Born in 1930 in Irvington, New Jersey, Cecil Lear’s family summered in the Jersey Shore town of Belmar. By 1946, his family was living fulltime in the sleepy beach resort. Hitting the beach as a kid, Lear grew up like many early Hall of Famers — riding waves with surf mats. He soon was body surfing and lifeguarding during the summers. Shockingly, it wasn’t until his early 30s that Lear picked up surfing and found himself bitten by the magical surf bug.
In 1963, Lear founded the New Jersey Surfing Association and began to travel the East Coast, chocolate chip cookies in hand, exploring strange new places with exotic names like Narragansett, Gilgo Beach, Cape Hatteras, and Canaveral Pier. Along the way, he ran into the little bands of surfers who populated these areas, isolated from each other like Stone Age cultures, and now only just beginning to reach out and come into contact with each other.
By 1967, Lear, who was now working as a New York advertising executive, and his friend Rudy Huber, a jet-setting trust fund baby from Connecticut with surfing connections around the world, got together to plot out the creation of what would come to be the largest and longest lived amateur surfing body — the Eastern Surfing Association.
Backed by Hoppy Swarts, who was considered the “Duke” of competitive amateur surfing in America, and at a time when the dissolution of the original U.S. Surfing Association threatened to destroy the only coherent amateur surfing program in the U.S., Lear and Huber conceived the basic outline of the ESA, which they hoped would unite those scattered surf “fiefdoms” that Lear had encountered in his East Coast travels. For a time, Lear served as the ESA’s Competition Director, and he has been an active member of the ESA Board of Directors for decades. His work designing the ESA has served as the blueprint for the ESA’s competition program, as well as the bedrock guidelines still used today by surfing associations in the US and around the world.
In the early ’90s, with the ESA amateur juggernaut, Lear teamed up with legendary big wave surfer Greg Noll to create the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame — Lear would be named president, a position he held until 2016. Since the inaugural 1996 class, Lear — who was himself inducted that year — had a hand in the selection of every class of East Coast legends. Lear lived in Belmar, NJ until his passing in January 2022.
Photos by Dick “Mez” Meseroll / ESM, Bruce Chrisner / Ocean Views Photography, Donald Cresitello, Mike Vuocolo, Dick Graham and courtesy Lear family