Tall, slender, easygoing, afro-headed goofy footer from Jacksonville, Florida, Joe Roland grew up three houses and a block away from the Atlantic Beach Pier. At 13, he and his friend Dick Rosborough were invited by their schoolmate Charlie Snyder to go surf for the first time.
It was the spring of 1964, the water was still cold and crisp, but the young men were determined. They didn’t have wetsuits or protection from the cold of any kind, but after catching a couple of rides in the white water, couldn’t have been more stoked.
With no money and only their wits, the stoked little surf dogs would find a way to get their paws on a couple surfboards. It quickly became obvious that Roland and Rosborough were naturals. The boys would soon find themselves adopting another friend into the group that shared a passion for the practice, Larry Miniard (our previously featured local legend).
The dynamic between these three and the rich salt water of the Atlantic would serve as an incubator of talent and passion. Miniard describes his afro-headed friend on a longboard as “similar to David Nuuhiwa.” Recently while I was spending the day fishing with Miniard, he told me stories of Roland, running up to the tip as soon as he would catch the wave, perching all the way to the sand and never once leaving the nose. Roland was an astounding noserider during the mid to late ‘60s—the golden era of longboarding.
It was during the shortboard revolution when Roland really came into his own. In 1968, one of the first years when boards began to drop from 9ft to 8ft and under, Roland was crowned as the first Eastern Surfing Association men’s champion. The field consisted of internationally known east coasters like Mike Tabeling, Claude Codgen, and Bruce Valluzzi amongst others. Only four years after learning how to surf, this victory would earn him the winning spot on the hotly contested East Coast 4A circuit. After his success on the East Coast Tour, it was decided that he was the best candidate to be the captain of the East Coast Surf Team at the 1968 World Contest in Puerto Rico. This landed him a feature in the February 1969 issue of Surfing Magazine.
Roland would go on to win the East Coast Surfing Championships once again in 1969, in-between the ‘68 Puerto Rico World Contest and the ‘70 World Contest in Australia.
Roland’s efforts helped open doors for his friends, bringing attention to North Florida, and putting Jacksonville on the proverbial surf map. In the years following, Joe picked up multiple sponsors. Roland rode for labels such as Webber, Rick Surfboards, and Hansen. He even designed a board for Hansen that later became his signature model—a late evolution era mid-length rounded pintail. In time, Roland learned how to shape, and started his own label with his childhood friends, named “Roland – Miniard – Rosborough Surfboards.” Roland happily works for the city of Jacksonville now as a computer programmer and still surfs to this day. He can be found in and around the water south of the Ponte Vedra poles where he now lives with his beloved wife. He has since been inducted into the East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame and is still regarded by peers to be one of the best surfers to ever come out of North Florida.
I read a Surfing Magazine article on you that was published in February 1969. In it, New York’s Eric Eastman says, “There isn’t a surfer in the east who can put his board into any given position on a wave faster or with greater confidence and control than Joe. When Joe is hot and surfing radically – He can’t be touched.” Is that still how you approach surfing, hot and radically?
Yeah, mhm. I like to just go fast, go high. You know, whatever the wave offers. There are always challenges on the wave. If it’s a big wave and a big section, I’ll go for it—I might not make it, but I’ll go for it.
What are some of the challenges you like about surfing?
Figuring out how to ride any wave, whether it’s a crummy wave or a good wave. Keeping my speed and flow together. Pulling off moves with the right style and everything. Style is really important to me. It makes whatever you’re doing feel better.
What is good style?
Good style to me is the efficiency of movement. When you position your body in the right place throughout the move, it’s efficient and there isn’t wasted body movement. It flows—the speed flows through the whole maneuver. I have preferred stances. I’ve always been a fan of the original Australian’s with the knock-kneed style. Then Mark Richards came in with the back knee bent-in style. And that was a good style for me. That’s the stance part of it, of course, there’s the movement, the body movement, low center of gravity. I’m old now but you know—getting low like a tight little ball and going off the lip.
What was it like when boards started transitioning from longer to shorter? I’ve heard people say that for a while it seemed like there was a new type of surfboard every week.
