Whalebone Surf Shop has been serving the needs of surfers and beach lovers on the Outer Banks of North Carolina since 1975. We are an awarding winning shop offering surf boards, surf accessories, clothing and swimwear for the entire family and, of course, the iconic Whalebone Logo. You can still find founder Jim (Biggie) Vaughn behind the counter.
We carry boards by Channel Islands, Sharp Eye, Rusty, Torq, GFG, and Ravina Shapes., Catch Surf, Softech by Surf Hardware, Custom X, Exile, Zap, Victoria, YOW, HAM, and other surf skateboards.
You’ll find clothing, swimwear and accessories from Billabong, RVCA, Vissla, Amuse Society, Rip Curl, O’Neill, Roark, Lira, Brixton, Vans, Stance, Katin, , L*Space, Maaji, Seea, Carve Designs, Lotus and Luna, Smith, Volcom, Roxy, Quiksilver, Reef, Rainbow, Olukai, Xcel, Pura Vida, Ulu Lagoon, Headhunter, FCS, Dakine and Future Fins.
We look forward to helping make your online shopping enjoyable and hope to see you at our shop in Nags Head. You’ll see why Whalebone Surf Shop has been the hardcore surfer’s destination on the Outer Banks for over 45 years.
• A HISTORY OF WHALEBONE •
|Jim “Biggie” Vaughn started the Outer Banks’ first surf shop 45 years ago, and the brand is going strong. By Fran Marler
Article Courtesy of the Coast
Once you’ve seen the logo, you’re bound to come across it in the far reaches of the globe. The skull and crossed surfboards that have adorned the Whalebone Surf Shop flag for the last four decades have been spotted everywhere from the South Pacific and Africa to the Caribbean and beyond. The logo has become an international icon that represents a passion so deep only one man can truly convey its story. That man is Jim, aka “Biggie,” Vaughn.
Though Whalebone is an Outer Banks–based business, the story begins in Florida.“I grew up in Juno Beach,” Vaughn says. “It was a very special time back then.” As with any teenager, he sought out fun and occasionally a little mischief. “There was a drive-in in town and so my friends and I would sneak in. The one occasion I remember most was when we got to see the ‘Ride the Wild Surf.’”
After seeing the classic, big-wave surfing film, the young man was never the same.
“Shortly thereafter my friends ordered mail-order surfboard kits,” he says. “Inside the box you got a 10-foot board, resin, cloth and fins. We had no idea we had to build them ourselves…. There was a very small surf crew during that time; we had no idea what we were doing until eventually a guy from California visited and showed us the ropes.”
Even with small numbers, their passion was strong and the guys would pile in station wagons cruising the coast looking for swell every weekend.
“There was no surf forecasting in those days, so we drove until we found something,” he says. “If you got a thumbs up from passing surfers that meant waves; thumbs down, no luck. We surfed everything from Pumphouse to the iconic Greek Oil Freighter the Amaryllis. If you surfed by the Amaryllis you would have to wash with gasoline when you got home to get the oil off.”
After attending military school in his younger years, Jim began attending The Citadel in 1966. “I remember the big song at the time was ‘California Dreamin.’’ It was a beautiful time and I’m glad I grew up then.”
Military school is never easy or enjoyable, and the perpetual itch to surf always lingered in the back of Vaughn’s mind. One year later, for a bit of respite, he and some friends made their first surf trip to the Outer Banks. “We would surf all day at Nags Head Pier and end up sleeping in the car.” That first trip led to many more.
Following military college, Vaughn found a lucrative construction job back in Florida.
“I was making more money than I knew what to do with, but I hated living on the Gulf Coast,” he says. “Eventually I was offered a position back on the Atlantic coast and was given vacation time to allow for the move.
“With all that free time, I decided to take a surf trip,” he says. “What was supposed to be one week in Costa Rica turned into five because I got stuck in the middle of a railroad strike.”
Upon his return, his friend and former roommate Skip Ledingham had a proposal for him.
