by Suzanne Daub
When you step through the door at 50 Main Street, you step into a combination of past and present.
An impressive array of rare and vintage timepieces dominates the front of The Trinity Collection. These exquisite, sophisticated watches were curated by owner E. Townsend Wright III, who delights in helping his patrons find the perfect timepiece to match their personality and their style. Many of his clients know him from visiting his shop in Palm Beach during the winter and are delighted to find him on Nantucket’s Main Street from June through September.
Venture a bit farther into 50 Main, and you’ll find yourself in the Spyder Wright Gentleman’s Surf Shop, filled with dashing men’s clothing carefully selected to perfectly suit island life. “You can walk out with a pair of Spyder Wright Board Shorts, a Loro Piana jacket, and Patek Philippe Nautilus on your wrist,” E. Townsend explained with a smile.
Legendary surfer Edward “Spyder” Townsend Wright II originally opened this shop on Nantucket more than a quarter century ago. His son, Edward Townsend Wright III, now owns and operates the company. You’ll often find them both at 50 Main (unless the surf is just right). If you see Spyder there this week, wish him happy regards for his 80th birthday!
Even surrounded by fine timepieces in the exclusive shop on Main Street, E. Townsend Wright II can’t shake the persona of “Spyder” Wright, surfing legend. Nor would he want to. Surfing and the sea are as much a part of him as the precise workings of the watches that he loves to design.
Anyone who has ridden the waves will recognize the moniker “Spyder.” For decades his custom-crafted surfboards have been the boards of choice, and since the late 1960s he has been a fixture in the Hawaiian surfing scene.
“Both my mother and father were ocean people…we always lived near the ocean and our vacations were always ocean-oriented….When I was a little rascal, my father would blow up canvas rafts real hard so that we could ride the waves.”
He grew up in Maryland, but went to school at California State at Long Beach. It was in California, at Huntington Pier, that he first learned to surf. “I remember thinking at first ‘this is a sport’?” With his love of the sea, he took right to it. “It was very, very territorial [at Huntington Pier]…as a newcomer, I wasn’t accepted with open arms…but I became fairly good fairly quickly and was accepted into the group.” He was christened by fellow surfers with the nickname “Spyder” when they saw how proficient he was in walking back and forth on the longboard. The name stuck.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore years, Spyder began making surfboards, and some months later he opened his first shop in Ocean City, Maryland. “My father was an engineer, and I grew up with that need to build things. When I first went to California, there were just a handful of board makers, so I decided to make my own. A couple of friends were shaping their own boards, and they gave me some tips…the shaping of is key, and it’s the hardest part.”
By the mid-1960s, Spyder had discovered the joys of surfing in Hawaii. His first day there, during lunch at the Outrigger Club, he met Duke Kahanamoku, Kimo McVay, and Fred Hemmings, who asked him to represent Kahanamoku’s clothing line in Hawaii and on the mainland. Hemmings later introduced Spyder to the north shore of Maui, which at the time very few surfers frequented. “Lifeguards were giving out false reports to keep the crowds away…I rode the biggest waves in Maui.”
It wasn’t long before Spyder Inc. grew to include additional shops in Palm Beach, Florida, in Rehoboth, Annapolis, Georgetown, and here on Nantucket.
Wright discovered Nantucket Island in 1978. “Bill and Bobbie Rich stopped by my store in Georgetown and told me ‘you’ve just got to come to Nantucket’…I got off the boat and fell in love…There were just a handful of surfers here then, now there are far more.”
Despite his many business commitments, Spyder continued to surf, both for pleasure and to compete and win. He has surfed up and down the East Coast, Puerto Rico, California, Hawaii, as well as internationally in Biarritz, France, and in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, the Canary Islands, Mexico, Central and Latin America, and the Caribbean. Among his many wins, he was the East Coast champion in 1979 and was a finalist in the National Championships in Hawaii in 1980. More recently, he’s been in the Grand Masters Division, for surfers over the age of 60. In 2020 he was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, and this winter he will participate in the Hawaiian Pacific Tournament.
“I have this fabulous spot outside of Haleiwa on the north shore of Oahu with a break in front of my house…I can lift my head off my pillow in the morning to check out the surf…Conditions are near perfect: the water is 70 to 72 degrees and crystal clear, the air temp in the mid-70s…when the waves break on reefs you can predict where they’re going to break, unlike here where the sandbars shift.”
So how did he go from making something so large to making something so tiny and precise as a fine watch? These passions actually developed side-by-side. “When I was 15 years old, my father gave me a project: I was to take apart his WWII watch, inventory all the pieces, and put it back together so that it worked…after that I was fascinated…every time I got some money, I bought an antique watch. Surfing and watches are at different ends of the spectrum, but there are engineering aspects to both.”
He began making his own watches in the 1970s, starting with his DC3 watch, modeled after a pilot’s watch. The watch has a surgical steel case, platinum rotors, a waterproof screw down back, and 25-jewel movement. “I wanted to make a watch that was tough, durable, and completely waterproof. The crystal is completely sealed, non-breakable, and can’t be scratched.” He’s constantly sketching new design ideas to add to the watches he has in production. This summer he plans to introduce a new Anniversary Edition Watch. He’s keeping the details under wraps till the launch, but did say the new design is tough and durable as his whole line, and that it was inspired by the ocean.
Spyder may have downsized his direct involvement in the business, but he hasn’t lost his passion for surfing, for the ocean, or for his family. Wright and his children surf. “Townsend the IV is 15 now: I introduced him to surfing on the south shore of Oahu when he was 5 or 6.” Spyder’s advice to beginners: “Be kind and courteous in and out of the water.”
How will Spyder Wright be celebrating his birthday this week?
“I’m hoping there will be good waves so that I can surf with Towny… My goal is to be one of the oldest living surfers still surfing.”