John Carey*

John Carey was one of the early pioneers of New Jersey surfing, helping to turn Ocean City into a modern-day hot spot for the sport. Carey was a lifeguard for the Ocean City Beach Patrol in 1963 when he approached fellow surfer Don Pileggi with an idea to formally organize a city surfing program. 

“I said, ‘Let’s do.’” Pileggi told Ocean City Magazine. The two set up an intramural longboard program and recruited local athletes to surf with them at the downtown fishing pier, where the waves were regularly fun. They found locals to help with the judging. “This was one of the first areas to really have an intramural program for surfing,” Pileggi continued. “We gave out medals like the Olympics in summer.” 

Thus, the Ocean City Surfing Association was born — the oldest surfing association on the East Coast. Carey organized three major annual surf contests. Professional surfer Sandy Ordille (East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, Class of 2016) remembered: “They had contests called the ‘Turkey Trot’ during Thanksgiving break, the ‘Polar Bear’ during winter break, and ‘Spring Fling’ during Easter break.”

Carey’s influence on the sport’s popularity in the sleepy barrier island town would spread beyond the Ocean City limits. For years, the association was the largest amateur surfing organization on the entire coast. Contests were held every Tuesday night and attended by surfers up and down the Jersey Shore — from Long Beach Island to Cape May. They were described by Ocean City surfer Chuck Allison as “incredibly, incredibly competitive.”

Carey is credited with bringing legitimacy to surfing in Ocean City, recognized today as one of the nation’s great surf communities. In 2017, Surfer magazine ranked the city #4 on its list of “America’s Best Surf Towns,” saying, “Maybe it’s something in the pizza up there. Or the bagels. Something channeled through the radio waves within a Bruce Springsteen tune. Whatever it is, New Jersey produces some great surfers.”

Or maybe it’s the lasting legacy of John Carey. As Greg Beck of Surfer Supplies, Ocean City’s original surf shop, told OCNJ Daily: “It doesn’t surprise me… It started back in the 50s with guys like John Carey, George Gerlach, and Don Pileggi. They made it something that caught on and we developed a culture.”

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