If you’ve ever been to Wrightsville Beach, NC, you know it radiates a surf culture like few other places. The town has been named by National Geographic as one of the world’s best surf towns, and there’s no question why. Two local (and married!) surfers, Tony and Jenn Butler, have been hooked on this island’s waves ever since they first hopped on their boards. According to Tony, Wrightsville Beach is one of the more “surf stoked” communities on the East Coast. Between the surf shops, laidback restaurants and friendly locals, surfers like Tony and Jenn thrive at the birthplace of surfing in North Carolina, Wrightsville Beach (WB).
Want to learn how to live the surfer’s lifestyle regardless of your skill level? Here’s how Tony and Jenn say you can live like a surfer, both on and off the water:
Step 1: Find your tribe. Tony and Jenn both live in Wrightsville Beach and have been surfing almost every day since they met at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington. They both have full-time jobs, but like other surfers at Wrightsville Beach, they make plenty of time for what matters most to them – surfing in good company. “I think the best thing about surfing for me is I get to share it with my family and friends all while enjoying Mother Nature,” says Tony. “My wife surfs, my brother surfs and many of my best friends surf, too.” According to Tony, the surf culture at Wrightsville Beach is all about the supportive community, like the families that surf together for generations and those who support surf-based charities like Life Rolls On and Surfers Healing.
And while surfing is often considered a “boys club,” Jenn says that’s not the case at Wrightsville Beach. “Since I started surfing, there's been an explosion of female surfers. Sometimes we outnumber the males in the water, and that's a good feeling,” says Jenn. “I know a lot of women that surf just as well as the guys. We have meet-ups to surf and even have a ‘Chick Surf’ group on Facebook with the sole purpose of connecting women surfers.” And when it comes to finding your tribe, Jenn says it’s important to stay friendly and positive. In her words, “Your vibe attracts your tribe.”
Step 2: Find the right board and the right attitude. Tony matched Jenn with the right surfboard in 1994, and they both say it made all the difference. “If you have the right boards in your quiver, then you can surf most days of the year,” said Tony. And when it comes to surf conditions, Jenn says mentality plays a huge role. “I’ve never seen an unhappy surfer,” she says, which is why her glass-half-full attitude fits in so well among the Wrightsville Beach surf community. “Anytime I'm in the water and can catch a ride, it's the right condition. I'm optimistic like that.”
To get the right board and equipment, Tony recommends a few surf shops that have been serving WB locals for years. Sweetwater Surf Shop has been open in Wrightsville Beach since 1976 and is a favorite among local and visiting surfers alike. He also suggests Surf City Surf Shop in Wrightsville Beach and Aussie Island Surf Shop in nearby Wilmington, for everything a surfer needs. WB is also home to Annex Surf Supply, which made SurfCollectiveNYC.com’s list of the 22 Best Surf Shops in the World.
Step 3: Fall in love with the ocean and everything in it. Being a surfer is all about connecting with nature, and Tony says surfers have to understand the way the ocean works in order to have a successful ride. Before a surf session, prepare to check surf cams, wind gauges and forecasting sites to make sure the waves are good. Tony recommends checking his site, WBlivesurf.com, for the daily surf report. If the wind and waves are favorable, Tony and Jenn sometimes head to nearby Masonboro Island to switch it up.
But being a surfer is about more than just checking the conditions; a true surfer must also connect with the ocean’s natives, and this means keeping the ocean clean. “As a surfer, it’s hard to see litter in the lineup,” says Jenn, whose full-time job as a stormwater and water quality educator for the City of Wilmington aligns perfectly with her love for the environment. “Dolphins, sea turtles, fish, mollusks – I've seen so many living things that most people will never witness in a natural setting. I truly love the water, and I want to protect it.” For this reason, surfers like Tony and Jenn participate in beach cleanups every chance they get. They also have a non-profit, Hope From Helen, that raises funds for environmental charities like Surfrider Foundation, NC Coastal Federation, For Masonboro and the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project. “I consider it my rent for enjoying the ocean and protecting the things that live in it,” she adds.
Step 4: Hang like the locals. Surfing isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. Along with having the right attitude and loving the ocean, surfers know the right spots to frequent at Wrightsville Beach for the laidback, welcoming vibe they cherish. Tony likes Café Del Mar for a cup of coffee while he does the daily surf report, but this local favorite is just one of many at Wrightsville Beach. Tony and Jenn also enjoy fresh Tex-Mex at Tower 7, King Neptune’s for a great breakfast and Causeway Café for a quick and casual bite. When local surfers aren’t surfing, working or spending time at the local hangouts, Jenn says there are always other activities going on like Surfrider beach cleanups and group picnics.
Not a surfer? No problem. Wrightsville Beach’s surf conditions are accommodating for all levels of expertise, even beginners. There are multiple surf schools and camps on the island, like Indojax Surf School, WB Surf Camp, Sean’s Private Surf Instruction and Wrightsville SUP that offer top-of-the-line instruction to anyone who’s ready to step on a board.
The life of a surfer at Wrightsville Beach is about as good as it can get, especially if you follow these steps!