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.
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.
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!”
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