By MARK TWOMBLY, For General Aviation News
Any day that you can combine business with flying is a good day. And if the business you are flying in support of is surfing, surely that makes for an extra-good day, according to Jeff Berg, lifelong surfer, successful entrepreneur, and chief pilot of two Twin Commanders.
One of the companies he is actively involved with as owner/investor is Surfline.com, which he describes as “the pre-eminent website for all things surf,” including surfing news, features, gear, videos, and most important, surf reports, streaming cameras and forecasts for beaches around the world.
Someone has to research the exotic surfing destinations that Surfline.com reports on, and who better than Surfline’s chairman and chief pilot? “That’s what got me started in flying,” Berg says. “I started going with friends who were flying regularly to some pretty remote places in Baja, Mexico, to surf. The more I did it I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.’ We were escaping the crowds in California and finding phenomenal surf with very few people around.”
Berg grew up surfing in the Atlantic Ocean off Ft. Pierce, Florida. “If you have any ambition as a surfer, you start thinking, ‘Where am I going to go to surf any real waves?’ So you go to the Outer Banks, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Central America, Hawaii, Asia. There is great surf everywhere, a lot of it undiscovered. That’s part of the fun and adventure. That’s where with a plane you can do some pretty interesting things.”
As a teenager Berg used to fly with his younger brother, Paul, but Berg’s aspiration to become a pilot was set aside as he pursued an entrepreneurial career. His interest was rekindled when he hooked up with friends who were flying to good surfing destinations. “I thought, ‘Enough is enough.’ I really need to do this.”
As soon as he earned his private certificate Berg began renting Cessna 172s to build time and experience. He quickly transitioned into multiengine and instrument training. His fly-to-surf mentors were Mike Castillo and Vince Natali, whom Berg describes as “Baja bush pilot legends in the surf world.” Castillo had once owned a piston Twin Commander, and his praise of its capabilities was not lost on Berg when he began to research an airplane to buy.
In 2003 Berg bought N62LL, a 1958 500A Commander that in 1963 was converted to a 500B by replacing the Lycoming IO-470M engines to IO-540-B1Cs. Berg had it repainted with a dramatic ocean-blue curling wave cascading across the fuselage midsection.
“The Twin Commander has the right combination of payload and performance, especially short-field takeoff and landing,” Berg says. “We’re loading up people and boards and equipment, and often camping equipment as well, and flying over a good bit of water and into short desert strips.”
The airplane is equipped with long-range tanks (210 gallons), good for seven hours or more of flying. “I can do 1,000 nm with room to spare, which is pretty nice,” Berg says. And thanks to an STC that allows surfboards to be stowed in the tailcone, he can take up to six surfboards on his trips.
Along with trips to Baja, mainland Mexico, and Central America, Berg has used the Twin Commander to find good surfing in the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands, and the Bahamas. “I fly over a lot of water to get there,” he says. “I wouldn’t do it in a single. And with some other twins I couldn’t get in and out of some of the strips I fly to, especially with the payload of the Twin Commander. It’s the best surf SUV that I’ve found.”
DOUBLING THE FLEET
Early in 2010 Berg doubled the airborne research fleet when he bought a Commander JetProp 1000. “I got the disease — more speed and range,” he says. “I looked at all the alternatives, and given where I go and what I do there was nothing that could touch it for the money.”
Berg still calls Ft. Pierce his primary residence — his parents and two of his brothers still live there — but he also sets up camp in San Clemente, California, during south swell season (summer), and ranges wherever good surfing takes him. “I’m a pretty passionate surfer and the Pacific is much better than the Atlantic for surfing in the summer. During the winter the Caribbean has fantastic surf, so I just try to strike.
“It helps that Surfline.com is the best surf forecast service in world,” he continues. “With that and the best aviation hardware, we can do surgical strikes. We can plan knowing there will be a swell hitting and that we’ll get really good surf. Often we’re taking pros along, generating content and photos for the website. Recording swell events is something surfers love to consume.”
Website officials are also busy cataloging all the surf breaks in the world. “That means cataloging most of the beaches in the world,” he says. “And there is no better way to do that than with an airplane.”
Buying the 1000 has not diminished Berg’s enthusiasm for the piston Commander. “I have no intention of selling it,” he says. Having the two Commanders gives him a choice: The 500B for shorter trips and especially into smaller, unimproved strips, and the 1000 for the long hauls.
Berg notes that his airplanes have greatly enhanced his ability to pursue his passion for surfing, as well as the business opportunities that flow from that passion.
“I plan to just keep flying and learning and enjoying it,” he says. “I want to keep becoming a better pilot, keep getting utility out of the planes. Right now I’m a pretty happy camper.”
For more information: TwinCommander.com