By Donald Wittkowski
Two knee replacements in the past three years and a ripped left hamstring aren’t going to prevent the 65-year-old Larry Friedel from doing what he loves.
“I will be back this summer. I will be surfing as soon as the water warms up a touch,” he vowed.
Should anyone doubt him, they need only look at his involvement in the surfing community in the past 50 years or so – first as a young competitive surfer and then as a surfing mentor, coach and the owner of Ocean City’s iconic 7th Street Surf Shop.
Friedel’s lengthy contributions to the sport will be recognized when he is inducted into the New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame on Friday night in ceremonies at the Flanders Hotel in Ocean City.
The New Jersey Surfing Hall of Fame stated that the 12 inductees in this year’s class, including Friedel, have met the “highest level of distinction.”
Friedel, who served as a judge for last year’s Hall of Fame class, said he was “kind of surprised” to learn that he was selected as an inductee this year.
Although Friedel is being honored, he likes to point out that Ocean City also deserves a lot of credit in the surfing world.
“Ocean City is, and always was, a surfing town,” he said. “My doctor is a surfer, my attorney is a surfer, half of the contractors in town are surfers.”
He also called Ocean City one of the surfing hotspots on the entire East Coast. He explained that a combination of storms, wind and low-pressure systems can create ideal waves at the Jersey Shore.
“There’s been world-class (surfers) in Ocean City that have gone international,” Friedel said of the global buzz in the surfing community.
Friedel and his wife, Becky, oversee four surfing shops in Ocean City under the 7th Street Surf Shop banner. The name is derived from the first shop Friedel opened on the Boardwalk in 1986, overlooking what was then Ocean City’s first designated surfing beach at 7th Street.
Long before he became a businessman, Friedel got his first taste of surfing in the 1960s. He transitioned from boogie board-style rafts that he rode as a child to real surfboards when he was still a boy.
There were no formal surfing lessons available in those days, so he learned the sport mainly by imitating more experienced surfers.
“I grew up surfing,” he said. “You watched people and gave it a shot by emulating them.”
Surfing is far more technical these days. As part of Friedel’s mentoring program, the 7th Street Surf Shop offers surfing lessons and also has surfing teams to cultivate young talent.
Some of the team members he has coached have advanced to the professional ranks, while others have done well in the amateur East Coast championships.
Friedel never surfed professionally, but did have a stellar amateur career, advancing to the East Coast championships in his teens and 20s. In his heyday, he was ranked in the top three among surfers in the New Jersey-New York district and the top 20 in the East Coast standings, he said.
He made a comeback in his 30s, when he placed second in the men’s 35-and-over competition in the National Scholastic Surfing Association championships in California in the late 1980s.
Part of the allure of surfing, he explained, are the bonds and camaraderie shared with “like-minded people,” including their affinity for the ocean.
Friedel, whose primary residence is Jupiter, Fla., said he still stays in touch with surfers he competed against when he was a teenager. One brand of surfboards he sells at the 7th Street Surf Shop is made by Bill Stewart, an old high school buddy of his from Florida.
Friedel attended South Broward High School in Hollywood, Fla., but spent his summers in Ocean City working at his parents’ Boardwalk business. In 1976, he opened his own arcade business on the Boardwalk.
When 7th Street became Ocean City’s first official surfing beach, Friedel envisioned opening a Boardwalk surf shop in the heart of the town’s surfing hub. So, in 1986, the 7th Street Surf Shop was born. Over the years, he expanded to three other surf shops in Ocean City.
The Boardwalk location suffered a devastating fire in May 2015 caused by an electrical malfunction. A little more than a year later, the shop was reopened after the building was restored. Friedel noted that it was a huge challenge getting the shop back in business.
In between the demands of running his shops, Friedel still finds time to surf. Even at 65, he considers himself a competitive surfer.
“When you love something that simple, it has a tendency to reach into your soul,” he said.