Mike Tabeling was born (1949) in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of a navy pilot, and began surfing in Cocoa Beach in 1962, at age 12, not long after his family settled in the area. In the mid-'60s, Tabeling and Floridian surfer Bruce Valluzzi were among the first to ride Sebastian Inlet, which soon became the state's best-known break. Gary Propper, another Florida surfer, had by that time already made his mark on the national surf scene with lightning-quick small-wave performances and a best-selling signature model surfboard. Tabeling went further: as a contest surfer he won the juniors division of the East Coast Championships in 1966 and 1967, the juniors division of the 1967 Laguna Masters in Redondo Beach (becoming the first East Coaster to win an event on the West Coast), and placed second to David Nuuhiwa in the men's division of the 1968 U.S. Championships.
At 6'4", 195 pounds, with a gaunt, hatchet-nosed face, Tabeling himself cut an impressive, even imposing figure. He rode for the most part in a straight-up style, folding up his body just prior to turning, then spreading his long arms out like wings during his trademark cutback. For a brief period in the early '70s, according to 1974 East Coast surfing champion Greg Loehr, "Mike was the best surfer in the world— and I saw them all."
Mike competed in the World Championships in 1966, 1968, and 1970, and was invited to the 1970 and 1971 Expression Session events. He was also the first East Coaster to make the cover of Surfer magazine (in 1971), and was featured in Pacific Vibrations, the definitive 1970 surf movie. With "I Love Cocoa Beach: An Erotic East Coast Confession," a Surfer article published in 1970, Tabeling also put the media spotlight for the first time on an area that would soon be famous for producing first-rate surfers, including future world champion Kelly Slater.
Tabeling traveled often in the '70s, surfing throughout Europe, Australia, and Africa.
Mike and Bruce Valuzzi in Europe
From 1978 to 1986 he owned the Creative Shaping surfboard-making factory in Merritt Island, Florida.
in 1989 Mike and family moved to Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, where he lived for 10 years, working as a salvage diver, real estate agent, and paragliding instructor. Tabeling broke his leg, wrist, pelvis, and elbow in a 1994 paragliding accident.
"I learned to fly airplanes in America and held a twin-engine retractable gear rating, to fly to nearby Carribean Islands it wasn’t until I learned to fly motor less Para gliders in Africa that I truly fell in love with flying. The fact that one has to use Mother Nature’s power to do ride the warm thermals up to the clouds reminded me of how surfers use ocean waves. Thermaling is like tube riding. Unfortunately I had a wicked accident, which rearranged my body, but as bad as that might sound it was worth it. We are only given a few short years to play on this earth and like the saying goes “If you aren’t living on the edge you’re taking up too much space”. After recovering from the accident I went on to become an instructor and won the year long cross-country title for the Eastern Province."
Kelly and Todd Holland Visiting at Mikes home in Jeffreys Bay
"I decided to move my whole family to South Africa while I could still do it. That’s how it happened and why I was so blessed to move half way around the world to live in my dream surf spot. I started surfing contests again there and became the South African shortboard champ in 1992 and the short and longboard champs in 1992.
I built a three story home smack dab in the middle of Surfers Point near a section of Supertubes named Impossibles. I called our home the “Impossibles Dream”. Because of its location I was inundated with friends who came to town and rented the vacation flat I’d built over the garage. It was especially advantageous to the pros that came to surf the Billabong contest each year because we were close enough to hear the horns separating the heats."
1998, after living in South Africa for 10 years, Mike moved back to Cocoa Beach to work as an insurance salesman, then later moved to California and took a sales position with Global Surf Industries, the world's largest board-distributor. Tabeling was one of the original group of inductees into the East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame in 1996.
"For a brief period in the early 1970s, Mike was the best surfer in the world -- and I saw them all."
Mike began work on an in depth writing of East Coast Surfing History. Yet another epic undertaking before he was slowed by illness..