Jack "Murf the Surf" Murphy
Murphy, born in Los Angeles in 1937, traveled through the beach towns of Southern California during the Golden Age of surfing.
His father was an electrical contractor, so he was always on the move. He attended 12 grammar schools and three high schools he was used to picking up and going.
"We were always in the ocean," Murphy said. Everyone bodysurfed. When we could, we rode mats the inflatable rubber ones you still see at the beach today. If it floated, we would try to ride it.
Like all of his friends, Murphy was a junior lifeguard. He and his buddies would hang around the guard shack, and occasionally, they would take out one of the old lifeguard paddleboards and ride it to the beach.
By the time Murphy was a teenager, the lighter balsa boards had become available, and he and his friends began to travel up and down the coast to surf.
Murphy's family moved east, he finished his last year of high school in Pennsylvania. After high school, he attended the University of Pittsburgh on a tennis scholarship and also played the violin. He played so well, he was invited to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony. It was too cold and too far from the ocean. He had seen a movie about Miami Beach. The white sand, blue water, and palm trees looked appealing, he headed south in 1955, long before the Sunshine State began producing world champion surfers.
In Miami Beach, Murphy found the waves nothing like California, but he liked the laid-back Florida lifestyle.
Every now and then, a winter cold front or summer tropical system would roll through and kick up some waves. Murphy would hit the water, it didn't take long before the lifeguards would give him the nickname the world still knows him by today.
Whenever the storms would come up and the lifeguards would close the beach, Murphy would grab his surfboard and paddle out.
"There was no surf scene in Florida when I got there. There were guys who had surfed up in Daytona on 16-foot paddleboards in the '20s and '30s. But in the '50s, there was nobody really surfing in Florida, so the lifeguards called me "Murf the Surf."
"One day when it was too rough to dive, Murf showed up with a surfboard," acolyte Catri said. "I paddled out, gave it a try, and was hooked."
Six months later, Catri was in Hawaii, surfing seemingly unridable breaks with big wave legends like Greg Noll. About the same time, Murphy hitchhiked north to Cape Canaveral to see a friend.
"I stood on the beach, and there were lines of glassy waves coming in as far as the eye could see." he said. "And there was nobody surfing."
Murphy opened up a shop in Indialantic called Murf's Surf Shop. He talked Hobie Alter into fronting him some blanks and started shaping boards. Murf had dreams of making a living at the sport like his friend Hobie in California.
In 1966, Murf won the Men's division at the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Back in Florida, Murphy says, "Some of my friends had gone over the edge, and they took me along with them,". "They were messing with narcotics, a lot of bad things. I made some very bad decisions."
Murf returned to South Florida and got into trouble, it would be very serious, and he would pay dearly. He took part in a New York museum burglary, inluding the 563-carat Star of India, the famous Eagle Diamond, the Midnight Sapphire, and the DeLong Ruby, the jewel heist of the century. Two days later, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation kicked in the door of a Miami Beach penthouse, and Murphy and his associates were arrested. It was just one of several crimes Murf was linked to during that time period. Four months before the museum break-in, three men walked into the Algonquin Hotel, a plush Manhattan establishment, pistol whipped the night clerk, and made off with $250. The clerk identified Murf as the man who beat him. Two months following the museum job, while free on bail, Murphy was arrested for burglarizing a Miami mansion.
In 1967, Murphy received a life sentence for his involvement in the death of one of the secretaries and was sent to Florida's maximum-security prison at Starke. In 1970, a judge handed down a second life sentence for the murder of the other secretary; Murphy was labeled an "incorrigible enemy" of society. .
In prison, Murphy painted and dreamt of clean, glassy waves. He studied philosophy, theology, and read letters from Christians concerned about his salvation. One day, a fellow inmate gave him a Bible and likened it to an owner's manual. The friend said it was the answer book, a road map for life. The Bible, he said, stood for "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth." In 1986, after nearly 20 years behind bars, Murphy convinced a parole board that religion had changed his life. The board agreed, and after his release, Murf went to work as a counselor. The born-again surfer began to travel to prisons throughout the country and eventually the world, spreading God's word to men who had also chosen the wrong path at one time or another.
Jack "Murf the Surf" Murphy was inducted into the East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame in 1996.
Murphy, now lives in Crystal River on Florida’s West Coast, and spends the majority of his time traveling to jails and prisons around the world. He speaks mostly about faith and redemption, but when prompted, he can't help but talk about the sport that kept him alive during his darkest hours.
[Credit: Multiple sources]