Sam Gornto

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Sam Gornto remembers the exact day that he officially became a surfer. It was the summer of 1965, and he had already entered a few surfing competitions. “I remember we were doing football drills twice a day in August, and it dawned on me that it just wasn’t any fun. Surfing was fun, so I walked off the field and went surfing,” he said. That decision to choose surfing over football cost him a college scholarship, and would ultimately shape his life’s journey.

Dick Catri saw potential in Gornto and offered him a place on his prestigious Surfboards Hawaii team. At age 17, Gornto had made the team that would go on to dominate the sport internationally and produce legends like Mike Tabeling, Fletcher Sharp, Mimi Munro, Joe Twombley, Fred Grosskreutz, and Bruce Valluzzi — as well as Gornto himself.

Gornto also spent his young adult years working at the Surfboards Hawaii shop in Cocoa Beach, Florida. They needed a “surf guy” with a name and decided Gornto was their guy. “Remember, it’s 1967, and I’m 18 years old,” Gornto recalled years later. “They gave me three dollars for every board they sold, and we sold about 25 boards a week. So, I’m living at home with no expenses, going to college, and making $70-$90 a week surfing.” The company also covered travel expenses, and Gornto took the opportunity to surf in places like Hawaii and California. 

In 1968, Gornto took second place at the World Surfing Championships in Puerto Rico. The winner of the competition, Claude Codgen, would soon become his business partner, along with Bruce Valluzzi. Together, the three launched the Butterfly Series for Con Surfboards. Gornto was set to leave the business in early 1970 when Codgen convinced him to come to California and help launch Sunshine Surfboards.

With dealers in place on the East Coast, plus the cumulative fame of the company’s founding surfers, Sunshine Surfboards were soon stocked in stores from Maine to Miami. Gornto would also partner with Bill Frierson, Pat O’Hare, Fred Grosskreutz, and Dan Dawson to open the Sunshine Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach. 

Photos by Roger Scruggs