By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Don Wight began surfing competitively when he was 12 years old. It didn’t take long for him to not only love the sport, but also to love the ocean and want to protect it.
“Being surfers, the ocean is a huge thing for us. You want that area to be clean and safe for everyone,” said Wight, who grew up in Ponte Vedra Beach. “We are trying to preserve it.”
This is one of several reasons that Wight started the Ponte Vedra Boardriders Surf Club in August, which falls under the Florida Boardriders organization. It was a perfect opportunity to bring the community together, compete in contests, organize beach clean-ups, assist the sea turtle patrol and offer surfing lessons, said Wight.
“We are a nonprofit organization with goals such as growing our local surf community and promoting environmental stewardship,” said Wight.
The club now has 60 members, and they have attended three Florida Cup Series contests thus far, competing against St. Augustine, Jacksonville Beach and the Space Coast. Members pay a $50 annual fee and, if they wish, compete by age divisions.
“We have a pretty good mix of ages and talents,” said Wight, who owns Shark Pods, a small eco commerce business that sells shark repellant lanyards designed to protect surfers. “Surfing is a great community sport. We all come together and root for the club and our community. The rivalry between clubs is great.”
Cierra Warner, former Surfing America East Coast Champion and current Ponte Vedra Boardriders board member, agreed.
“I value the fact that this brings the community together, and it brings a team aspect to what is traditionally a very individual sport,” said Warner. “It was a lot of fun and a bit of a learning curve to have Ponte Vedra represented.”
Warner, one in a family of six children, was seven years old when she and two of her siblings jumped on boogie boards at the beach to convince their surfer father that they were indeed ready to surf.
Enter the “liquid shredder” — the first surfboard that Warner and her two brothers were given. They practiced religiously after school. Today Warner gives surfing lessons full-time, something she began to simply fill a gap during the pandemic.
“It took off, and I enjoy it so much,” said Warner, who offers lessons to everyone but mostly mentors girls. “I love building relationships with these girls and getting to see them grow and reach their goals.”
Wight said another event, the Crossroads Cup, is being planned for May at Mickler’s Beach and more details will soon be announced. Also, skate and movie nights are in the works.
“We do compete, but we like to stress that this is also for fun. There are so many different ways to get involved and to raise awareness,” he said.
Siblings Maggie and Tucker Demsey are both members and love the opportunity to compete and to learn from other surfers.
“I like being a part of the Ponte Vedra Boardriders because it allows me to grow as a surfer and a person by helping others find the love for the sport while representing Ponte Vedra Beach,” said Maggie, 14. “I like the contests because it is a team effort, and it is so good for us to see how generations of surfers come together to compete.”
Maggie and Tucker both have been surfing for five years, and they have both competed in the Eastern Surfing Association contests. Maggie made it to the semi finals and finished in the top eight on the East Coast. Tucker finished fourth in the “Under 16” division in his first contest.
“I like being a part of the club because I can learn from surfers of all ages. I like how the contests bring the surfing community together from Jacksonville Beach to the Space Coast,” said Tucker.
Trasca & Co Eatery is the club’s first sponsor and hosts club meetings. More sponsors are needed, said Wight, adding how grateful he is to Trasca for immediately being so supportive.
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Photo courtesy Ivy Scott
Ponte Vedra Boardriders board member Cierra Warner.