The Palm Beach County Surfing History Project

The Surfing Florida Museum and The Palm Beach County Surfing History Project

In the 1960’s and 1970’s a photographer from West Palm Beach named M.E. Gruber documented the history of surfing in Florida by taking more than 5,000 Kodachrome transparencies of surfing.  Mr. Gruber produced slide shows and movie nights at community centers for the local surfers at a time when there were few ways for surfers to see real surfing.  Each slide show was set to music by Mr. Gruber and attended by hundreds of young surfers.  Decades passed and Gruber’s high-quality, historic “family pictures” of Florida surfers became a priceless memory…and almost forgotten.  More than anyone else, Palm Beach County surfer Fred Salmon had kept in touch with Mr. Gruber.  When Mr. Gruber died his family provided Fred with the entire photo collection.  Before his passing Mr. Gruber wrote a letter to Fred saying “Good luck with your Surfing History Project.”  This gesture sparked the beginning of Fred’s “Project” to preserve and share a priceless part of surfing history.

Knowing the historic value of Mr. Gruber’s photos, three other long-time local surfers immediately volunteered to help Fred with the project.  Corky Roche, Tom Warnke and Bill Keeton joined Fred as the founding members of a non-profit, charitable organization they named The Palm Beach County Surfing History Project

Fred, Corky, Tom and Bill all enjoyed Mr. Gruber’s original slide shows. They have great memories of surfing in the mid-1960’s when surfing became wildly popular across Florida.   Fred Salmon was a popular subject in Mr. Gruber’s photos and was one of the founders of Sandy Shores Surf Club based on Singer Island.  Corky Roche lived a stone’s throw from the surf on Singer Island when the freighter Amaryllis wrecked in 1965. “The Ship” as it was known, became Florida’s best surf spot in the late 1960’s.  Tom Warnke grew up surfing in southern Palm Beach County where he founded Cripple Creek Surf Club in 1966 and then volunteered as a director of the Eastern Surfing Association for 40 years.  Bill Keeton, a pioneer surfer in northern Palm Beach County, was a founder and later the president of Jupiter Noseriders Surf Club.  As a CPA, Bill has been treasurer of the Project and Museum since they began.

Founded in 2008, the Palm Beach County Surfing History Project has produced dozens of historical surfing exhibits throughout the region.  The Project’s first big event was held at the Community Foundation of Palm Beach County and attended by hundreds of surfing pioneers.  At that meeting the founders announced a plan to open a Surfing Museum in Palm Beach County.  After acquiring 72 photo and text panels depicting Florida’s surfing history, produced by University Galleries at Florida Atlantic University, the Museum became reality.  The Project opened the Surfing Florida Museum in Delray Beach in 2014 with help from the Delray Beach Historical Society and especially Matt Gracey, who donated a large gallery space. In 2016 the Museum moved to Lake Park and then to West Palm Beach’s vibrant new “Warehouse District” where the Museum filled more than 8,000 sq. ft. of space and hosted thousands of visitors.                 

The Surfing Florida Museum’s collection now includes numerous historic surfboards, memorabilia, photos, film, a library, recorded oral histories and an extensive archive.

The Board of Trustees of The Palm Beach County Surfing History Project now includes more than a dozen dedicated professionals who volunteer their time to continue the original mission: ”To preserve and exhibit the history of surfing in Florida with an emphasis on Palm Beach County.”

The Project administers the Surfing Florida Museum as a non-profit charitable organization and invites everyone to support the museum by becoming a member.  

Volunteers are the backbone of the Museum and help produce numerous educational and fundraising events throughout the year.