Surfing the Day After the Storm

Normally you are not supposed to surf within 72 hours of rainfall hitting southern California. Runoff from storm drains, streets and everything else washes into the ocean. But the Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado, just up the beach from where we live in Imperial Beach, is almost free of development. There is no runoff to speak of, since the parking lots drain east toward the bay. Unless the sewage plume from the Tijuana River travels north, the Silver Strand can be a good bet.

Most of the time the Strand is a horrible place to surf. The waves are almost always closed out. I worked as a lifeguard there for eight years and rarely saw it good. But with the rain and storm swell that hit Southern California yesterday, the waves at the Strand were a little broken up this morning and the groms scored some fun corners that were helped out by an offshore wind.

The Purest Sport: Bodysurfing the URT Womp

Mark Brown talking it up.

Mark Brown, a legendary San Diego bodysurfer, was the master of ceremonies and chief referee at the 2nd Annual URT Womp, a bodysurfing contest held last Sunday at Coronado’s North Beach.

Bodysurfing is the purest sport of surfing. It is purely natural. You are one with the ocean,” Brown said to participants prior to the start of the event.

My first memory of bodysurfing was in early September 1971 when I first moved to Imperial Beach at the age of seven. My parents drove down to the end of First Street (now Seacoast Drive) to spend the afternoon at the beach.

I eagerly jumped into each small wave I could find and attempted to ride the whitewater as far as possible. Ever since that day I have loved bodysurfing.

During my 13-year career as an Ocean Lifeguard in Imperial Beach and on the Silver Strand, I bodysurfed every chance I got.

A few times each summer, my sons and I head to Boomer in La Jolla to catch a few reef waves at San Diego’s only bodysurfing beach. It is a great place to learn and be humbled.

Doug Mann and Ian Urtnowski, proprietors of the ocean clothing company URT, did their best to make the Womp a great family day at the beach.

“This year we have about three times as many contestants as last year and we have lots of kids,” said Ian.

Kids, young and old ruled the Womp. Joe Byrne, 12, a 7th grader at Coronado Middle School, was stoked.

“I made it to the finals, because I did a couple of barrel rolls,” he said.

Al Hansen, who at 65 is still a grom at heart, was on the beach observing the Womp.  “My first memory of bodysurfing is from 1950 when I was four,” he said.

“We’d go to the beach at the Hotel del Coronado. Later when I was older we had these big sheets we’d fill up with air and we’d ride down the waves and they’d go ‘whoosh’ and the air would rush out. At North Beach, we’d take out surplus life rafts into the surf and jump off of them into the waves.”

Cheyne Merrill of Imperial Beach competed in the 15 and under division making it all the way to the semi-finals. He competed with his fellow Coronado High water polo teammates Elijah Belmontez and Jack Walsh.

Surf scribe, John Elwell, 78, was on hand. John had just returned from a sailing trip in the Sea of Cortez. “Back in 1940-41 we’d come down to the North Beach on horses,” he said. “I learned to bodysurf from my dad who picked it up in Hawaii in 1939.”

Surf author John Elwell.

Others present included Jim and Nancy Walsh (Jim made the finals but had a head-first encounter with a dog that was loose in the whitewater), Chris and Sarah Holder, Rich Hidalgo the chief event judge, Matt Finley and Dan Mann whose son was a finalist in the 14 and under division.

Somehow I made it all the way to the final heat with Jim Walsh, Damon Bassett (who made the beautiful hand plane trophies), Bobby Wurzelbacher (who won last year), Scott Lambert and Ross Sinclair.

All of my fellow finalists were great bodysurfers, taking off underwater, spinning in the barrel and whitewater.

Ross, a former water polo player at UCSB, ended up winning. Scott came in second. I ended up third. Both Scott and Ross are Newport Beach Lifeguards and awesome bodysurfers.

