Will Somers – Podcast 1 – Surfing New England Hobie Shops History.wmv


This is the first try at a podcast on the
Hobie shops (the Narragansett Surf Shops) and how we came to Hull, Massachusetts in
the 1960’s. With the surf 68 reunion coming, I thought that y’all would be interested in
the history. My name is Will Somers. I have been surfing for a long time. As of 2008,
I am still surfing, which may be a little unusual, as it covers 47 years or something
like that. Anyway, as a bit of background, I grew up on the water. My dad, a doctor,
was stationed in Florida during World War II. We body surfed in Clearwater, Florida
in the Gulf of Mexico from the time I was about three years old. However, in my early
years, I never saw a surfboard, and despite two trips to California, I never saw one until
1962. One of my roommates from college had been a lifeguard in Santa Monica during the
summer of ’62. He brought back a nine two Duane surfboard, which probably weighed 40
pounds, bright red, but it was a real board. I saw that and made note of it when I visited
him in his apartment in New York. As luck would have it, about a week later, on TV,
I actually saw some people surfing waves on boards for the first time. I’d never even
seen anybody in the water on a board before at all. But I looked at the waves (which were
in Hawaii) and said to myself “We’ve got bigger waves than that on the East Coast, I think
we ought to take a shot at this sport.” So I went back to my friend in New York; I
said to him, “I’d like to have that surfboard. It’s too big to fit in your apartment.” “I’ll
swap you something for it.” He said “What?” “Maybe a car.” I know it sounds crazy, but
I think I but I think I sold that surfboard for 60 bucks, while he had to pay 25 bucks
to get the car pulled away :-). So I brought the board down to the New Jersey coast in
early March 1963 (which is where we were living at the time), and I saw some guys actually
in the water surfing. They had wetsuits on, old beaver tail suits, but had no boots and
gloves. I was in in a bathing suit, but said to myself, “I’m tough. How cold can it be?
and I know I can do this.” So I jumped in the water and proceeded to slip right off
the board. I didn’t know about wax. I thought you waxed the bottoms, like skis. So I was
freezing! The two guys took pity on me, and came in. It was probably about five six-foot
day out there. They said “You’re going to kill yourself out there. We will take you
down to Manasquan Inlet New Jersey where it is at least a little more sheltered.” “By
the way, you wax the top of the board, not the bottom!” So, anyway, we went down there
and it was still cold, but on the second wave or so, I actually got up. I said to myself,
” This is like flying. I’ve got to do this.” So I came back and kept surfing all spring,
in Belmar and on Long Beach Island. Things sort of continued to go along and that summer
was encouraging because two guys in New Jersey opened the first surf shops. One was right
in Belmar, New Jersey, opened by friends of mine named Les Reitman and Russ Govett, who
got the Hobie franchise for New Jersey. The second one was by guy named Ron DiMenna who
was down to Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Ron had a big trailer that said S-U-R-F-B-O-A-R-D-S
on the side of it; and y’all may know him better because Ron DiMenna is RonJon, and
from that one trailer came the RonJon surf shops nationwide. Well, I knew I was going to go to school in
Boston the next fall, and I was looking forward to it. I thought to myself, and said to a
friend, “Maybe I’ll try to open a surf shop up there if there are any waves.” So we started
the coast through Connecticut, trying every beach, and didn’t see much of anything until
we came to a place called Matunuck, Rhode Island; some of you may know that as “Mary’s
Bar.” I paddled out (it was a left point break, the first one I had ever been on), the rest
is history. So I came back in, met some guys on the beach.
(Again, I was one of very early people to surf the place. There were a couple of old
surfboards on the beach, and not much else). I asked “Where do you buy surfboards here?”
They answered “There is nowhere.” And I said to myself “That’s it. I’m starting a surf
shop.” So beginning in September 1964 I started ordering boards and looking for a place to
open. I met some new friends (that I will talk about that in a minute) and I began planning
