The single, don’t-miss event of this year’s surf expo wasn’t the Social D. or Vanilla Ice Saturday night shows. It wasn’t the neighboring FX trade convention of gaming geeks or nearby cheerleading conference either. It was the 2004 East Coast Surfing Legends Hall of Fame induction ceremony Sunday evening, where ten more landmark surfers joined the existing group of 71 standouts who represent the East Coast’s powerful surfing legacy.

Started in 1996, the East Coast Hall of Fame has honored everyone from bold pioneers form the 20s and 30s to brilliant board designers to legendary performers — sometimes all in one — remembering feats of long ago and honoring figures whose achievements remain fresh in our memories and still impact surfing today.

Of the 2004 crew, the standout name is Virginia Beach hero and 1980’s top-10 ASP fixture Wes Laine. After a rousing, humorous and, at times, touching induction speech by fellow VB ripper and top surf journalist Jason Borte, the always classy Wes took the stage and thanked numerous mentors, especially noting all the boardmakers “who’s hard work made his work so easy.”

Natural Art founder Pete Dooley also stood up for our sport’s blue-collar craftsman. The owner of the largest surfboard manufacturers on the East Coast — a company whose team roster has included everyone from Todd Holland and the Hobgoods to Peter Mendia — nearly broke down in tears while describing “the pinline work of Tommy Maus and seeing Rich Price make boards you could ride after just being planed.”

The Gulf Coast got its due with boardmaker and surf contest guru Phil Salick. As a kid, Phil and his twin brother Rich, who was inducted in 2002, were both standouts during the 70s before starting Salick surfboards. But their true impact continues to this day as the founders of Cocoa Beach’s annual National Kidney Foundation pro event, which has raised millions of dollars for the NKF. Of course, Rich said it best when he inducted his brother: “when I was got in last time it was really for both of us, so it’s an honor to make it official tonight.”

“The good ol’ days” remained a common theme throughout the night, especially for the women who faced a much less friendly climate during their era. Isabel McLaughlin reflected on how surfing was much more about fun back in the seventies. The multiple-time ESA east coast women’s champ and inspiration to modern world champs like Frieda Zamba was joined by fellow Lynn Thomas Vignetti, who won the 1969 East Coast Surfing Championships before setting off for a stellar west coast career. And Renee Whitman, the first East Coast women’s surfing champion ever — and daughter of Florida surfing pioneer Dudley Whitman — reminisced of living on Hawaii and surfing alongside the Kahanamokus and numerous other legends, only two of which were other women for the longest time. “When I see what girls have going on today,” she beamec, “I’m amazed.”

Of course, one of the most influential women in surfing today was right there to join Thomas. After a dual induction by Peter Pan and Peter Townend, Eastern Surfing Association Executive Director Kathy Phillips accepted her spot in the Hall of Fame. Phillips picked up the reigns of the ESA following director Colin “Doc” Couture’s passing in 1989 and nurtured it into the largest surfing organization on the planet, producer of such competitive giants as the Lopezes and Ben Bourgeois. She expressed her overwhelming appreciation for being considered a member of the elite group, finishing with a plea for the need to present “more professionalism among surfing as a whole.”

Unfortunately, two members couldn’t be on hand to receive their awards. Longtime North Carolina competitor, multiple-time US team member and ESA Iron Man winner Billy Curry was detained at home, but his son Chris accepted the award for him, reading a letter by his father thanking a long poignant list of surfing mentors.

And perhaps the most moving point of the night came with the induction of 80s industry pioneer and performance powerhouse Lewis Graves. As the leader of the Ocean Avenue surfboards team, Graves launched the careers of numerous pros, including Jeff Klugel, Matt Kechele and Bill Hartley, and was legendary rep and innovator. In fact, he implemented the now-lucrative “photo {{{incentive}}}” program. Lewis passed away several years ago, but his mother and two sons — PR rippers Dylan and Josie Graves — accepted the award in his stead with tear-eyed speeches. As Josie said, “I just wish he was accepting this award here tonight instead of me.”

“Are there any friends of the sander in the audience?! Are there any friends of Larry Pope?!” So began Hunter Joslin as he inducted longtime friend and legendary lensman Larry Pope under this year’s media category. Ironically, while Pope is acknowledged as “the father of East Coast surf photography”, responsible for bending the surfing spotlight on to such heroes as Mike Tabeling, Greg Loehr and Gary Propper, it was his surfboard work that earned most of the focus during the celebration. Over the past 30 years, Pope has sanded close to half-a-million boards for more than {{{90}}} different labels. Pope himself humbly downplayed his influence, but did admit that “when I look at my photos from the 70s, I’m most moved by all the cleanness of the boards with no stickers and am reminded of how pure it all was.”

Still, the best quotes weren’t even by one of the inductees. They were reserved for the group’s oldest member, Gaulden Reed, a {{{Daytona}}} Beach pioneer from the thirties who regaled the audience with a list of stories about Tom Blake and the Duke, moving everyone with his inspirational tone and a list of hilarious one-liners, most notably imploring the shortboard community to try riding longer equipment. “You guys don’t know what you’re missing,” said the man of the sixteen-foot, {{{100}}}-pound boards of yore. “We brought our girls out with us! And let me tell you, when we’d paddle with those girls in front of us, we were just two inches from paradise.” And while that joke received the most laughs, it was his closing comment that summed up the celebratory feeling of the evening and the very reason for its existence.

“I feel sorry for those people who don’t surf,” he stated solemnly. “They don’t know what it means to be alive.” Matt Walker

All photos courtesy of Eastern Surf Magazine. For non-stop Right Coast coverage, stay tuned to www.easternsurf.com