The finalists. Scott Lambert (2nd), Ross Sinclair (1) and me (third). Photo courtesy of Drew McGill

So thanks to Doug and Ian and the entire URT family for proving that there is nothing better than spending a day in the ocean with a pair of swim fins, a few friends, and a big smile.

Full results for the event can be found here.

Taylor Jensen’s Professional Surfing Life

From my Coronado and Imperial Beach Patch Surfing Column of the week of March 16th:

Coronado’s Taylor Jensen is one of the most accomplished surfers to have come out of South County. Whether he is on a powering new school maneuvers on a longboard or ripping on his shortboard, Taylor, who holds 6 U.S. National longboard titles, mixes an impressive blend of athleticism, power and style into his surfing. He continues the long line of Coronado competitive new school longboarders including Mike and Terry Gillard and Dan Mann. When I caught up with Taylor, he was on his way to compete in the Noosa Festival of Surfing in Queensland, Australia.

When did you start surfing? And when did you get serious about professional surfing and why?

I started surfing at about 6yrs old. My Dad used to take me down to the beach and push me into waves on a blue body board. I was hooked from then on. I got serious about it when I got my first sponsor at 13. John Gillem hooked me up with Rusty Surfboards and that was it. I was sold on the idea of surfing for a living.

It seems as thought the Professional Longboard circuit is in a period of flux. To me you represent the best of “New School” longboarders carrying out high-performance maneuvers, but it seems as thought the sport is moving back to the traditionalist style as exemplified by the Vans Duct Tape Invitational that Joel Tudor organizes. Where is professional longboarding heading now?

Longboarding is sort of at a crossroads now. There has always been this divide between the traditional single fin side of things and the high performance side. There is no use trying to argue for one side or the other. That’s like someone who rides a twin fin telling someone who rides a thruster that they are wrong. It is surfing no matter what you ride. Longboarding, from a marketing standpoint, needs to head in the traditional direction. We need to differentiate from the shortboard side of things. People see me as the high performance guy, and yes I love riding a high performance longboard when the waves are good, but I also love riding a traditional single fin and noseriding.  Joel’s Duct Tape tour is a great thing for the sport. I’m heading to Spain later this year to be a part of it and am really looking forward to it.

You’ve spent a lot of time in Australia. Why does it seem that surfing and especially professional surfing is taken much more seriously Down Under than in California?

Just about everyone lives on the coast in Australia. Surfing is a part of everyone’s life here, whether they realize it or not. Surfing in Australia is a sport in which training facilities are dedicated to. Guys are signing multi million dollar deals at the age of 16 now. It is a great thing to see.

With the rise in retro shortboads that are wider and thicker than modern shortboards and allow high-performance surfing in small waves, is longboarding really even valid anymore?

Longboarding is a preference. There is no need to validate it. Ride whatever you have the most fun on. That is the whole reason any of us ever started surfing. Everyone should have as many boards as they can fit in their garage and ride them all. Every craft brings a different feeling of stoke. That is what we are looking for every time we enter the water. Longboarding, either high performance or traditional, is something different and it is where surfing started.

Taylor's Quiver

What types of boards are you riding, and who is shaping them? And how do you work with your shaper to obtain the shapes and boards that work for you?

I’m currently riding Firewire Surfboards. And I have almost every board in their range. Dan Mann shaped my longboard model. The relationship between a shaper and a rider is key to getting the best result. I always looked up to Dan’s surfing as a kid and he has seen me grow up so we have that hometown bond that allows us to create a great board.

You are one of the more athletic surfers on the professional circuit at any level. How are you staying in shape for surfing? And do you think most surfers are ignoring the importance of working out and diet to stay fit for surfing?

I had a severe ankle injury for the past three months so I got really out of shape. Getting back into peak performance is a lot harder than I remember. I’m getting into yoga and stretching a lot. Eating really healthy and taking care of your body is critical for surfing. Surfers are fit because of the exercise they do while surfing. If you combine that with stretching and eating right you’ll be looking at a new you.

Who are the surfers who have influenced you? And who is moving surfing forward today?

