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Wisdom: Claude Codgen

68, Cocoa Beach, Florida

Some build their life around surfing. That’s what I did. I don't really know any other way. I spend the summers shaping and selling my boards [Sunshine Surfboards] wholesale because there's so much demand for longboards during that time on the East Coast, from Rhode Island to New Jersey to South Carolina down here to Florida. Then I travel in the winter to Hawaii or Puerto Rico or other places in the Caribbean to shape guns and longboards and stuff. Of course, I'm trying to surf every day while I'm at it.

There was so much talent coming out of Florida in the '60s, from [Mike] Tabeling to Bruce Valluzzi to Dickie Rosborough, and, of course, Gary Propper. We all pushed each other. We were just young and having a good time. We never really intended to make a living out of it.

All of that talent in one spot produced some great local rivalries. Gary Propper and I had a friendly rivalry. We went to Cocoa Beach High School together, and we'd skip class to go surfing. Then we started winning all these contests and got to travel the world. He had a different team jacket every day of the week, whether it was Surfboards Hawaii or Hobie. Our rivalry was friendly, but competitive. We still see each other once in a while and spend time together.

Getting a signature model really helped put Florida on the map. Back in the '60s, all the hot California guys had signature models – Nuuhiwa, Corky Carroll. Then Gary [Propper] got his with Hobie and I got mine, the CC Rider, from Con Surfboards. It was a big deal over here in Florida. I think it inspired a lot of guys here to know they could do it, too.

Dick Catri was everything for surfing on the East Coast. He was quite a character and a true waterman. He organized the first teams that competed with the California guys. He brought all the manufacturers over. He hooked everybody up. He had a special vision. He was a real business-minded guy who saw the potential here, early on. It's a huge market now for all the California clothing brands, but back then, it took some vision to see that. He showed them who was hot here and what was going on. He just connected all the dots. He knew the sport and was way ahead of everybody.

The warm water is the reason that Florida produces so many good surfers. You can surf year round and guys are just hungry here. We just continue to produce good surfers, from Tabeling to Jeff Crawford to Kelly [Slater] and now the Geiselmans.

Surfing was big in the '60s, but it's amazing to see how popular it is today. Even though it was a business when we were coming up, it's just huge now. It's on TV all the time. Laird Hamilton's doing ads for credit cards. It's much more commercial than it's ever been. It's hard to imagine surfing not catching on, though. It's such a fun thing to do – the sport of kings.

Classic longboards will never go out of style, especially here on the East Coast. When it's two feet, you're kind of limited. The weight and materials might change, but a classic single-fin longboard remains really popular. I'm making longboards much the same way today as when I started Sunshine Surfboards in 1970. The same things that worked back then still work today.

Travel is really important. I can feel little a bit isolated here in Florida sometimes. I'd probably get bored if I had to just stay here all year. That's why I like to travel. I'll go to San Diego or Hawaii to see my old friends. But I still like go to new places and see new waves. I've done so much traveling over the years, even up to Rhode Island. I've been going there for years. There are great waves up there – killer point breaks. You just have to look around.

That said, Florida is a great place to come back to. I have so much history here. I'm not trying to surf 50-foot waves at my age. Here, the waves are fun, the water is warm. So I don't mind being here. I get a lot of shaping done and I have fun. As long as I have a chance to get away and goof off a little during the offseason, it's all good. I don't really fish that much these days. I just shape, surf, and travel.

You just have to be thankful and appreciate where you are. I can't imagine my life without surfing. I come from a family of fisherman. I was pretty much a sports guy growing up. I played baseball and football, then once I was introduced to surfing, that was it. The water was just in my blood and it eventually just took over. Especially living here in Florida — there's just so much water. I enjoy getting in the water today as much as I did when I first started surfing.