By Donald Wittkowski
This may have been the first Hall of Fame gala in history where shorts, Hawaiian shirts, flip-flops and baseball caps turned backwards seemed to be standard attire.
Essentially, the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame induction ceremony had the same vibe as a gigantic beach party, only it was inside.
In all, a sold-out crowd of 500 casually dressed surfing enthusiasts gathered Friday night at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City to honor 14 inductees who were pioneers in a sport that has a rich history at the Jersey Shore.
“Ocean City is a surf town – flat out,” Larry Friedel, one of the inductees, boomed into the microphone as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Friedel, 65, who operates a string of 7th Street Surf Shops in town, and three other inductees have strong ties to Ocean City. They include Sandy Ordille, Brian Heritage and Tom McClaren.
Friedel, who enjoyed a stellar amateur surfing career when he was young, recalled his decision to open his first shop on the Boardwalk in 1986. Still there, the shop overlooks the 7th Street beach, the first place in Ocean City to be officially designated a surfing beach.
“It’s been an unbelievable ride,” Friedel declared of his longtime involvement in the sport. “It’s been phenomenal. It’s still phenomenal.”
Ordille, who now lives in San Diego, Calif., was raised in Ocean City and graduated from Ocean City High School in 1973. The 62-year-old Ordille made her mark as a top women’s surfer in the 1960s and ’70s.
“I haven’t lived here for a long time, but this place is always in my heart,” Ordille said after telling the audience she grew up in Ocean City. “It really is a special place.”
Heritage, 55, who owns Heritage Surf & Sport shops in Sea Isle City, Ocean City and Margate, became the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame’s first second-generation inductee. He joins his late father, Dan Heritage, a businessman and legendary surfing figure at the Jersey Shore, in the Hall of Fame.
“Brian Heritage is living up to his father. There’s no question about that,” said former world surfing champion Peter “P.T.” Townend, who served as emcee of the induction ceremony.
After thanking his father and his wife, Jamie, for their support over the years, Heritage paid tribute to his 73-year-old mother, Barbara, the matriarch of the Heritage Surf & Sport enterprise.
“When I talk about my family, I get emotional,” Heritage said, choking back tears.
Calling her a business pioneer who paved the way for others in the surfing industry, Heritage maintained that his mother should also be inducted into the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame.
Heritage’s words brought the crowd to its feet. His mother, sitting in the audience, was surrounded by well-wishers who shook her hand and hugged her.
The fourth Hall of Fame inductee with local ties, Tom McClaren, was a competitor surfer who later became a surfing judge and director. McClaren, 73, of Ocean City, has been involved with the Eastern Surfing Association for nearly 50 years.
While the ceremony was mainly about the 14 Hall of Fame inductees, the spotlight also focused a number of times on New Jersey’s – and Ocean City’s – surfing reputation.
“Most people don’t know the impact our state has made,” said New Jersey surfing legend Cecil Lear, 86, of Belmar, Monmouth County. “There’s some great surfers we have.”
Townend, an Australian who now lives in California, said New Jersey is sometimes overlooked as an East Coast surfing mecca.
“It’s not as well-known as it should be,” he said. “When people think about East Coast surfing, they usually mention Florida because so many surfing champions have come from there.”
Townend, 63, who became the first professional world champion surfer in 1976, has gotten to know the Jersey Shore surfing scene by riding the waves in Ocean City. He mentioned a few of his favorite surfing spots in town, including the 7th Street beach.
Greg Beck, owner of Surfers Supplies in Ocean City, said the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame ceremony also served to recognize the contributions of Ocean City to the state’s surfing community.
“Ocean City is an awesome surf town,” Beck said. “There’s been so much support in this town for surfing for a long time.”