(Left: picture of Yancy Spencer statue on Pensacola Beach. Right: Yancy surfing on Pensacola Beach)
THE STORY OF YANCY SPENCER III
Yancy first picked up a surfboard and his inaugural wave on the Gulf of Mexico at Pensacola Beach, FL on May 1, 1965.
Regarded internationally as the best surfer to come out of the Gulf Coast area, Yancy remembers the summer of '65 when out of curiosity he picked up a friend's board and paddled out among the waves. Little did he know that the board he picked up that day would become a life long passion and eventually his primary source of income.
"I never really was a beach person, but as it got toward summer, it was a place where everyone hung out."says Spencer. "We were on the beach one day and my friend had his board there, but he didn't seem too interested in it. He has a girl on each arm and was more interested in them. I asked him if I could ride it. The first wave I caught, I knew the boy and girls were watching so I goofed off and wiped out. But I felt like I could have ridden it the whole way in. I got serious on that next wave and rode it all the way. I was hooked after that."
Yancy, who had participated in various team sports throughout his childhood, had found his destiny. "I was too small for my age and I wanted to excel in sports, but never could. Surfing freed me from that."
He competed in his first contest six months later, an event that he regards as a milestone in his life. "There was a big event being held at Pensacola Beach. Since winter was coming and I did not have a wetsuit, I gave serious thought to giving up. But, like it usually does around here at Thanksgiving, we had a warming trend. I decided to go ahead and compete."
"I ended up making it to the finals and winning a trophy. I had caught the best ride of the competition. A wave tubed over me and I disappeared for the entire length of the ride. But I did not even know I was in the tube; I had closed my eyes. When I came out of it, everyone on the pier was cheering and screaming - it was like a football game. I looked around to see who was having a good ride and then I realized they were cheering for me. It made me instantly popular among the surf crowd."
That first competition fueled Yancy's passion for the sport and he began to travel the Gulf Coast from Tampa to Galveston competing wherever he could. In 1970, Yancy's efforts and goals became reality when he was named the #1 amateur surfer on the Gulf Coast. He was flown to California to be interviewed by a surfing magazine.
"An interview in a surfing magazine is the ultimate for a surfer. I felt like I had made it when my interview appeared in that issue."
Later that year, Yancy was flown to Houston, Texas to receive his award for being the #1 surfer on the Gulf. It was a big night for Spencer. He was given an oil painting of himself and a three foot trophy at a luxurious country club. Spencer left that ceremony that night feeling empty and confused.
"Surfing was such a goal in my life; it kept me out of trouble. I did drugs occasionally, but was able to put them aside when I saw it was affecting my surfing. After I turned professional, my goals became scattered."
"In a sense, when you are not striving, surfing is not a very disciplined life. I was never attracted to the surf bum life. I felt like I had a higher calling. But my bubble of idolization of my peers burst when I got to know them and see that they were human just like me."
Spencer's enlightenment came one day as he sat alone in his motel room, smoking marijuana with nothing to do, he picked up the motel's Bible.
"I started reading it and it talked about the second coming of Christ and it really scared me. I really searched my heart. Later that week, I was in Virginia Beach and there was this really good surfer who wouldn't get stoned with me. He later invited me to a church called The Rock Church and I went out of curiosity.
"The man who spoke that day had been a heroin addict and I really listened to him because two of my colleagues were dead due to drugs. He pretty much laid it on the line that day. He said Jesus Christ was either the Son of God or the biggest liar who ever walked the face of the earth. I just couldn't call Jesus a liar.
"At that time the pastor called forward people who wanted to make a commitment to Christ. I resisted. I had grown up in church and walked that path before out of fear of Hell. This time was different. I wanted to know the God who created the waves that I loved to surf so much. If He expected me to live a certain way, then I wanted to live that way to please Him. I no longer wanted to control my life; I wanted Him to have control.
"The pastor then called for people to come down who once thought that they knew Christ, but weren't sure anymore - that was me. I went forward, closed my eyes and started to pray. Instantly, in my mind, I saw my friends back in Pensacola Beach laughing and pointing their fingers at me for becoming a Christian. I started to get cold feet, but a voice rose up in me and said, "No, if this is real, I want it." So I shook that mental picture off and said in deep prayer, "Jesus, if you are really the Son of God, come into my life and prove it."
"That day, Jesus Christ forgave me of my sins and put me on a new path to please Him ," says Spencer, and with much conviction states, "He will do the same for you."
Jesus said in Matthew 16:24-26, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever will save this life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited if he gain the whole world and loses his own soul?"
(Pic from the paddle out in honor of Yancy in 2011)
Yancy went home to be with the Lord on February 14, 2011 after surfing all day at one of his favorite spots in California. The Spencer and Schluter Family still run the Innerlight locations along the gulf.