Bill Yerkes

As a kid growing up on the Jersey Shore, Bill Yerkes found surfing at a young age, riding surf mats — and eventually his first board — at local beaches during the summertime. But it wasn’t until a trip to California during his teenage years that Yerkes got his first real taste of surfing culture. He was surprised to see that people could make a living off the sport they loved, and he wanted in.

Back home in Jersey, Yerkes got a job at the Keller Surf Shop in Lavallette, run by surfing legend and ECSHOF Inductee (1998) Charlie Keller. There, Yerkes was able to make connections that would launch his career in the surfing industry. Drawing inspiration from that fateful trip to California, he went bi-coastal with his networking and established a business consortium that brought together the West and East Coast surfing markets. Thanks to Yerkes’ trailblazing efforts, the expansive gear offerings of West Coast brands began regularly appearing in surf shops up and down the Eastern Seaboard.   

In 1977, Yerkes launched Wavecraft, his own brand of surfing products and paraphernalia, and set up shop on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. He acquired Sundek Sportswear in the 1980s and transformed the ailing company into a leader in the surf wear space, as well as a major sponsor of professional surfing tours. However, the 1989 economic recession hit the industry hard, causing Yerkes to turn his attention to his Tropical Designs t-shirts business. 

Yerkes would eventually put his energies into producing balsa wood surfboards, hand-crafted by “Balsa Bill” himself. To this day, he can be found shaping boards at his oceanfront Balsa Bill Surf Shop on the south end of Florida’s Satellite Beach — about 50 feet from the nearest surf break. His boards are unparalleled in their quality and craftsmanship, and embody the dedication of a man who has achieved his teenage dream of living the sport. Yerkes infuses his passion for surfing into more than just surf gear: he’s produced several short films on the subject and plays surf music with his Surf Chasers Band in venues across Central Florida. 

Photos by Vickey Bolling, Denny Denmark, Phil Roberts, and courtesy Bill Yerkes