Bruce Clelland

The history of North Florida surfing culture goes back to the 1960s, when the sport was evolving from a regional beach pastime into a trendy national phenomenon. Bruce Clelland was among the first area surfers to put this region on the world surf map. In 1963, at the age of 17, he spotted a surfer off the coast of Jacksonville Beach; when the rider came in, Clelland asked if he could try out his board. 

“I was hooked,” Clelland said of that first run. “Even at that early time, it quickly became more than a sport to some of us. It was a lifestyle. It became my life for a long time.” A few weeks later he won his first contest, and within months, scores of locals would feed the burgeoning bi-coastal craze. Despite the masses now paddling North Florida’s waters, Clelland would continue to hold surf royalty status on area beaches. 

In 1964, the film crew and surf stars from Endless Summer — which had become a box office smash — traveled to Jacksonville Beach to hold a demonstration and contest for local riders. They recognized Clelland’s talent, and he was invited to try out for the elite Surfboard’s Hawaii team. He spent 1965 traveling to competitions up and down the Eastern Seaboard as part of the team’s East Coast tour. 

Over the course of the next decade, Clelland made a name for the North Florida surf scene by competing against some of the best surfers in the country. He dominated the East Coast contest scene, becoming the first of several hotshot pro surfers raised by the North Florida beaches over the past half century. Many surfers from the region credit Clelland as their inspiration for getting into the sport. 

Clelland now lives on Oahu, where he still surfs. He was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2000.

Photos by Larry Pope, Roger Scruggs, and David Silver

INDUCTION YEARS

1996
1998
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2024