Meet the Surprising Regulars at Anglin’s Pier in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida

lauderdale by the sea locals

(This story was originally written circa 2014 and was repurposed for The Lysst.)

The smell of sweet cream arrives first at your nose as you stroll along the sidewalk on the way to the ocean, passing a Kilwin’s ice cream shop. Also lining the sidewalk are beach bars, restaurants, retail stores—even a puppy store. A salt-and-sea aroma combats the sugary sensation as you near a covered pavilion with about 15 colorful benches that overlook the seaside activities. Slightly to the right is Anglin’s Fishing Pier.

You’re in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida, where Commercial Boulevard meets Ocean Boulevard in South Florida—a beach town nestled just north of Fort Lauderdale’s bustling beachside area, Las Olas Boulevard.

Situated inside a quaint, tan building with a slightly rusted tin roof, there is both a beach café and the pier admissions area. Both separate entities, though, as the pier worker explains.

Nick Contos, 55, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea resident, says he’s been working at Anglin’s Fishing Pier for five years now and loves his job. Looking out into the distant Atlantic and lighting a cigarette, he reminisces on some of the best moments he’s had while working on the beachside boardwalk. When I ask what these memorable moments were, he retorts with a grin: “Go ahead, imagine.”

It’s this playful energy that personifies the pier. As Contos explains that the pier stays open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, he breaks away from our conversation to tend to his duties, turning to some teens with fishing poles: “What’ve you boys got in that cooler?” There is technically no alcohol allowed on the pier.

Stretching down the 876-foot-long dock, there are groups of wooden tables and high-powered telescopes for those interested in leisurely sightseeing. Teenagers and young men sporadically line the rails, waiting for just one lucky bite on the ends of their fishing lines.

Sightseeing is $2 and fishing is $7. Contos said he’s gotten into tiffs with customers because they “don’t want to pay.” Tax money does not go towards privately owned piers such as Anglin’s, one of the only private piers remaining in the area. Another example of a private bridge is the Gasparilla Island bridge that connects the quaint beach village of Boca Grande to the mainland, Florida’s southwest coast.

Anglin’s Pier on Florida’s southeast coast was originally built in 1941 by the Anglin family. However, it had to be rebuilt in 1963 after Hurricane Donna destroyed it.

lauderdale by the sea locals
Credit: John Spade

Living Like Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Locals

There are a lot of regulars that make their way out to Anglin’s Fishing Pier. According to Contos, most come out every other day. One of these regulars is Charlie Wilms, a retired auto electric mechanic who now resides in Galt Ocean Mile. He’s one of about five older men who hang out at the pier—they laughingly refer to themselves as the Pier Rats. The good-natured guys seem up for conversation.

Wilms zooms down the wooden planks of the boardwalk with a smile on his face. He’s in an electric wheelchair equipped with a radio and his Kindle. He asks me if I want a beer as he’s cracking open a Bud Light. I oblige, and, next thing I know, Wilms and I are both parading down the planks, thud thud thud. I’m sitting on the edge of his chair as we sip Bud Light between the thuds. The rest of the Pier Rats walk alongside us.

Wilms says he comes out to the pier, just a mile from his house, every day around 3 p.m. to enjoy the sunshine. Sometimes, though, the sun’s not shining.

Once it was reconstructed in 1963, Anglin’s Fishing Pier has since endured a few more storms. Luckily, these weren’t as damaging as Hurricane Donna. At the farthest point of the pier, also known as the “T” because of the shape, according to Wilms, there were waves breaking at the railings during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. He says the tide was as high as the boards.

Wilms recalls this moment to be “the saddest thing” and says the “T” had to be closed for six weeks for repairs. But this didn’t stop Wilms and the rest of the regular crew from coming out to the pier for some good times. When it’s not a hurricane, the crew usually braves out the tropical region’s notorious summer afternoon storms, seeking cover under the pavilions like true locals.

Anglin’s Fishing Pier is not only a place for fishermen to cast their lines or sightseers to pay 50 cents to look out into the Atlantic Ocean; it is a landmark in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Its personality lies within the people who have made it a piece of themselves, whether they are tourists sharing a new adventure or a group of regulars cackling over an old joke.

After all, there’s got to be something that keeps these guys coming back.

Wilms says he has enough money to go anywhere in the world for retirement, but here he is, coming to the pier every day. With the deep blue waters surrounding him, Wilms turned with a gapped grin, “Why would you want to go anyplace else?”

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