I have never really looked towards longboarding for influence. They guys who are pushing shortboarding are who influence me. Guys like Christian Wach have taken noseriding to a whole new level? The stuff he is doing on the front of his board is amazing! Also I like to see people who ride everything and who just don’t conform to some BS image for the media. Be you and do what you want to do, have fun with it!

One of the things that I admire most about your surfing is your ability to absolutely rip in any medium on shortboards and longboards? Do you find it hard to go back and forth? Is there a period of adjustment you have to make to surf well when go from a longboard to a shortboard?

I love shortboarding. That’s a huge part of my enjoyment in surfing. I’ll generally go weeks without riding a longboard and when I go back I surf better than ever before. Taking time to ride different boards is a huge part of developing your surfing. It is how you learn to get speed from different sections of waves and its how you find your own style. That’s a quest that never stops in your surfing, that journey to find your own style is something you can always work on and refine.

Where is your absolute favorite place to surf?

A certain place in Australia. It is the most magical place I have ever been. The waves are amazing, the people are wonderful, and the whole vibe is so laid back. I’m in love with this place. It is what California would have been like if we didn’t stuff it up with all the concrete, freeways, and pollution.

Best surf trip ever?

Two years ago I ended up on a trip to Micronesia with Mick Fanning, Beau Young, and Steph Gilmore. I have no idea why but it was amazing. You learn a lot by watching people like that. I took a lot of knowledge away from that and I gained some great new friends!

Who sponsors you and how do you work with your sponsors to have a long-term mutually productive professional relationship?

Currently my sponsors include Firewire Surfboards, Ocean Current Clothing, On A Mission, Kicker Audio, Coral Reef Wetsuits, and Surfride Boardshop. The relationships differ from sponsor to sponsor but all of them are like family to me. We have lunches, go for surfs, hang out and chat. But at the end of the day I am not employed to just surf. I get photos in magazines, go on editorial trips, shot videos for sections in movies, write a blog, test out future designs and give them feedback from an athlete’s point of view. There really is a lot involved in it but its always going to be better than sitting behind a desk.

What advice would you give a young surfer thinking about making the leap into professional surfing?

If you are really serious about it, take the time to test out the different career paths within the sport. There is always the chance to be a free surfer if contest aren’t your thing. And focus on having fun, as long as you are having fun it is worth it. The minute you stop having fun is when it turns from a job you love into the job you hate and then there is no point doing it. Get out there and go for it!

Swell Stories

My IB and Coronado Southwest Surf Column from this week.

January was a great month to be a surfer in San Diego. Lots of consistent medium size surf with excellent conditions. Unfortunately I’ve been out of the water with a bad cold and cough for the past 12 days so I have missed some of the cleaner swells. But there have been lots of reports of great sessions up and down the coast and more swell is on the way this week.

“I have been surfing around Sunset Cliffs during the last swell. It was solid 4-6′ and clean,” said Sean Malbanan. “I also scored P.B. Point, 4-8′, perfect rights. Surfed with Josh Hall, Masi of Masi Surfboards and my Dad, Paul Malabanan. I have been riding a 5’10” Lost Rocket, a 6’2″ Channel Island Flyer and my 9’0″ Stewart.”

Zach Plopper has been back and forth between North County, Imperial Beach and Baja. “I had an epic afternoon at San Miguel with only 7 other surfers in the water and a fun morning at Baja Malibu with my WiLDCOAST co-worker Ben McCue,” Zach recounted. “And of course there were plenty of mornings at Boc’s scattered in between.”

There were plenty of days at the Sloughs to be had. Jeff “Spiderman” Knox, who is currently on the North Shore with Kimball Dodds, said, “The Sloughs was at it’s best for over a week in late January. The usual gang rode super lefts and very good rights for days on end. Kelly Krauss was the stand out on his Sloughs SUP. We watched him from First Notch score left after double overhead left in the middle of the reef we traditional surfers could never have tracked down.”

