“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.” – Jeff Spicoli
I had taken a cautiously optimistic leap of faith a month ago when I contacted The Inertia with my idea to do a series of articles on Floridians who make an impact in and out of the water. Essentially, I was searching for upstanding members within a state that is geographically represented as a flaccid phallus, or a gun, depending on how you cock your head. There is no use trying to cover up our notorious history which displays no signs of limping into obscurity. We’ve written the playbook on swampland scams, taught an entire nation what a hanging chad is, we’ve hired hot, female, pedophile teachers, provided public masturbation venues for men named Pee-wee, we had our very own heart-broken, diaper wearing, astronaut with kidnapping schemes, accommodated fertile ground for truck-stop prostitute serial killers and elevated Ponzi schemes to all new heights, courtesy of Madoff.
I had my work cut out. I was digging for meritorious gems within a species of creatures I just so happened to be a very proud, card-carrying member of, known as The Florida Surfer. I was cautious because I knew my odds. A recent brainstorming session with the owner of a surf shop in Palm Beach verified my challenge. We yielded a whopping four individuals residing in my community who fit my specific search criteria. A surfer’s name would be raised and then all too quickly discredited for a lack of exemplary, community showmanship on land. It seemed that “Jeff Spicoli,” a self-serving fictional character, continues to be one of the most dominate representatives of our tribe. But why?
Jeff Spicoli is all too real. I have met him and I continue to meet him. His appearance and name has changed, but he endures, sauntering through our world as the aquatic loving anti-hero. He was my first custom board maker living in a wood shack on the fringe of a cow field in Boynton Beach–surfing, shaping and scraping by just enough for the next Costa Rica surfari. At his best, he is at the top of his game by accidental design, babbling in post-surf contest interviews, unknowingly recycling cliches that describe how luck had favored and delivered him the wave of the day. At his worse, he is the cuddly, fifty-year-old bum with a full head of hair residing with his parents, listing his current employer on Facebook as a deity and posting poetry for deceased surf legends. His highest cultural achievement is acutely articulating the difference between Big Buddha Cheese and Purple Kush.
But what about the Anti-Spicoli? Does he or she exist? This was the question that dominated my Florida-centric, investigative mission.
The answer is yes. If you reside in Palm Beach County, it’s difficult not to see his face or read his name when you open the newspaper or turn on the local news. If you are his friend and disconnect from him for a year, it will take some time to track down his physical location. It’s not uncommon to learn that he is touring the country with Jason the T-Shirt Guy or working in Bali to produce marketing materials for his new Surfr App.
His name is Nicholas Mohnacky–28-year-old surfer, entrepreneur, inventor, community advocate, proud Floridian.
A day before his interview, Nick texted me that he had just won the lottery for his second Escape from Acatraz Triathlon. It is a grueling competition which includes swimming from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shoreline, an 18 mile bike ride through the Presidio and then an eight mile trail run through Golden Gate Park. His excitement, even in a text message, was somehow contagious. I became inspired to perhaps accompany him and watch the event from dry land, sipping on a hot cup of coffee.
I showed up at his door on a weekday morning, right after dropping my youngest kid off at school. Nick answered shirtless, a very Spicoli-like move. It had reminded me that my last real sit-up occurred sometime during Greenspan’s service as Fed Chairman.
As Nick put on a fresh pot of coffee, I expected to hear a story of how he extracted the beans from some remote, third-world location. Instead, he told me of his marketing initiative on behalf of the Immerset brewing company. Slacker.
We sat down and got started.
Joe Pregadio: Do you ever think that if you didn’t surf you’d be able to get more things done?
Nick Mohnacky: No. Actually, I find that I get more things done when I do surf or swim. Having a handful of things to stimulate you and allow you to sort of balance the day to day and you need that.There’s only so much you can do, even in an hour’s span. So even with one or three projects going on, you can only be so efficient during a typical eight hour work day.
What projects are you most excited about now?
I’m really excited about Surfr App. It’s been a year now since it started as an idea…sitting around Starbucks, talking about our surfing sessions. Hurricane Sandy was a big influence on why Surfr app was so necessary…to log our sessions and document our surfing life; having surfed in like fifteen different spots in the course of a week and not being able to remember the details. So Surfr App is probably at the forefront, as far as projects.
Also Start-Up Palm Beach is very exciting because that is a community initiative whereby we are changing the landscape of what it means to be a entrepreneur here in West Palm Beach…by providing resources and empowering people to really help people build and grow their ideas…being in a place to do that, to move ideas from concept to fruition.
What is you vision of community for Palm Beach County?
The ultimate goal is to create a vibrant network so that people can enter into its ecosystem. In the short term, it’s going to be a building. And maybe in the long-term, it’s going to be a number of buildings. For now, it’s a public place on Clematis Street in Downtown West Palm Beach. So when people will be out, going to dinner or to the bars, they’ll be able to see all the activity that’s going on within that space. That will be real exciting and I think it will provide a level of education in this market where it hasn’t surfaced. Floridians will get to know what entrepreneurship is and to what degree.
Why are you so optimistic about Floridians?
There is a definitive season here where the population increases from Fall to early Spring. I think it provides a level of resource which is unique to this market. The transiency could be used as a positive because we are so connected with the northeast states like New York. And those cities are some of the major innovation hubs of America. A lot of the CEOs and entrepreneurs reside here in the winter or have a second home here. I think it’s more about education and creating a structure where Floridians can take a stake in programs. I don’t think we worked hard enough to fortify this.
How do you describe Florida pride?
I consider myself one of the biggest advocates for Florida. It’s that latitude where people want to live. I just wrote a blog post “Where Coconuts Grow.” I came back from Indonesia and spent time walking with villagers and asking questions like, “how do you know where to build, where to find fresh water?” They pointed to the saturation of coconut trees and replied, “that’s where we build villages.” I was inspired by that when I came back to Florida because there are coconut trees here and we don’t have that anywhere else in the mainland USA. I think that it demonstrates, on one level, that there is a lot to be desired here in Florida.
Also, I think more people are becoming more self-aware and self-conscious about what they are putting into their bodies. I think people are driven more to wellness. I feel that my peers are like-minded. I think that the landscape can influence our decisions. Take what Be Ocean has been doing with the education side…it has been enlightening to me, even with the simple things like a beach cleanup. With my company, Enoch Surfboards, I did a beach cleanup every first Sunday of the month and was recognized for that and got the Green Warrior Award from ESPN which was kind of cool. I didn’t even know that contest was going on.
Are you able to see yourself in five years?
Five years is kind of a long time. I made a decision in 2010 to invest in people and not money. It just panned out and my life has been a lot happier. It’s been a lot more fulfilled.