VIA – M. JACKSONVILLE
Monday, Jan. 30, 2012
Friends of First Coast surfer legend stir up waves of memories
By Matt Soergel
Daytona Beach’s Bill Hixon came to Neptune Beach in the spring of 1964 with 25 surfboards inside a panel truck. He leased a spot on First Street next to Red and Jim’s Barber Shop and opened up a surf shop, where he and his first wife, Betty, lived for a while, sleeping on a mattress and showering with a garden hose behind the store.
It was perfect timing — the Beach Boys were singing about catching a wave and sitting on top of the world, and all over the sleepy beach towns east of Jacksonville kids were deciding to do just the same thing.
Hixon’s run in the surfing business came to an end 26 years later, but that was long enough for him to become an institution in the Beaches surfing community.
“He was a mentor to hundreds of kids at the beach, “ said John McKay, 61, an Atlantic Beach native who’s now a psychologist in Tallahassee. “His store was a refuge — if the surf was up, we were surfing. If the surf was flat, we were at Hixon’s.”
Dozens of Hixon’s friends gathered Sunday night in the American Legion Hall in Jacksonville Beach and told stories about him. The night was filmed, and their stories were simulcast to Hixon’s home outside of Philadelphia.
Hixon is 68 now and has terminal cancer and not much time left, said his son, Jerry, 43, who lives in the Atlantic Beach house where his parents moved, a few blocks from the shop, after they found out they had a son on the way. It wouldn’t do to raise a kid inside a surf shop, after all.
Friends described a canny businessman who’d go on to get an MBA at the University of Florida, open several other businesses, and become a commercial real estate appraiser — a field he continued to work in after moving to the Northeast when his second wife, Beth, went to seminary to become an Episcopal priest.
“He laid the groundwork for what this surf town is today,” said Mitch Kaufmann, 52, a one-time Hixon’s surf team member who organized the American Legion gathering. “He’s the godfather of surfing here.”
Larry Miniard, 61, who was just inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, was also on Hixon’s surf team, and he remembers Hixon taking him to Cinotti’s Bakery at 7 a.m. for melt-aways, delicious pastries. Then they’d go surfing.
“Oh, man, that was living,” said Miniard, a fishing guide who lives in Palm Valley.
For years, surfers from Hixon’s surf teams went up and down the East Coast and out to California, competing in contests, often with the shop owner himself at the wheel. “He put Jacksonville on the surfing map,” said Dick Rosborough, 61, a surfboard shaper who was a team member.
And Hixon brought surfboards from top California companies — and the California and Australians who represented those companies — to Neptune Beach.
“There was no connection to the outside surfing world until Bill brought that world here,” said Tim New, 63, a partner in the shop for a few years.
Mike Whisnant, 53, a surfboard shaper at the Beaches, said that when he was a kid just learning to surf, the shop was alluring — all those beautiful boards — and somewhat intimidating. “Only the cool people went there, and when you’re a kid, you’re not cool,” said Whisnant.
If you bought a board from him, he’d put you on his “team,” though it wasn’t the team that the really good surfers were on. But Whisnant and other kids on the pseudo team were put to work putting fliers for Hixon’s on surfers’ cars, for which he’d give them a bar of wax.
Later Whisnant became cool enough to hang out there late at night, when Hixon would stay open to sell to the tipsy people coming out of Pete’s Bar across the street. Hixon had a quadraphonic stereo and would play Santana’s “Abraxas” album loud enough to shake the walls.
Hixon closed his old shop in 1990, shortly after shutting two other Hixon surf shops, one at the Landing, the other in Arlington. He told the Times-Union’s Don Meitin then that times at the venerable Neptune Beach shop were getting tough…
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