Rising Waverider

by | Apr 12, 2024 | Outdoor Recreation, Sports

Winning the 2023 Easterns Surfing Championship Mens Longboard Division on the Outer Banks, Dakota Cottle adds one more name to the roster of Surf City champion surfers.

Dakota Cottle began surfing at age 3 off old Paradise Pier in North Topsail Beach when his family had a camper at Roger’s Bay Campground. Although he has surfed up and down the N.C. coast ever since, his favorite place to surf remains those enticing waves near the Surf City Pier.

“Growing up on an island, I had a 30-second walk from my house to the waves,” Cottle says. “Living here is amazing. I would not trade that for anything.”

Cottle, age 20, has been competing in surf contests since 2013. Around 2015 he got serious with the longboard and became the Eastern Surfing Association’s Central North Carolina district Menehune (under 14 years old) longboard season champion.

“That really started the fire burning for wanting to win,” he says.

Surfer Dakota Cottle NC

Surfing competitions are organized by age and by area. The Eastern Surfing Association has 22 districts that are part of three regions. Cottle surfs as part of the Central North Carolina District, which runs from Surf City north to Atlantic Beach. That district is part of the Mid-Atlantic region, which extends from South Carolina to Virginia.

Several more championships followed those early wins, including Open Longboard and Menehune Longboard district championships as well as three Mid-Atlantic Regional Longboard championships as a Menehune. Cottle graduated to Junior Mens Longboard in 2019.

“That was a learning experience for sure,” he says. “The talent at that level is incredible.”

In 2020 Cottle scored his first East Coast title by winning the Junior Mens Longboard division at the ESA Easterns.

“I was on top of the world,” he says. “To follow that up with a second title this year in the Mens division is just unbelievable.”

Cottle had a great 2023 season. In April he won the Mens Longboard division of the ESA’s Mid-Atlantic Regionals, which earned him a slot to compete in the Easterns, against the top male longboard surfers in the Southeast and Northeast regions as well as a few top Mid-Atlantic surfers who earn their way into this competition.

Dakota Cottle

“What also made this summer special was winning the Beater division of the Colonel Classic,” Cottle says.

The Colonel Classic is a local contest put on by the Christian Surfers of Surf City in memory of Gary Cavenaugh. “I love that contest. Mr. Gary was a special person,” Cottle says.

Cottle also did well in other contests with pro divisions against some stiff competition. “I love the pro-style events when there is money on the line,” he says. “It brings out a different caliber of surfing.”

Even with all the training for competition, Cottle still finds time for fun.

“I surfed more last summer just for fun than any other summer in the past,” says the graduate of Topsail High School. He ran track in high school, and his favorite track event was the triple jump because it “improved my leg strength, which helped immensely with my surfing.”

Surfer Topsail NC Dakota Cottle

Surfing contests and the equipment needed to surf gets expensive, Cottle says, so he calls his sponsors his lifelines. His current sponsors include Action Surfboards, Hyperflex Wetsuits, Dragon Sunglasses, Waterman’s Warehouse and On Shore Surf Shop.

“George Howard at On Shore has had my back since I was 10,” Cottle says. “Anything I needed for a contest he has provided from his shop. He gave me a job when I was in high school, so I’d have spending money. I can’t thank him enough.”

Cottle also credits Bobby Webb, who shapes his boards.

“Bobby has been amazing to work with,” he says. “As I’ve grown in experience and skill, he made boards that have grown with me. My contest results got dramatically better once I started putting Action boards under my feet. And Hyperflex cold-water gear keeps me in the water year-round. Their wetsuits are top-notch. Waterman’s is a local nonprofit that teaches kids to swim who otherwise couldn’t afford swim lessons. I think that is awesome since so many people flock to the ocean in the summers. Between their clothing and Dragon sunglasses, I’ve got some of the coolest gear around. If I didn’t have these sponsors, I simply couldn’t compete at the level I am now.”

Cottle is an environmental sciences major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and often completes homework during downtime at contests.

“I can usually take care of any schoolwork by working on it during the competitions when I’m not surfing,” he says. “Being at these surf contests is great for my social life as well because I have opportunities to meet and connect with lots of new people. My friends and I know so many people up and down the coast now that we could probably do any contest on the East Coast and someone would offer us a place to stay. Surfers on the competition circuit are really a tight-knit community.”

Dakota Cottle NC Surfer

Tight-knit also describes the Surf City surfing community and its many champions. Surf City boasts three national championship surfers: Cody Leutgens, a first-place champion, and Kyle Sumer and Brycen Jernigan, both second-place champions. Several other local surfers have won the Eastern Surfing Association Championship including Jim Berger, Josh Bradley, Daniel Hill, Slater Powell and Noah Ferrell, many of whom George Howard supported.

‘I’ve known Dakota since he was about nine years old,” Howard says. “He’s a real clean-cut guy, and the other kids look up to him. He really came into his own when he started longboard. Dakota loves to compete and hates losing. Dakota eats, sleeps and breathes surfing. He’s really going to go far.”

From young to old, local surfers respect Cottle. Russ Lindsey, a former competitive surfer now living in Surf City, says Cottle is one of the most talented local surfers among the several that won Central and Southern NC regional titles as well as dozens of local contests.

“Dakota is a great example of sportsmanship and good character, both in and out of the water,” Lindsey says. “With his recent victory as ESA champion, it’s likely we may see Dakota in more pro contests.”

Cottle’s family has stood behind him at every beach — rain and shine.

“I’m sure at times they would rather do something else when they are on the beach with buckets of rain coming down and the ocean is a washing machine,” Cottle says. “I’d like to thank my family. My mom, dad and sisters have spent countless days and weekends driving, in hotels or on the beach to support me at contests.”

Surfer Dakota Cottle Surf City NC

He also credits other local surfers for supporting him.

“They all have, in one way or another, supported me on my surfing journey and helped shape me into the surfer and the person I am,” he says. “If it were not for the locals at the pier pushing me, supporting me and giving me an earful when I deserve it, I know that I would not have had the results that I do. Thank you all for being there.”

Cottle plans to “bring my surfing to the next level” for the World Qualifying Series, a string of surfing events that use points to qualify a surfer to compete in the World Surf League. “That’s the surfing equivalent of Football’s NFL.”

Photography by Josh Scheiffer

About the author

Kate Carey

Kate Carey

A former Ohioan and Buckeyes football fan, Kate M Carey has her toes firmly placed in the sands of Topsail Island. Kate writes fiction about people and the strange things they do for love and essays on the politics of everyday life. Her work has appeared in Noctua, Indiana Voice, The Tishman Review, Panoply, Camel City Digest, Savannah Writers Anthology, and County Line Journal. A guest columnist for Women AdvaNCe, she and her husband, an Episcopal priest, moved to North Carolina in 2015 and have adult children living in Ohio and Florida.