If you follow hurricanes at all you may know that Hurricane Bill kicked up some pretty nice waves along Florida’s east coast the past few days. Florida is not usually known for large waves. Most days the surf pales compared to the best surf spots in California & Hawaii. So one could make the mistake of thinking that small wave Florida wouldn’t produce world champion surfers.
But the pro surf version of Lance Armstrong/Michael Jordan/Tiger Woods is in fact from Florida. Kelly Slater was born in Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1972 and has won the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Championship a record nine times. He holds the record for being both the youngest (20) and the oldest (36) to win the title. He is also the all-time leader in career event wins. Pretty amazing stats for anyone but more amazing since he came from an area nicknamed the “Small Wave Capital of the World.”
TV buffs may recall that Cocoa Beach is the setting for the 60s classic show I Dream of Jeannie. (Though according to Wikipedia the cast and crew only visited the area twice for filming). As part of the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach is where parades were held for astronauts when they would return from the Apollo missions. (As featured in The Right Stuff.) Though only six miles long, about a mile wide, this little town of 12,000 has had its brushes with greatness. So maybe it’s a fitting place for the greatest competitive ever to be from.
And Slater is not the only surf champion from Florida. Both Lisa Andersen (Ormond Beach) and Freida Zamba (Daytona Beach) both hold four ASP titles, and C.J. Hobgood (from Melbourne/Satellite Beach, FL) won the 2001 ASP World Championship and last year’s O’Neil Cup of World Surfing. I could go on about accomplished surfers from basically a 100 mile path on the coast of Florida from Ormond Beach to Sebastian Inlet, but I think you get the point.
Having spent most of my life in Central Florida it’s an area I’m fond of as I’ve gotten to spend my share time in the water there over the years. In fact, just two weeks ago I got several hours in of bodybording and longboard surfing in New Smyrna Beach/Cape Canaveral. But the reason I think champion surfers have risen from that area is it’s a great place to get in your 10,000 hours learning the craft and there is a history of surfing there that goes back for decades. That’s a great combination. And Slater working his magic on the smaller waves everyday as a kid is actually what set him up to change the face of surfing when he had an opportunity to perform on larger waves on the world stage.
I bring that up on a blog about screenwriting because it once again shows that something great can come from outside Southern California. Looking at surfers coming from the east coast of Florida is like looking at why so many writers come from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and why world class sprinters come from Jamaica. Vision, hard work, and the right ground work years (decades?) in the making seem to be what set a part places like Iowa City, Kingston, and Cocoa Beach to produce amazing results.
Part of Cocoa Beach’s ground work was Ron DiMenna opening Ron Jon’s surf shop in 1959 in Cocoa Beach. That helped create the surf culture that is there until this day. That’s 13 years before Slater was even born. Though Ron Jon’s today resembles Walt Disney World more than traditional surf culture, I have to think that back in the day Slater’s dad bought a board or two at Ron Jon’s. (Or at least at least a Hang Ten/Lighting Bolt/OP shirt.)
Once again in an era of digital filmmaking the doors are being blown open for filmmakers to rise up from unusual places. And if you need a little more inspiration read my post about Coppola’s “fat little girl from Ohio” comment.
Lastly, I should mention that there is another deep connection to films and surfing as the two seem to go hand in hand. From Gidget, Big Wednesday, and Warren Miller’s classic surf films, to Blue Crush, Jack Johnson’s Thicker Than Water, and Endless Summer II (which featured Slater) there has never been a shortage of finding great footage to put on screen—finding a great script with a surf angle has been proven a little more difficult to find.