Tom Warnke

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Tom Warnke says it was a “revelation” when he began surfing in 1956 after his family moved to Boynton Beach, Florida. “I was 8 when I rode my first waves on an inflatable mat. Nearby Delray Beach had a good surfing spot at the end of Atlantic Avenue. I could rent a board from Delray Bicycle & Sporting Goods for an entire day with a coupon in the Sunday paper for $1.25. They sold some of their rental boards, which is how I bought my first one.”

Warnke is a lifelong surfer but more than anything, he’s an organizer. His life’s devotion is to surfing, the sport and the lifestyle. Never short of new projects, Warnke has seemingly found time for impacting the lives of thousands of East Coast surfers. From contest organizer to 40 years as an ESA District Director to Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Surfing History Project to his time in the development of the first Florida Surfrider Foundation Chapter, Warnke’s influence on East Coast Surfing runs deep. Below are just a few of his contributions:

1966 – Founded Boynton Beach’s first surfing organization, the Cripple Creek Surf Club, and went on to produce hundreds of surfing contests as volunteer director of the ESA.

1966 – 1968 – Surfing competition judge and event announcer, Palm Beach County Surfing Association

1968 – 1974 – Judge and event announcer, ESA

1974 – PresentESA Board of Directors

 1974 – 2014 – District Director, ESA

1984 – 2001 – 18 years working for the sunglass brand Costa Del Mar as marketing manager, company spokesman and VP of Sales.

1996 – Iinitiated development of the first Surfrider Foundation chapter in Florida, a chapter that is still in existence today. This early development led to a coastal wide Surfrider Foundation engagement with the East Coast surfing community. Today, Florida has twelve Surfrider chapters, more than any state except California.

2009 – Present  – Warnke is Executive Director of the Palm Beach County Surfing History Project (PBCSHP), which manages the Surfing Florida Museum’s collection and exhibits.  Warnke is committed to preserving the history, culture, memorabilia and future of East Coast surfing, mainly focusing on the State of Florida. He began as a founding member and is a trustee for the PBCSHP.

1966 – Present – Warnke is also a prolific writer with articles having appeared in a number of surfing and mainstream publications.  His literary abilities have clearly articulated the surfing lifestyle to a mainstream audience over many years.  Through these writings he has been able to share the feeling, the history and the culture of surfing to the masses.

Photos by Nic Lugo, Tim Stepien, Bill Whatley, and courtesy Tom Warnke