Small surf city Cocoa Beach worries about going big time under the lights of a surf stadium


Cocoa Beach local Dan Colburn weighs in on what could be a major artificial surf project on his home break.

If you are a Central Florida surfer, you have probably heard the term “Surf Stadium.”

This is the term coined by Cocoa Beach mayor Dave Netterstrom, and a few other proponents, to describe the proposed pier to be constructed in downtown Cocoa Beach. But to call it simply a “pier” is a bit misleading.

When I think “pier,” I think of a wooden, pelican poop covered structure extending out into the ocean, the primary function of which is to allow crusty, salty fisherman closer to their catch or a place to drink beer and talk about fishing … either one. Usually both.

While this “Surf Stadium” will undoubtedly have its fair share of pelican poop, its primary purpose is vastly different.

The construction methodologies are intended to result in wave energy congruent with the old Sebastian Inlet jetty (circa 20th century) and the Newport Jetty on the north side of Newport Harbor (aka “The Wedge”), producing a bouncing wave off the pilings that significantly increases the size and power (that would be “refraction” for you educated types).

Sounds pretty awesome right?

By and large it is. But it’s the intangible byproducts of the project that have many locals, including myself, questioning its merits.

Have you ever found one of those sleepy little towns where most of the residents know each other? There’s that quaint little café downtown that has a chill vibe and the owners know you by name and by order, you can navigate the entire town via bicycle, you know everyone in the lineup at least by face, if not name?

Well, Cocoa Beach is one of those towns. We fly under the radar here. If you ask most anyone from other parts of the world they will know us only by virtue of our favorite son, Kelly Slater. Most don’t know exactly where it is and those that do will be quick to tell you the waves suck in Cocoa Beach. And that’s just fine by me.

I first came here in 1985 with my brother and learned to surf at a spot we called “Driftwood,” because of the beach house there rumored to have been made entirely from driftwood. We ate tacos at a family owned taco joint on the south end of town with terrible salsa and talked with locals at a small, privately run surf shop where the owner was the guy shaping the boards he sold. Cocoa Beach has a rich history and is deeply seeded in east coast surf lore claiming residents and Hall of Famers such as Bob Freeman, Dick Catri, Skip Savage, Claude Codgen, Mike Tableing and of course Mr. Slater.

But all in all it’s a small town not unlike one you might find in rural Nebraska. You drop a “surf stadium” in the middle of town and all of a sudden things get a little hairy when a swell clears the 12-second mark. We get every Jabroni from Orlando and Tampa making their way to our little slice of heaven thinking that because they shelled out $800 for the latest model from Lost they can drop in on us old salts riding our locally crafted Mayos, Neilsons, and O’Hares.

Listen, I’m not entirely against progress; I understand that the town I fell in love with will never remain the same.

However, I suggest we tread with great care here else it be turned into some version of the hell that is southern California.

ESSAY: There’s More To Surfboard Design Than Short and Long

You would be wise to explore other board shapes

You would be wise to explore other board shapes

By Dan Colburn, fish lover.

It’s 1986, I had just seen The Endless Summer by Bruce Brown and being a somewhat adventurous soul, I decide I want to try surfing.  No surf camps existed (that I knew of), there were no lessons, no instructors. Just me and my brother and a couple of 10’ soft tops rented from Ron Jon’s.

We spent two of the best days of my life at the beach across from Patrick Air Force Base. I found out more about myself in those two days than I think I had in my previous 14 years. It’s funny how you just seem to know when you find your “thing.” I suppose for climbers it’s the first time they stand on a summit. Or maybe the first time a runner completes a marathon.

For me, it was paddling out and sitting among the rolling waves—that’s when I knew that I would always be a surfer, that was the feeling I always wanted to keep with me … for life.

As I furthered my life as a surfer, I thought that boards in excess of 9’ were what you rode unless you had skills the likes of local legend Todd Holland. Fast forward about 5 years and I was experiencing my own “shortboard revolution” of sorts.

My brother, who had progressed faster than me, handed to me his old T&C squash tail. It was about 5’10” with glassed on twin fins and a box for a removable third fin.  That board was fantastic; it opened up a whole new world of surfing to me. Turning became an actual option while riding a wave! I rode the T&C exclusively until about 1993 when it snapped in 4’ shore break. (It was to become the coolest coffee table ever but that never materialized.)

From 1993 until around 2000, I rode the standard shortboard design: 6’4” x 18.5” x 2.25” tri fin, mostly because that’s what everyone else was riding.  Don’t get me wrong, that was a great design and worked well but in 2001, I had an aquatic epiphany with regards to my choice in surf craft.  For reasons I can’t explain, I contacted a local Cocoa Beach shaper and after some lengthy discussions about my surfing style, we agreed that he would shape me a board that was completely out of place in contemporary surfboard design (at least I hadn’t seen anyone riding one at the time). It was a total throwback:  5’10” twin fin, deep swallow tail with a thick, wide outline and would have been more comfortable sitting in a 1978 lineup.

The shaper dubbed that board the “Retro Fish” and it became my magic carpet. When he gave it to me he said it would work well in most conditions but when it got big to ditch it for a conventional thruster.  And for the most part he was right; it was amazing in everything from shin to head high but I hadn’t had a chance to really get it into anything with real juice. Until the first hurricane swell of 2002 when I paddled out into well overhead waves in south Cocoa Beach … on my retro twinnie.

Dropping in on a twin fin is a wild experience because you only have the one inside fin holding in the face of the wave as you make your turn so until you get used to that loose feeling, it is as if you’re going to spin out.  I quickly discovered that my twin fin was a solid contender in any surf, including overhead, top-to-bottom hurricane swell. I learned to be adventurous and try new things. I promptly sold my thrusters.

Since the early 2000’s, I have been having a blast with short, wide boards that have anything but three fins (I thought about starting a Web site dedicated to boards that had more or less than three fins, but in my haste someone else snagged it).

Fishes, Stubs, Hulls, Twins, Quads, Single Fins, Bonzers—I have found some amazing designs that work really well.  Some better than others but they all have their high points in certain conditions. I haven’t ridden a conventional thruster shortboard in over six years. Not that there’s anything wrong with them, I just enjoy the ride of the less conventional boards.

There are so many incredible shapes available that if you stick with what everyone else is riding you’re surely missing out on something spectacular.  Hell, you might even find your own magic carpet.

Remember it’s not about how much spray you throw, it’s about the size of the smile on your face.

Note: If you are in FL be sure to check out the next Florida Fish Fry currently scheduled for late May 2010.  This event affords an opportunity to discuss designs of and even test drive some alternative surf craft.