Now 91, Dudley Whitman—who continued to surf into his 80s—took the stage at the Miami Surf Archive Project party to introduce a documentary about the Whitmans’ contributions to Miami surfing. In the film, photographs of the Whitman clan capture an American era of boundless strength, grace and ease: The three Whitman boys, young and powerful, pose with their long boards on Daytona Beach; Pam Whitman (William’s daughter) shoots a massive barrel on Hawaii’s North Shore and flies 737s as part of the all-female flight crew for Aloha Airlines; Dudley’s daughter Renee wins a 1965 East Coast Surfing Championship in Ormond Beach. It’s as if a lush Bruce Weber reverie had come to life.

Bill, Stanley and Dudley Whitman (FROM FAR LEFT) and fellow teen surfers pose with their boards on Miami Beach in 1938

The Dade Breaks
Viewing the archive, it becomes clear that so much history, cool history, was made in Miami. For natives, surfing is a personal signpost to the past, a way to chart the passing of time here. The Miami Surf Archive Project is a chance to hardwire that past, a great historical continuum of pleasure that slides into the surfing scene now. From the beginning, the Miami surf scene has been based on two beaches: the Haulover Inlet area just north of Bal Harbour, and South Pointe. Both South Beach and Haulover had their respective fans and localism; surfers dropping in on waves and occasionally fighting on the beach is part of the culture. Years ago, Surfer magazine billed Miami as the meanest locals-only scene in the country. Despite all the Zen stuff about being in harmony with Mother Ocean, surfing is also about commanding turf and respect. “It was a matter of paying your dues,” says Lance O’Brien, a local surf luminary, of his surfing youth. “When I was young I was heckled, sent up the beach, down the beach, home.” Dade County, and even Florida itself, has never received the respect accorded to California and Hawaii, though Kelly Slater, 10-time ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) World Champion surfer, still rides waves in his hometown of Cocoa Beach, Florida.

  Next-generation Miami surfer Christiana Phillips; modern short boards

In 1955, Dudley Whitman established another notch in our wave-riding history: opening the first surf shop in Miami. It was located within his company, Challenger Marine, a marina that also sold his line of innovative and then-novel fiberglass boats. In that era, surfers often made their own boards, and surf shops were much rarer. Whitman introduced Hobart “Hobie” Alter’s revolutionary foam boards to Dade County.

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