Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Crappy Anniversary

It was 20 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…. 

Sorry, wrong anniversary.  It was six years ago today (OK, technically yesterday as it's just after midnight) that Gordon Clark flipped the bird to regulators and bureacrats via fax, sending shockwaves through the surfing world.  I remember all the questions and concerns about the end of the surfboard as we knew it.  It doesn’t take a Harvard-trained economist to understand that when supply of anything is interrupted (or in Clark’s case, voluntarily shut down ahead of mounting EPA and other bureaucratic fines and charges), demand will sky rocket, and a variety of substitutions ranging from comparable to deplorable will rush into to try and fill the void. 
Well, that happened but six years later, I think we’re in a pretty good spot.  While Clark was an innovator, by removing himself – a virtual monopoly – from the equation, it enabled lots of other entrepreneurs and innovators to enter the fray and provide a wide spectrum of materials.  Today, there are lots of different blanks to choose from.  Some are produced here, some produced overseas.  And eco-friendly blanks have generated some good traction too as an alternative to traditional polyurethane and epoxy blanks and foam cores.  Then there's Dan Mann of InCide, a blank producer from San Diego, who I've had the pleasure of getting to know at the last two Sacred Craft shows.  Dan is making blanks with a carbon core (I'll explore his revolutionary technology in a future post).  The end result is that many of the blanks being produced today are head and shoulders above Clark’s. 

So, while “Blank Monday” was abrupt and there was an adjustment period that sadly put a lot of small business owners like sanders and glassers out of business, it’s proven to be a real advancement for the industry.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giving Thanks

As the Thanksgiving holiday winds down, it got me thinking tonight about giving thanks and being grateful.  As much as I complain about not having enough time to surf – I even got skunked earlier today – I’m seriously so fortunate that I don’t have any real problems.  After all, I have my health, I have a roof over my head, I live in a safe neighborhood, I have a loving family and I could go on and on and on.  It’s amazing that so many of us have these basic necessities yet we find all sorts of crap to complain about.  So, I thought I’d make a list of all the things I’m grateful for as they relate to surfing.  In no particular order, I’m so very grateful for:

1.       Having discovered surfing; I can’t imagine a life where I’d be excited to play golf or video games

2.       Being fit (enough) to surf in my 40s

3.       Living in an era and country that enables me to have free time to do something as frivolous as surf

4.       Having a family that understands what surfing means to me and what it does for my peace of mind and demeanor; I’m a lot more pleasant to be around if I’ve gotten some surf

5.       Joel Tudor, Dave Parmenter, Greg Long, Bruce Brown and Kelly Slater

6.       Point surf

7.       Wetsuits

8.       Living in California and close (enough) to the beach

9.       Being able to surf in (generally) clean water

10.   Statistics that tell me how unlikely it is that I’ll be attacked by a shark

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Trying a new board can be both fun and frustrating.  A new board is, well, new.  Different length, different thickness thus buoyancy, different sweet spot for paddling and turning and, if you’re really mixing things up, a different tail, fin configuration, and rail edge.  With all of these adjustments in a new board, you have to make adjustments in your surfing too.  You may have to paddle harder or sooner to catch a wave, stand farther back to drive a bottom turn or one off the top, and you may have to work harder to get more speed to get through the flats or around a section.  They say variety is the spice of life and it’s definitely true when it comes to surfboards. 
I bought this 9’2” John Peck Penetrator a couple of months ago off of a seller in Reno, NV of all places.  I was intrigued for a couple of reasons.  For one, John Peck is a legendary surfer who only recently returned to shaping – and is only doing it on a limited basis.  So, I was curious to see what he liked in a board.  One thing he sure likes a lot is Christianity.  There’s a ghost-like portrait of JC (no, not John Carper) on the nose and scripture and other spiritual messages written on the stringer on both the deck and bottom.  Second, I was intrigued by the interesting tail block which is essentially a dovetail off of the center stringer.  Lastly, it has a pintail and I was curious how a pintail would perform on a longboard.  By comparison, the longboard I’ve ridden for years is a little longer and a little thicker, it has a little more rocker and a square tail.  So, the Penetrator was a departure for me and what I’m used to surfing on as far as longboards go.  It looks like it’s taken a beating and I wonder if it almost buckled given the stress cracks running horizontally across the bottom and the dings on the deck at the rails just down from the half way point.  Regardless, the board is solid and sound with no delams.  I’ll clean these dings up and fix the cracks someday soon; I just couldn’t wait to take this board out and see how it felt.

