U.S. Amateur Surfing Champion, Dr. John “Chummer” McCranels was a graceful surfer known for his calming presence when tempers flared in the water. McCranels worked as an orthodontist in West Palm Beach, Florida for more than 50 years, and during his free time, he tried his hand at all manner of activities, from long distance running and biking, to free diving and sailing. But his true passion was surfing.
He built his first surfboard by hand, using schematics published in Popular Mechanics magazine. He dragged his plywood-and-cypress creation to Lake Worth, caught a wave and was hooked. “It was just awesome. It was one of the greatest feelings of freedom in the world,” McCranels told The Palm Beach Post in 2012. “When you’re up on top of the water, it’s beyond words. It’s beyond understanding.”
McCranels frequented the Lake Worth Pier for more than 70 years, fostering a local surf culture that valued companionship over competitiveness. Longtime friend Tom Warnke, Executive Director of the Surfing Florida Museum in West Palm Beach, recalled McCranels as “big-hearted.” Warnke went on: “He was one of the only surfers who invited others to actually share his waves.” Lake Worth was where McCranels picked up his nickname, when a family friend referred to him as “my little chum.”
Surfing was central to the McCranels family life. Chummer and his wife, Joann, would load their four kids into a Volkswagen campervan and drive to Cocoa Beach for overnight trips. On one occasion, the entire clan made a 30-day trek to Maine in their beloved Volkswagen, stopping at enticing surf spots along their journey.
McCranels’ son, Scott (East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame 2010 inductee) would continue the lineage of surfing orthodontists, joining the family practice and marketing the business with “McCranels Orthodontics Surf Club” stickers, which became ubiquitous on station wagons and minivans in Palm Beach County.
John “Chummer” McCranels was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2002 and passed away in 2019.