OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City surf community filled council chambers on Tuesday evening to introduce the new Ocean City Surf Club (OCSC).
“The Ocean City Surf Club formed to celebrate the heritage and future of our ocean community,” OCSC spokesman Shelly Dawson said. “Firmly rooted in the rich surf history of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, the OCSC will support area youth through scholarships and mentoring, always fostering respect for others, the ocean and our fragile ecosystem. Young, old, local or visitor, all are welcome to participate in this non-profit, beach-centered organization. The OCSC shall make an effort to enhance our community through charity, service and proactive initiatives.”
Late last month Dawson, Ocean City Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation executive director, announced he is stepping down from the position after 14 years and is now heading up the OCSC. While the “new” club will adhere to the fundamental principles of the Surfrider Foundation, with its emphasis on environmental advocacy and clean beaches, competition, camaraderie and education, it will have a decidedly local focus.
Dawson explained OCSC will focus its attention on the local surfing community and will continue the fundamental principles of the Surfrider Foundation in the resort over the last decade or so, such as “leave only your footprints behind” campaign.
“It is pretty simple, through our activities and primarily our membership I hope we gain both the visitor, as well as the resident in taking a stewardship role in our beaches. Our goal is to return everything to this community. It has been very good to all of us and we want to give back some,” Dawson said. “I think we view being a local a little different than some. Some see it as a privilege and we see it as a responsibility. We want to give back and plan our future through our youth through the charities and scholarships we can offer.”
The response to OCSC has been overwhelming, Dawson said.
“I was worried about putting wheels under it a couple of weeks ago and now I think it is growing wings,” he said. “As you see in the audience, this is the face of the Ocean City surfing community. We are proud of where we come from and we are glad we are staying here.”
Ocean City promoter and surfing advocate Brad Hoffman grew up in Ocean City surfing, and said it is the local surfing community that has led him to be involved in such amazing initiatives.
“I was blessed to have such great friends and camaraderie through surfing, so we want to umbrella the organization through the fact that that we all love surfing, we all love the beach, and we want to protect the beach but also want to mentor the young kids,” Hoffman said. “We want to teach them responsibilities, how to stand up and be themselves and to have a lot of confidence. A lot of times in life that is important.”
Long-time Ocean City surfer Chris Tilghman feels fortunate to have grown up in Ocean City when there was a tightknit surfing community, especially his favorite hangout, Spyder Surf Shop.
“To me it was just so cool to have that type of environment right at the end of my street,” he said. “I felt like I had somewhere to belong and it feels that some of that has passed.”
While the Surfrider Foundation has had a beneficial impact on Ocean City, OCSC will be more focused on the local environment and the younger generation, Tilghman explained.
“It is a matter of wanting to do something more, keep it here, and keep the money that we raised here instead of having it go to a corporate office in California and divided among the country,” he said.
Tilghman added OCSC is already planning on growing the annual Longboard Challenge event by adding a professional surfing contest. The group has been in contact with the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) to receive information in how to host an event.
“Some of you may recall we had surf contests in the 80s that brought in pros from all over, and there is no reason why we can’t do that here today,” Tilghman said. “We want to start right from the get go as being as it should be, for things to grow … eventually maybe along the lines of having an Ocean City Surfing Festival.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said it’s an honor to witness not only the council’s enthusiasm of OCSC but those in attendance.
“If you sit up here and look out into the audience and see the enthusiasm that this projects, it is amazing,” the mayor said. “One of your goals is to preserve and bring back the history of surfing in Ocean City, and that is very important … not just to Ocean City, not just to all of the wonderful programs you support … but also to support and bring forward the next generation of surfers.”
Dawson concluded that it is the 50th anniversary of the original OCSC, as it was first formed in 1964 by Ocean City surfing pioneers Skill and Al Johnson, along with their late brother, Carl, who were among the first to surf to Ocean City in the early 1960s. The club grew as more and more local residents became involved. As the sport grew locally, the club eventually dissolved and splintered, but it was resurrected with the announcement late last month.