In the beginning, before the Beach Boys lost their hair, Brent Clark was spending his endless summers in search of perfect waves.
"It was easier to follow the surf when gas was only 29 cents a gallon," said Clark, a 30-year-old redhead with sea-green eyes and skin the color of roasted chestnuts. "It takes money to live this life now."
When surfing's second coming arrived a few years ago, on smaller boards ridden by a new generation of surfers, Clark and a few dozen other antique surfers were discovered already bobbing on the mid-Atlantic swells.
Like a lost platoon of jungle soldiers, they had remained faithful to a sport that almost everyone else on the East Coast had abandoned long before, along with woodies, wipeouts and Annette Funicello.
"There are the young guys that we call 'surf rats' from 13 to maybe 20, and then there are guys my age and older that they call 'the legends,' " said Clark. "There really isn't much between."
The recent surge of interest has sprouted half a dozen new surf shops on the Atlantic Coast between Rehoboth Beach, Del., and Ocean City, Md. Boards that were 10 feet long and cost $160 15 years ago are now half as long, twice as bright and three times more expensive. But then most of what these shops sell is clothing.
Young surfers have adapted the bright stripes and checkerboard patterns of New Wave fashion and created a million-dollar beachwear industry.
Jim McGrath is one 30-year-old antique surfer who cashed in on the new boom by opening a surf shop in Bethany Beach. He concedes there is some irony that the new surfing phenomena has come at a time when almost all of the traditional surfing beaches have been put off limits to surfers.
"Daytime surfing pretty much disappeared two years ago when they built the Holiday Inn at 66th Street (in Ocean City)," said McGrath. In the decade before, hotel and condominium development had already claimed most other choice beaches where surfers could find both good waves and few swimmers.
Even at Indian River Inlet, which is both a Delaware state beach and a legendary surfing area, surfers are not allowed in the water between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to avoid any accidental injuries to swimmers.
"In the old days, there was a real hard-core group of older surfers who lived here under that bridge," said Clark, pointing to the beach highway. "We did pretty much as we pleased."
Most of the old-timers, like 6-foot-8 Tiny Tim who sold surfboards at the inlet from the back of his truck, have disappeared. Most moved to bigger cities and 9-to-5 lives. A few tried to crack the pro circuit in California, Hawaii and Australia.
One of the first to go pro was Gary Revel, who began surfing the inlet at the age of 12. He is 32 now, married with a year-old child, losing a bit of hair and still surfing.
"If we have a living legend around here, it has to be him," said Clark.
Clark and Revel are partners in a home construction business. When the surf is up, and that is not nearly often enough on this part of the coast for real wave addicts, home building gets put on hold.
"We just finished a house where the plumbers, electricians, carpenters . . . everybody working on the house surfed," said Clark, shivering in the 80-degree heat after two hours riding waves. "There's no problem getting off work when the boss is surfing, too."
This is a good time of year for local surfers. Hurricane season. Surfers may be the only people on the East Coast who pray for storms.
"We always surf the hurricanes here," says Clark, with a look of wild-eyed glee. He was married once. It didn't work out.
"Traditionally, marriage and surfing don't go well together. It comes down to what do you love most, the ocean or the old lady," he said. "That depends on the waves."