The son of a candy maker, Charlie Bunger, Sr. was born in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York. He started surfing at the age of 18 after moving to Lindenhurst, Long Island. His favorite surf spot was the up-and-coming Gilgo Beach.
In 1961, while working as an airport cargo handler, Bunger started shaping surfboards as a hobby for neighborhood kids. As the popularity of surfing grew through the 60s, and word got out about Bunger’s boards, orders began to accumulate. After just six months of shaping, Bunger moved his operation from his basement into a two-car garage in his backyard. He hired Pat Calabrese — his first employee — to help with production. But still, the orders mounted. In the summer of 1962, Bunger and his business partner, Kevin Kelly, moved Bunger Surfboards into a 2,000-square-foot building in Lindenhurst and opened his first retail store in nearby Copiague. The store fueled even greater demand for Bunger Surfboards on the East Coast.
On the beach, Bunger team riders were easily ID’d by their brightly colored boards with BUNGER spelled out in huge all-cap boldface from nose to tail. The business continued to grow steadily, especially after Bunger brought onto his team New York’s highest-profile pro, Rick Rasmussen, and by the mid-70s Bunger Surfboards was pumping out 1,500 boards a season.
Bunger was always plugged into the New York surfing scene in every way. He helped organize and run the East Coast Surfing Championships, which began in Gilgo Beach in 1962, and was a vocal crusader for better beach access. In 1990, he opened the Long Island Surfing Museum next door to his surf shop, filling the space with a collection of historical photos, trophies, contest programs, and surfboards from every phase of East Coast surf history. “The Bunger name,” SURFER Magazine noted in 1994, “has been synonymous with New York surfing, and Bunger’s shop is still an energy center for the entire region.”
The 4,000-square-foot Bunger Surf Shop in Babylon, New York, is today thought to be the oldest shop of it’s kind still operating from its original location, with no change in ownership. Bunger himself continued shaping boards into the 2010s, though most of the shaping was by that point in the hands of his son, Tommy.
Bunger was inducted into Greg Noll’s East Coast Surfing Legends Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1996, and in 2013, he was inducted into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame. He died in 2018, at the age of 77.