An Auggie Success Story
By Lura Readle Scarpitti
Photo: David Macri
Say the name “Gabe Kling” in these parts and you immediately get people’s attention. Kling is as close to being a legend in (and out) of surfing circles as it gets. As the only local guy to qualify for the World Championship Tour (being ranked as high as 36th in the world at one point), he’s the pride of the Old City. More than that, though — the St. Augustine native is known to be a down-to-earth guy who never let the “glamorous” life of being a professional surfer go to his head. Many up-and-coming surfers in the area talk about how much of an inspiration and mentor he is to them, and he’s always happy to appear at area meetings to share his experiences traveling the world, and competing on the pro circuit. A “St. Augustine Surf” issue wouldn’t be complete without having him reflect on his life, his love of surfing, and everything else in-between. We asked Gabe if he wouldn’t mind sitting down and answering a few questions for OCL and he happily obliged.
Take us back to when you first started surfing.
I don’t remember my first wave, but I have a few photos of me on a board at 4 years old. My brother said he pushed me in on some waves before then. I think I really started surfing on my own at age 6 or 7.
Can you share some of your earliest memories?
We lived on the beach in Vilano and some of the first waves I remember surfing were behind the house on a huge red longboard that weighed like 30 pounds and was nicknamed “The Beast.” It was indestructible. I remember just trying to drag it down to the beach was a challenge and there was no way I could turn it or do anything once I caught a wave. I think I was around 6 when I got my first board and my brother and his friends would make me go surf with them. We would get dropped off a few miles up the beach and drift back to the house. If I couldn’t make it out, they would drag me out by their leashes and make sure I was safely out the back. I’m pretty sure they just wanted me to make it out the back and not catch any waves because I was their responsibility, but it was great having a few big brothers pushing me.
Who were some of the figures you looked up to and were influential to your development in the early days?
My brother Lance and his friends were around eight years older than me and they were a huge early influence on my surfing. It’s a small town with a great surf community, and there are lots of people that influenced me (both good and bad — lol), and lots that helped me along the way. Tory Strange at the surf station was a great influence and my first sponsor. He helped me get my first surfboards and would take me to contests.
When did you first start thinking about being a competitive surfer? What was your first contest and the first time you placed or won?
I think from the time I started surfing I wanted to be a pro. I remember looking through the old magazines and I knew I would be one day. My parents were supportive but would always tell me to have a backup plan (I didn’t really have a backup plan.) I was very lucky to have their support, and once I was old enough to start traveling, I really got the bug and my surfing improved. When I was 14, I got to go to Puerto Rico and then that summer my parents let me stay in California for a few months with friends. I was so stoked. I surfed every day. I think that’s when I started to feel like being a professional was actually a possibility.
When did you decide to go pro? Why? What goals did you have set out in front of you when you made that decision?
I won a pro contest in Sea Isle City, New Jersey, when I was 18 and that was when I turned pro officially. I won $5,000 and although I felt like I was pro before then, that was the first real money I won as a pro surfer. At the time I didn’t really have any clear goals. I just wanted to travel, go new places, and surf the best waves I could find. I had a great sponsorship with Rip Curl that let me do just that. It took a few years, but I did eventually set some competitive goals for myself.
Can you share your memories of your professional surfing experience?
My experience being a pro was amazing. I feel like there were really two phases of my surf career: the early days, I was sponsored by Rip Curl and got to go on trips and surf all over the world in exotic places like Indonesia, Papua, New Guinea and the Galapagos islands, and spend time every year at their team house, right in front of Pipeline (on Oahu). This was so much fun, just surfing and traveling and seeing the world.
When I was 24, I got a new sponsor (Matix) and decided to really dedicate myself to qualifying for the World Tour. I traveled to every qualifying series contest imaginable and came very close twice, before finally qualifying in 2007. I was on tour and off tour three times between 2007 and 2011. It was a blast. I think the best part of it being that I was able to surf the best waves in the world (Pipeline, Tahiti, Jbay, and Trestles were some of my favorites) with only a few people out. I traveled with the Hobgood brothers and Cory Lopez. It was awesome. I think my favorite contest was at Trestles, but really I enjoyed all of the stops on tour, all the waves are great, and it really is the dream tour.
I was traveling close to nine months a year and doing both qualifying series and championship tours. It was a lot of traveling, and at times it was tiring, but I was having fun and all I had to do was come back to Florida and realize how lucky I was to be traveling and surfing perfect waves for a living. I had so much fun and got to see the world and meet so many great people I still call friends.
What’s the best thing about surfing in general?
It’s a great sport but I think it’s more than that. Being in the ocean is so healthy and going surfing always helps me clear my mind and puts a smile on my face.
What’s the best thing about surfing in St. Augustine?
The surfing community in St. Augustine is really tight-knit. When I was traveling I would see friends from St. Augustine all over the world. We don’t have the best waves here, but I think that makes us appreciate those special moments when we do have good waves.
Are you still surfing professionally?
I still have a few sponsors — Quiksilver, Surf Station, Electric and Channel Islands) but I am staying local a lot more; still doing some traveling but not doing many contests. I have a family now and most days I am working at Endless Summer Realty.
What’s your life like away from surfing?
It’s awesome. I am so blessed! We have three boys and that keeps us pretty busy. Our oldest is six and just started to get into surfing himself, so its fun to watch him learn. I’m saving up for a lot of surf trips with them in the future.
What do you have to say about the future of competitive/professional surfing?
It’s a pretty weird time in surfing. I think the level of surfing has never been higher. The wave pool technology is improving and changing so fast. Being able to surf and practice on the same wave every day is going to really help people improve but nothing will ever compare to the real thing. I am a pretty huge fan and still watch World Surf League events every chance I get.
Any advice for those out there wanting to do the same — become a professional surfer or just those wanting to surf in general?
Just have fun with it. If you are having fun you are doing it right. It is pretty tough to become a professional surfer from Florida because the waves aren’t great. Surf every chance you get and anytime you get to travel take that same approach, surf like its going to be flat for the next month!