A young man in red swim shorts studies a wave then leaps astride his surfboard.
Several hundred feet south, outdoor diners on Daytona Beach Shores' Sunglow Pier watch until he and the wave wipe out, sparking cheers and exclamations.
"Oh, no leash," someone says as the surfer surfaces to scramble for his board.
Ocean piers provide great theater, showcasing their surroundings as few structures can. They also absorb a great pounding, pockmarked by time and ocean appetites.
Of the 20 public recreational piers on Florida's Atlantic coast, only six constructed of wood remain, per a 2010 report by the state's Department of Environmental Protection. Three of those piers exist within a 26-mile swath of Flagler and Volusia Counties, where two are grand dames -- the circa-1928 Flagler Beach Pier and circa-1925 Daytona Beach Pier -- and the Sunglow Pier (1960), which qualifies as middle-aged.
All are worth a visit for food, drink, fishing or gawking. Spend any time on their decking and feel the Atlantic nudge pilings below.
From north to south:
Flagler Beach Pier
Its image adorns the city seal and the city's municipal home page. And it should be celebrated, at age 85, with its quirky A-frame entrance plopped roadside on South Ocean Shore Boulevard (A1A). A bulkier block building preceded the A-frame, but the Flagler Beach Pier, lopped off by storms and always resurrected remains.
"We just re-designed our logo for the museum," said Teri Pruden, director of the Flagler Beach Museum. "And we have the pier on it because we think it's so iconic of the city."
A beach patrol outpost, bait shop, showers and restrooms cram on the south side. The pier's latest restaurant, the Funky Pelican, occupies the north side. Chalkboard walls at the Funky Pelican's entrance blur with colorful public scribbling, a sense of humor reflected in the breakfast menu, which offers peanut-butter-and-jelly French toast.
But you come here to fish. Old-fashioned, school-bus-stop-style shelters offer respite along the pier's 800 feet, where men, women and youth employ multiple rods.
"And every time we think about doing something different," Pruden says of the museum's and municipality's logos, "we always come back to the pier."
Daytona Beach Pier
This 88-year-old attraction sits at the heart of the "World's Most Famous Beach." It supports the largest structure of the three Flagler-Volusia piers -- currently a restaurant, Joe's Crab Shack -- and housed a casino in its 1920s youth. Similarly ocean-chomped through the years, the Daytona Beach pier was reclaimed by city ownership in 2009 and completely rehabbed. Joe's opening marks its latest era.
Beyond the restaurant, the refurbished deck is an active fishing scene. A man plucks a black-and-white-striped sheepshead from its hook and tosses it into a cooler.
This is the best view of Daytona Beach -- and free, no admission fee. The sound of lifeguard whistles shrill over the crash of waves. Walk-up food options adorn the restaurant's north side -- fries, pizza, shaved ice and a sundries shop.
Child to adult, on the crowded fishing deck: "Catch anything?" Adult: "Not yet."
The requisites -- restaurant, gift shop, bait shop -- all are here. Sunglow's restaurant, Crabby Joe's, is bathing-suit casual. Gaps in the floorboards reveal waves rolling to shore. Sit inside at lacquered plank tables and under ceiling fans, or outside, at rougher-hewn tables and stools, under umbrellas.
A fish sandwich and a cold beverage are never bad choices. Order fried or grilled fish with your breakfast eggs.
Walking the Sunglow Pier from the gift shop onto the business (fishing) portion costs $1 (50 cents for kids 12 and under). Adult pay $7 to fish; kids fish for $3.
You can bicycle onto the deck short of Crabby Joe's entrance. Or climb wooden steps from the beach; lots of people do. They sit on a lobby bench, wet-haired and wrapped in towels, eating treats from Crabby Joe's Ice Cream Shack.
It's part of an anachronistic charm, per the Flagler Beach Museum's Pruden.
"Some of the pictures that I love, whether it's under it or on it -- people take pictures from every angle," she said of the Flagler Beach pier. "It's always those great wooden pilings that have that laid-back, old Florida casualness."
IF YOU GO
Flagler Beach Pier
105 S. 2 St., Flagler Beach
To reach the Flagler Beach Pier, from Interstate 95, take Exit 284 east to South Ocean Shore Boulevard (A1A). Turn right at the light. The pier will be on your left.
Call 386-517-2436 or go to www.cityofflaglerbeach.com/facilities/Facility/Details/5
Daytona Beach Pier
1200 Main St., Daytona Beach
To reach the Daytona Beach Pier, from Interstate 95, take Exit 261-A east to South Atlantic Avenue (A1A). Turn left (north). The pier is at the beach end of Main Street.
Call 386-238-4050 (Joe's Crab Shack) or go to www.codb.us/index.aspx?nid=529
3701 S. Atlantic Ave., Daytona Beach
To reach the Sunglow Pier, from Interstate 95, take Exit 256 and head east on S.R. 421 (Dunlawton Avenue). Turn right at South Atlantic Avenue (A1A) and go approximately one-quarter mile. The pier will be on your left.
Call 386-788-4035 or go to www.sunglowpier.com
-- By Denise Maloof for VISIT FLORIDA