An Epic Day at Sebastian Inlet – 1959

Never before in print-  a firsthand account of when two surfing legends rode Sebastian Inlet for the first time…

Article by Jack “Murf the Surf” Murphey

It was impossible to paddle out at any of the beaches. A tremendous storm had stalled in the Atlantic 300 miles east of the Central Florida Coastline. Waves were pounding the beaches and coming over the tops of the piers from Daytona to Palm Beach.

Richard Allen Catri and I were on one of our frequent surfing safari’s from Miami. Local Indialantic surfers told us about a spot called Sebastian Inlet 14 miles to the south where waves broke inside the inlet, waves so huge that large fishing boats didn’t go out.

Of course, Dick and I had to check it out. It was 1959, six years before the bridge was built. At the end of A1A was a fishing village of old trailers and tents and a Bait and Beer shack. That was it, except for rows of waves inside the inlet where the tide was pouring out to sea.

Sebastian Inlet fish camp-1957

The first line of waves were about 4-5 feet high right under the area where the bridge was later built. About 30 yards further out, another line up of larger waves were breaking, and then, at the mouth of the inlet, right beyond the jetties, the overhead big boys were pounding while huge schools of fish were exploding out of the water as the Kingfish and Tarpon were hitting them.

Dick and I and several car loads of locals pulled up to the Bait and Beer shack where we were greeted by Cracker Jack (Forte), the old sun drenched fisherman who ran the store.

Jack Forte

Looking at our beat up Buick with 4 surfboards strapped atop, Cracker Jack asked, in his twangy redneck drawl, “What y’all gonna do with them pontoons?” I pointed towards the action in the inlet and said, “We’re gonna ride those waves.” The Cracker said, “Ya mean just like they do in Hi Y Ya?’ I replied, “That’s right Pal, just like they do in Hi Y Ya.”

“Well y’all better be careful, folks come from all over the country to catch big sharks in that channel. I mean Big sharks.” To which I arrogantly answered, “No problem, Jack. We got a deal with them sharks, we stay on top of the water, they stay below.”

With the tide pouring out to sea, Dick and I jumped in and floated into the first line up where we easily caught a few waves. Dick rode the left shoulder of the break, I rode the right shoulder. The strange thing about the ride was that when we rode a wave we stayed in the same place with the water moving outward under us, like being on a treadmill,

After a few rides we drifted out to the shoulder high waves. By now, we were being very careful because the waves were getting gnarly and this was before leashes.

The guys on the jetty and some fishermen were cheering us on when a large Coast Guard boat from the town of Sebastian came to the inside of the inlet, turned around facing the out going current. With the motor roaring, lights flashing, siren screaming, a megaphone repeatedly blared, “Come out of the water!” I looked at Dick, he shrugged and laughed.

A Brevard Sheriff’s car pulled up with siren howling and another voice hollered, “Come in, get out of the water.” I yelled to Dick, “If we’re going to jail we might as well go outside and ride those big boys.” Thumbs up from Catri. Out we drifted to where the fish were jumping, pelicans diving, overhead waves like we had never seen, it was awesome.

After we rode a few of the outside waves, the Coast Guard and the Sheriff’s deputy disappeared. Apparently they realized that the boys on the pontoons were a new breed, just like the astronauts going into space up the coast at Canaveral.

Exhausted and exhilarated, we loaded the boards back on the car. It was a day to remember, a day when Dick Catri and I planted the flag in the sand that announced, “Yes, just like they do in Hi Y Ya, we are gonna ride them waves, and East Coast Surfing is here to stay.”

Cracker Jack had watched the whole show. We went to his shack for a beer where he pointed to some old photographs tacked to the wall. Huge sharks, Black tip, Bull, Lemon, Tiger, and Giant Hammerhead sharks, all caught right where we had been surfing. For years I would wake up in a cold sweat, thinking about those sharks. Thank God they kept their part of the deal, “We stay on top of the water, they stay below!”

Note:

Shortly after that Epic day, a friend took me in his plane where we circled the inlet. In the shallow waters on the south side of the south jetty, and inside the inlet where other shallow areas were, we could see many large sharks basking in the warm water. “Monsters, look at the size of those sharks.”

As the Sebastian Inlet Bridge was opened in 1965 and the jetties were redesigned, a new sand bar was formed on the south side of the channel that became a favorite big wave break known as “Monster Hole.”

Whenever I look out at that area, I remember that day when Capt. Dick Catri paddled out and rode those gnarly, big boys for the very first time.

 

RIP my Brother.

Jack “Murf the Surf” Murphy

August 2018

Dick and Murf

 

Comments

  • Memories from legends! Thanks.

    Mark Perry27 September, 2018
  • Sorry but this is untrue fabrication. I was there, you (Jack Murphy) were not obviously. I knew Jack Forte well. nothing true in this article at all.