“Skip had started his own shop in Florida, called Resin Craft,” Jim says . “He suggested we move to the Outer Banks and open a second location. That’s exactly what we did.”
They opened the shop in 1975.
“Skip was the owner and I was the manager. The surf industry was in its infancy, but the guys were persevering and having fun doing it. We carried early brands such as OP, SunDeck, Birdwell, Eenie Meenie Bikinis and Country Scrubs. It was a ball back then.”
The first location was in Nags Head at the area the locals called Whalebone Junction. Vaughn lived above the shop, and though he enjoyed self-imposed surf breaks and happy-hour sessions, he was partner by the second year and full owner by the third.
By 1977 the shop had a new name, Whalebone Junction. “The old shop was a focal point,” he says. “We were the last stop before the national seashore so people from all over would come to hang. I wanted the name to reflect something relative to the Outer Banks.”
The shop also had its first-ever pirate flag compilation for the sign. “I drew my inspiration from The Citadel, Blackbeard and the [Jimmy Buffett] song ‘Pirate Looks at 40.’ It took some doing, but after it was all said and done, Glenn Eure designed the original skull and Michael Gray added airbrush surfboards.”
Vaughn says business was very different then.
“All of our ordering had to be done long distance and you had to go through an operator,” he says. “The season was 10 weeks and by Labor Day it was like someone pulled the plug.” But the long off-season meant plenty of time for surfing and camaraderie in the water.
“The only folks surfing here year around were locals like Jimbo Ward, Monty Leavel, Bob Sykes and generations from Manteo and Wanchese,” says Jim. Also in the mix was his mentor, Don Bennett, or as Vaughn refers to him, “Mr. Aloha.”
“Instead of making my life hard as a newcomer, he helped me and taught me everything about the area,” Vaughn says. “He would literally take care of anyone. I owe a lot to him.”
While at the Junction, Vaughn became the first shop on the East Coast to carry Morey Boogie Boards, which had to be assembled once delivered. The shop was stocked with apparel, swimwear and boards like the Aipa Sting, Channin, Surfings New Image and Lower East Side.
By 1983 big things were happening. The days of living above the shop were coming to an end, and as the business grew it became time for a new locale. Vaughn married his wife, April, and opened a second location at the Outer Banks Mall, and the progression didn’t stop there. The following years would allow for them to open a store at Rodanthe pier, the Marketplace in Southern Shores and two free-standing buildings — one in Kitty Hawk and the current location in Nags Head. Once the Nags Head building was built, they closed the Kitty Hawk store and moved that portion of the business to a store in Virginia Beach.
Vaughn says has seen the stressors of two recessions and once-unique surf brands now being offered in department stores. “It’s also been really hard for brick-and-mortar retailers because of online goods being offered with huge discounts,” he says. “That’s really hard to compete with.”
Through it all, Vaughn’s passion for surfing and operating a surf-related business has endured. “When I first started there were no books on how to do this,” he says. “I have been doing this for 40 years because it’s something I truly love. The sport, the industry, I’ve loved it ever since I saw ‘Ride the Wild Surf.’”
“However,” he adds, “without April, I would still be living above the old shop and my vision would never have happened. She is the unsung hero behind the scenes dealing with accounting, payables, working the floor and all the while raising two amazing children.”
Their son, Max, resides in California, works as a school administrator and surfs. Their daughter, Stevi, who has worked in Whalebone since was 14, is now the inventory coordinator and buyer.
As the times have changed so has Whalebone. It has grown and adapted to the fit the needs of an industry in flux, and April says it’s been a good experience.
“I’ve enjoyed putting my knowledge to use and seeing that play out,” April says. “Most of all we take pride in being a part of the local community.”
Whalebone is always involved with surf contests like the Easterns (to be held at Jennette’s Pier on September 20 to 26) and local benefits such as Surfing for Autism (to be held August 15). They are also currently active in the campaign against offshore drilling in North Carolina.
When asked of his success, Vaughn simply replies, “I just work hard. I have a tiger by the tail I can’t let go of.”