Hilton Head SC surfing legend, entrepreneur and outdoorsman dies
Maybe it’s the big jet engines moaning overhead.
Perhaps this is the subtle way the feeding of the beaches changed the breaking waves off the island of Hilton Head.
But you get the idea that a surfing legend, boat builder, fisherman, windsurfer, boarder, cruise ship, surfboard builder, sail repairer, commercial shrimp boat, survivor a hurricane, a nuclear submarine veteran, a vintage car restorer, a house builder and a pinball magician like Jerre Weckhorst will never return here.
He arrived at a much different Hilton Head in 1974, drawn to waves off deserted beaches and to help build sport fishing boats for Robert Graves.
When Weckhorst died of complications from cancer on May 21, the replica of the Civil War house he had built by hand was for sale, and he and his wife, Nanci Polk-Weckhorst, the first female turtle of the island, were eager to tend the horses on a farm in the highlands of Jasper County.
“He’s an East Coast legend,” said surf and outdoors entrepreneur Byron Sewell. “He is known as one of the greatest surfers on the East Coast.
His stories include the time he took Jimi Hendrix to surf in Hawaii, or the four times a year he and Nanci traveled to Costa Rica to surf, and the tricks he played on island children like Sewell who would end up with salt water running through their veins.
In the world of surfers, children who learn from older mentors are called Grommets or Groms.
“Him and Nanci are the reason we surf around Hilton Head Island,” Sewell said.
“He is the eternal carnation. “
Gerald Karl (Jerre) Weckhorst was born in Ohio 72 years ago, but grew up by the ocean in Melbourne, Florida.
As a child, he had a hole in his heart, so he was not allowed to leave the house. They thought he was going to die.
That’s when he became a pinball wizard, and Nanci put his collection of six spinning and ringing pinball machines up for sale.
He eventually broke, without permission, and gained 60 pounds in one summer when he started bodyboarding. He fished a lot, selling fish and bait at a fish market.
“He’s always been an entrepreneur,” Nanci said.
In his early teens, Weckhorst was shopping for groceries when a customer told him his hair was too long.
One man online said, “I’ll give you a job. “
Dick Catri created the Hobie Surf Team. Weckhorst has moved from packaging groceries to manufacturing fiberglass fins for surfboards. Soon he was making whole boards, then skateboards, and as soon as he finished high school in 1967, he fled to Hawaii to surf.
His mother must have tracked him down when his draft notice arrived in the mail.
But Weckhorst ended up in Pearl Harbor, a sonar technician on the nuclear submarine USS Mariano G. Vallejo (SSBN-658).
He was then stationed in Charleston, where Nanci was raised.
“He came to the beach and we met at the surf shop,” she said.
Nanci came to Hilton Head for a summer job at Calibogue Café. Jerre came and stayed.
HILTON HEAD JOBS
The rent was $ 90 per month at the house they lived in on Marshland Road. Eventually it became the Azteca restaurant.
They would later live aboard a 36-foot sailboat for 11 years. They intended to take him to the Bahamas to surf. But they were too busy. She sewed canvas sails in Nan-Seas and taught at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, among others. He helped rig the sails and he had a boat repair business.
They made it through Hurricane David at their uninsured sailboat home, anchoring off Brighton Beach, where the mast kept hitting the roaring May River.
Weckhorst and John Floyd bought a shrimp boat, the Pandora, which had been the first trawler of the legendary Captain SV “Chief” Toomer, according to Captain Woody Collins’ new book, “Where Have All the Shrimp Boats Gone?” A 100 year history of the shrimp industry in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
They opened a surf shop, selling Spectrum surfboards, Hawaiian shirts, and surf gear.
“We were really trying to give the kids something to do,” Nanci said.
Customers knew how to call ahead because when the surf was good the shop was empty.
“I’m so glad we did,” says Nanci.
They started windsurfing when it became a thing, and after hip replacements, Weckhorst took to kneeboarding, still creating his own designs.
“He was never happy unless he invented something, improved something, changed something or made it better,” Nanci said.
They bought land in Bay Gall, where the breeze comes from Port Royal Sound, and where he built a replica of the Federal Commandant’s house that stood nearby during the Civil War.
He did it from photos.
He got into car restoration with a 1952 Buick “Woodie” station wagon. He built his own sailboat and fishing boat.
And they collected a lot of historical relics found in the yard. Thousands of years of history are buried in this neighborhood.
They thought the house, which adjoins the Mitchelville historic site, could be used as a black history museum, but that never happened.
In a way, it feels like this whole story is a piece of ancient history.
Today, people flock to Hilton Head with the idea that it should offer everything they have in their home.
The Weckhorsts came to dive deep into what it already offered.
A Celebration of Life will take place at 6 p.m. on June 11 at the Spanish Wells Clubhouse.
And the surf clan will honor Weckhorst with an 8am paddle outing on June 12 in the salty Atlantic Ocean off Burkes Beach.
David Lauderdale can be contacted at [email protected]