I’ve only surfed it a few times, mostly in waist-high surf.  I liked the responsiveness of the pintail but definitely noticed that, with less rocker, I had to sit back on it a bit on takeoffs otherwise I’d pearl.  This weekend I took it out in head high surf and because there’s less rocker, the takeoffs are more critical.  On the steeper waves, the thin rails held really nicely in the face of the wave and the pintail would really pivot sharply but I’d inevitably bury one of the inside, knife-thin rail and...splash.  So while the board is ultra responsive, I have to adjust to how much more responsive it is to what I’m used to.  I look forward to getting a better feel for the board even though it’s going to come at the expense of some nice waves that I know I’d normally catch on another board.  So again, a new board can be both fun and frustrating.  But by switching it up every now and then we’re reminded of how exhilarating surfing is.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.  Oh, and happy birthday Dad!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Just Another Circus

As most of you know, the circus came to town last week for the Rip Curl Search ASP contest.  It was a great event in that San Francisco provided sun and Ocean Beach provided clean offshore waves, both anomalies for much of the year.  Kelly won his 11th world title twice in one week, the first time prematurely due to an ASP scoring oversight and the second time officially after becoming the uncontested points leader.  This should make for an interesting Triple Crown in Hawaii as competitors will either go all out with nothing to lose or just phone it in with nothing to gain. 

Regardless, the Bay Area surf scene has returned to normal, kind of.  While the ASP circus has left town, filming has begun in earnest for the upcoming Jay Moriarty story, “Of Men and Mavericks.”  Starring Gerard Butler as Frosty Hesson, Jay’s big wave tutor, Johnny Weston as Jay, and the beautiful Elisabeth Shue as Jay's mom(?!), movie crews have been filming scenes in Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Pacifica and spots in between on the Peninsula.   If you’ve followed Maverick’s for awhile, you know this story well.  If not, think of it this way: Frosty was like Yoda to Jay’s Luke Skywalker.  I'm talking zen master.  Hopefully the finished product will be more like In God’s Hands and less Point Break. 

Until October of next year, I’ll be cautiously optimistic.  There just haven’t been a lot of good surfing movies made.  The better ones have been documentaries like The Endless Summer and Riding Giants.  I won’t pile on because I suppose anyone can find fault with a movie’s depiction of a sub-culture.  I for example love Big Wednesday but realize full well that it’s cliché and hokey.  On the bright side, as surfers we get to watch surfing movies and say, “I’ve surfed there!”  That’s pretty cool. 

Regardless, I hope “Of Men and Mavericks” does justice to Frosty, Jay and his family, the Maverick’s crew, and of course, those beautiful boards they ride out there.  I hope not to see scenes of Maverick’s chargers on 9-oh longboards or 6’4” thrusters or something in between.  I don’t know who they’ve hired to advise on these matters (is there a Jeff Clark in the house?), but do I hope the Hollywoods heed his or her counsel.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Congratulations to Kelly Slater for winning an unprecedented 11th world title.  Hell, his ASP title trophy collection was unprecended six titles ago.  Speaking of unprecedented, he has the amazing distinction of being the youngest World Champ AND the oldest World Champ.  If memory serves correctly, I think he's the only one from Florida too.  Oddly enough, this was his first title clinched on American soil.  And in beautiful OB conditions, another first! 

All 11 titles, and the notoriety that comes with them, couldn't happen to a nicer, more deserving guy.  Congratulations Kelly.  It's been so much fun watching you dominate and innovate all these years.  I'm excited to see what the future brings for you and what you bring for the future of surfing, whether that's a new tour, a wave pool, more titles, more dogs in the competitor's area or whatever.  You're an inspiration for surfing, staying healthy, and being true to yourself.  Peace and love.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dorsal Finned Jackasses

As a budding surfboard collector, I’m constantly prowling craigslist and eBay, looking for boards with some bit of value.  More often than not, I see boards that aren’t worthy of a dollar store bargain bin.  It pains me to see so many boards in such poor condition.  There are pages and pages of boards that are all dinged to hell, yellowed, delammed, dented, busted finned, buckled, etc.  I’m still utterly amazed at how surfers neglect their boards.  The last time I checked, no one was giving these things away. 

But you want to talk about surfboard abuse?  Have you seen what a shark can do to a surfboard?  They make those surfers who don’t give a damn about their boards look like archaeologists unearthing a pharaoh’s tomb.  Don’t these senseless man eaters realize how special a surfboard is to a surfer?  Sentimental value aside, don’t these selfish beasts realize surfboards don’t grow on trees?  Again, the last time I checked, no one was giving these things away.  This wasteful behavior just grinds my gears.

