Charlie Bunger, 73, started building surfboards as a hobby out of his basement in Lindenhurst in 1961, when he was only 20 years old. His hobby became a full-time business only six months later, with the opening of Bunger Surf Shop in Babylon Village. Now, Bunger runs the store with the help of his two sons, Charlie Jr. and Tommy. They also sponsor a Bunger surf team, an annual summer surf camp and host an annual surf competition at Gilgo Beach at the end of the summer or early fall, depending on the weather and the waves.
On Thursday, Bunger gave newsday.com community journalist Amy Onorato a tour of the shop as part of her Babylon Town Focus series.
What made you get into the surfboard business in the first place?
BUNGER: Growing up in Lindenhurst, me and my buddies would always head down to go spearfishing at Gilgo Beach. There were always guys surfing down over there, and I noticed there weren’t that many boards around from around here. The first one I built was for my wife’s brother in my basement at home. It was just a hobby then. When he would take it out, people would always ask him where he got it. Everything just kind of took off from there.
Why go handmade when choosing a surfboard? How is it different?
BUNGER: Handmade boards are a custom item -- they’re built specifically to fit the person ordering it. The hard-core surfers, the ones who are serious and surf all the time, tend to go to one guy who knows him best to get their board. Their builder knows exactly what they’re looking for, their body type, surfing experience, everything. We keep sales strictly [custom] here for that reason.
So, you tend to really get to know the people you make them for?
BUNGER: When I was making them, yes. My son Tommy is the one who usually does it now -- he works out of a workshop we have up in West Babylon. When you’re in the surfing community, you really get to know people from all over the Island. Everyone surfs at the same beaches, takes part in the same competitions -- you’ll have people from Babylon, from Long Beach, from Montauk, all together there on the beach, as surfers, but also as friends. It’s really a small community of its own.
How are they built, anyway?
BUNGER: Each board starts out the same, shaped out of a polyurethane mold depending on how long of a board was requested. Then we trim the board to fit the specifications of the customer -- it all varies based on the height, weight and experience of the surfer. Then we finish it with a Fiberglas topper, slap our name on it and add any other print designs.
How has the store changed over the years?
BUNGER: When we first opened, it was just boards in the store, and some clothing. Now there’s just so much more technology and accessories involved with the sport -- wet suits, rash guards -- it’s all become more advanced so there’s just more to offer. There are a lot more women who are getting into the sport, too.
Do you still surf now?
BUNGER: I started surfing in 1961, and quit just about 15 years ago. Each wave you catch is different, they get under your skin in a way. I can’t really explain it, but that feeling you get when you’re out there, that rush -- can be addicting.