Yancy Spencer III was born in 1950 in Roanoke, Virginia, then moved with his family to Pensacola, Florida, where he began surfing at 14. He got his first surfboard from the local Hutson hardware store. “It was May 1, 1965,” Spencer recalled in a 2009 interview. “There was a small southwest wind swell, and the waves were small, easy for somebody who had never been in the Gulf with a surfboard. I went out and caught the first wave. By that second wave, I was addicted to the sport of surfing.”
Within six months, Spencer was surfing competitively — a year later he was surfing for Challenger Surfboards and getting free surfboards and a weekly salary. He soon was the Juniors division champion of the Florida Gulf Coast Championships.
In 1969, Spencer met Skip Savage who helped arrange a deal for Spencer to surf and shape for Greg Noll, who liked what he saw and promptly created a Yancy Spencer model. By 1970, Spencer was the top ranked surfer in the Gulf Coast Surfing Association and was surfing for Blue Cheer Surfboards, which also produced a Yancy Spencer model. Then, in 1971, he started a surf shop in Gulf Breeze with Atlantic coast surfers Jimbo Brothers and Hank Warner, the latter his Blue Cheer shaper in California. The group called their new venture AGP, for Atlantic, Gulf & Pacific. By the time Blue Cheer went out of business in 1972, Spencer took over the AGP shop and changed the name to Innerlight Surf Shop.
Following those frenzied years of business creation and re-creation, Spencer accelerated his competitive prowess. In 1972, he went undefeated to a first-place finish in the 1972 Eastern Surfing Association Pro, beating a crowd of top-ranked surfers that included David Nuuhiwa, Mike Tabeling, Gary Propper, Dale Dobson, and Jeff Crawford. In 1975, he was runner-up in the U.S. Surfing Championships, which was held for the first time in Texas. In 1986, he was the Senior Men’s U.S. Shortboard champion. By the 90s, he’d switched over to longboarding, where his domination continued — in 1995 he won the Senior Men’s U.S. Longboard Championship.
Spencer also appeared in some classic surf movies, including 1969’s The Natural Art. Additionally, throughout the 1970s and early 80s, he wrote articles for SURFER Magazine. The Encyclopedia of Surfing points out one particular 1979 editorial in which Spencer riffed on the importance of good style in surfing. “Doing a maneuver with style,” he wrote, “is doing it the right way and not the easy way, and is the difference between mediocrity and greatness.”
Since its humble beginnings in 1972, as a 400-square-foot cinder block shack, Spencer grew Innerlight into a regional surf retail mecca. Today, there is an Innerlight in Pensacola and Destin, as well as in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Yancy’s vision for his business was always clear and community focused — the shop has sponsored many events, schools, and teams. In 2009, Spencer was inducted into the Pensacola Sports Association Hall of Fame.
In February of 2011, at 60 years of age, Spencer passed away while surfing Malibu, one of his favorite waves. In 2013, a statue of “The Father of Gulf Surfing” was erected in Spencer’s hometown of Pensacola Beach. You had to dream big if you were a surfer on the Gulf Coast,” Spencer’s brother J.B. said. “That’s for sure.”