Eric Tarantino's board
d. 10/29/11 R.I.P.
Last Saturday, Eric Tarantino, a 27 year old surfer from Monterey, CA, was surfing at a local beach when a great white decided he’d jack up Eric’s board (not to mention his neck and arm, missing major veins and arteries by a mere millimeter), ending his surf session not 10 minutes after it had started.  Sure, Eric could’ve kept surfing but have you seen what salt water will do to foam (not to mention what a severe shark bite will do to a person’s blood supply)?  Eric was essentially forced to paddle in and call it day because of this senseless act of violence.
I realize shark attacks are isolated cases of mistaken identity, that surfers rarely die from their wounds, and that you have a greater chance of being struck by lightening and attacked by a grizzly bear on the same day (none of which I imagine makes Eric or any other members of the shark attack survivors fraternity feel any better), but c’mon!  As I’ve stated in an earlier blog, boards are special and unique!  And these sharks couldn’t care less.  A-holes.  Each and every one of them.

So consider this a call to action.  We’ve got the disenchanted middle class Occupying Wall Street in every major city.  Let’s get the frustrated surfer class Occupying Shark Street (or reef, sandbar, etc.) on every major beach.  In the words of Mr. Smith, “we’re mad as hell and we aren’t going to take it anymore!”  Until next time, may your waves by head high and glassy.

P.S. On a serious note: Eric, if you or anyone else who’s been attacked ever reads this, please know I don’t make light of your harrowing, near death experience and I’d never ever want to trade places with you.  I surf in the Red Triangle too and know full well we take our chances everytime we paddle out.  That said, I’m of the philosophy that humor helps people heal and I hope this served as a brief, light-hearted distraction from your physical, psychological, and emotional wounds.  If it didn’t, I sincerely apologize.  Either way, I am truly grateful you’re alive and wish you a speedy recovery and return to the lineup.

Jake Heron's board
d. 9/4/05 R.I.P.
Bethany Hamilton's board
d. 10/31/03 R.I.P.
Hannah Mighall's board
d. 1/11/09 R.I.P.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Makes a Board Unique? You Do!

This blog is about surfboards.  To be specific, unique surfboards.  What’s “unique” you might ask.  While a Velzy Pig or a Noll/Dora da Cat are definitely unique, I’m thinking more in terms of the boards we have that are special to surfers who don’t collect for a living.  That’s not to say I don’t collect; I do.  And I’m sure if you’re reading this, you have a collection, or quiver, of surfboards.  My boards are definitely unique.  I remember when and where I got them, how much I paid for them, and all the places I’ve surfed them.  For example, I have a 6’5” Town & Country rounded pin thruster, my first board ever.  My Dad bought it for me when he brought me to Oahu on a business trip in 1986.  I also have a 9’6” Pearson Arrow, a board I bought the same day my then fiancée bought her wedding dress in 2000.  It’s also the first board I ever hung ten on.  I’m sure you have similar boards and experiences that make them truly unique.  The first board you ever shaped, the first board you ever got barreled on, the board you took to Mexico or Hawaii and had the best trip or session ever.  These are unique boards and should be celebrated.  Even if your board was machine shaped or shipped in a container from a factory overseas, the experiences you’ve had surfing with it make it unique.  Of course, in this day and age, if it was custom shaped, from start to finish, it’s even more unique.  It’s cliché, but a surfboard is a work of art, a one-of-a-kind creation, whether it’s sculpted by a master craftsman or a kid in his garage.

That’s why it pained me to see Jadson Andre, a Brazilian surfer in the ASP Top 44, beat his board repeatedly with the sole intention of breaking it in half at the US Open at Huntington Beach in August (click here and fast forward to 1:15).  He was obviously frustrated and as a sponsored pro gets more free boards than most of us will see in a lifetime.  But what a waste.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s a really nice guy.  I also realize it’s an ASP event and this is his livelihood and there are points and dollars involved and he’s a fierce competitor, etc.  Nevertheless, what I and probably lots and lots of other surfers or fans of surfing saw was someone who took what he has for granted.  Think how many kids around the world who can’t afford a surfboard.  Think how much they would love to have one of his old, unwanted boards.  Yet here he is – someone who gets paid to surf everyday – laser focused on breaking his board in a fit of rage.  What a shame. 

