Groms: Where Are They Now

All grown up

BY Beth Watson Hedgepeth

Mason Barnes surfs in Nazaré, Portugal in 2022. The 100-foot wave is in contention for the Guinness World Record for biggest wave ever surfed. Courtesy Mason Barnes
Mason Barnes surfs in Nazaré, Portugal in 2022. The 100-foot wave is in contention for the Guinness World Record for biggest wave ever surfed. Courtesy Mason Barnes

[grŏmz] noun.

The word grom originated from the word grommet and generally refers to a young surfer more or less 18 years old who is just getting started in the sport. Grom can also be used to describe an older newbie surfer, or even a skater, skier, snowboarder or anyone taking up an extreme sport.

From Grom Life website

Eighteen years ago, the story of Wrightsville Beach groms featured seven boys who spent their carefree days surfing, skating and biking around the island. Eight years later in 2013, the magazine featured them again to see how life had and had not changed. Here we are 10 years later, and we caught up with them once again to see where they are in their adult lives. Each successful in his own right, the common passion for the water and surf is a special bond that cannot be broken.

Mason Barnes

Where do you live now, and what are you up to?

Wrightsville Beach is home; I am there four to five months of the year. I have a sporadic schedule, but my family is there, and my dog is there. It’s where I always reset. I’ve been surfing professionally for the last 10-plus years, so my schedule revolves around the ocean and the waves. Sometimes, travel happens at the last minute. My job is to push the sport and be on top of what is happening in the industry.

Surfing and opportunities that led from it have been your career. What are some highlights professionally?

A major personal accomplishment was the 2022 World Surf League (WSL) Big Wave Award for Biggest Wave of the Year. That wave is now in contention for the world record for the biggest wave ever surfed. The WSL and Guinness are looking at it. That’s a big milestone in my career; it’s like winning the Super Bowl for me. In 2022, I was inducted into the North Carolina Surfing Hall of Fame and am the youngest person to be inducted. It was an honor to be a part of a music video project with my friend Miley Cyrus this year. I have a passion for fashion as well and recently booked a couple of campaigns that are prestigious in that world. One of those is for the brand Loewe; the new creative director is a genius. He has brought it to life and created new beauty in a historic brand.

You are opening the Bevvy Mart in Wrightsville Beach on Causeway Drive and at the old Scotchman on Salisbury Street. What’s your vision?

It’s been in the works for about three years and moving along now. I rode my bike to that convenience store on Causeway Drive every day as a kid and got a Sun Drop slushie and a Slim Jim. It’s been abandoned for years, and I wanted to bring back to life something that is key to the town. It will be a quick and easy option for locals and visitors and have health-conscious choices.

What does it feel like to come home to Wrightsville Beach?

I’m grateful to travel the world, yet there’s no better feeling than coming home. The comfort I have being home is not like I have anywhere else in the world. At the end of the day, I love surfing. It’s all I think about, and it’s my passion. I would chase waves regardless of my position. It’s a part of me.

Ben Rose

Where do you live now, and what are you up to?

I live in a neighborhood just a couple of miles from Wrightsville Beach. I’m working at Apiture, a local fintech company as a senior software engineer on their mobile team. I graduated from UNCW with a bachelor’s in computer science and a minor in math.

Do you still surf?

I don’t surf as much as I used to. I go on surf trips with friends, but I don’t do much surfing around here. I mainly just love hanging with friends and being on the water. Living the dream.

Jonathan Mincher

Where do you live now, and what are you up to?

I live in Wilmington with my wife and 1-year-old baby girl. My brother and I still work at the bike shop. Life at Two Wheeler Dealer is awesome. It is fun working with humans and fixing bicycles. Everybody that comes in just wants to ride a bike. It’s amazing. It can be hard work logistically running a store, but it completely pays off in seeing the happiness on our customers’ faces and the fun we have with our staff.

What is your role at Two Wheeler Dealer?

I oversee what is going on through the service and sales department. I do office work — paying bills and such, helping order products, and just keeping this ship sailing on.

Do you still surf?

