps, guiding voice and mentor to Linda Davoli, shop owner, and the first name any Brigantine salt is going to mention when asked who’s the Godfather of Brigantine Surfing.
DOB: November 5th, 1958
Hometown & Homebreak: Linwood, NJ, 7th Street Ocean City
The skinny: Jim was South Jersey’s first Poet Laureate, first surfing lifeguard at South Jersey’s only guarded surfing beach. Jim mentored more South Jersey surfers than anyone before or since.
Bona fides: Jimmy “The Professor” Kirk, father, husband, poet, College English Professor, writer, philosopher, and SURFER. Successful competitor locally, regionally, & nationally, Jim’s surfing bonafides are impeccable, but it’s his decades-long mentoring of an endless list of groms who surfed 7th Street and were weaned by his his encyclopedic depth of knowledge of the ocean, the particulars of his break’s many moods, and the world at large – AND his spearheading of the very hall we speak of now that will keep his legacy spirited in perpetuity. RIP Brother.
DOB: November 2nd, 1943
Hometown & Homebreak: Sea isle City
The skinny: South Jersey’s first and most successful, influential, and revered “industry mom”. She mentored more young industry reps while running the business end of what became the first name in South Jersey surfing: Heritage. Nuff said.
Bona fides: The Heritage name is the first name in South Jersey surfing. With her husband Dan, they opened Little Wave Surf Shop in Sea Isle City which son Brian, with mom’s guidance of course, reinvented as Heritage Surf and Sport. Barbara’s influence is everywhere in South Jersey surfing. Small business pioneer in the male-dominated surf industry, Barbara Heritage was nobody’s fool and her business acumen kept the uncertainties of the seasonal feast or famine nature of owning a surf shop at bay building a momentum that has survived many a thin winter. Barbara’s legacy is tangible through the success of the shops that bear her name and intangible through the mentoring of countless groms who became industry reps.
DOB: May 7th, 1934
Hometown & Homebreak: Wildwood Crest, NJ
The skinny: decades of volunteering for the South Jersey ESA District earned her a legacy of selflessness that her son Joe is gracefully continuing and abrick at the Cape May Lewes Ferry that says “Best Surf Mom Ever”.
Bona fides: As her brick at the Cape may Lewes Ferry testifies, “Best Surf Mom Ever”, Ruth Grottola’s tireless volunteering as ESA South Jersey District Director, Board Member, secretary, co-author of the ESA’s Competition Handbook, recipient of Doctor Colin Couture’s “Doc Rock” and the NJSHOF Cecil Lear awards, lead driver of many surf vans that toured the East Coast Surf Comp circuit for several decades, photographer of freezing mid-winter sessions, judge, tabulator, head chef, ding repairer of both boards and psychees, and surf mom to a legion of South Jersey groms, Ruth Grottola is as NJ Surf rootsie as it gets. Her son Joe’s continuation of that legacy is a living tribute to a great woman. RIP Ruth Grottola.
DOB: August 17, 1945
Hometown & Homebreak: Beach Haven, NJ, Harvey Cedars
The skinny: OG of LBI surfing pioneering surf breaks, the local surf industry, local and regional competition – an epic legacy of seminal efforts to create surf culture where none existed previously.
Bona fides: Opened Renny Koseff’s Beach Haven Surf Shop in 1963, mentored by Greg Noll and with his help formed the Koseff/Greg Noll Surf Team. Winning team comps against the top teams of the era including the formidable Ron Jon Surf Team, Renny’s shop and riders established Beach Haven surf roots that have given rise to several generations of surfers since his efforts. Renny put Beach Haven on the NJ surfing map and every local surfer since owes a debt of gratitude to him for that legendary efforts.
DOB: April 30th, 1979
Hometown & Homebreak: lavallette, NJ, Casino Pier/Seaside Heights
The skinny: decades as a successful competitor at amateur and pro levels parlayed into a longer career as NJ’s best-know barrel hunter. Sam’s collection of published barrel pics are world class.
Bona fides: three decades as a successful professional surfer and legendary barrel-hunter, is there a better-known name in NJ surfing than Sam’s in the last two plus decades? I doubt it. Sam is the most-published NJ surfer since Scott Duerr’s several-decade run of publicity from the 80s onward. Sam has a long list of local and regional victories on his resume, but Sam is best known beyond NJ as expert navigator of freezing brown winter barrels. Husband and father to two beautiful girls, small business CEO of the successful Hammer Surf School and Head Coach of the Hammer Surf Team, Sam is giving back as much to NJ surfing as he has gained from it. A good man and a great surfer.
DOB: January 26th, 1957
Hometown & Homebreak: Seaside Heights, NJ, Casino Pier
The skinny: Gary Clayton has been an industry rep for 3+ decades. The dude reps as a husband and father, in the water, in the industry, and in front of a mik. Long Live the King!
Bona fides: Cue up the theme song from Cheers and picture Norm from Cheers and sing “… where everybody knows your name…” and picture gary Clayton accepting his induction while holding court from the OG’s corner barstool at the preferred local and you’ll begin to appreciate his acceptance speech at The Flanders. Gary had the crowd roaring from start to finish and elevated the evening to its proper celebratory tone. The man is a natural in front of the mik. Four decades repping the most successful brands, co-authored the Central NJ ESA District, successful competitor at every level. Gary was backed by his Metal Mulisha at the event and they brought the fire to the evening.
DOB: April 29th, 1950
Hometown & Homebreak: Sea Girt, NJ, Long Beach Island
The skinny: John Ker’s a self-taught lensman who put NJ surfing on the map. Every NJ surfer who read the major surf mags of the 70s and 80s knows who John Ker is and so do many others locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. That’s OG status.
Bona fides: NJ’s first successful surf photographer. John’s pics were regularly featured from the mid-to late 70’s through 90s in the two main surf publications: Surfer and Surfing. John’s surf pics of NJ surf put NJ surfing on the map literally and figuratively. NJ surfers who traveled often heard the phrase, NJ gets good, huh?! Yeah I’ve seen the pics!” The fact that NJ surf got good – really good – was known outside of NJ was largely due to Ker’s pics.
DOB: March 27th, 1956
Hometown & Homebreak: Seabright, NJ, and Sandy Hook
The skinny: Scott was an ironman competitor at local and regional surf comps before Laird made it a thing. Scott has been a successful competitor for 4 decades. The dude owns the coolest nickname of any NJSHOF inductee as The General for his barrel skills. Nuff said.
Bona fides: Four decades as a successful competitor, world traveler, mentor to generations of groms, feared by unruly kooks and loved by lineup peers hoping for the voice of calm-but-don’t-mess-with-me-reason, surfboard manufacturing craftsman, ESA District Director, no-nonsense enforcer and protector of lineup etiquette, patriarch of three generations of surfers, and beloved husband and father. We should all be so loved, respected, and lauded. Here’s to the controlled fury of The General!