Charlie Keller got his start in the surfing industry in the late 1950s working as a board builder in his Lavallette, New Jersey surf shop. In those early days, he made boards by wrapping refrigerator foam with fiberglass and boat resin. The material improvisations proved unsustainable, so in 1963 he transitioned to importing custom surfboards from California.
That summer, Keller received only six boards from the West Coast — far from the number needed to satisfy the growing demand brought on by a recent surfing craze fueled by Frankie and Annette films and the surf pop songs of the Beach Boys. Off-the-rack “pop-out” boards soon hit the market to fill the product void, and business began to boom at Keller’s Surf Shop.
Beginner surfers were drawn to the lower cost and increased flotation capabilities of these entry-level boards. Their shapes were similar to custom boards, so would-be surfers need only choose a length and color — then they could head straight from the surf shop to the shoreline.
In a few short years, industry trends shifted back in the custom direction. Gear needs became more sophisticated as Keller’s surfing clientele advanced in skillset, and hand-shaped boards once again became the standard. Keller’s Surf Shop stocked its racks with boards by West Coast builders Gordon & Smith and Con, and when the shortboard revolution hit in the late 1960s, Keller adjusted his inventory accordingly, and rode the proverbial wave.
In 1972, Keller sold his legendary surf shop, which closed down a year later under the new ownership. Keller was among the Jersey Shore’s most influential figures for increasing the notoriety of the sport in the region. Hundreds of novice surfers walked through the doors of his store with a notion of a new hobby and walked out with a life-changing purchase tucked under their arms.
Keller passed away in 1996 at the age of 61. Two years later, this legend was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, and in 2015 he was inducted into the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame.