When Mitch Turner's job as a management consultant relocated him to the United States from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, he was told he could live in any town in the country.
He chose Middletown.
Turner is a consultant, father of two, husband, and competitive triathlete, but just as importantly, he is a surfer. Which is why it was the waves and surfing community that not only brought Turner and his family to Aquidneck Island, but have kept him here for over 10 years.
“The first time I got here and took a look at the winter surf scene, I thought it was absolutely insane," Turner said, noting that he watched surfers go out in winter snowstorms.
“It took me a while to pluck up the courage.”
Although Turner said the island has world class surf breaks, it's that Middletown surf culture that has kept him on the island just as much as the waves.
“Surfing has always had a bad reputation, people think it’s a terrible subculture,” he said. He explained that contrary to the image that people see in movies, the Middletown surf community is a group of all walks of life and ages, a group that provides community and friendship.
Although the community is made up of doctors, laborers and students, Turner said surfers do not discuss professions on the water. Instead, they connect on a more spiritual level.
“You are more connected to nature than anything else,” Turner said. Surfers also cross age ranges, from “young groms” to surfers in their 70s, he said.
Although the stereotype of the surfer party bum might have been closer to the truth in the past, Turner explained that over the years surfing has become a cleaner sport and that he would encourage kids to pursue it.
“I’d rather have my kids surfing than hanging out in the mall,” he said. He noted that he has watched the surfing community pull people off of drugs and help individuals get through difficult times such as divorce.
“Surfing has saved local lives,” Turner said.
When Newport resident Joe Caruso was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, Turner said the community came together immediately to start brainstorming ways to help.
“Watching that happen on the island has given me a better perspective on life,” he said.
Although surfers have not been without local factions in the past, one code of the culture is to keep the locations of the best breaks within the local surfing community.
He said he can't consider himself "local," since he was not born and bred on the island, but his family is here to stay.
“I just love the whole surf community here,” Turner said. “We used to talk about going ‘home’ one day, but now this is our home.”
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