Bill Hartley started surfing in 1970 in Indialantic, Florida, but it was his command over the waves at Sebastian Inlet that elevated him to legendary status. Some in the surf world have even claimed that “no one surfed Sebastian Inlet better.”
At his peak, Hartley — a celebrated power surfer — was considered one of the best in the world. After watching Hartley tackle the perfect right point at Angourie in Queensland, Australia, legendary Aussie surfboard shaper Greg Webber praised him as the “best in the world.” Webber hailed Hartley’s “mad, futuristic stuff that no one else is doing.”
Many others in the surf world made similar claims; however, contest surfing was never in Bill’s wheelhouse. After a run at the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) Championships and nabbing second place twice at the U.S. Championships, Hartley made the turn to pro and headed out on tour. After just a few months, he returned home. “I just want to surf,” was Bill’s take on the tour.
He spent the next several years traveling the world and starring in surf videos like Zanzibar and Searching for Bill Hartley. He surfed select pro events and won some, including the King of the Peak in 1993.
When at home surfing Sebastian Inlet, Hartley was watched intently by many young phenoms. Hartley is considered one of the biggest influences on some of the sport’s brightest prodigies, including Kelly Slater, the Hobgood twins, and the Lopez brothers.
Hartley was also very influential in surfboard design. With Greg Loehr as his designer and shaper, Hartley pioneered the modern rocker, modern width, modern outline, crown deck, and concave boards of today — standards that the sport has used in high performance equipment for the past 25 years. He revolutionized these designs in the mid-1980s, long before other board builders began experimenting with them.
Bill Hartley was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2020.
Photos by Tom Dugan, Dick “Mez” Meseroll, and courtesy Bill Hartley