It might surprise you to learn that New Jersey is one of the top states in the country for surfing. Behind California with 403 surf spots, Hawaii with 267, and Florida with 155, New Jersey comes in fourth with a whopping 82 surf spots packed into its 130 miles of shoreline. Though, unlike these other states, riding waves off the Jersey shore is not for the faint of heart. In these waters, good waves are less consistent, the weather has a harsher temperament, and wave forecasting can be as unpredictable as the changing of the seasons. To be a surfer in the Northeast requires more than just a love of the sport; it requires a certain level of resilience and a willingness to embrace the discomfort found in a 5:4 wetsuit, booties, gloves, hood, and forty-degree water.
While it’s hard enough to be a surfer on the Jersey shore, turning this action sport into a lifelong career is nearly impossible. Yet, that’s exactly what Margate local and surf industry legend Mark Neustadter did. From winning surf competitions to photography to bringing the top surf brands from around the world to the States, Neustadter has helped shape the ever-growing surf industry into what it is today. For this wild dedication that resulted in decades of influence on the surf industry, Neustadter was recently inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. He also, quite serendipitously, collaborated on a major book coming out in April titled I Heard There Were No Waves in New Jersey.
So, what does it take for a Margate kid to forge a career in action sports that spans more than fifty years? “You have to love what you do and jump at every opportunity that presents itself. If you do that, a little luck can go a long way,” Neustadter says. This advice fits most careers. He didn’t mention the extra ingredient a career in surfing requires—fearlessness.
“My whole life changed when I was eight, and my parents moved us to an oceanfront home in Margate. The next thing I knew, the beach was my backyard. I didn’t realize it then, but that single move set my whole life trajectory,” Neustadter says. At eight, Neustadter was too young and too small to surf the 40-pound boards of the time, but he watched the older kids surf. Over the next couple of years, Neustadter befriended the surfers and convinced his parents to let his friends store their heavy boards at his house. Even though he didn’t have his own board, he had plenty to borrow. “Finally, for my Bar Mitzvah, I got my own board and a Super 8 film camera,” Neustadter says. With these gifts, he was soon winning surf competitions and filming his friend's surf. In high school, Neustadter joined one of the best surf teams on the East Coast, the Reef Surf Shop team. When he wasn’t surfing, he worked at the shop. “In the shop, I learned that I’m a natural sales guy,” Neustadter says.
Surfing, photography, and sales would amalgamate to steer the next five decades of his life. After winning several East Coast surf competitions, Neustadter headed to the National Championship at Huntington Beach, California, where he took third overall. He loved California so much that he decided to go to college for two years there. He then returned to Stockton to major in business and minor in photography, surfing the whole time.
After graduation, Neustadter applied for a position with Surfing Magazine. The job ended up getting filled by an outside firm, but Surfing Mag connected him to an Australian wetsuit company, Rip Curl, that was trying to break into the US market. For the next 15 years, Neustadter worked for Rip Curl. “I did everything under the sun for them. I shot photos of the surfers in their wetsuits for ads and repped the brand all over the country,” Neustadter says. Eventually, he was ready to settle down, start a family, and start his own business right back where it all started—Margate. Neustadter began selling several of the top surf brands of today including Rainbow Sandals, Rip Curl, Cobian, Rusty, Jimmy’z, and more.
Nearly fifty years after Neustadter rode, sold, and shot his way through the surf industry, he’s been inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. “It was exciting and such an honor,” Neustadter says.
Capping the honor off, Neustadter has a book coming out in April. “I did so much photography in the 70’s and 80’s. When the authors of the book came to me in 2019, they were amazed by everything I had and kept asking for more till I became the book’s photography contributor along with another photographer,” Neustadter says. I Heard There Were No Waves in New Jersey by Johan Kugelberg and Danny DiMauro and photography by Dan Mittelman and Mark Neustadter will be published by Rizzoli New York, a leading art book publisher. This book is described as “A love letter to the beaches and boardwalks of the Jersey Shore, this is the first visual history of the passionate surf culture that has thrived on the Atlantic coast of New Jersey, and its influence on the worlds of surfing, skateboarding, and beyond.”
Neustadter is still proud to call Margate home and has moved from selling surf brands to real estate. This is fitting, considering “If it weren’t for my mom and dad buying that beachfront home in 1961, I would be a completely different person,” Neustadter says.
Neustadter solidified his influence on the surf industry with a Hall of Fame induction and a major book release. As a lifelong waterman, you’ll still find him in the surf. “In addition to everything, I give so much credit to my wife, Kati. I got very lucky with the girl I married. Not only were we fortunate enough to have a beautiful family together, we have worked together so well for our entire marriage. Even though I had a strong rep agency when we met, we became a strong repping team, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and had a great time building the agency,” Neustadter says.
Mark has published many of his images in the Book "I Heard There Were No Waves in New Jersey: Surfing on the Jersey Shore 1888-1984" by Authors Danny Dimauro and Johan Kugelberg