Making Waves In Wrightsville Beach

By Ryan Haar, posted Jul 14, 2017
Rick Civelli runs multiple Wrightsville Beach businesses – from surf camps to paddleboard rentals to frozen yogurt shop SurfBerry. (Photos by Chris Brehmer)
Many Wrightsville Beach goers are probably familiar with popular juice, smoothie, acai and froyo shop SurfBerry.

The health-food store has been a popular destination for locals and tourists alike since opening five years ago, but what many do not know is that the store is just the tip of the business iceberg for owner and creator Rick Civelli.

Civelli is involved with multiple Wrightsville Beach projects.

Civelli’s Wilmington success did not start with juice. Sixteen years ago while a graduate student at University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Marine Science, Civelli started WB Surf Camp.

Today, Surf Camp has evolved into a portfolio of feeder camps that kids can enter beginning at age 6.

“Our mission is building confidence in kids and getting them stoked on coastal conservation, and we utilize surfing and coastal exploration as a tool. When they love something they’re going to inherently want to take care of it, and that’s our end game,” Civelli said.

All of Surf Camp’s programs have an environmental aspect to them and span from Guppy Camp for young children to advanced surf camps for teens. Surf Camp also runs travel programs to Costa Rica and California, and adults are not left out either – Civelli runs adult surf and yoga retreats in Costa Rica and the Virgin Islands in the wintertime.

Through this, Civelli said, he is able to get back to his true passion of teaching.

Surf Camp also owns a 150-bed ocean-view retreat center on Topsail Island where campers are steps from the ocean.

“It’s a way to get kids to take their first step into an overnight camp environment. Summer camps do so much for kids in terms of building confidence and getting them away from their parents. So we want kids to grow and become their own individuals, and we utilize wave riding as that mechanism,” he said.

Surf Camp has grown significantly from its original home base in Civelli’s double-wide trailer. The camp has had participants from 47 states and 24 countries in its 16 years of existence.

Civelli runs his business ventures with the help of his wife, who mainly focuses on one of the couple’s other affairs: a sea turtle camp.

“When the great recession hit in 2009, instead of laying staff off, I always had a vision of creating a marine biology division, which is [a] sea turtle camp,” Civelli said.

The sea turtle camp takes place in Topsail Island, and all campers participate in service work at the sea turtle hospital located there.

There is also a scuba dive division in the marine biology camp that helps kids aspiring to be marine biologists get their certification.

Coastal health and conservation of Wrightsville Beach is the primary focus of Civelli’s various businesses.

He moved to Wilmington when he was 17 and attended UNCW to get his degree in environmental studies.

“I’ve always been into conservation. I was hooked by surfing as a kid, and I’m just a true believer that when you surf you’re connected to the ocean. And then when you love it you inherently want to take care of it, so I’ve always been into coastal conservation and that’s what kind of drew me into the environmental sciences,” Civelli said.

His businesses became unified under SurfBerry five years ago, and the store is utilized as a sort of headquarters for the multiple programs.

The space also serves as the base one of Civelli’s other businesses, Cape Fear Paddleboarding.

Through the desk, guests can schedule stand-up paddleboarding tours as well as rent kayaks and other beach rentals. While SurfBerry might host these other ventures, the store at 222 Causeway Drive has its own following.

“I love all my businesses, but SurfBerry is kind of like me,” Civelli said. “You know it’s what I love to eat, and we really want to perpetuate that aloha vibe. We love, love, love Wrightsville Beach, so we just want it to be great energy and just like a welcome to everybody that comes to Wrightsville.”

The SurfBerry menu was created by Civelli, who said a lot of the juicing recipes were his personal ones. He created all of the acai and pitaya bowls save for a few special ones. For instance, the “Benny B” bowl was designed by former pro surfer and SurfBerry regular Ben Bourgeois.

“He was in all the time just supporting us, and I was like, ‘Hey dude, you want to make a bowl? I’d love to name one after you,’” Civelli said.

Similarly, the “Barth Vader” bowl is named after Wilmington native Connor Barth who is an NFL kicker for the Chicago Bears. The “Mason Bowl” was created by and named after Mason Barnes, a big-wave pro surfer who lives in California but grew up in Wrightsville.

Civelli said SurfBerry was inspired by his own need for something healthy to eat on Wrightsville Beach.

“I’d go down there to surf, and I’d be hungry and you know if I didn’t bring my bar then there was no place to go. So it was definitely a niche that in my opinion needed to be filled in Wrightsville Beach for healthy eating and wellness,” he said.

While Civelli would one day like to see a SurfBerry location off the beach, he has no plans to expand any of his businesses as of now. In fact, he says he is focusing on the present.

“Right now it’s all about gratitude. Be thankful,” he said. “You know, if you wake up and have food in your belly and a roof over your head and you’re healthy, then be thankful.”
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