Claude Codgen began surfing when he was 11, and was a regular at the Cocoa Beach Pier, known as the Canaveral Pier back then, in the 1950s. The Pier’s small but consistent lefts helped improve his surfing quickly, and it wasn’t long before the locals were taking note of this confident, precocious kid.
By 1967, he was number one in the East Coast contest ratings — a streak that lasted through ’67 and ’69. In 1966, ’68 and ’70, he placed well in the World Surfing Championships, proving that Right Coasters were a rising force in competitive surfing. He was soon spending time in Hawaii, surfing with fellow East Coast hotshot Bruce Valluzzi, and gaining confidence riding bigger waves. He was one of two East Coast invitees to the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, performing gracefully in 12-15-foot Sunset. Codgen was also a participant in the 1968 World Contest in Puerto Rico and the 1970 World Contest in Australia. In the 2nd World Surfing Championships, held in Peru, he was a finalist in the Small Wave event.
On the East Coast, Codgen was the Paul McCartney to rival Gary Propper’s John Lennon. As radical, pop, and off-the-wall as Propper was, Codgen was super cool and as graceful as a swan. It was natural that the two would develop a rivalry that would last for years. “There was so much talent coming out of Florida in the ’60s, from [Mike] Tabeling to Bruce Valluzzi to Dickie Rosborough, and, of course, Gary Propper,” Codgen told SURFER Magazine in 2017. “We all pushed each other. We were just young and having a good time. We never really intended to make a living out of it.”
In 1968, Codgen became somewhat of an international celebrity and movie star after starring in Follow Me with Mary Lou McGinnis and Bob Purvey. He signed on with Con Colburn to make a Claude Codgen signature model called the “CC Rider.” The model proved successful until 1970, when Codgen began shaping his own boards under Sunshine Surfboards. In 1975, he returned to the big screen to star in Tales from the Tube.
Once compared to Hawaiian style-master David Nuuhiwa, Codgen was inducted into the inaugural class of Greg Noll’s East Coast Surfing Legends Hall of Fame. He lives in Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Photos by Tom Dugan / ESM, Jeff Divine and courtesy Claude Codgen