So, let this blog be about appreciating the surfboards we have and celebrating how and why we think they are unique.  Many of my future posts will highlight one of the boards I have acquired over the years and why I think it’s unique.  If you have a unique board you want to share, respond and tell me and other readers why it’s special to you.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Girl, a Gorilla, and a Gift

My introduction to surfing was through the unlikely combination of a cartoon and a girl I had a crush on in sixth grade.  The cartoon wasn’t something cool or rebellious like Rick Griffin’s work.  Rather, it was Town & Country Surf.  They had some campaign that featured a gorilla that wore sunglasses, a cap, and ripped (naturally).  On top of that, they had the simple but stark yin and yang logo.  Anyway, there was a girl in my class who wore these T&C t-shirts to school and because I liked her and stared at her all day long, I was curious about what surfing was.  Plus, I had always liked to draw and thought the images on these t-shirts were pretty fun and humorous, two qualities I sought as a shy, overweight middle schooler.  As luck would have it, my family went to Hawaii that summer and got my sister and me a surfing lesson at Nancy Emerson’s Surf School on Maui.  I don’t think I ever stood up but I was hooked for sure. 

Once back home, I started buying Surfing magazine and would soak up every word in every article, photo caption and ad.  The magazines were filled with photos of Tom Curren, Joey Buran, David Eggers as well as Tom Carroll, Mark Occhilupo and Martin Potter, who rode T&C surfboards with his distinctive color patterns and “the Saint” logo.  He and Curren were far and away my favorite surfers.  I even wrote an essay about them in seventh grade and used so many metaphors that I suspect the passing  grade I got was more out of sympathy for my passion and effort than writing ability.  Anyway, I went back with a friend and his family the following summer and while there wandered into a surfshop in Waikiki.  There was only one T&C board in the used board racks and I was blinded by love.  I had no business owning it: it was a retired team rider’s board, short, light and with a really thin, sanded finish.  No matter, I had to have it.  I called home and begged my parents to buy it for me.  No way.  Surfing would have to be confined once again to magazines, posters and drawings.  At 15, I went back to Hawaii, this time with my dad, and he thankfully, THANKFULLY relented.  I still desperately wanted a T&C board and, in another surfshop in Waikiki, I found one.  This was the mid-80s when day glo ruled the world, whether it was Zinka, Astro deck, wetsuits, leashes or surfboards.  The T&C board I found and brought home was no exception: pink and yellow with baby blue side fins.  No matter.  It was a T&C board, the epitome of Hawaii and surfing and it was mine.  I had officially arrived!

The board is a 6’5” rounded pin thruster.  It’s 11¾” wide at the nose, 19½” at the center and 14½” at the tail.  This is a classic 80s shortboard: 2¾ ” thick, tucked under edge rails, combining the release of a hard rail and the holding power of a soft rail, rounded pin with kicked up nose rocker and a V-bottom tail.  It has a fin box for the center fin and it wasn’t until years later that I noticed the center fIn is noticeably smaller than the side fins.  I haven’t experimented with another center fin but should.  In addition to the l x w x h data, the board contains the following “GG 85 2604 TR” which I presume means it was shaped by Greg Griffin in 1985.  I’m guessing it was the 2604th board he shaped in ‘85 but I have no idea what the TR refers to (if you know, please let me know!).  Greg, who now shapes under his own brand Griffin Surfboards Hawaii, has been called the “guru of multiple fin designs.”  Greg started shaping in 1968 and learned his craft from Santa Cruz legend Doug Haut.  He moved to Hawaii and began shaping for Town & Country Surfboards during the 1980s.  He’s shaped for World Champions Sunny Garcia, Dino Miranda, Rusty Keaulana, and, wouldn’t you know it, Martin Potter among many others.  You can learn more here. 
This board was my only board for six years. I’ve surfed it in Nor Cal, So Cal and even brought it back to Hawaii years later once I learned to surf.  As my first board I asked a lot of it and rode it pretty hard.  I buckled the nose while impaling myself in some hollow beach break surf at El Porto (north end of Manhattan Beach).  A year or two earlier, while surfing it at a Nor Cal jetty, I wiped out and, while going through the rinse cycle, the leash stretched and stretched until the board snapped back – right at the instant I resurfaced.  The tail of the board hit me right in the mouth, cutting a hole in my lip, breaking one tooth in half, and knocking another completely out, root and all.  Once I started to expand my quiver, I stopped riding it until on a whim I took it out this last Spring, roughly 20 years later.  It brought back so many memories of those first few years of learning how to surf and finally starting to feel like a surfer.  While I never thought once of getting rid of it, I’m grateful I’ve held onto it for all these years.  A special board indeed.  And I owe it to my Dad, Heather Tawes and a cartoon gorilla.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sacred Craft Recap