In addition to catching great waves on his own SUP, Kelly experimented with a, “Ugly beast of a windsurf board that was chipped, dinged and dented but basically seaworthy that I found on the beach. It had been sloppily spray painted black and for a fin someone had jammed a 1 foot by 1 foot square piece of 1 inch thick plywood diagonally into the just-back-of-center keel slot.  I decided to try it out and paddled it prone out through the inside whitewater and then went stand up without too much difficulty. After a few minutes I lined up and caught a smaller wave no one really wanted, maybe waist high.  I would love to be able to say I cruised it all the way to the beach but I as I dropped in I got a bit too ambitious and tried a sort of bottom turn. The thing just rolled on me.  I lost it. Obviously there was no leash, and besides, at maybe 30 pounds, the thing would have torn off a leg.”

On Saturday I gave a talk to the Doheny Longboard Surfing Association on the beach at Doheny State Park. Afterward, I picked up the groms who were participating in the annual Coronado Middle and High School Surf teams Church’s/Trestles Camping Trip. I pulled up to the San Onofre parking lot to see beautiful waves lined up from Church’s to Lowers. What a sight.

The groms relax after a hard day surfing.

“We’ve been going on this surf team trip for ten years. Every year seems better than the last,” said Lorton Mitchell. “That stretch of beach is a real gift and the kids seem to really appreciate the treasure. Lots of the surf community shares the resource, but it is generally a pretty fair attitude in the water. We wached Five Summer Stories near the campfire. I don’t know if it was the movie or the three sessions that day put that put the kids to sleep by 8:30.”

“The weather was insane all day Saturday. Lowers in the morning and Uppers till dark,” reported Sharon “Peachy” Alldredge

Ed Pollitt, who teaches Philosophy at West Chester University in New Jersey traveled to Imperial Beach to visit his aunt Leslie McCollum and catch some California surf. According to Ed, “It was nice to be back in Imperial Beach. Despite the pollution, I caught some fast, sectiony rights in the chest to head high range that were breaking off the south side of the pier. I surfed with a fun and friendly group of locals. One afternoon, I lounged on the beach till late, jumping in for a few quick rights just as the sun went down. The water was ablaze in orange and red. I’ll be back soon.”

Israel catches a good one on the north side.

Shark Attack at the Tijuana Sloughs

Dempsey Holder. Photo: Ramos

An excerpt from my book Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.

For those of you who think that it is difficult to surf in our modern wetsuits, with leashes and lightweight boards, just remember that Dempsey and his hardcore crew of IB, Nado and La Jolla locals were surfing the Sloughs back in the 1940s and 50s on redwood surfboards with no wetsuits.

Dempsey Holder: We had an El Niño kind of condition during the summer of 1950. The water was really warm and there was a south swell — southern hemisphere swell. Made for some beautiful surfing.

Dr. Cark Hubbs, Scripps Institution of Oceanography: An unusual number of sharks have appeared in our waters as a result of prolonged southern winds.

Dempsey Holder: Bob Campbell, Jim Lathers, Dave Hafferly and I went down to the Sloughs. Bob and Dave were bodysurfing. Jim had an air mat he wanted to try out there and I took out my surfboard. I was the first one out. The other guys were real slow in coming out. They were at least fifty yards behind me.

All of a sudden I heard Bob Campbell holler something. Then Jim Lather hollered “Shark!” Bob hollered “Shark!”

He had a real frightened tone in his voice. I was sitting there on my board thinking that he had come out here for the first time in deep water.

He saw a porpoise go by and just panicked. “Boy,” I thought, “He’s going to be embarrassed. He really hollered.” Jim hollered at me again. It was a shark. I went over there but I didn’t see the shark. There was blood in the water and Bob grabbed Jim’s air mat.

San Diego Union—October 9, 1950: A man-eating shark tore a chunk out of the thigh of a 31-year-old swimmer off Imperial Beach yesterday morning in what may be the first shark attack ever reported in local waters.

