In the late 1960s, while extending the north jetty at Sebastian Inlet in hopes of preventing the navigation channel from filling with sand, the State of Florida accidentally created Florida's best wave: First Peak.
For the next 40-plus years, First Peak, the ultra-consistent, challenging, right-hand wedge, was Florida's gold standard. The best (and arguably the only) wave worth visiting in the Sunshine State, it undoubtedly played a major role in the careers of all of Florida's world champions: Frieda Zamba, Lisa Andersen, Kelly Slater and CJ Hobgood.
Unfortunately, the jetty that created First Peak needed rehabilitation in the early 2000s, and while it wasn't intentional, the tweaks to the jetty forever changed the wave. In the 15 years since, we've seen Central Florida's surf scene basically disappear with First Peak.
But what if we could bring First Peak back?
According to Justin Enjo, the founder of the First Peak Project, restoring Sebastian Inlet back to its glory days is 100 percent possible. In fact, the process is already underway. We gave him a ring to get the details.
OK, so what inspired this project?
Throughout my life and career, the First Peak Project has grown on me, mostly by accident. It's been a weird trip. My parents moved our family to Florida from the Caribbean in 1996, and my dad bought a house right down the street from Sebastian Inlet. From the moment I first saw First Peak, it reminded me of the little pocket wedges back home, and I was hooked.
In 2002, I was taking the Coastal Structures course at the Florida Institute of Technology. The professor teaching the class was also working as a consultant to the State Park, helping with various aspects of the jetty rehabilitation that was happening at Sebastian Inlet at the time. Our lecture and homework covered engineering facets of the new jetty. I would sit in a lecture looking at the cross-sections of the jetty, then drive down to the inlet and surf while the construction crew drove the new pilings.
I knew back then that after the rehab was complete, reflection would diminish and First Peak would suffer. I just didn't know how badly.
To that point, what sort of financial effect has the disappearance of First Peak had on the State Park and the surrounding areas during the past 15 years?
Well, First Peak was a legend. And it took a long time for that legend to fade. The wedge disappeared in 2003, but it took three, four, five years or more until people started to realize it wasn’t coming back.
Since First Peak's demise, there hasn't been much growth of the local surf economy, or at least, it hasn't kept pace with the rest of the global surf economy. The big surf contests at Sebastian have all but disappeared. It's tough to put an exact number on how much financial loss accrued due to losing First Peak, but we have some reliable economic models that value it at an additional $5 to $10 million dollars per year for the economy if we restore it.
Once the money has been raised to allow this project move forward, do you expect any push-back or is funding the only roadblock at the moment?
The good news is that restoring First Peak is very inexpensive. I joke about using plywood but think about it for a minute: We could place some panels at the base of the jetty, even for a day, and restore First Peak as a demonstration project. How much would that really cost? We have a real opportunity to bring back an amazing wave, and this chance is unlike anything I've seen in the coastal realm.
Over the past year, we've put together a great collection of experts in the coastal field. Restoring First Peak is a chance for the State Park, FIT, the Army Corps, and Surfrider Foundation to all work together to do something historic. At this point, the only thing we're missing is overwhelming positive support from the surfing community. We have to find a way to raise public demand for this opportunity.
Once the jetty is "fixed", how long will it take for First Peak to come back? Is it really possible to see early ’90s Sebastian return?
Oh man, this question is a total setup [laughs]. Ever since the 1940s, First Peak has always changed. Back in the late 50s through the early 60s, the pioneers of First Peak tell us we have no idea how good First Peak used to get. And they're probably right. I've heard stories of when waves would reflect from the first hundred feet of the jetty, which is a solid concrete block. First Peak was probably over-wedged and totally mind-blowing back then!
Honestly, we want to avoid bold claims regarding how good First Peak could become. We'll leave that up to people's imaginations. But with all the incredible wave science and engineering that we have coming from the surf pool industry, it's not a stretch of the imagination to think we could do something special at Sebastian Inlet.
Speaking of which, has Slater been involved in any of the discussions? With how much he's investing into his wave pool, it seems like he'd jump at the chance to help bring back the wave that molded the early parts of his career.
A year ago, SURFER published this incredible article on First Peak. It was a great read. Sebastian Inlet's history is amazing. In that article, Kelly quoted a "guy" approaching him once claiming he could fix the inlet for $50,000. Guess who that "guy" was? [Laughs]
So yeah, Kelly definitely knows about the First Peak Project. I can't express how stoked I would be to partner up with Kelly and his team to help bring back First Peak. How cool would that be? Bringing back First Peak is something for the entire community. The wave is in a Florida state park. I'd imagine the State of Florida would be forever indebted to Kelly if he helped restore such a wonderful community resource for everyone.
At this point, what are the immediate next steps?
Most importantly, to get the State Park to prioritize restoring First Peak, we need to get the surfing community onboard and show public demand. The surfing community needs to come together and express how important First Peak was to our economy and our livelihoods. And, how important this wave will be to future generations of surfers.
We created the non-profit and launched a GoFundMe campaign as a way for the surfing community to sound off and express their support of this project. As we've seen, the surfing community sounds off very vocally when waves around the world are threatened. But what about a lost wave? First Peak was once an incredible community resource and a huge economic driver for the entire region. We didn't deserve to lose First Peak, and I firmly believe we deserve to bring it back.
Between the Army Corps, FIT, the State Park, Surfrider and various agents in Brevard County, we have an awesome team assembled and ready to go. The surfing community is the only member who is missing. The surfing community needs to drive the wave quality conversation and bring a resounding desire to restore a lost surfing spot to the table. This is a historic opportunity to bring back an extraordinary wave and we cannot afford to let this pass us by.
*To check out the website, learn more about the project, and to donate to the cause, please click here.
[Top image: Sebastian Inlet in its glory days. Photo by Dugan]