Talk about magic boards!  I spent the weekend before last in Del Mar at Sacred Craft.  For those of you who live under a rock, Sacred Craft is the largest consumer surfboard expo in the galaxy.  This gathering of surfers, shapers and the people who love them has a simple mission: “to unite passionate surfers with the surfboard industry.”  And it is truly a gathering: old cruisers, young rippers, hipsters who I’m not sure even surf (does surf wax work on a handlebar moustache?), groms, legends, and posers.  Oh yeah, and world class shapers.  This event celebrated the work of Carl Ekstrom, a Windansea local and patron saint of the asymmetrical design, a shape that has to be seen to be seen (and I suspect surfed) to be truly appreciated.  Surfboard design has been tampered with since day one but Carl’s revolutionary design changed the way we perceive a surfboard and what that board is capable of doing.  We’re not talking subtle design tinkering here.  We’re talking extremes.  Think Meyerhoffer (see here for more).  Am I suggesting Meyerhoffer is our generation’s Carl Ekstrom?  I don’t know, you be the judge. 

Regardless, there were lots of great shapers in the house and six were hand-picked by Ekstrom to shape a board based on his unique design concept.  I had the pleasure of watching a few of them, namely, George Gall, Matt Biolos, and Tim Bessell.  A treat to say the least.  Each has a unique style and approach in the shaping room but they’re all fine craftsmen and their interpretations of Carl’s asymmetrical design were beautiful.  Congrats to Wayne Rich for his winning design.  Make no mistake, there were hundreds of finished boards at Sacred Craft too.  Boards of all brands, shapes, sizes, designs, materials and historical significance.  Some truly impressive boards were auctioned off on Saturday night and raised over $36,000 for charity.  The theme, “The Art of Shaping: LA County,” highlighted classic designs by 24 legendary shapers from, you guessed it, LA County (pay no attention to the fact that LA County shapers were being celebrated in San Diego; San Diego shapers will likely get their due at a Sacred Craft in Santa Barbara or Santa Monica or somewhere else).  
Jeff Ho's "P.O.P." Zephyr

Auction highlights included a Jeff Ho shaped Zephyr, a replica of the board he surfed in the award winning (and extremely cool) documentary DogTown and Z-Boys.  A bidding war between two well known collectors resulted in the board fetching $7K, the auction's largest catch.  That said, it was a bittersweet moment.  While the money would go to charitable health organizations, ironically Jeff himself is in poor health and his wife is fighting cancer.  As luck would have it, Jeff received $2k from Billabong for having shaped the board that received the highest bid and while that’s not much in the larger scheme of medical costs, every bit helps.  On that note, I wish Jeff and his wife all the best.  Other gorgeous boards of note were a Rick Surfboards UFO (shaped by Rick Stoner’s son Jeff), a Weber Performer, the most popular board of all time by units sold, (shaped by Dewey’s son Shea), an all black big wave gun by Tyler Hatzikian, a red tinted balsa noserider by Bing, a hand shaped log by Hap Jacobs, an intricate weaving stringer design by Greg Noll (shaped by son Jed) and a 3-stringer 10’ classic noserider by Lance Carson.  These are just a few; it was eye candy all around.  Fernando Aguerre, the charismatic and deep pocketed co-founder of Reef sandals, brought a lot of these home. 

Royce Cansler holding the red tinted balsa Bing noserider
Despite having raised over $36,000 for these 24 special boards, many of them sold for a song, some of them for less than the cost of materials.  Case in point: I spoke to the guy who acquired the transparent red balsa Bing noserider after the auction.  When I asked if he was going to hang it or surf it, he said he’d probably hang it as he didn’t surf longboards.  Why did he buy the board then I asked.  Quite simply, he recognized a helluva deal when he saw one.  His wife had bought him an 8’ balsa gun for his 50th birthday for over $3k and when the Bing stalled at around $2k, he knew he had the opportunity to grab a beautiful, one-of-a-kind board.  The same could be said for a Joe Bark gun, Mike Stavros chambered quad or Pat Ryan Kingfish.  Nevertheless, it was a great event for a great cause -- massive kudos to Royce Cansler at Billabong -- and overall, Sacred Craft was a metric ton of fun.  I can’t wait until the next expo.  If you’ve ever considered going, go!  It’s only $10 to get in and comes with a free one-year subscription to Surfer magazine.  Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.
Lance Carson
Tyler Hatzikian
Bing Copeland
Renny Yater
Shea Weber