As a set rolled in, Cory Gann, a 22-year-old UF architecture senior, paddled for the shoreline of New Smyrna Beach. Gann gracefully dropped into a small wave as he picked up momentum on his 9-foot-6-inch longboard.
He rode the line high, staying at the top of the wave before he cross-stepped toward the nose of his board. He cross-stepped back and carved back into the wave. UF Surf members supported him from the beach.
Team captain Paul Campbell, a 21-year-old UF mechanical engineering senior, was proud of how the team competed March 5, despite the tough conditions, he said.
“Everyone came out,” Campbell said. “Beautiful weather. Got to catch a few waves.”
Surfing in a landlocked city comes with challenges, but UF Surf has taken on this obstacle for nearly 45 years. With about 200 members, the club lies somewhere between a competitive UF Rec Sports club team and a social club known for throwing legendary parties.
UF Surf competed against University of North Florida, Florida Atlantic University, Flagler College and University of Central Florida in the National Scholastic Surfing Association March 5 competition at the New Smyrna Beach inlet. UF Surf competed with nine members of the team who made up team A.
UF’s A team placed third overall. Gann placed second in men’s longboard and Campbell placed third in men’s shortboard. Alaina Heater, a 19-year-old UF marketing sophomore, placed sixth in women’s shortboard and Braidyn Cunninham, a 22-year-old UF health education and behavior senior, placed third in women’s shortboard.
For the first time in four years, the surf club qualified for nationals in Dana Point, California. And for the first time in nearly a decade, the team took first place overall in a December NSSA competition.
The team had to participate in four competitions and regionals to qualify for nationals. The team is set to compete at the NSSA Southeastern Regionals in April at NSB Inlet.
On June 16, Surf Club will send its A team to compete in nationals where it could potentially face UCF, UNF, Flagler, University of California Los Angeles, University of California San Diego and Hawaiian schools.
Linda Johnston, a 62-year-old director of the Southeast and North NSSA conference, said she’s been organizing local competitions for 27 years. As an NSB local, she spends one weekend a month checking surfers in and calculating heat scores.
“My boys started when they were 4 and 5, and I’ve been here ever since,” she said. “Now, they’re in their 30s.”
UF Surf President Micaiah Kennedy, a 22-year-old UF computer science senior, joined the club his freshman year. He ran unopposed for president, and he attributes this season’s success to better organization and planning.
“We’ve been able to make it happen and go to almost every contest,” Kennedy said.
Surfing in Gainesville isn’t easy. When Surf Club can’t travel to nearby beaches, the team uses a backyard skateboarding half pipe to practice for upcoming competitions.
The iconic half pipe was built by “Skater” Robb Bjorklund, a former professional skater and ramp builder in Gainesville.
“We always joke that it’s 3- to 4-foot offshore [winds] all the time,” Kennedy said. “Practicing on this translates really well to surfing.”
On its half pipe, Surf Club has some of its official and unofficial sponsors displayed. Officially, the club is sponsored by Tiger Fire Hot Sauce, Free Ride Skate Shop and Atlantic Yacht Management. Unofficially, Redbull, Four Rivers Smokehouse and the Surf Station help the team out occasionally with donations.
Most UF students know Surf Club from its former house, the “Dojo,” which it left in 2020. In its prime, the Dojo house was registered as a city venue, where it could host music shows, Kennedy said.
“The Dojo was the premiere surf house,” Kennedy said. He described it as a hotbed for Gainesville surfers, skaters and music lovers.
Mark Nelson, a 54-year-old former UF Surf Club member, was the social club chairman in the ’90s. Nelson was in the club from 1988 to 1992 and went to nationals in Huntington Beach, California, in 1989.
“Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, we had some pretty big parties,” Nelson said. “We had the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We had big bands play who were nobody then and became somebody now.”
Every year, Nelson gets together with other UF Surf alumni at Marineland beach for the Alumni Challenge. The alumni group has considered establishing a formal travel fund to help the UF Surf club with funding so it can afford to travel for surfing, Nelson said.
Although Nelson is a Gainesville resident, he continues to be an avid surfer and supporter of the club.
Surf Club doesn’t have a member fee, nor does it require surfing or skating experience to join the club. To compete, members have to try out once a year, usually in the Fall.
Although the surfers were competing against one another March 6, they walked back to the beach with smiles on their faces.
“Only a surfer knows the feeling,” Kennedy said.
Contact Ella at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EllaDeeThompson.
Ella Thompson is a third-year journalism major who's on general assignment for The Alligator's metro desk. In her free time, she likes to read, cook and think of feature stories for The Alligator.