Surf’s up: Military, waves, shape Runyon’s way of life

JACKSONVILLE, N.C.  — As a kid growing up in Creswell, Clint Runyon was often told he should break the family mold and not join the military. His dad was a Vietnam veteran and both grandfathers had fought in World War II. 

There are so many better things to do with your life, people insisted. 

Still, Runyon had to fuel a competitive fire that was burning inside. He played football, basketball and baseball throughout school, and he became increasingly more fascinated by dirt bikes and board sports. 

In January of 2022, Clint was able to come home to see family. While he was back, he drove by and visited Creswell High School for the first time in several decades, stopping for a selfie in front of the Home of the Bulldogs

“I grew up racing BMX bikes and skateboarding and snowboarding,” Runyon said in a recent phone interview. “I didn’t start surfing until later on when I went to Southern California. It was a natural progression from the other things.”

Runyon, 48, is retired after a 24-year career in the Marine Corps. He was first stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, where the sport of surfing not only became his new passion, it paved the way to a new livelihood. 

As Runyon moved from one Marine coastal base to another, he discovered that wave conditions had a profound impact on how surfboards react. So he began the long and arduous process of learning how to become a board shaper. 

Today, he and his family own a home in Jacksonville, N.C., where he owns and operates Runyon Surfboards, where every board is completely hand-crafted to meet the customer’s specific wishes and desires. Runyon says his personal approach is what sets him apart from others in the board-shaping field.


Connie and Clyde Runyon have lived on Bradford Road in Creswell since 1976. Clyde is originally from Springfield – where Clint lived until age two – and Connie is from Coos Bay. Clyde is 75 and still driving trucks, and still teaches, too, helping people get their CDLs (Commercial Driver’s Licenses). Connie used to have her own daycare business – “Everybody in town knew my mom,” Clint said – and they got some help taking care of the farm when Clint’s only sibling, his older sister Angela, and her husband Danny, purchased part of the property. 

“After high school, I got accepted to Eastern Oregon State, thinking I could walk on and play football,” said Runyon, a 1992 Creswell High grad. “But it was too late in the game, so I moved on, and focused on being a fine-arts major during my first year of college. … Then I came home with a ton of debt, and I got this assembly-line job that I really hated. I had a recruiter who was bugging me, but everyone in my family – both of my grandfathers were in World War II and my dad was in Vietnam – didn’t want me to join the military. My father told me not to join, that you always get the short end of the stick.”

After carefully considering all of his options, Runyon decided he wanted to be a Marine. 

Cyanne, Kayla, Sylvia and Clint at Kayla’s high school graduation in2021. Kayla graduated with honors and simultaneously earned her associates degree in Science from James Sprunt Community College.

“His dad really remembers that day very well,” Connie said. “Clint had been talking to his buddies the night he told us. Clyde said, ‘You chose the Marines of all services? But if that’s what you want to do.’ 

“When you’ve been in a war, you don’t want that for your son. Anyway, that’s how it all began.”


“When I signed up with the Marines, friends said make sure you sign up for the media option,” Runyon said. “I was told it was guaranteed that I would be a graphics guy. But when you’re at boot camp, they don’t care what you are. First thing, you become a rifleman, then you break off and they prep you to become a Marine. Then after boot camp and combat training, everybody gets their assignment and says, ‘My recruiter lied to me.’” 

“My sergeant told me I was a photographer and I said I was supposed to be in graphics. He said no, this is what you’re doing. Looking back, I’m so incredibly thankful that it fit my personality and was a job I enjoyed doing. The graphics job, as it turned out, was incredibly boring. 

Sergeant Clint Runyon sits on the black sands of invasion beach, Iwo Jima. He and his team were on the island visually documenting the area. While stationed in Japan the Marines would annually go to the island of Iwo Jima to conduct a memorial ceremony to commemorate the world war II battle of Iwo Jima. This battle was one of the pivotal points in the war while the US fought the Japanese in the Pacific Theater.

