Ocean City’s Don Pileggi took his last proverbial paddle out on February 21 at the age of 90. Don was born in Ocean City, was head of the recreation department for 24 years, and was very instrumental in making the island into the strong surfing community it is today.
Don established the Ocean City Surfing Association in 1964, which held ongoing surfing contests. He fought to get Ocean City its first surfing beach, too. Before that, surfers were only allowed to catch a wave when lifeguards weren’t on duty. In 1970, Ocean City’s first surfing beach was recognized – 7th Street. There the following scenario plays out time and time again.
A grom paddles out for the first time. It looks rough; it usually does. They may try to pop up on their board after lots of encouragement just to fall into the water with a splash half a second later. Eventually, something clicks. They find their balance. They get themselves up on a wave. Soon, they learn how to pick the good waves. Then they learn how to read the surf reports. Then they get gear to surf all year long.
Fast forward years and years later when it’s time for their last paddle out. They’re at the end of their surfing career; getting into the water is more difficult. It becomes harder to get that balance they worked so hard to find. However, they’re always a surfer. A surfer is a surfer for life. The ocean is their home; their old boards are their forever friends.
This sense of community is part of the legacy Don left behind. And it’s even bigger than the smile he always seemed to have on his face.
Without him, Ocean City may not have gotten its surfing beach in 1970.
Without him, playgrounds wouldn’t be the same.
Without him, we might not know the fun of street hockey or soccer leagues.
“(Don) was a wonderful man. He was very instrumental early on in surfing in Ocean City. He was instrumental in contests and the Ocean City Surfing Association. He was great with that stuff. He was unbelievable with that stuff,” said John Loeper, fellow surfer.