Finding Air Yet Grounded in Community

Professional boogie boarder Colin Herlihy has surfed waters around the world and is sharing his passion for wave riding with local youth

Written by Kristen Hampshire  |  Photography by Pamela Aquilani

Colin Herlihy dials back two decades to a still-record-breaking airtime on a boogie board — 35 feet, the height of a telephone pole. The viral footage has well over 1 million views and still pops up all the time. Location: Puerto Rico. 

“There is a wave there that smashes up against a rock headland and sends a wave back out to sea,” explained the professional boogie boarder, who represents California brand Salty Crew. He teaches at Ocean City’s Wave Riding School, along with leading the Skim Jam, through Bethany Surf Shop. 

“I wanted to ride the wave out to sea, into the connecting wave, to try to hit a big air,” Herlihy said. “Me and my dad had been going there for a while, but we knew we needed just the right wind and everything to come together.” 

Herlihy’s father, Dan, is a surfer, videographer and one of the East Coast’s longtime wave riders who taped Puerto Rico footage in the 1960s and made it into the film Caribe, an introductory reel on Herlihy’s latest video tour with Salty Crew. 

“The first day we were out, the waves were great, but we got chased out of the water by a shark,” Herlihy continued. “So, the next morning, we went back out, and the conditions were even better than the day before. I was the only one out, and this wave came.”

Herlihy approached a backflip and, while rotating, realized he was about 35 feet in the air. “I bailed the board out of my hands and tried my best to land feet first. Halfway down, I actually passed out in midair.”

He hit the water and came to. “I didn’t really realize how high I was until we got home, and we reviewed the footage,” Herlihy said of his father’s video of the landmark move. 

Born to Boogie
Herlihy was first introduced to a boogie board soon after he could walk. His father was born and raised in Salisbury and an Ocean City lifeguard when he was young. His mother, Bev Booth, was a boogie boarder. “I’ve been on a boogie board or surfboard my whole life,” he said. 

At age 11, Herlihy started competing and continued into his mid-20s, across the coasts and the world. “My passion for surfing is all about traveling, seeing new cultures — and locally, it’s all about giving back to the surf community and getting involved with the kids,” he said. “That brings a lot of joy to me, teaching people to surf.”

One of Herlihy’s mentors is professional bodyboarder Noni Mancari. “He was traveling the world, doing what he loved, and when I saw him do that, I knew that is what I wanted to do,” Herlihy said. 

His father is also an inspiration, and they’ve traveled extensively together. His mother and stepfather, Harvey Booth, are at beachside and proud. “It’s great to have three parents who all support what I’ve done. It’s just a great thing,” he said. 

Today, Herlihy supports other new surfers and up-and-comers as a passionate instructor who gives back to the community. In summers, the Bethany Surf Shop’s Skim Jam offers free boards. “It’s great for the community,” he said. “The community has really wrapped themselves around it, and we have a great turnout of locals, summer people and those who are just walking down the beach and see what we are doing and have a chance to participate.” 

Colin and his dad, Dan, have been wave riders their entire lives.

Harnessing His Hometown Waters 
“I’ve traveled around the world, chasing waves,” Herlihy said. But his wildest boogie boarding experience was in home waters during Hurricane Sandy at the 142nd Street Beach, with a Jet Ski and surfboard. 

“When the waves are really big, we take out the Jet Ski; one person will drive, and the other will sit on the back with a surfboard,” Herlihy explained. “We’ll ride it on the wave, and before the wave breaks, the surfer will jump off the Jet Ski and onto the wave. We’re known for that.” 

During Sandy, Herlihy surfed 15- and 20-foot waves in 70-mile-per-hour winds. “That was the wildest experience I ever had in the ocean,” he said. 

In terms of what is so special about surfing the Delaware and Maryland beaches, Herlihy said: “It’s the change of seasons. At this time of year, you can go out and enjoy the warm-water temperatures, and come January, when there is six inches of snow, the waves are perfect. You put on a wet suit and walk down to a snowy beach.” CS

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