“In hindsight, I was going 1,000 miles-an-hour with my hair on fire, non-wartime, and everything was about training. I was one of the only trained video guys who would go on operations and go 24-7. It was a wild way to live.”

Runyon’s plan was to honor his four-year commitment and then return to civilian life, which he did – until Plan B kicked in. 

“At the end of ’98, I actually got out after four years,” Runyon said. “I met my wife, Sylvia, at Camp Pendleton – she’s also a Marine photographer – and there’s a lot of life in the Marine Corps that’s not civilian-friendly. I was going through some stuff and I was ready to go. Anyway, we got married, our first daughter was born, and Sylvia got out of the Marine Corps, too. In ’99 or 2000, we decided to move back to Oregon; my parents were gracious enough to let us move back and hit the reset button. I was going to go back to college – I was only 25 or 26 at that time – trying to figure out what was next. We prayed about it, and finally decided we needed to be back in the military. We knew some people who could help us through that process. 

“Then 9/11 happened. That started a 13-14-year commitment of operational assignments. On the civilian side, you only hear so much. It’s a crazy way to live – because I stayed in, I saw a lot of bloodshed, a lot of bad memories.

“I was OAF1 (Operation Allied Force) when the U.S went into Iraq, my first time going into combat. I spent 24 years in the Marine Corps, changing duty stations nine times. The longest stint was in Okinawa for eight years. I spent two years each in Iran and Afghanistan.”


This year, Runyon began working with a local artist collaborating on a custom surfboard with his artwork laminated into the board. It became a show piece that both of us are very proud of. Pictured is Runyon, left, and Wes, the owner of the board.

Runyon’s oldest daughter Cyanne, 22, is working on her master’s at Fordham, while Kayla, 19, attends UNC Wilmington. Runyon was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from 2009-2013, then had orders to go back to Japan for five years, then returned to North Carolina. 

“Both kids want to go back to Japan – they love it over there – and they do speak some Japanese,” said Runyon, who was promoted through the warrant officer ranks and ended his career as Chief Warrant Officer 4. “I finally decided to retire at age 45.  

“I don’t think civilians understand how hard it is on military families. When you’re given orders, you’re moving. Three combat deployments and dozens of non-combat missions – to say it weighs heavily on a family …

“When Cyanne was 18, I was in a different country for six years of her life. I thank the Lord every day that we’re together. We try to help the folks around us the best we can. We were so blessed to have super people around us to help us in times of need.”

“Saying goodbye when your son is heading off to war is the pits,” Connie said. “We are a praying family, and some of the stories Clint told us made you wonder if maybe God was looking out for him. 

“He told one story about being sent out to a post, and because he had back problems, Clint wanted to get into a different Humvee because the straps were loose and uncomfortable. He changed vehicles, and his original Humvee got hit. Nobody was killed in the attack, but some of the men were injured.”

“There are only so many stories that I can share with my mom,” Runyon said. “That was one of the happy-ending stories that I went through. There were many other stories that didn’t have happy endings.” 


Nowadays, life is good for Runyon. He knows he’ll never get rich making surfboards, but the satisfaction he gets from making people happy never gets old. 

Clint in his shaping bay in Jacksonville NC, working on a board.

“When I do an interview, my goal is to find out their needs and goals,” Runyon said. “There’s no money in surfboards – the best way to make $1 million in surfboards is to start with $3 million. I just truly love the process of making surfboards. I’m a retired vet – seeing people after I hand them a board and seeing the look on their face is priceless. There’s nothing that gives me greater satisfaction. People come in and don’t know what they need and the cool thing is I can help them – I’m the go-between that helps them identify what’s right for them.”

As board shaping becomes more prevalent in surf shops, Runyon hopes to expand his business, possibly find a partnership deal, and grow his brand nationally and internationally. 

But that can all wait when the surf’s up. 

“Some sports I still love to do,” Runyon said. “I always love to go surfing, even though my back and neck are screwed up. But if I can get out and get in the water, I’m good.”

From the very first time he stood up on a surfboard, Runyon knew that surfing would be a special, meaningful part of his life …

From sea to shining sea.



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