for the shop. I rented a place on Kingstown Road in Narragansett Rhode Island and that
was the first of the Narragansett Surf Shops. During that time, I was looking for places
to surf in the Boston area because we were living in Watertown. I tried the Boston North
Shore, met some great people up there who had formed a surf club there in the Lynn and
Nahant area. We had fun up there; but one day I went little further north and I ended
up in a place called Good Harbor Beach on the Cape Ann Peninsula near Gloucester. As
I was walking down the beach, catching a couple of waves, I saw something out in the water
that looked like a seal. I said to myself “What’s this?” but it was an actual surfer,
a man named Freddy Silton in a full wet suit, out on a surfboard. So we rode a couple of
waves together and as we talked, I asked him if he would be interested in working with
me on opening a surf shop. He responded “Sure, I’ll come down and help you out.” So Fred
and I started to work together. Fred and I spent as much time surfing as we
did working on the shop that fall, and a few weeks later we went down and surfed in the
very early morning (I mean like 4:30am, it was just getting light) in a town called Hull,
Massachusetts. We said “Hey, this (Nantasket Beach) is kind of a neat place, nice stores,
right down on the beach; maybe we should do something here too.” So things went along
that fall as we met some other folks (One of them was Ron, Pare, from Salem, MA, I’ll
talk little bit more about him later. We put together a story for Surfer Magazine which
got published) and Ronnie signed on to help us with the shops, too. So, together, Ron, Fred and I and a few guys
from Rhode Island (notably Charlie “Pudge” Thomas) built the store in Rhode Island that
fall and winter and got it going. We had mostly “pop-outs.” (less expensive production made
surfboards). I had that Duane I had traded for and a few other boards and we got it all
started it up, but it really wasn’t anything special. I had written to Hobie (who I had
met in New Jersey) and I hadn’t heard anything back, so I assumed he wasn’t interested. Then,
on about February 15, this guy walks into the shop, tan, with no coat on, so we knew
he wasn’t from we were from. I recognized him and it was Hobie Alter. Hobie
said “I’m sorry, I mislaid your letter. Nice little shop you’ve got here. Show me the waves!”
So we drove around and went to Matunuck, the Narragansett town beach, Scarborough and Point
Judith, Newport, probably). We were watching guys who were learning to surf, really. But
Hobie said “I think you will do all right. Please take me back to the shop and let me
call my office.” So we go back and he calls California and says ” Please send Will Somers
24 surfboards.” I grabbed his arm and said “Hobie, I don’t have the money to pay for
24 surfboards.” Hobie replied “Oh, that is all right. You’ll sell them.” So, that is how we started. I went to Industrial
National Bank in Providence and borrowed far more money than what I was good for me, and
started the shop in Narragansett. And, in fact we did “sell them.” That summer, as those
of you who went down there to RI know, we ran a bunch of contests. We were “going and
blowing.” We just had a great time. So, that is how we got going. We also opened
a shop in Hyannis, Massachusetts, that summer. It really wasn’t much of a shop, but that
we saw there was a demand in Massachusetts, particularly on the Cape, so we made plans
to open a permanent shop up there. Then finally in the winter of 64, summer of 65, we talked
seriously about opening a shop in Hull as well. One other thing happened during the summer
of 1965 which was kind of important was that we ended up going up to our New Hampshire
and Maine. We were always pushing the envelope. With a couple of guys would go surf in Truro,
and Head of Meadows on the Cape, and stuff like that. Then we went up to New Hampshire
and met the kids from Rye Beach. A couple of them, particularly the girls, could surf
very well, better than anyone at the time. There were a couple of young ladies, one named
Ann Jones the second Cindy Dahlen, and we liked what we saw (in every way :-). We also
met a kid (fourteen years old) named Ricky Zetterberg and Ricky (with his dad’s support)
started the Narragansett shop in Rye Beach. We also went up to York, Maine and met Linda
Peters, who started Bikini shop (with her folks) Well, surfing in New England was going by
