Gary Propper*

Gary Propper was the first international-caliber surfer from the Eastern Seaboard, and the top-paid pro of his generation. “Gary was a hotdogger in every sense of the word,” fellow Floridian pro Mike Tabeling once said of Propper. “He was flamboyant and cocky, had the muscle tone of a jaguar, and there was nothing he couldn’t do on a board.” 

Born in Bronx, New York, Propper moved with his family to Florida when he was nine. They eventually settled in Cocoa Beach, and it was then that Propper, now 13, began surfing. By 1966, Propper had become the first-ever Floridian to win the East Coast Surfing Championships. Propper, who was on Dick Catri’s star-studded Hobie team, soon had his own model. The board quickly became the world’s best-selling signature model — and Propper, a bonafide pro. In 1967, between his board’s sales and his various sponsorships, Propper earned $100,000, the equivalent of nearly $800,000 today.  

Pro surfing, however, would only be the beginning of Propper’s success. In the 1970s, he transitioned to entertainment promotion. Under the tutelage of legendary San Francisco rock impresario Bill Graham, Propper was soon booking little-known bands like Devo, Blondie, and The Police in Florida clubs and halls. Later, as a manager, he represented comedians Gallagher and Carrot Top, along with bands like Rush, through his company, Gary Propper Entertainment. 

In the 1990s, Propper made a small fortune when he secured the film rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book characters. This led to the wildly popular film franchise, with Propper wearing numerous hats, from production to script management to promotion.

In his later years, Propper continued to stay active in entertainment promotion, as well as art. Legendary surfer and friend, Corky Carroll called Propper “One of the most important and influential surfers of all time.” Propper passed away in 2019. 

Photos by Tom Dugan / ESM, Roger Scruggs, Jana Frye and courtesy the Propper family