When he was about five years old, Pete Smith was introduced to surfing by his uncle, John Smith, who worked for the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service. “My uncle would put me on his 14-foot, 100-pound board with him, and as I got older, he would help me take it out and I’d ride it by myself,” Smith said of the board that now hangs over the exit of Freedom Surf Shop in Virginia Beach. “Eventually, I got strong enough so that I could balance it on my shoulder and control it with my head.”
At the time — the early 60s — surfing and its counter culture were growing rapidly in Virginia Beach. Smith counted as close friends up-and-coming surfers like Bob Holland and Butch Maloney. In 1962, Smith, Holland, Maloney, and other VB waveriders ventured up to Gilgo Beach, New York, for the inaugural East Coast Surfing Championships. The VB crew did well in the competition, and it inspired them — the following year, the Virginia Beach Surf Carnival was born. For a time, Smith served as an announcer for surf contests, earning him the moniker “Mouth of the South” from longtime friend George Desgain.
It was then that the Smith and Holland Surf Shop was opened, the first of its kind in Virginia Beach. A couple of years later Smith and Holland opened another location in nearby Outer Banks. While Holland got out of the business in the late 1960s, Smith stayed on at the Virginia Beach store for decades, which he renamed to Pete Smith’s Surf Shop, still in operation today.
Wes Laine, arguably the most successful professional surfer to come out of VB, called Smith the “Godfather of Surfing” for the whole East Coast. “He’s always been such a gentleman,” Laine once said. “He’s just a super iconic figure.”