Things changed so fast at that time. I remember when the Australians came out with “Evolution.” They came out with V-bottoms and surfed Honolulu Bay. They were shortboards but probably 8ft or so, and that just turned the surfing world on its head. I remember my brother got a 7’6” Webber Wide and I was riding an 8’6” Webber Wide. And I took his board out and couldn’t believe how much more maneuverable it was. So I started riding shortboards at that time. I rode for Rick Surfboards, and I was riding like 7’4”/7’2″ round tails. They had a really great shaper, I think his name was Phil Becker, and he did some really nice boards. It suited my style because I was more energetic. In the longboard days, I didn’t do too bad in competition, but I wasn’t great because I didn’t have the patience. I was very good at noseriding, though. I guess the shortboard was good for me because I could put a lot of energy into a two-foot shore break—I could pump the board up and down and stuff. Back in the longboard days, style was everything, but it was kind of more of a smooth slower flowing style. Kind of like how longboarding is today, which is the art of longboarding. But I think people didn’t realize that you could put more energy into a shortboard and make it do more stuff.
Who were your influences?
You know all the guys that were in the mags in California and stuff. In the longboard days, it was David Nuuhiwa and Corky Carroll, then as the shortboards started coming in, of course, the Australians. I was a huge fan of Wayne Lynch. So that cutback of his—I spent hours working on that.Mike Tabeling was really good on a shortboard—really radical in and out of the water. He was like pedal to the metal in everything he did. We did a promo trip up the East Coast, and he was like the craziest driver and he loved to just pull up super fast to cars and then stop like a foot away from them. Then we went to Australia for the world contest in Bells Beach. Larry Miniard and I went together and were representing the East Coast. Every morning Tabeling would come by with his rental car and take us to Bells because we were staying in Lorn which is about 30 or 40 kilometers from Bells. And that was the most hair-raising ride I have ever taken, he would try to like drift his wheels around the curves, and this place wasn’t just like an easy drive. There were all these cliffs, and curves going around the cliffs and everything.
Do you remember what your first surfboard was?
Yeah, yeah. It was called a Bonzai surfboard. It was made by this guy named Lee Cliete. He was the first guy around here that I knew of that made surfboards. He was kind of an alcoholic, though. He had this little shop, and we came in and were all stoked. We asked to order a surfboard. And he was all like, “Ya, you can order one, but you have to give me some money down first.” So we went to Bonzai Surf Shop and put our money down, and he said it would be about two or three weeks and the board would be done. So we were counting down the days,
hours even. And we went back down there in three weeks. He said “Ahh, it’s not done. It’ll be ready next week.” So we did that for like two months. We were dying. I asked my dad what we should do. And he said to take him to court. And so I took him to small claims court; I was like 13 years old. The judge asked him “Did he pay you the money?” And Cliete was kind of scared so he said, “Yeah.” Then the judge asked him, “When can you get this young man a surfboard?” and Lee told him two days.
That bastard! So he had your money that whole time, and could’ve made a board in two days?
Yeah. So two days later, I got my surfboard. It wasn’t what I ordered, but it was a surfboard. It must have weighed 35 pounds. It was super thick and had this really thick blue pigment on the rails and nose to tail stripes. It was so heavy that I had to make a cart to carry it down to the beach. I would carry it on my head and ended up getting this big ol’ sore on my head.
What do you think is the difference between the current state of surfing and the state of surfing around the late ‘60s-early ‘70s?
I just surf for fun and I follow the Championship Tour (CT) contests and watch videos online and stuff, so I’m super into it, but I don’t hang out with a lot of surfers all the time, so I don’t get the vibe or the feel. I hope it’s still as fun now as it was back then. It’s about having fun, exploring for waves, enjoying riding the wave, and the whole experience of being in the ocean. The whole competitive thing and career thing just come with the territory. When you’re young, you hang out with a group of guys and y’all compete. And if you do good, you get sent places to surf and stuff. So that’s kind of the same. It’s a lot more technical now, where more training and stuff, I’ve never done that stuff. Maybe it is too mechanical now, but that’s how it goes with all sports; it’s all about success, money, fame, whatever.
Do you have any words for the next generation of Surfers?
I don’t know. I mean surfing is surfing. It should be about fun and fellowship with other surfers and respect for other surfers. It’s about the freedom of the ocean and just being out there with some friends. That’s the stoke. So keep that, and you’re good.
Never lose sight of the freedom part of it. If it becomes to the point where you are putting all these demands on yourself, it loses that special part. Anytime you want to progress in something you have to set goals and demands on yourself, but just don’t let it take over.
SOURCES: The Encyclopedia of Surfing, swaylocks.com, Mitch Kauffmen