Joe Twombly*

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When Joe Twombly’s father retired from the military, he chose to settle his family in sunny Central Florida to avoid the cold weather that plagued him growing up in Maine. Joe’s sister, Betsy, was the first in the family to own a surfboard, and she generously shared her sleek new James & O’Hare with her younger brother. 

In a 2008 interview with Eastern Surf Magazine, Twombly said: “I think I would’ve surfed anyway, but my sister was quite popular — beautiful girl, homecoming queen, three years older than me. When you look up to your older brother or sister, you do what they do. Betsy and her friends surfed, so surfing was so cool to me.”

Twombly immersed himself in the booming 1960s Canaveral Pier surf scene, and caught the eye of local star Gary Propper, who, in 1965, recruited him for Dick Catri’s legendary Surfboards Hawaii Team. Over the next three years, Twombly won several Junior events, his long limbs and strength giving him a distinct paddling advantage. He also became a top paddle racer, winning more than 20 major events on the East Coast. 

Twombly’s summers were spent piling into a van with the rest of the Surfboards Hawaii crew and driving to contests up and down the Eastern Seaboard. The tour culminated with the East Coast Surfing Championships, where Twombly’s cross-division strengths would often help propel the team to victory. Twombly remembers, “If your team won all the paddle races and even just a couple surfing events, it added up and you were almost certain to win the whole thing. Surfboards Hawaii never lost a Team trophy.” 

By 1967, the team had caught the attention of Hobie Alter, who had a team based out of California. Twombly became one of Hobie’s top recruits; Hobie not only offered to pay for his surfing-related travel, but also for his college education. Twombly attended college and law school and then worked construction. In his spare time, he made resin tables that encased ocean-inspired trinkets, such as sand, rocks, seashells, seahorses, and nautical charts — a hobby that grew into Twombly’s Nautical Furniture. The business would furnish several Carnival cruise ships and some 250 restaurants.

While Twombly never returned to competition, he remained an active supporter of the East Coast surf scene and was officially inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2000. He passed away in February 2018.

Photos by M.E. Gruber and Roger Scruggs