Dempsey Holder: I put the board right underneath him and took him in. Got bit. I’m sure he pulled his legs up. He had marks on his hands. He said it got him twice. Jim Lather saw it. He said it looked like two fins and then it rolled over. We didn’t take long. Everybody was on shore. I took him on my board. He was bleeding from his legs. We took him to see Doc Hayes. He had a little office in the VFW. Bob looked kind of weak. He had that gray look. That shark must have taken a chunk of his leg the size of a small steak.

The Pure Joy of Surfing

From my Imperial Beach and Coronado Patch columns from January 12, 2011.

The groms after their first session at Lowers.

The groms woke up early Saturday morning. Israel woke up first followed by Shane Landry, Jake Stutz and my youngest son Daniel. It was Daniel’s 13th birthday, and we celebrated with a surfari to Trestles.

By 6:30 the groms were in the lineup on a 3-4 foot day at Lowers.  The surf was firing. “It’s perfect,” Daniel yelled as I paddled by him.

A biting offshore wind whipped out of the Santa Margarita Mountains, east of Camp Pendleton, reminding me how lucky I was to be in my 4-3-2 toasty Matuse Hoplite and hood.

South Bay Union School District Board member and IB ripper Dave Lopez, his son Loukas along with Vincent Claunch, joined us in the lineup. Dave surfed in his new X-Cel 4-3 Drylock, which he said, “Keeps me almost dry.”

The Grom Squad had a blast. The inside waves peeled both left and right, were hollow and provided just enough face for awesome grom snaps and cutbacks.

Daniel attempts something...

I was able to test-drive my new Novak EPS-epoxy 6’6” squash quad (now called the “Potz” by the groms due to its lime green and electric orange colors) with new Futures “Rusty” lightweight foam hex core glass fins. The board and fins worked amazingly well.

As usual I sat just to the south of the hardcore local crew (who are always friendly). I snagged a few wave sets that swung wide and was able to push my new board to see what it could do on the perfect peeling rights.

In the lineup I said hello to International Surfing Association Director Bob Mignogna, who as a board member of the SIMA Environmental Fund is a big supporter of WiLDCOAST. I also chatted with Greg Hulsizer, the CEO of the Southbay Expressway about his homemade 5’6” min-Simmon’s hybrid that he ripped on.

After a solid three-hour surf, the south wind picked up and we headed back to San Diego. On the way home we stopped for a second session at Scripps Pier, where the sideshore and uncrowded A-frames provided a treat for the groms.

Saturday was the culmination of the best week of swell in about a month.

A clean northwest groundswell created lots of barrels in both Coronado and Imperial Beach. Due to the beach closure in the early part of the week in IB, I surfed Coronado last Wednesday and scored a few waves.

On Thursday IB was open and I surfed the south side twice with a small crew including Terry Richardson, Alex Ypis, Billy Huddleston, John Tolmosoff and Ben McCue.

Kyle Knox was out ripping and was recently featured on

Unfortunately, the quality of the waves was marred by the poor quality of the water.

“I surfed for more than two hours on Thursday and enjoyed the brief high pressure/no wind warm period,” said Jay Novak. “Later that day I came down with body aches and a flu type condition. By Friday AM the beach closure signs were back. That’s IB.”

Silver Strand Lifeguard Captain Mike Martino scored the session of the week.

“I took my five-year-old nephew Ian surfing at La Jolla Shores where it was low tide and 1-3 foot,” he said.  “When we saw the waves my nephew blurted out, ‘Uncle Mike the surf is great!’ After his last wave that was overhead for him, Ian said, ‘Uncle, Mike I rode the face the whole way.’ I rode eight waves with my nephew, never got off my belly and had one of the best surf days in a year.”

See you in the water.

Surfing in Sewage


Beach closure sign--a common sight in Imperial Beach, California.

Imperial Beach, California, my hometown is just north of the Tijuana River. When it rains and sometimes for weeks afterward, millions of gallons of sewage polluted water flows out of the rivermouth and into the ocean.

