Tyler Callaway is one of the surf world’s most successful entrepreneurs. The founder of gear giant FCS USA, Callaway started surfing in the early 1970s in New York and credits much of his success as a businessman to his early experiences surfing competitively with the Eastern Surfing Association (ESA). “This early life competition is where I learned to compete, but it was a lot more than that. It’s where I got a sense of family and of the surfing world outside of my little New York District.”
In 1973, Callaway went to Hatteras and took his first crack at the Boy’s division championships. That was when his world opened up. Although he choked in his first heat, he came away heavily influenced by what he experienced — especially the people he met. This early lesson in networking left him with a group of new friends up and down the East Coast.
By the next year, he had gotten over some of his timidity in heats, and he went on to place second in the ESA Junior’s division. The following year, he placed third at the U.S. Championships in Texas, and in 1976, he competed in the U.S. Championships in Hawaii, held at Ala Moana. Although not a successful campaign, the event inspired him to stay in Hawaii. Once again, the network of friends that he’d made at both the East Coast and U.S. Championships helped him feel at home on the North Shore.
During that first winter in Hawaii, he realized that he would rather be a businessman than a pro surfer, so he went to college and made a career for himself on the business side of the surf industry. “I know what I learned in the ESA really helped set me up for life. I learned how to compete, but also learned how to make friends, be confident, and to win or lose gracefully. Looking back, those lessons really helped shape who I am today.”
During his many years in the surf gear business, he has found that the real world requires the same formula for success: compete fiercely but fairly and be humble whether you win or lose. He went on to win 3 national championships in the NSSA Masters Divisions and after winning a bout with cancer made a return to competition winning the legends division of The USA Championships at Lowers in 2013. “It’s heartwarming when you come back and your old sparring partners are glad to see you, but just not in their heat” He still goes surfing almost every day and has friends all over the world. But for him it all started with that first trip to ESA Championships in Hatteras.
Photos by Michael Baytoff, Tom Dugan, ESM, and Courtesy Tyler Callaway.