DESTIN — Logan Carollo, Scott Burke and Dylan Sims sit on their soft-top surfboards in the Gulf of Mexico on a recent green flag day in Destin.

The clear water swells gently underneath them and produces waves perfect for the frolicking children at the shoreline, but not quite big enough to hitch a ride on with their boards.

Still, they straddle their boards and eye the waterline, waiting for the perfect swell.

Then, after several minutes of waiting, they turn around quickly and paddle in sync as a wave approaches. They look over their shoulders at the wave before crouching on the board and standing up, taking the wave all the way to shore until it crests and crashes onto the beach.

The Gulf of Mexico along the Emerald Coast may not produce the giant swells that are characteristic of destinations like Hawaii and California, but for Destin’s small but growing surfing community, every wave has potential.

“You have to really want to surf to surf here,” said Cate McGinnis, a regular Destin surfer. “The waves are few and far between, and it’s not easy. But it’s fun.”


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At Ride On Surf School, Dylan Sims has been teaching the next generation of surfers for eight years. From his tent set up behind the Captain Dave’s restaurant in Miramar Beach, Sims and a small crew of surf instructors give lessons to "groms," or beginning surfers, every day during the tourist season.

Every sunny day, that is.

“I would definitely say for us here, we are always looking at the forecast,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re dealing with the weather, that can be an issue as far as severe storms go.”

But while sunny days are perfect for beginning surfers, it’s the windy days that are perfect for Sims and his crew. When Hurricane Franklin made landfall in Mexico on Aug. 10, it sent large swells throughout the Gulf and made for perfect surfing conditions.

“We definitely don’t take it for granted,” he said of the good-swell days. “Whenever we do see a little bit of something, even if it’s not the biggest, we all get pretty excited.”    

Scott Burke, who grew up in Destin and works as an instructor at Ride On, said the weather is just one factor that affects the surf.

“It just depends on the day and the conditions,” he said. “With storms all around, the wind can change and cause the surf to go good or bad. We have a tide here that is a little bit of a factor as well.”


Destin’s surfing community is small and tight-knit, according to Sims. He estimates there are “a couple hundred” people who surf.

“There are a few in each age group, and it’s definitely carried on by a few generations,” he said. “There’s a lot of older people who surf as well, and have been surfing their whole lives. It’s just their kind of lifestyle.”

The lifestyle of a Destin surfer typically includes an early wake-up call followed by coffee and surfing for a few hours at the Back Porch or Captain Dave’s. Surfers typically grab lunch at Burrito Del Sol before going back out for a second session.

“It’s pretty much surfing, eating, surfing, eating, surfing, eating until you’re done,” Burke said. “And then you go to Harbor Docks with your girlfriend.”

The surfers at Ride On Surf School also spend a lot of time teaching the next generation of young surfers.

"The majority of people we teach are people with little to no surf experience, so we just focus on the basics," Sims said. "It's rewarding to work with kids, especially, and see them get stoked and see how quickly they can actually learn to surf."

Despite the lack of giant swells, Destin’s dedicated surfers say they stick together and enjoy what they can of the local scene.

“We surf our hearts out,” Burke said.