Ruben Snodgrass*

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At home in the water, on the ice, and up in the skies, Reuben Snodgrass was a man of many talents. Hailing from Long Island, New York, he began surfing around Montauk and the Hamptons back in the late 1940s. As one of the pioneer surfers of the area, he is thought to be the first to discover and ride breaks at now ultra popular spots like Ditch Plains, Turtle Cove and Shinnecock Inlet. 

Spending his early days carving it up on little more than an unassuming, square-tailed redwood plank, Snodgrass was the recipient of the first surfboard ever shipped to the East Coast by Hobie Alter, in 1953. When the New York surf scene began to hit its stride in the 1960s, he opened his own shop, named “Surfing Unlimited,” in an old boathouse on the shore of Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island. 

Snodgrass was an early fixture in the surf competition world, and he was integral in the development and structuring of the modern surf contest. Along with fellow surfing entrepreneur John Hannon, Snodgrass kickstarted the Long Island competitive scene with the 1961 Gilgo Beach Surfing Contest —the East Coast’s first modern surf contest, and the precursor for the East Coast Surfing Championships, which live on today. For this and other early contests on Long Island, Snodgrass served as head judge, a role through which he began formulating rules and codifying judging standards at a time when there was not yet an established body to set such benchmarks, thus paving the way for present-day competitive formats. 

Outside of surfing, Snodgrass found interest in the ice and air. He was a highly respected pilot for the Marine Corps, head of flight testing at the Sperry Corporation, a utility pilot for Grumman, and the pilot for an early prototype flying car: the Convair Model 118. In his later years, Snodgrass took up an interest in ice yachting. In 1963, he thawed out the defunct Lake Ronkonkoma Ice Boat and Yacht Club, piloting Cold Wave — a classic, 40-ft 1906 Hudson River ice yacht — to many championship victories. 

Snodgrass’ children — one son and three daughters — have also taken to the water. His daughter, Donna, won the East Coast Surfing Championship (ECSC) Women’s title in 1962, and Dale (also a Top Gun pilot) took the 1963 ECSC Junior title in 1963. 

Photos courtesy Snodgrass Family