Bill Wise took to the ocean in the late ’50s while attending the University of Delaware, often bodysurfing, freediving and spearfishing along Delaware’s lonely beaches. It was in Delaware that Wise read an article by Bev Morgan about surfing in Hawaii. For the next two years, Wise dreamed about riding waves. Finally, he and his partner, George Pittman, ordered pop-outs from the Behemian Surf Company in California. When the boards arrived at a Delaware train station, surfing was still so foreign to the area that an onlooker reportedly asked Wise, “Boy, what’s them thar things, a’rplane wings?”
By 1962, Wise and Pittman had opened one of the East Coast’s first surf shops, The Eastern Surfer. They sold Hobie Surfboards and eventually had three locations in Ocean City, Rehoboth and Harrington. They also refigured an old-school bus, from which they rented surfboards near 93rd Street in Ocean City, leading the spot to become an official surfing area. Wise further helped promote the sport by taking photos and writing stories that appeared in Surfer Magazine. He hosted many of the biggest names in the sport, including Hobie Alter and Bruce Brown, who in ’64 provided live narration to the local crowd for the premiere of his epic movie, The Endless Summer.
On August 10, 1965, Wise wiped out and landed headfirst on the sandbar at Bethany Beach, breaking his neck and relegating himself to a wheelchair. Undeterred, he remained eternally optimistic. In order to continue taking surf photos, he rigged a camera mount to his wheelchair, which allowed him to trip the shutter with his teeth. He wrote weekly surf columns for both the Milford Chronicle and Beachcomber newspapers.
In December of 1967, Wise and his wife, Rosalie, traveled to Hawaii, where they met with Duke Kahanamoku at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki. “I felt as though I touched the hand of ancient surfers through this man,” Wise would later recall. After their trip, Wise and Rosalie started Likewise Bikinis, helping to further popularize Hawaiian and California beach culture on the East Coast.
Throughout his long life, Wise maintained his relationships with surfing’s pioneers and his passion for adventure remained strong — he traveled extensively, sailed, flew gliders, swam with dolphins, and captured the beauty of nature with his camera. And his love of surfing, of course, never faltered — as evidenced by his prized Phil Edwards balsa board hanging over his bed. In 1996, Wise was among the first group inducted into what was then called the Greg Noll’s East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame. Wise passed away on February 24, 2007, at the age of 69.