That makes Imperial Beach difficult to surf if you value clean water.

For the past six years WiLDCOAST has carried out a “Clean Water Now” campaign. The campaign has helped to get millions and millions of dollars allocated for the construction of new sewage treatment plants on both sides of the border.

Image via Wikipedia

That is good. But when it rains, the sewage pours. Our beach was closed between December 18 and January 5th. It was opened for one day yesterday and closed this morning (January 7th).

Yesterday I paddled out to take advantage of the clean NW groundswell. The water was fine. On the way in I smelled it–the odd detergent like smell of treated and or untreated sewage. It is specifically a sweet chemical weird smell.Around noon I paddled out again and did not notice any smells.

I notified County of San Diego authorities. This morning I paddled out again and once again got a whiff of that weird sewage odor. Bummer. Right afterward the beach closures signs were posted by the County of San Diego.

We use the Scripps Oceanography plume tracker to monitor ocean conditions and correlate sewage flow with the direction of the nearshore plume. The combination of a south wind and south to north current is a death sentence for surfing in IB.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Plume Tracker for Tijuana RiverThis is arguably the world’s best tool for proactively managing ocean pollution. It requires water quality testing and field observations. But this plume tracker has helped us understand when pollution is hitting our beach.

And tomorrow I’ll be taking a pickup filled with groms to Trestles. That is why we campaigned so hard to “Save Trestles.” Because when the water is polluted we head north to clean waves and water!!!


Surf Books by Local Surfer Scribes

From my Imperial Beach and Coronado Patch Southwest Surf Column of December 22, 2010.

Looking for some last minute gift ideas to brighten up the cheer of the surfer on your holiday list? Luckily we have a collection of local authors who have published excellent books that are near and dear to our waves and beach.

Tijuana Straits by Kem Nunn

Nunn’s masterpiece is arguably the best novel ever written about surfing. The well regarded novelist and author of books such as Tapping the Source, Dogs of Winter and Pomona Queen, Nunn, a San Clemente resident spent a lot of time hanging around Imperial Beach, Tijuana and the Tijuana River Valley to get the details in his story about Magdalena, an environmental activist from Tijuana who is rescued by Fahey, a former surfer and ex-con, near Border Field. The character of surfing pioneer Hoddy Younger is based on Dempsey Holder.

Every local surfer should own this book. I guarantee you that once you start reading, you won’t be able to put it down.

Surf Food: The Ultimate Surfers Cookbook by Nava Young

Nava Young is part of Australia’s first family of surfing. The daughter of surfing legend Nat Young, Nava is an incredible surfer and musician in her own right and now an author. She is also the significant other of Taylor Jensen and can be found surfing Coronado and Oceanside where the young couple recently purchased a home.

Surf Food is a collection of tasty and easy to make recipes from some of the world’s best surfers including Kelly Slater’s Avocado Smoothie, Dane Reynolds’ Tortilla Soup, Julian Wilson’s Tango Mango Chicken and much more.

“I wrote Surf Food because I thought it was an interesting idea that had not been done before. I had a great time writing it and really learned a lot about my heroes in the surfing world,” Young said.

“I am so grateful to all the incredible surfers that agreed to participate. Without them there would be no book.”

According to my son Israel who is a fan of Surf Food, “Kelly’s Avocado Smoothie is delicious. And Ian Cairn’s Garlic and Rosemary Lamb reminds me of our trip to Australia.”

Lifeguards of San Diego County by Michael “Mike” Martino

As a former Imperial Beach and State of California lifeguard, I know that the history of surfing and ocean lifeguarding in San Diego County are intertwined.

Michael Martino, a lifeguard supervisor at Silver Strand State Beach and Imperial Beach resident, wrote and organized an amazing photographic history of lifeguarding in our region including chapters on Border Field, Imperial Beach, Silver Strand and Coronado.

