Highway marker to commemorate the origin of surfing in North Carolina over a century ago

Wrightsville Beach, NC - Previously dubbed one of the top surfing towns in the world by National Geographic, Wrightsville Beach will soon be recognized as a “Pioneer in East Coast” surfing, and the birthplace of surfing in North Carolina. To commemorate this historic milestone, a highway marker will soon be unveiled honoring the island’s surfing heritage since 1909. Read on to find out more about the history of surfing at Wrightsville Beach and how the coastal town has transformed itself into one of the most popular surfing hubs in the world today.


Long before Wrightsville Beach became known as a premier destination for watersports, Burke Haywood Bridgers first brought the sport to the island in 1909. A resident of Wrightsville Beach, Bridgers introduced his beloved pastime to the community after reading a magazine article about people practicing the sport in Hawaii. He began to build surfboards, organize surfers and promote surfing activities – founding the earliest verifiable surfing movement and community in North Carolina more than a century ago. This was also one the earliest appearances of surfboards in the Atlantic Ocean.


To commemorate Bridgers’ achievements and the role of Wrightsville Beach and North Carolina in the sport of surfing, the state is creating a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker that will be installed and unveiled in October 2015. The marker will highlight the active and walkable town of Wrightsville Beach as the “Pioneer in East Coast Surfing” and will stand at the intersection of Waynick Boulevard and Bridgers Street.

Through the Years

By the 1930s, hollow wooden surfboards with a stabilizing fin were introduced, increasing bounce and maneuverability for surfers. During this period, notable Wrightsville Beach wave riders that helped shape the surf culture included John R. Handby, Katherine Meier Baird and Claire Fergus Funderburg. It was during this time, following World War II, that surfing entered a great period of change at Wrightsville Beach. Beginning in the 1950s, surfboards transformed from wood to the modern fiberglass and polyurethane foam boards with a lighter and more buoyant construction. Traditional long surfboards were introduced in the 1960s, and have remained extremely popular to this day. Prominent surfers during this period included J. Skipper Funderburg and Will Allison, an inductee in the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. It wasn’t until the 1970s that short surfboards entered the surf scene, further increasing maneuverability and providing numerous advantages over older style boards. Today, a variety of boards exist including long boards, short boards, boogie boards and standup paddleboards that surfers can use to take advantage of the crystal-blue, surfboard-friendly waves found in abundance at Wrightsville Beach.

Present Day

As soon as you cross over the Intracoastal Waterway into Wrightsville Beach, there’s immediately a feeling of being in a surf town: vehicles and cyclists can be seen toting surfboards, people can be seen surfing and paddleboarding along the various waterways, while others frequently pop into one of the many surf shops for the latest surf styles and gear.

Today, it’s not uncommon to see surfers – both amateurs and experts – catching endless waves along the Wrightsville Beach coast. True to its island living vibe, Wrightsville Beach is very welcoming of anyone interested in trying a new watersport for the first time. With plenty of places to rent top-of-the-line equipment and take lessons with certified instructors, Wrightsville Beach prides itself on making its active lifestyle accessible to everyone. There’s even several surf camps available on the island that offer weekly instruction for all ages including kids, teens and adults.

Wrightsville Beach hosts major surfing events throughout the year, providing a great way for visitors and locals alike to experience and get involved in the exciting sport. Annual events include the O’Neill/Sweetwater Pro-Am Surf Fest, one of the largest surfing contests on the East Coast attracting surfers from around the world, and the Wrightsville Beach Wahine Classic, an all-female surf competition for all levels of competitors. Also, in 2014, the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History added the Wrightsville Beach Waterman Hall of Fame as a permanent exhibit. Inductees of this prestigious group represent individuals who have made a positive impact to the island’s ever-growing watersport culture.

About Wrightsville Beach

Wrightsville Beach is North Carolina’s most accessible beach from Interstate 40. It’s easier to get here and even easier to stay. Everything visitors need is right on the island, with an abundance of outdoor activities, rich history, the scenic Intracoastal Waterway, miles of beach, family-friendly events, and full-service hotels and rental options. For more information, go to www.VisitWrightsvilleBeachNC.com or call (800) 650-9106. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WrightsvilleBeachNC and Twitter @WrightsvilleNC.

Leah Knepper
French West Vaughan