I still love surfing. I surf as much as possible. I enjoy spending time with our baby girl and my wife, taking care of our house, until the waves are good enough to skip away for. My wife is wonderful at accommodating surf days. I like to be as present as possible within our family until the day calls when I will run up to the Outer Banks or wherever to have a great day of surf. Fall, winter and spring are the best times to surf, as the shop is quieter and it’s easier to sneak away. The Outer Banks sandbars are my favorite spots to go for sure. When staying local, Wrightsville Beach or Carolina Beach is where I will be.

Jack Brandon

Where do you live now, and what are you up to?

I live in Wilmington with my fiancée off Wrightsville Avenue in a house we remodeled. My parents still live in my childhood home on Wrightsville Beach. Work is great! I started a custom home building company, Brandon Construction Group. We build custom homes and spec houses all over Brunswick, New Hanover, Pender and Duplin counties. I have a media business that is still rolling along as well. We work with multiple developers all over the state and are expanding into more of the East Coast. We do monthly site visits for large-scale developers, so they can track construction progress and submit for their build draws.

Do you still surf?

I surf all the time, whenever there are waves. I still kitesurf a bunch, and I’m fishing more than ever. I became more obsessed with fishing later in life. We fish a bunch of tournaments from Hatteras down into South Carolina throughout the year. I’m drawn to the competitive aspect of it, similar to a surf contest when I was younger.

What’s your ideal surf trip?

Boat trip to Indo, no doubt. It’s a 10-day trip through Indonesia staying on a boat bouncing between different islands and waves with all my friends, the majority of which were in the original grom article.

Dylan Kowalski

Where do you live now, and what are you up to?

I reside in Wilmington’s midtown, close to UNCW. I went to school at UNC Wilmington and graduated with a business degree with a concentration in marketing strategy. I’m a real estate broker for Intracoastal Realty, and my office is in Lumina Station. I specialize in residential sales, helping buyers find their dream home and sellers sell their home in a market that is constantly changing.

Do you still surf?

I surf probably two-three times a week, and my favorite spots are C Street, Masonboro, and the Outer Banks. I try to do one surf trip a year with friends or family.

What’s the ideal surf trip?

Indonesia and specifically the island of Bali is probably my favorite place. Warm weather, consistently good waves in the summer, great food, and the nicest people. The Philippines is my second favorite trip. It reminds me of how Hawaii was 100 years ago. There are so many surf spots that are untouched, and everything is so lush and alive. There is also amazing food, and the locals are welcoming and stoked to share their waves with foreigners. Salina Cruz in Mexico is my third favorite surf destination. I went there with close Wilmington friends, and you’re just surfing these perfect right hand point breaks all day.

Nick Bland

Where do you live now, and what are you up to?

I live in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. I am the bar manager/beverage director at the bar Bangers & Lace located within the same neighborhood.

What took you to Chicago?

After going to college in my hometown, I was very bored with the small-town life and wanted to move to a city. I visited Chicago for a couple of weeks and loved the city and the people I met. I moved just under a month after my visit. I’m now engaged to Maddie Baffoe, who grew up in Chicago’s neighborhood of Beverly on the south side. We plan on getting married in spring of next year.

Do you still surf and skate?

I still surf every time I go home to North Carolina. My parents live in Carolina Beach. I also plan on taking a more serious surf trip this year with my little brother, Zack, who lives in Wilmington. I still skate at least two-three times a week on average. There is a great community of skateboarders, artists and musicians here, and that is whom I surround myself with.

Where would you travel for an ideal surf trip?

Costa Rica or Puerto Rico — something fairly easy but tropical.

Chase Evans

Where do you live now, and what are you up to?

I live outside of Wilmington just 15-20 minutes from the beach and maintain a little homestead with my girlfriend. We have chickens and bees and raised beds full of veggies. For work, I am still with Evans and Sons Contracting, the family heavy marine construction business, while growing my own little video production company on the side.

Do you still surf?

If there’s a swell, I’m watching it and trying my hardest for that dawn patrol or late afternoon sesh. But for the most part if the weekend is rideable, we’re out there for sure and leaving early due to our location. I like to stay away from the crowds unless with buddies at the more known spots, so I venture somewhere north of Mercer’s Pier when surfing as a couple.

What’s your ideal surf trip?

It’s hard to beat a strike mission to the OBX when it’s warm. But Fiji or somewhere in Mexico is ideal.

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