I love reviewing the images of local lifeguards like Dempsey Holder, Jim Voit, Russ Elwell, Richard Abrams, Chuck Chase, Greg Abbott, Chuck Quinn, Larry Cartwright, Mike Neil, Rob Rand and Jim Cahill.

“I wrote the book because I saw Arthur Verge’s book on the LA County Lifeguards and I said, ‘I can do that,'” Martino said.

“I went to all the lifeguard services up and down San Diego’s coast. Their historical records were usually a bunch of newspaper articles and photos in a cardboard box. I organized a lot of lifeguard history.”

Surfing in San Diego by John Elwell and Jane Schmauss

Coronado native and longtime surfer John Elwell is one of the deans of surfing history. He helped focus new attention on the role of Bob Simmons in surfing and surfboard design. His link with Richard Kenvin and his Hydrodynamica project has opened the door to the Mini-Simmons design.

In Surfing in San Diego, John and Jane do an excellent job of providing a comprehensive look at the history of surfing in our region. Local surfers who appear include Chuck Quinn, Dempsey Holder, Tom Carlin, Jim Barber, Mike “Duck” Richardson, Jim Renfro, David Chalmers and his surfing dog Max, Dennis Downs as a grom and boat builder Dennis Choate.

Dan Mann and the Future of Surfboards

Dan Mann of Mannkine Surfboards. Photo: Mannkine Surfboards

This is from my Imperial Beach Patch Column of December 8, 2010

Dann Mann is the founder, owner and head shaper of Mannkine Surfboards. A longtime Coronado and Imperial Beach local, he is always one of the standouts in a lineup, whether he is on a shortboard, longboard or paddleboard racing.

Dan grew up in Maui where his dad Lance taught him to surf at the age of two. He moved to Coronado at the age of 10, competed professionally from 1994 to 2000. Dan started shaping Mannkine Surfboards in 1996. He has also shaped for Channel Islands, Rusty, Joel Tudor and Xanadu.

Until 2008, he worked as the head of Design, Research and Development for Firewire. Dan currently lives in Coronado with his wife Kara and children Lance and Lily. When he is not surfing IB and Nado, he loves to find waves in Australia and Mexico.

Q. Why did you start shaping surfboards and when?

A. I started shaping in 1996 because along with paddling a long distance, I feel it is something every surfer should do.

Q. What shapers influenced you starting out and currently?

A. Starting out, Mike Eaton and Stu Kenson.  Now, Matt Biolas and whoever it is that designed the Oracle trimeran

Q. What sort of designs are you are working on?

A. Right now there’s a board I call the Chum Lee for Mannkine. I did a similar design for Firewire called the Sweet Potato.  It is 6 to 8 inches shorter than the rider and is a 4 finner.  It changed my mind as to what really makes a surfboard work.

Q. How was it working on the new Firewire Taylor Jensen model?

A. It was cool.  Taylor was a good friend of my brother when they were five and up so I’ve known him a long time and like his surfing a lot.  He loves surfing and has an intense sense of what works and doesn’t work in his boards.

Q. Describe some of the innovative work you are doing on board design and development?

A. I feel like we are only now scratching the surface on what surfboards can and should be.  The first thing that needs to change is the process to make a board.   Processes need to change so surfboards can be made more cleanly (eco-friendly), easily and with more consistency so that surfers know what they are going to get when they buy it.  This will increase the surfboard’s value for surfers, inject more excitement and creativity into the industry and make it an inventive vibrant industry again.

Along with changes in surfboard manufacturing processes, we need to use more sophisticated materials in surfboards.  There’s nothing like the dynamics of riding a wave on a board, so the improvements made to surfboards needs to come from those who make them and more importantly, surf them.  I love my old PU boards with a wood stringer, but if we want to experience what a surfboard really can be, we have to use carbon fiber.

This doesn’t mean just make a board and have some sort of carbon somewhere on it.  The carbon needs to be the main force behind the structure and more importantly  the way the board is bending or flexing – the feel of the board. This is the difference between a magic board versus an OK one.

