Surfing is a lifelong pursuit for those who are true to the path. It’s not something you do until you grow up and then ditch it to follow more “worthwhile” pursuits. The journey of surfing pushes forward till the aging body can no longer withstand it or when we finally die. So the constant images of groms in fluorescent boardies, however appealing to kids wanting to spend mom’s money, doesn’t truly speak to everyone. Nor does it represent surfing in its totality. 

The surf industry’s primary focus ever since I began surfing has always been the youth market and it hasn’t changed much. Now as we push further into the future of surfing as a collective entity and culture, the industry may have a realization…the youth centered marketing scheme is a bit short sighted.

Yes it’s true; each new generation builds upon the last by taking what their predecessors did before them and bringing the whole thing to the next level. This applies to just about anything in life and it certainly applies to the world of surfing. That’s why when it comes to performance, surfing keeps growing beyond our wildest dreams. There’s no doubt that the younger generation continues to push the limits of where surfing has been and where it can go.

Keith Noonan

At the same time, on the performance level, professional surfers aren’t peaking in their early twenties like most athletes. Kelly Slater is a testament to the fact that the game has changed. With 11 world titles already under his belt, Slater is showing no indications of stopping. Men that are near 40 years old are completely killing it on the level of any new blood in his late teens. That’s almost unheard of in any other athletic arena.

You may be asking yourself, what do the prior paragraphs have to do with Keith Noonan? Well, locally he is one of the best surfers Monmouth County has to offer. He is also in that 40-year-old age range and he’s still passionate about surfing. He’s at a point in life where many guys are sitting on the couch on Sunday, drinking beers, and watching the “game” – probably gaining weight and bullshitting about the glory days. Instead of wasting away, Keith is surfing as good as just about anyone around, with a combination of style, powerful turns, and poise.

I recently caught up with Keith to pick his brain about surfing.

ZAPPO: Where did you grow up and what are some of your earliest childhood memories?

NOONAN: I grew up in Monmouth Beach and spent most of my time surfing North End and West End Long Branch. I just remember the characters and the surf scene – it felt like the movie “Big Wednesday.”

ZAPPO:  When did you start surfing? How did you get into surfing? Do you remember the feeling you had when you rode a wave for the first time?

NOONAN: My family was always down the beach, so I loved playing in the ocean from a very young age. It was so exhilarating to ride waves, whether I was body boarding, body surfing, or surfing. I was probably five years old when I caught my first wave on a 6’5″ single fin. I caught the white water and stood for about 2 seconds. I was happy, but I knew I wanted more.

ZAPPO: When did you get your first surfboard? Tell us about that board.

NOONAN: I was about twelve years old when I got a XXX shaped by local Jimmy Smith. It was a 5’9″ roundtail thruster. I had borrowed boards up until that point, so I was stoked to have my own custom surfboard.

ZAPPO: What was your local surf scene like growing up? Who were the guys that you looked up to when you were coming up?

NOONAN: The surf scene was huge and amazing when I was a kid. Local amateur contests had lots of competitors. People hanging at the white wall at North End. Girls, parties, bon-fires, it was awesome! That was a big reason why I surfed back then.

Dave and Doug Hopper were the best surfers at North End and I probably looked up to them most.

ZAPPO:  Long Branch has a reputation of having a very harshly localized surf culture. Do you feel that helps or hurts the surf scene?

NOONAN: We have a lot of talented surfers in this area, they surf together and support each other. Other surfers are expected to get in line and respect the locals. If they don’t they’ll just be told to surf elsewhere. It keeps the line up safe and orderly. It can be bad too, I don’t advocate a guy getting beat up because he dropped in on someone.

ZAPPO:  Both of us are around 40 years old. So it’s safe to say we are “middle aged”. That said, to this day you stand out in any line up full of frothing groms and local pros. How have you kept up such a high level of surfing, despite the demands of adult life?

NOONAN: Surfing isn’t like riding a bike because your fitness will dictate your performance in the water. I’m content and have the most fun when I can surf up to my expectations. In the past when I haven’t been in top shape, I have struggled on big days. I do some light weights to keep the major muscles in tune. I also practice yoga, which will give you flexibility, dexterity and strengthen your entire body. It’s key to getting your body balanced while in awkward positions and helps avoid injury.

ZAPPO:  Where are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled to surf? Is there any particular trip or session that stands out from the rest?

NOONAN: I love the waves in Europe and Ireland, as well as their cultures. Indonesia has the most perfect waves I’ve ever surfed. One of my favorite sessions was at G-Land. The entire camp was up late drinking the night before. I woke up earlier than anyone else, it was 6 foot and perfect. I love surfing alone and I had a world class wave to myself for an hour and a half.

ZAPPO:  I’ve found surfing changes for us in numerous ways as we age. When we have years upon years in the water, our relationship with the ocean, nature and the act of surfing only seems to grow. Dare I say, we may gain glimpses of a little elder surfing wisdom. How does your perception, experience and attitude toward surfing differ now from when you were a grommet?

NOONAN: When I was young and carefree surfing was just fun. I have a much deeper passion and appreciation for it now. Nat Young said, “surfing is really a spiritual activity, not a sport.” It is my church and it keeps me mentally and physically healthy. A good day of waves calms me and relieves the stresses of everyday life. I don’t know where I would be without surfing in my life.

ZAPPO:  Who are the surfers that inspire you today?

NOONAN: I’m inspired most by my friends who I surf with locally. There are too many to name and they know who they are. The majority of them are younger and if it wasn’t for them, I probably would have a beer gut and ride a long board. I always dug smooth, lead footed surfers like Occy or Curren. I really enjoy watching the CT contests on the Internet. The level today is unreal!

Noonan on his Harley Davidson

ZAPPO: You are also into bikes which we dig here at The Anchor as well. Tell me a little bit about how you got into bikes and what you personally dig?

NOONAN: My dad always rode motorcycles. He still rides but likes fast, performance oriented bikes. I like old, rusty, sweaty, vintage bikes made in America. It’s an amazing art form to me. Taking a 60 year old bike, rebuilding and wrenching on it with your friends. Then we all go putting around town. It’s something I’ve grown to love and I can stare at old bikes all day long.

ZAPPO:  Where do you see your surfing going in the next 10 years?

NOONAN: Downhill? (Laughs) I’m content with the way I surf now. I’m going to keep doing the same routine. I always want to travel more and surf bigger waves. Who knows, maybe start riding different boards? At the moment I still want to ride the best performance surfboards I can get.

ZAPPO:  Any last words or shout outs?

NOONAN: John Carper has been making the majority of my boards. I now have the best quiver I’ve ever had because of him. It makes a big difference taking the right board out to match the conditions. Xcel has been supporting me with amazing wetsuits for a long time. Long time friend Rob Cloupe who’s in the surf industry. He has helped me, as well as a lot of other surfers throughout the state. Friends and family, especially my Dad. I strive to be the humble, honest, hard worker that he is. Cheers.

Photos by Carter McCoy

Shawn Zappo is a local surfer and skater who rules the stoves at Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar. He’s also a musician and will be writing about his surf and skate related experiences as well as reviews on bands and whatever the hell else he feels like writing about. 


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