then. it was a “going thing!” So anyway that winter (1965), we (Ronnie Pare, Pudge Thomas
from Rhode Island, Freddy and I built the shop and Hull (on Nantasket Avenue). One of
the early guys we met was Roger Crawford and we hired Roger to be the manager of that shop.
He did great job from the beginning and I was proud to be associated with him. He is
a wonderful guy. Roger has told a couple stories for the Surf
68 reunion which are very interesting. One little story is about Phil Edwards, who came
there in the late spring in 1966. That’s a true story. Phil liked our shop and setup
in Nantasket and the enthusiasm. He really dug it, but it was pretty flat. He said “There
aren’t many waves of size. I think I need an East Coast Model. My West Coast model won’t
work here.” So he created a little “noserider” and that was the first Phil East Coast model.
Some of those boards are still around. Then Roger told the story about Corky Carroll.
My first time that I got know Corky was in the winter of 65, at Christmas time. I had
the opportunity to go out and spend two weeks working in the Hobie factory in Dana Point,
California. We actually got to live in an apartment Hobie gave us in Laguna Beach. We
spent Christmas that year with him. I got to know him and his whole family. But there
were guys in the factory I got to know as well. One was Corky Carroll, and, of course,
he is an interesting character. So Hobie had a car, which belonged to the shop; kind of
a “shop rat’s” car. When it was not otherwise employed, Corky got to drive it around. So,
one night my wife and I were driving it up the coast. It was raining (kind of unusual
for California) and my wife and couldn’t see much. I came at the shop next morning, and
every one calls out “Fink! Fink! East Coast fink!” I said “What did I do?” They said “You
passed up Corky Carroll in his own car when he was hitchhiking.” I hadn’t even seen him…
But, anyway, we had a lot of fun there. We did a lot of surfing that winter. Trestles,
some other neat places. I loved surfing, still do. So Corky did come East, as Roger described.
So did Dave Rochlen, with the Hobie skateboard team. I’ll never forget the skateboard team.
Roger talls about the Nantasket roller coaster. We took the skateboard team (including Rochlen)
on that roller coaster at at least 20 times. These guys would not quit. Those skateboard
guys were incredible. The team did a skateboard show at Paradise
Park, and that was probably the first organized skateboard event in the East. So then, basically by the spring of ’66, things
were “going and blowing” in Hull. 1966 was a “big, big summer” for us. I have a song
about that; I may try to introduce some music in successive podcasts which I think you will
like. The only problem from my standpoint was I was spread really thin. We had opened
the shop over the Newport by then. We we had two shops in Massachusetts, and we had the
shop and in Rye. On top of that, I needed to get a real job and make some money. So
got offered a job as part owner of a a furniture factory group with locations in Vermont and
Pennsylvania making furniture; so I took that and Roger and Freddy and everybody kept the
shops going that summer (1966). We went on for as Narragansett Surf Shops
for three years and loved every minute of it. That brings us to the summer of 68. Tremendous
credit goes to Roger Crawford, tremendous credit goes to others who kept the shops in
Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire going for that time. Finally, I sold the shops
in Rhode Island and, basically, let Roger and others take over the shops in the other
locations. So, as far as me, I kept surfing, still surfing
now, all for the fun of it. Some contests, in 1987, I came in fifth in the Grand Masters
at East Coast championships in Hattaras, North Carolina, also won a few other local contests,
surfed against some good guys. Maybe not as good as Roger beating Mike Hynson in Virginia
Beach, and but anyway we all try. So, I hope that’s of some interest. That’s
how we started the Narragansett Surf Shops.

2 thoughts on “Will Somers – Podcast 1 – Surfing New England Hobie Shops History.wmv”

  1. I went surfing in nansacket the other month. The waves were awesome… they haven't been up much there since.

  2. Cool! Actually many of us will be there the weekend of July 15-17 for the Surf68 II reunion. Glad you had a good time,and I hope we get good waves as well.

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