“I’m a surfer, not a businessman,” says Charles Williams, of Fort Pierce, who has been building Impact surfboards since the mid-1970s and stays afloat by marketing his boards at the beach.
Just as Blaze Walsh walked onto the beach on the tiny South Pacific island of Namotu and pulled out his Impact surfboard, the 21-year-old from Fort Pierce heard a voice ask, “Do you know Chuck?”
Turns out surfers all over the world know “Chuck,” as in Charles Williams, the maker of Impact surfboards in Fort Pierce since the mid-1970s.
“I’ve been to Fiji, Panama on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Nicaragua, Costa Rico, Puerto Rico, the breaks off Long Island and North Carolina and all up and down the East Coast of Florida,” said Thomas Walsh, Blaze’s father and a retired St. Lucie County judge. “And everywhere I’ve been, they recognize my Impact boards.”
Williams’ attitude about the worldwide recognition he and his surfboards have gained is as casual as his business attire of shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops.
“Most of the people I build boards for are people I surf with,” the 63-year-old said in the backyard of his if-you-didn’t-know-it-was-there-you-couldn’t-find-it house and workshop on Old Dixie Highway. ”I like to keep it local.”
It’s true. As popular as Impact boards are around the world, they carry a special cachet among surfers along the Treasure Coast — some of whom have a reputation for being territorial about their local breaks.
“You paddle out to the lineup on an Impact board, and you’re treated like a local,” Walsh said. “Around here, it’s a ticket to ride.”
‘He just knows’
Originally from Okeechobee, Williams learned to surf and to make surfboards as a teenager living on the Atlantic Ocean north of Daytona Beach.
“My dad used to say, ‘Every time opportunity comes knocking at your door, you’re at the beach,’” he said.
Williams surfed on the professional circuit in the late 1970s and early ’80s, his rank reaching as high as 20th in the world.
“He’s still probably one of the 10 best surfers on the east coast of Florida,” Thomas Walsh said.
Williams used to make boards to sell in local surf shops. Now all of his surfboards are custom-made to fit his customers like a Sevile Row-tailored suit.
The surfboards you see in stores “are user-friendly, made to fit a lot of people so that they sell quickly,” Williams said. “Custom-made boards are designed for one person based on his height, weight, skill level and the kind of waves he wants to surf.”
And Williams definitely knows about the surfers he makes boards for.
“If you’re from around here, especially if you surf North Beach (the surfing break at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park), Charles has seen you surf,” Walsh said. “He knows your capabilities and he knows what you need to improve your surfing skills. The guy knows. He just knows.”
Surfing local waves on a locally made board “is so critical it’s unreal,” Williams said. “I’d say it will improve your surfing ability by 40 percent. It’s like any other sport: You’ve got to have the right equipment, and equipment that fits you and the way you play.”
Local board makers know the type of boards local surfers need to best ride local waves, agreed Bruce ”Spunky” Strunk, owner of Spunky’s Surf Shop in Fort Pierce.
“They give you what you’d call a home-court advantage in other sports,” he said. ”And if you want a good board for Fort Pierce waves, Charles makes the best.”
Comparing a custom-made Impact board to a surfboard you’d get off the rack at a surf shop, Walsh said, “is like comparing a Rolls Royce to one of those little Minis.”
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Charles Williams, maker of Impact surfboards, shapes a foam board with a Skil 100 planer from his shop Oct. 17 in Fort Pierce. “It’s all about the shape. You can train monkeys to glass these things and sand them and everything, but the shape, it’s all about the shape. That’s what counts, that’s what rides, that’s what makes the boards,” Williams said. He mostly works alone and doesn’t really advertise, saying marketing is done at the beach when he and others, including twin brother George Williams, use Impact surfboards. “I’m a surfer, not a businessman.”
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Williams brothers attempt Hurricane Maria waves at South Hutchinson Island beach
”I plan to keep surfing until I die,” Williams said. “Ponce de Leon came to Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth. It was right under his nose; but he missed it. The Fountain of Youth is that salt water.”
Homegrown is a bi-weekly feature on the people, places and phenomena that make the Treasure Coast unique. If you have a story idea for the series, send it to us at www.tcpalm.com/homegrowntips.
About the series: Digging up ‘Homegrown’ treasures of the Treasure Coast
In case you missed it: Get a sneak peek at one of the most expensive Treasure Coast homes for sale
Also in this series: Treasure Coast’s only seaplane tours flying high
Homegrown: Pineapple farmer describes his family’s fruit legacy | 1:47
Mark Dellerman, of Vero Beach, carries on his family’s legacy of growing fruit near the Indian River, at Wabasso’s Nature Farms.
Homegrown: The Elliott Museum docent shares baseball knowledge | 2:19
Frank Spera, an enthusiastic baseball fan who grew up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, volunteers his time on Thursdays and Sundays to teach guests about the vintage baseball cards and other memorabilia at the Baseball Gallery at The Elliott Museum.
Homegrown: Sailfish Brewing Company begins canning popular beer | 1:52
Sailfish Brewing Company has recently started canning their most popular beer, White Marlin Wit.
Homegrown: Sailfish Brewing Company pours local brew for the locals | 2:40
Sailfish Brewing Company opened for business in April 2013 near downtown Fort Pierce. In February 2017, the brewery opened a new taproom and increased its production to a 20-barrel system.
Homegrown: Hi-tech submersibles for the ultra-rich | 1:36
Vero Beach company manufactures submarines for the ulta-wealthy.
Homegrown: Triton Submarines explore a shipwreck | 1:25
People in New Providence, Bahamas explore an underwater shipwreck aboard Triton Submarines. NICK VEROLA/VEROLA STUDIO
Homegrown: Renowned Stuart sculptor Geoffrey Smith in his studio | 1:52
Stuart artist Geoffrey Smith talks about his creative process and roots at his studio and gallery at 4545 S.E. Dixie Highway in Stuart on July 27, 2017. XAVIER MASCAREÑAS/TCPALM
Homegrown: Lakela’s mint found only on the Treasure Coast | 1:55
Lakela’s mint, first identified in the early 1960s, grows in exactly one spot on Planet Earth: a narrow, three 3-mile stretch of Indian River and St. Lucie counties.
Homegrown: Historic Dodgertown’s transformation into Dodgers tribute | 1:41
Rooms at Historic Dodgertown are a tribute to the six-time world champion Brooklyn Dodgers and Los Angeles Dodgers. TCPalm Community Editor Laurence Reisman shares his experience.
Homegrown: Vero Beach seaplane tour shows Sebastian Inlet and Blue Cypress Lake | 1:57
Vero Beach’s Treasure Coast Seaplanes an air tour service on the Treasure Coast, gives tours of the Sebastian Inlet, St. Sebastian River, C-54 Canal and stick marsh, and a stop on Blue Cypress Lake, on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Indian River County. Treasure Coast Seaplanes is located at 2640 Airport North Drive, at the Vero Beach Regional Airport in Vero Beach.