The Wrightsville Beach Waterman Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday honored individuals who made their impacts through a variety of activities that define the coastal lifestyle the awards celebrate. But whether it was diving, surfing, sailing, fishing or conservation, a familiar theme united the inductees.
“Whether it was fishing, sailing, oystering, my dad taught me everything about the ocean,” said Martin Willard, a champion competitive sailor with a five-decade career that started at the Carolina Yacht Club.
Nearly every inductee recounted how their family introduced them to a lifestyle that would capture their passions.
“My parents would say, ‘Don’t come back until it’s dark,” said Tracy Skrabal, the senior coastal scientist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, the Woman of the Year winner who was inducted for her efforts to preserve beach culture .
In introducing inductee Robbie Wolfe, the charter boat operator with more than three-decades of fishing history in Wrightsville Beach, Tripp Brice also recalled the impact Wolfe’s father had on them.
“He gave us the opportunity to make the ocean our life,” Brice said of Wolfe’s father, who operated the Whipsaw fishing charter before Wolfe took over its operations.
Wolfe said his upbringing helped solidify his career ambitions early in his life.
“Growing up, I already knew what I was going to do. My grandad fished, my dad fished,” Wolfe said. “We all love the ocean. We all love this area we live in.”
The master of ceremony Haywood Newkirk picked up on the recurring theme, telling the crowd at the Blockade Runner that it’s the traditions and skills that are passed down in the family that help preserve the area’s unique local lifestyle.
“Teach them to fish, teach them to sail, them to surf, them them to crab, teach them to pull those nets,” Newkirk urged the parents in the room.
Mike Barden, the Surf City surf shop owner who was inducted as a local surfing hero, said exposing his children to the coastal lifestyle is one reason he loves living in Wrightsville Beach.
“I’m fortunate to raise my kids on the beach, the way I was raised,” he said.
Newkirk said the afternoon’s other surfing inductee, Carolina Beach competitive longboarder Tony Silvagni, was being recognized not just for his tournament successes, but also for his commitment to the local surfing community.
“I’ve seen him paddle into waves in Puerto Rico that are the height of this ceiling,” Newkirk said, referring to the resort’s extended ballroom ceiling. “But what I really see is him teaching kids.”
Silvagni credited the support of his family, including his brother and sister, for enabling him to create a lifestyle focused on the sport that has captured his passion.
“I get to travel to great places, experience the culture, eat great food,” said Silvagni, who last years scored a win in the Taiwan Open of Surfing and fifth place in the World Longboard Championships.
Silvagni’s induction was the first time in the hall of fame’s three-year history that the award was bestowed on someone who’s work is primarily done outside of Wrightsville Beach. The Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, which sponsors the hall of fame, can select inductees throughout the county and wants to ensure that membership includes individuals from outside of the town, said the museum board’s vice president John Sideris.
The hall of fame also inducted its first member from the diving community when it recognized Kevin Walker, who has grown a commercial diving and marine contracting business at the Carolina Marine Terminal. While the work often leads to travel, Walker said it’s always nice to come home.
“When I come back to Wrightsville Beach, it always feels like home, thanks to the welcoming spirit of the people who live here,” Walker said.
And while the inductees often spoke of family, they were also recognized for their passion and commitment to the coastal lifestyle. It’s something that Skrabal said makes living in a place like Wrightsville Beach special.
“We are actually paid to do this. To follow our passion,” Skrabal said. “It’s important to find that thing that make you happy and passionate.”
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