> Pat O’Hare - EC Surfing Hall of Fame
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Pat O’Hare - EC Surfing Hall of Fame
Story/Photos by Dharma Mum Gayla Schaefer
Pat O’Hare was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame by Greg Noll in 1996 as one of the first inductees.
Back in 1963, when the Space Coast was just starting to earn its nickname, O’Hare and buddy Ricky James moved from the West Coast and began manufacturing some of the first surfboards in the state at a shop called James & O’Hare.
His father and two siblings followed him to Florida. His mother had died tragically of kidney disease when he was younger.
Although his pal got homesick and headed back to Cali only a year after they got here, Pat stayed and changed the name to O’Hare Surfboards before selling the biz to chase waves in Barbados, where they had to keep kicking him out when his Visa ran out.
He started shaping again in the 1980’s under his own label after working for some of the giants in the years between while he raised his two kids, Sean and Kelly, in the same house off SR A1A near 13th Street where he lives today.
In fact, the O’Hare place is so cool and the family so tight that Sean, his wife Layla and their 10-year-old son Nathan, are now living in the front “cottage” while Pat has the run of the new back house which is separated from the front by a huge mango tree, a picnic table and, of course, a few surfboards.
Nathan introduced me to the family Chihuahua named Shakespeare, a.k.a “Shaky,” as he swung slowly in the backyard hammock watching his famous grandfather hauling in three boards from a regular client.
After getting his customer squared away and finding a space on the floor of his home for the new boards, Pat sat down with me at his kitchen table to tell me about his own lifetime of endless summers.
The table separated a funky red kitchen from a sea blue living space dotted with folk art by the shaper, some very cool boards and memorabilia of a life spent enjoying the waves.
“There really isn’t a photo of me at the post office,” he laughed. “My dream in life was to own a house by the ocean. It wasn’t a big dream.”
The houses are directly across the street from his home break and would certainly classify as a mighty big dream for many in these parts who moved here well after the real estate prices started sky-rocketing. But this is not a house for showing off proximity to the ocean. This is a home designed to facilitate a life that is about the ocean.
Out front, in most understated of fashion, is a slightly cock-eyed sign promoting O’Hare Surfboards.
O'Hare was one of the original surfboard manufacturers in Florida and created original designs in the early years for many of the top competitors. Stickers promoting his boards can still be seen on cars across the county and his boards are still seen from Maine to the Keys. Still one of the most popular shapers on the East Coast, his boards have become something of the collector’s items and run in the neighborhood of $1000 a piece.
That wasn’t always the case. Back in the day - 1964 or so - O’Hare’s budding business nearly went belly up when a salesman sold him the wrong kind of resin and he had to take 10 boards back after delivery.
“That early in my manufacturing business, it almost put me under,” he recalls. “I don’t know that the guy meant to do it. I think he didn’t even know what he was selling. Back then it was really hard to find materials to make boards and we had to look all over.”
The early boards sold for $100 to $125.
"Cocoa Beach was the East Coast leader, and still is, in quality custom surfboards due in large part to Pat O'Hare," says Tony Sasso, the director of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame Museum and a local city commissioner.
O’Hare started surfing when he was 15 in 1957 after moving to Manhattan Beach, CA from San Francisco. He remembers how the lifestyle was quick to catch on with all the young people anywhere around it.
The Manhattan Beach surfing community had a bustling surfboard manufacturing industry and O’Hare quickly got in the game. He surfed and eventually worked for Greg Noll, who was a huge influence on him.
He moved to Cocoa Beach at age 22 and during the past 44 years has watched the area go from a small, sparsely populated paradise to a sprawling county of more than half a million people.
“It used to be we would look for breaks where there might be some other people because you wanted to be around people,” he laughs. “Now you just look for somewhere without a crowd of people.”
O’Hare is certainly not a fan of the area’s boomtown growth but says he understands.
“Things can’t stay the same forever,” he says explaining how the beach renourishment project changed the local waves. “Old surfers have said sine the beginning of time that, ‘the waves are different now,’ but they really are.”
One of his favorite stories involves a particularly good day surfing off the Jetty where he and his pals noticed that a lot of people had gathered to watch them.
“I thought, ‘wow, we must be surfing really good,’” he laughs. “Then the rocket launched and I realized that is what they were there for. I didn’t know about the rocket. That isn’t why I was there.”
Apart from his claim to fame as one of the first surfers recognized by the East Coast Hall, O’Hare has another, even cooler, designation.
He is one of a handful of surfers who has been inducted to the National Surfing/Wrestling “Ironman” Hall of Fame.
“One of my favorite things is to sit and talk wrestling with Pat," laughed Sasso who explained that wrestling and surfing are similar in that they are kind of team sports and kind of loner sports.
Pat is also a very proud papa who relishes any opportunity to brag on his daughter, Kelly, who is featured in Kelly Slater’s book, and his son, Sean.
Sean has become quite something of the civic leader organizing beach cleanups and protests. But, he is best known as the founder of the East Coast Surfing Museum where in his off time from managing the local mega-health food store.
“I saw surfing history sort of slipping away in our town and it kind of broke my heart,” says Sean. “And my dad being a big part of that, it meant a lot to me.”
Pat has the heart of an artist. One need only look at the insanely intricate balsa wood longboard on the floor of his home to see that.
He’s also a pretty good folk artist, with what he calls “primitive” pieces scattered around the brightly colored rooms of his beach cottage that sits where the garage used to be.
“I just dabble,” he says quietly of his artwork. “I paint myself surfing or other people. I am doing one now for the guy that cuts my hair.”
He more than dabbles in shaping. He spends about 4 hours per board before sending them off to be glassed.
“I used to be able to do one every 35 minutes,” he laughs. “Now I like to sit back and take my time.”
About this time, I couldn’t help starting to think what a really great life that would be to spend your time making something beautiful and doing something you really love.
Although hip surgery sidelined him from racquetball last year, he still loves to workout and walks the beach every day.
His is a quiet life. It’s a good life. It would seem to be what life should really be about.
“I have spent my life doing what I love,” he says as I’m leaving. “I really don’t have any regrets.”
I can’t imagine that he would.
Contact Gayla.Schaefer@gmail.com with ideas for future stories on Hall of Fame surfers.
Special thanks to the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and Museum in Cocoa Beach. www.ecsurfinghallandmuseum.org