Born in December 1948, Gornto's family moved to Melbourne in '49. And while he's had a charmed life in many ways, the fame, fortune, and stardom for which he is extremely grateful came at a cost - for which he is equally grateful. Sam very clear about the day he officially became a surfer. It was the summer of 1965, and he had begun surfing competitively.
"I remember we were doing football drills twice a day in August, and it dawned on me that it just wasn't any fun. Surfing was fun, so I walked off the field and went surfing," he says, noting that the decision to choose surfing cost him a scholarship and ultimately shaped his life's journey.
Dick Catri saw potential in Gornto and offered him a place on his Surfboards Hawaii team. Gornto accepted the deal which included a new surfboard and a future so bright, At age 17, Gornto was on the team that would go on to dominate the sport internationally and produce Hall of Fame Legends Mike Tabeling, Fletcher Sharpe, Mimi Munro, Joe Twombley, Fred Grosskreuts, and Bruce Valluzzi, as well as Catri, Propper, and Gornto himself.
Sam at the Surfboards Hawaii shop
They needed a "surf guy" with a name, and they came for Sam.
"Remember, it's 1967, and I'm 18 years old," grins Gornto. "They gave me $3 for every board they sold, and we sold about 25 boards a week. So I'm living at home with no expenses, going to college, and making $70-$90 a week surfing."
The company also absorbed travel expenses, which provided Sam the opportunity to surf the gulf and east coasts of the U.S., Hawaii and California. In Puerto Rico he came in second (to Codgen) in the East Coast Championship.
Sam and the Hawaii shop crew Richard Munson, Fletcher Sharpe , Che Sharpe
In 1968, Codgen negoatiated a deal with Con Surfboards, creating the Butterfly Series. It was Codgen, Gornto and Bruce Valluzzi who partnered in the venture.
Bruce Valuzzi and Sam on the Con Butterfly Team
In January 1970, Gornto made a decision to leave Con to return to school. But when Codgen called with the idea for Sunshine Surfboards and a plan to go to California to establish the business, Gornto followed the lure of surfing into the (now lucrative) waters of business with the big boys of the sport.
With dealers in place on the east coast, the cumulative fame of the surfers and the connections of Codgen and Gornto, Bing soon had Sunshine Surfboards in shops from Miami to Maine.
Codgen and Gornto also discussed opening a surfshop in Cocoa Beach; but ultimately Gornto partnered with Bill Frierson, Pat O'Hare, Fred Grosskreutz, and Dan Dawson to open Sunshine House in November 1970.
The Class of 2000
Janice Domorski DeMetroplis
Graham Dusty Hinnant
Henry Stretch Pohl
At age 26, Sam enlisted in the Army to take advantage of their educational opportunities and earn his degree in finance and accounting, he began working with a childhood friend at a gasoline distributorship. By 2000, Gornto had bought all his partners out, now owns the distributorship with his 38-year-old son.
After years of limiting himself to an occasional "fun" surf, Gornto hit the water with a passion in 1990. "I've been to Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia. I've also surfed in Figi and have plans to go to Tahiti," says Gornto.
Sam was inducted into the East coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2000
Honduras is better because Gornto - and fellow Believers - make regular trips to villages there, where they have established a school and completed 40 water projects since 1991.
"The project there has changed those lives and that part of Honduras But it's had an equally profound impact on my life," he says, stating it is his devotion to the Lord that gives shape and meaning to his life - and that the choices he's made have given him a rich and satisfying life
Sam and Teresa Gornto at the Surfing Heritage Foundation
[Credit: Mike Tabeling's East Coast Surfing History, and Zoominfo]