Growing up on the water, it was only natural for Will Allison to become a surfer. The inland waterway provided Allison with fishing, oysters, and playful afternoons swimming. It wasn't until Allison was thirteen that surfing shaped his life forever.
In 1964 Wrightsville Beach wasn't crowded with surfers. There were only a few; Robert Parker, Mike Deep, Tommy Thompson, and a handful more. Allison watched in awe as these surfers carved waves, gliding across smooth faces of blue water. He just had to be a part of it.
'I had just begun Jr. High. I had it bad. Every block there was a wooden jetty, making a perfect point. Either side was a left or a right. The surf was good,' said Allison. Allison's surfing career had begun. He surfed Crystal Pier, Johnnie Mercer's Pier, the North End, where Moore's Inlet separated Wrightsville from Shell Island. The inlet formed sandbars, and the waves were good.
Allison soon mastered the art of surfing. He and his friends rode thick, heavy, longboards. It took more than one person to carry a board to the beach.
'We were really small and the boards were really heavy. One guy would carry both noses and the other would carry both tails. If you were alone, it was a struggle,' said Allison.
With the introduction of shortboards in the late sixties, surfing changed radically. Boards became small, light, and quick. It was easier for girls to surf, kids to learn, it was easier for everyone.
' It was like a whole different ballgame. The maneuverability was unreal. You could make radical turns, really get it on,' said Allison.
In 1968 Allison competed in his first surf contest. It was held in Carolina Beach and surfers came from as far away as Florida. Allison placed first in the Novice division. This win was indicative of Allison's future in surfing.
The Eastern Surfing Association formed in 1967 and by the early 70's, districts were established. The fifth district included Georgia, North, and South Carolina. Surfing competitions became popular as a way to travel, surf, and meet other surfers.
'It was neat because you'd meet surfers from different places. I made friends from those days that I still keep in touch with,' said Allison.
Allison was introduced to surfboard shaping in 1976. He had graduated from college, spent two years in Hawaii, and was living in Louisiana working on an off-shore surveying rig. It was Allison's first time away from the ocean and he didn't know what to do on his time off. He had two weeks, so he drove to Florida to surf.
In Cocoa Beach, Florida Allison's good friend, Pete Duley shaped Natural Art surfboards. Duley suggested Allison get a foam blank and all the materials used to shape, and use his time off to shape a board.
Allison shaped his first board, a 6'2' pintail on the bayou in Louisiana. 'I rode it and really liked it. I bought more blanks, learning on my time off. Gradually people I'd meet wanted me to shape their board,' said Allison.
Allison moved to St. Augistine, Florida for two years and made enough boards to go into business for himself. He decided it was time to go home. He grew up in Wilmington and missed it severely.
'I like it here. I'm used to the lifestyle and the change of seasons. It's clean, and the people are friendly. There's just something about living where you grew up,' said Allison.
Shaping boards and living in Wilmington didn't stop Allison from traveling the globe for surf. He continued competing, winning the U.S. Championships twice. He surfed for the U.S Team at the World Championships in France alongside Tom Curren and Willie Morris.
Allison's success story sits in an eight foot, glass trophy case in his den. It sags from the weight of trophies, ribbons, and plaques. The walls in his home are decorated with surfing pictures from trips to Hawaii, Costa Rica, Peru, and Equador. He even shaped a coffee table to look like a surfboard. Allison's recent wins include first at the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, and the ESA Championships in Hatteras.
Allison also judged professional surfing contests for over ten years. He sat in judge's seats across the country. Perhaps the strangest was a pro circuit contest held in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
'It was the most perfect contest I ever judged. The wave pool was like surfing in someone's swimming pool. All the guys had it wired, but Tommy Carroll won,' said Allison.
Allison got tired of judging and started shaping full time. He now has nine accounts with surf shops in North and South Carolina. He shapes close to three hundred boards a year, mostly during the summer. He says it's an on-going learning process.
' You have to take your time and try to do it right. I write down all the measurements, look at my notes and have it all thought out before I do it,' said Allison.
Allison shapes in the garage next to his home. Like any artist, he loses track of time in the shaping room. He likes to finish a board once he's started. Some boards he can shape in less than two hours.
' I like shaping all kinds of boards. I shape a lot of longboards. Big wave guns, and fishes too,' said Allison. After the boards are shaped, Allison sends them to Glass Tech in Leland. He says Dave Endress does the best glass work he's ever seen. Allison then delivers the boards to the surf shops. Local shops that carry Allison surfboards are Aussie Island in Wilmington, and The Cove in Carolina Beach. Allison's boards all have a seahorse emblem and some are decorated with beautiful fabrics from Hawaii. Allison loves Hawaii. He, his wife Karen, and two-year-old daughter Bonnie try to vacation there every winter.
Karen also surfs and Allison thinks it's the greatest thing there ever was. Karen recently won the Longboard Expression Session in Rodanthe, NC.
'Karen has this beautiful, graceful, Hawaiian style. She surfs like a woman should look, she's just beautiful,' said Allison.
Allison and Karen share the good feeling of surfing. Their lives revolve around it. Whether it's a good day of surfing or a long day in the shaping room, Allison says he'll do both until he dies.
Allison says people who don't surf just can't understand what goes through a surfer's mind when the waves are good. It's as if the world stops, and only the waves matter. Surfers can't just surf when they want, the waves are only good sometimes.
Perhaps that's why Allison's favorite quote is 'only a surfer knows the feeling.'