Babe Braithwaite*

On Virginia Beach in the 1920s and 1930s, during the seaside community’s sleepy cottage-hotel era, each quaint beachfront inn had its own stationed lifeguard. Enterprising individuals like Babe Braithwaite — along with local friends like Hugh Kitchin, Dusty Hinnant, John Smith and Buddy Guy — would be among the first to organize a formal beach service that included lifeguarding as well as beach chair, umbrella and float rentals. 

The “beach bum” lifestyle was a long way off from being coined, but Braithwaite and his friends are credited with pioneering the surfing and beachcombing subculture that would become a craze in subsequent decades. They paved the way for the late 1950s to mid-1960s “Gidget” era, and the unique lifestyle that surfers share today. Braithwaite was one of the first East Coast surfers to go beyond wave riding and embrace the habits that come along with long days spent on the water. He sold the lifestyle to others, touting it as invigorating and healthy — an individual sport that people could pursue at their own pace. 

Braithwaite, along with fellow Virginia Beach buddy John Smith, was also a fixture in the Florida beach scene during the winter months. He made connections with the surfing pioneers of the south — including Miami-based brothers Bill and Dudley Whitman, as well as Tom Blake and Gaulden Reed of Daytona — and they would all become lifelong friends.  

As an early board builder, Braithwaite constructed four Tom Blake models by hand in the Birdneck Nursery garage, near where Oceana Air Base is located today. He would often travel the several miles from his workshop to the oceanfront on horseback. 

Braithwaite went on to help organize the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, an event that continues to this day. Babe was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2000.

INDUCTION YEARS

1996
1998
2000
2002
2004
2006
2008
2010
2012
2014
2016
2018
2020
2022
2024