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    Catching a wave on Pinellas beaches

    Hurricane-spawned waves offer a rare opportunity for surfers at Pinellas beaches.

    By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 24, 2002


    ST. PETE BEACH -- Nursing a black eye, 14-year-old Katie MacDonald sat on the beach Monday as her surfing friends jockeyed for space in the waves kicked up by Hurricane Isidore.

    "I'm scared to do it now," said the Boca Ciega High freshman, struck in the head last weekend by a stray surfboard. "I want a helmet."

    So many surfers have been showing up at Upham and Sunset beaches that catching a wave more closely resembles bumper cars on water.

    Dozens of surfers compete for space, often bumping into or tripping over other "surfers" using their boards as rafts while they gab with friends. The rare opportunity to surf on Pinellas also led to record surfboard sales, illegally parked cars and some short tempers.

    Veteran surfers estimate local beaches offer a few dozen "surfing days" each year. Ironically, the same wave action that makes Upham and Sunset two of the most quickly eroding on Florida's West Coast also makes them prime spots for surfers when the waves kick up.

    "I can't stop. I love it so much," said Holly Foucher, 14, whose best friend, Katie, is the girl sitting on the beach.

    For the McFall family, at the beach shortly after school Monday afternoon, surfing has spanned generations.

    Sixteen-year-old Jay and 12-year-old Ginny paddled furiously toward the gulf and rode waves back. Their dad Jim helped 4-year-old Garrett hone his surfing skills on a Boogie Board.

    The kids are fourth-generation surfers, but living in St. Petersburg, they ride the waves only a few days each year.

    "If our lives revolved around surfing," said McFall, 43, an insurance broker, "we wouldn't be living here."

    McFall bought his first surfboard in 1969 from Joe Nuzzo, who owns Treasure Island's Suncoast Surf Shop and is credited with bringing surfing to Pinellas.

    After moving to California briefly in the 1960s, McFall returned to Treasure Island with a surfboard. "I'm out there riding waves," Nuzzo said, "and nobody's even seen a surfboard."

    In 1966, the year the Beach Boys released Pet Sounds and Beach Blanket Bingo was still showing at drive-ins, Nuzzo started buying surfboards on the East Coast and selling them out of his Treasure Island house.

    On Sunday, Nuzzo had an unprecedented sales day, as wannabe surfers lined up in time to catch Isidore's residual waves. He sold 50 boards, and 30 or 40 percent of the buyers were girls.

    Fewer than 10 percent used to be, Nuzzo recalled.

    She's been surfing for six months and has seen Blue Crush, the new girl power surfing movie, seven times.

    She learned this summer, after leaving her perch sunbathing on the sand and begging her mom to buy her a board.

    Said Foucher, a freshman at Boca Ciega High:

    "It's, like, the thing."

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