Originally created 05/17/02

Man, 79, hangs 10 as legend of surfing



ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Howie Lyon has the strangest cookie jar.

He pulls the top up, and it plays the Beach Boys' Surfin' USA.

He giggles, says, "Yeah!" and dances while he offers Oreos to anyone who visits.

He goes back decades in St. Augustine Beach and just as far with surfing. The 79-year-old still competes, now against surfers young enough to be his sons.

In early 2002, he won a bit of saltwater immortality: An induction to the East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame. Now he's one of 70 surfers in the 6-year-old hall.

"Once you get the bug, you just want to keep going and going and going," Mr. Lyon said.

He moved to the beach in 1960 to live with his mother, Helen. He lives in the same place 42 years later, in possibly the brightest, yellowest house in St. Johns County. The walls are lined with surfing trophies, knickknacks, snapshots, shell-filled jars and kitten posters.

Mr. Lyon moved from Philadelphia, where he was a coach at the private Phelps School. For almost 30 years, he commuted between Philadelphia and the beach, heading south when classes were out. He remembers when the beach pier had sand under it.

When he first visited, his mother's house was one of the only buildings in the area.

"Now it's condominiums galore. Wall-to-wall condominiums, aw, gee," he said.

Tory Strange, owner of Surf Station on Anastasia Island, said he Mr. Lyon has supported local surfing since the 1970s.

"He's been an icon in the St. Augustine surf scene for decades," Mr. Strange said.

He called Mr. Lyon a great inspiration, real humble and fit. One time, Mr. Strange snuck up behind him on the beach and bear-hugged him, and Mr. Lyon almost flipped him over his back.

When Mr. Lyon started surfing, he had to break his way into the long-haired surfer scene, he said.

"They were mean. But then you get to know them," he said.

Today, Mr. Lyon owns so many surfing trophies that he gives them away to be "recycled" at other competitions, he said.

These days, he keeps busy kayaking and entertaining his cats. He also competes.

"For the young squirts I tell 'em that I don't surf trying to see how many medals or that junk I can find. I like to try my best and have fun," Mr. Lyon said.