Dan Heritage was 18 years old and working as a chemist at a chicken inoculation plant in his hometown of Vineland, New Jersey when he saw an advertisement in Popular Mechanics for a DIY surfboard kit. It was the year that “Gidget” spread surf fever across the country, and the East Coast surf scene was still in its infancy. Heritage ordered the kit, built the board and drove the 35 miles to Sea Isle to give it a test ride. He broke his first surfboard within an hour of paddling out, but that short-lived session changed the trajectory of his life, and of South Jersey surf culture.
Heritage began seeking out old boards around New Jersey, stripping them down and reshaping them. By 1962, he was making his own boards under the Heritage Surfboards label, selling them out of his car at a time when it was difficult for East Coasters to get boards from California and Hawaii.
“From the time he saw that Popular Mechanics ad, he became hooked,” says Dan’s son, Brain Heritage. “He took a chance, told his parents he didn’t want to work in a lab anymore, and that he wanted to open a surf shop. He was married to my mom and she was pregnant with me. Obviously, his parents thought he was crazy.”
In 1964, Dan and Barbara Heritage founded what would become Heritage Surf and Sport in Sea Isle, New Jersey. Dan made boards in the back while Barbara ran the shop floor. The shop became a second home and second family for generations of surfers, where Barbara always had extra sandwiches for the groms and Dan spent weekends schlepping the shop surf team to contests.
Fifty-six years later, Heritage is one of the most loved and trusted surf shops on the East Coast. “Once you’ve experienced shopping with us, you become like family,” says Brian. Dan Heritage passed away in 1997, and is remembered for his contributions to building the New Jersey surf community, and his legacy lives on in the four family-run Heritage Surf and Sport locations. “When people shop here, they’re experiencing the history of surfing,” says Brian. “You’re capturing their imagination. They want to experience that same thrill. That’s the cultural, soul side of surfing. Once they’re hooked, they’re hooked for life.”
"What makes Heritage special is the people that have worked for us over the years. The people on our surf teams and affiliated with our shops have all been very knowledgeable and very respected. Brands rely on us for feedback, and rely on our expertise because of how long we’ve been doing it, and the people who have been affiliated with us, to give them on-the-ground insight into what is really happening. We are the litmus test from the East Coast to what is trending for the whole surfing community.”
~ Brian Heritage, Owner, Heritage Surf and Sport