    Jeff Crawford20 October, 2018
  • If Crawford says “it ain’t so”, I believe that. My surf tribe “discovered” the mutant, reflected wave at this inlet in the late 60’s. We were – Larry and Steve Zimmerman, Nicky Nettles, and David Hunter (the only contest surfer in our group and a top AAA shredder, on the Weber Team).
    We’d all started right at the end of the longboard era, surfing Picnic Tables, Crescent Beach, O’ Club, 2nd light, Patrick, Missiles, Lums, the Cocoa Jetty (if it was really big)…………….but then we stumbled upon Sebastian. A couple trailers, and 2 surfing kids that would come out with us. I recall one was named Terry.
    No crowds. Cocoa was 2′ so we were hunting for a wave to ride.
    This peak was 3-4′ and Hatteras like power, this first day and we were hooked. We were all riding 7′ egg styles and had to really improve our skill levels right then and there. This wedge required a perfect bottom turn, a speed trim, and a lightning fast full on cutback – or you were simply spit out like a kook.
    Blue, crystal clear water, and this wave that you could watch as it angled into the jetty, and then doubled in size as it bounced back into first peak. 6 people was a crowd, and that’s about what we had – and we returned time and again for what I think was about a year.
    To put it mildly, this wave made our surfing progress jump exponentially. Over this first year on really good days, Cocoa Beach’s finest surfers would appear. My buddies and me would move to second peak and watch exhibitions of
    the East Coast talent pool on an insane level – the old school (Propper, Tabeling who were less frequent to be there, but incredible. Tabeling on this little purple Weber Egg and Propper on a short/wide twin fin): and the new school – mainly Loehr/Crawford with Larry Pope to shoot photos, Buzzy Foye/Dicky Pollack/ Benji McRoberts/ Mark Rhodes, Jimbo Brothers/ Gary Chapman to name a few.
    We’d already been very fortunate to be on the same scene as all these unbelievable surfers, at a time when surfing and board design was rapidly evolving – and noticed when Crawford and Loehr started surfing in Cocoa. Their surfing was basically a step higher than anyone. Crawford was riding a 7′ G+S gypsy rider I was lucky to buy at the Oceanside shop after he gave it up. Having seen it in action at Sebastian, I had to have it.
    Anyway…………an article was published in the surf mag when the Surfboards Hawaii team (Fletcher Sharp, Richard Munson et al) gave the “secret” away including a map with a star to show everyone how to get there – and the crowds ballooned to 100-150 overnight.
    We cut and ran because it was hostile out there and no fun any more. The new jetty in New Smyrna was completed in 1970-1 and we moved there to get over it. And have been here ever since.
    But we’ll never get over that mutant wave at first peak – it was a true freak of nature. I had that little 7′ G+S one time, didn’t make the drop, and I got pinned to the bottom. I reached over and there was my board, pinned on the bottom right next to me (this was pre-leashes)………………..now that’s power for ya.
    Shaka

    dave hoover26 January, 2019
    • The inlet was a well known surf spot even in the early 60’s. It wasn’t surfed much back then partly because it is a difficult wave to ride on a heavy longboard-
      1965 Jaycees contest program-surf map

      John Hughes26 January, 2019
    • The inlet has been a well known spot since the early sixties. It wasn’t surfed much then partly because it was a difficult wave to surf on the big, heavy board of the era. Here is a surf map from a program for the 1965 Jaycees surf contest showing the inlet with other popular spots.
      Surferama program-1965

      John Hughes26 January, 2019
  • PS – I did not mean to imply Jeff Crawford and Greg Loehr showed up in Cocoa in the late 60’s – that just happens to be when my gang and me first got to see them tearing up inside the Cocoa Jetty on day when it was huge everywhere else. About 4-6 ‘ on the north side of the jetty, and they were surfing it like it was Rocky Point. Insane shredding period.
    We had some good friends at 16th st (Keith and Dennis Gardner) who also knew Greg L – so we got to see GL a little more than the GL/JC combo. To watch those 2 goofy footers made most people just paddle in and sit there to see this action with no distraction.
    And my buddy Larry shared a trailer with Greg for a brief time when Holt/Busbey surfboards were born – and Greg was shaping a few of our boards (we called them watermelons – hey, the were green and red!)
    Anyway – blown out surf this morn, so I thought I’d share some memories from the “golden era”
    Like when me and Dicky Pollack were arrested at Sebastian for surfing too close to the jetty. And appeared in that little court downtown Beachside Cocoa. Catri was there to defend Pollack – we lost.
    Our defense was the newspaper said the law was being dropped about “you can’t surf within 150’ of the rocks) the weekend before we got busted. The judge said, it was still on the books until the 30th of the month – pay or go to jail.
    And the next day the Satellite news said – “last two surfers arrested at S Jetty as old law falls.
    My friends filmed me in front of the judge, and when I plead “gulit your honorary”, they busted out in laughter and the judge was not amused to say the least.
    Lates – ya had to be there……………..I miss those days for sure, but still catch some super surf here in NSB, and down at Picnic when those cold front hit and it’s too north up in NSB where me and Dale Cormican still can get er done

    dave hoover26 January, 2019
    • Thanks for the great stories, Dave! It’s always good to hear from the ones that were there. I hope you will stop by the Museum and check out our new exhibit “Sebastian Inlet- The Accidental Wave”. I am sure that will bring back some memories. Be sure to check out our post on inside jetties too.

      John Hughes26 January, 2019

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