One local boy makes good by growing a business—and giving back
Eric Dernick followed the perfect wave like everyone else who is crazy for surfing, but in his case, it landed him right back where he started—Delray Beach—with two thriving businesses and a penchant for giving back. Dernick is a local all right, a Boca High and FAU graduate who started surfing when he was 9 years old in the wake of his parents’ divorce.
“My oldest brother got into it, and my parents unfortunately split up, but they wanted to find us an outlet, something that would help us through the transition. And then my middle brother picked it up and then I ended up surfing,” he says. “And then around 13 years old, I started competing and got sponsored by the brand Oakley.”
He competed on the east coast and in California, including the National Scholastic Surfing Association championships, racking up trophies, even traveling to Hawaii’s North Shore and places like Costa Rica and Nicaragua to surf. For him, surfing was a way to “clear his mind” and keep things simple. He says he was 18 when he “transitioned to what I actually wanted to do.”
And that was starting a Delray surf school, which is called Waves Surf Academy, and whose first contract, in 2013, was with the City of Delray Beach.
“I found that to be a professional surfer is a great thing, but in terms of structure and the industry I wanted something that had more stability. I came from a middle-class home, I grew up with two brothers, and we shared a room in a two-bedroom apartment. I wanted to create something I could have passion for, something that I could give back to the kids and something I could also have a future with in terms of a business.”
Waves was the first surf camp to contract with the city and lasted six years, until it moved its programs over to Delray Breakers on the Ocean. In 2017, Dernick branched out into “hospitality management” (with ongoing encouragement from the local Walsh family, which owns Ocean Properties), which included handling poolside and beach amenities like chairs and umbrellas, even supplying lifeguards—or “aquatic risk management”—to his roster of services. Today, he has 35 employees, and runs Waves Surf Academy (the surf camps and other water sports) and Waves Management (pool, beach, food and beverage, water sports and child care, etc.). His clients include many country clubs and resorts, including the Delray Beach Club, Hillsboro Beach Club, Opal Grand and Delray Dunes.
One of Dernick’s proudest accomplishments is his longtime outreach work with kids who might not otherwise be exposed to water sports or summer camps; he works with Bound For College, Joe DiMaggio Children’s Foundation, Jack & Jill Foundation and Place of Hope.
“That’s why I started the surf schools, because I know for certain that for kids—either going through a hard time or just a regular time in their lives—surfing brings an outlet to them. … We just give them a week at camp so they can just be themselves and try something new. It increases their self-esteem, increases their self-awareness, and teaches them about the ocean. That’s a huge thing for me as well.”
In fact, he says he gets as much as he gives.
“What I love about my business is knowing that I’m giving something back. We are able to create a structure and teach them about respect not only with their peers and about themselves but taking care of the beach, taking care of the ocean, the earth—those things are intertwined. I have a business that is sustainable and doing well, but at the same time I know that it’s not just a business; it’s making a difference.”