Bob Freeman’s Surfing Memories (bobfreemansurf.com)
Not having a car really sucked. Back then I lived in the old Gateway apartments in Cape Canaveral, so I mostly surfed the Cheri Down area. Weekends I would make the long beach walk to Canaveral Pier to surf there for the day. One Saturday morning, the surf was big and nasty with strong southeasterly winds. I surfed a while with a few others on the north side of the pier. After a few bumpy, out-of-control rides and a couple of long swims, I decided to take a break. I couldn’t believe there were so few surfers out. It was a nice late October day, water and air still warm… “but, where was everybody?”. There were lotsa surfers showing up, but all left right away. A station wagon was driving down the pier (you could park up there back then). I recognized some of the Merritt Island boys inside. They asked me if I had checked the jetties yet that morning. Now I had heard of Canaveral Jetties while still learning to surf off the Outer Banks, but wasn’t sure where they were or how to get there. I was stoked when they offered me a ride. We pulled off A1A near the port (just shrimpers and boaters then) and began our trek toward the ocean on a long, single lane sandy trail. I was surprised to see all the surf-vehicle traffic. We had to swing into soft sand to let others pass. Other surf vehicles followed us in. There was absolutely nothing there except sand dunes and scrub oaks. Eventually we came to this clearing near where the inlet emptied to the ocean with a small rock jetty separating the two. Holly cow! I couldn’t believe what I saw!
The scene was right out of those old surf movies like Ride the Wild Surf. The area was absolutely packed with cars and trucks. As we looked for a choice place to park, I could see 50-60 people along the jetty watching the surfers inside the channel. The waves looked about head-high. Some waves were washing over the jetty out near the end. After parking we walked up to the jetty for a better view of the surfing.
I was stoked, the inside of the jetties was a smoothed 4-5 feet with lotsa multiple wedges rebounding off the rocks across the lineup. There were at least 100 surfers out, but still plenty of room for most. Some were sitting well outside near the old ash can buoy past the jetty. Most were sitting all along the inside jetty, more were in the middle area and some sitting further along the jetty after it bends down the channel.
Suddenly everyone jumped up and pointed to the outside. A well-overhead set wave was peaking up. Guy McRoberts and Wayne Williams were both paddling for it. Guy was eaten up by a pitching late drop, Wayne went left. “Left?” Everybody was yelling and hooting as he surfed the wave over the end of the jetty and down the beach on the south side. Guy’s board drifted out into the channel and he retrieved it easily.
All the hot guys were out… Tabeling, Propper, and many of the O’Hare and Oceanside team riders. Longboards were still the only surfboards in existence and leashes were years away… so many lost boards were smashed by the waves into the rocks.
I waxed up and looked for a way to climb down the rocks into the surf without getting pounded by the incoming waves. The rocks were slippery and the lower tide had exposed barnacles and slippery green growth. I timed my entry best I could and jumped out into the backwash of a wave… suddenly I was in the lineup.
There was a lot more water moving around than I expected and the waves were hard to pick with all the wedges coming off the rocks. The wedges produced a lot of quick drops resulting in many loose boards washing around everywhere. But I finally figured it out and managed to catch a few good ones. The breaking right-handers were much like a point-break wave with long peeling walls.
I soon figured out when to cut back into the wave where it would wall up and start peeling all over again. Properly executed, you could catch a ride from near the end of the jetty, surf back and forth all the way to the jetty bend. This was most often the most critical part of the ride. If you miss-judged that corner you were doomed to get pitched on to the rocks. You had to commit and race that section around its corner, then you could continue on down the channel. Most didn’t ride that far because of the super long paddle back. Some would climb out and walk back up to the main jetty and jump in again.
We remained and surfed it all day. Someone made a run to KFC for those 25cent bags of french fries. Resting between sessions we had a fantastic view from the rocks of surfers surfing past us. Sometimes we could climb down and retrieve a lost board. It was by far the best breaking wave and the coolest surf spot I had ever surfed.
That evening most of us returned to Jetty Park for an entire night of partying on the beach in the car’s headlights. (Again, reminded me of the old Gidget surf movies). We eventually fell asleep (passed out) in vehicles, on vehicles, in the dunes or on the beach. Waking at dawn we jumped back in the inlet and surfed it again.
We continued to surf inside Canaveral Jetties for several more years. It was the undisputed best place to surf during those huge southeasterly days. Soon we entered the short board revolution. Those reforming multiple wedges off the jetty proved more suited for the smaller, quicker twin fins of the era. As the years passed, the port became more developed, more turn basins were dug, our all-night partying area became a campground. We knew the end of an era was drawing near. The area was eventually closed to surfing , but we surfed it until the Coast Guard threatened arrest and jail time. Reluctantly, we gave it up, but all of us who were fortunate enough to surf those waves will never forget our wonderful experiences there.