This must be done in a way that does not interfere with the shapers ability to design. I have spent most of my time since 2003 making boards with this sort of stuff in mind and have a patent on a technology I call ‘Incide’ technology that addresses these issues.

Q. Where did the collapse of Clark Foam leave the surfboard industry?

A. It left the industry scrambling in good ways, bad ways and every way in between.  Ultimately we are here (five years to the day!) with several other companies, occupying the void Clark left with essentially the same product with very little meaningful innovation. So, things are a bit flat in the industry.

Q. How do you test-drive your designs? Is it your own feedback or that of key surfers that matter?

A. I definitely love surfing my own designs and ideas but the best and most meaningful feedback comes from other surfers. I feel like the best ideas and interpretations come from the end users.

Q. Handmade vs. computer designed and machine shaped?

A. Depends on what the guy who orders the board is looking for. I find most guys are pretty serious about getting something they are REALLY going to like and for this I think you can’t say enough about a computer aided, properly designed, machine cut board.

Q. Is there a future for the small “handcrafted” surfboard shaper/manufacturer?

A. For sure. I think if young guys want to get into it they simply need to be better than the generation ahead of them. They will need to know about the ENTIRE board and board building process. They also will need to be more inventive and creative.  The big guys are definitely getting bigger though.

Surfing at the JR

Israel snags a good one near the Pier. Photo: Alan Jackson

The surf is flat. Luckily there were a few corners to be had on Monday and Tuesday.

According to Kevin Wallis, Chief Forecaster for Surfline “’With La Nina conditions likely to prevail through the winter and into at least the early part of the 2011 spring, we can expect dryer than normal weather with our swells generally coming from a more ‘northerly’ direction. The northerly direction of the swells will limit size for Southern California, particularly at those breaks that face southwest.”

And despite the flatness, last Saturday the JR was once again a magical time on the beach for all.

Contest director John Gillem said, “It is the smallest surf ever, but we couldn’t ask for better weather.”

It was so warm that Tom Christiansen surfed in his speedo.

Alec Mackenzie, the best contest announcer of all time (he trained as a boat driver at the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland), said, “What looked like a six inch day turned into 12 inch surf.”

Reminiscing about old surfboards, Alec recalled, “I have an original Simmons board. And I bought a Dempsey board bought for $17 at Value Village.”

Anyone who knows thrift stores knows that you find cool stuff at Chula Vista’s Value Village thrift store. The groms once bought a board sock there for 75 cents. And I bought a 1970s O’Neill front-zip long-arm spring suit for four bucks.

But nothing beats scoring a Dempsey surfboard for less than a double sawbuck.

The first couple of surfing, Taylor Jensen, and Nava Young, were at the JR. Nava is the author of, Surf Food: The Ultimate Surfers Cookbook, a musician, and the daughter of surf legend and historian Nat Young. Taylor of course is one of the world’s best surfers.

I caught up with my neighbor, fellow surf scribe and SUP expert John Ashley before he paddled out for the SUP final. “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail,” said John, quoting John Wooden.

John came in 2nd in the SUP division after Kelly Kraus.

Kelly is always prepared.

Russ “Mr. Fitness” Elwell was on the beach. A former lifeguard and schoolteacher, Russ is 76 and in better shape than most guys in their 40s. “I do yoga, weights and paddle,” said Russ.

Russ also remembered surf sessions with Dempsey Holder. “He used to take me out in the lifeguard boat out at the Sloughs. Jimmy Voight was one of the best surfers out there,” said Russ. “Dempsey knew more about surfboard design than most people give him credit for.”

Terry Gillard swept the Masters, Open, and Best Noseride divisions. The first time anyone has taken all three. Terry is an outstanding surfer and a pleasure to watch in the water (see below for complete contest results).

Congrats to the Coronado Surfing Association for once again holding a great event that benefits youth education and recreation.

See you in the water.

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