I will launch the tour for my new book, Surfing the Border, on Saturday January 24th in Coronado and Imperial Beach. I will be speaking and signing books at the Coronado Library Winn Room from 2-3pm and then from 5-6:30 pm I’ll be at the Pier South Resort in Imperial Beach. Should be a blast!!
On Saturday March 1, 2014, the surf from an unusual almost Hurricane like storm (in its appearance) battered the coast of Southern California. The surf went from 3-5′ on Saturday morning to more than 10-15′ on Saturday afternoon. High tides and surf that evening resulted in coastal flooding in Imperial Beach and up and down the California coast (especially in the Santa Barbara area).
In Imperial Beach this swell combined with high tides to create coastal flooding. Surf topped over the sand berm along the beachfront especially in the Cortez/Descanso area and at the Palm Avenue Jetty. On Saturday afternoon surf broke well past the Imperial Beach Pier and over a mile offshore on distant reefs.
As a 13-year veteran Ocean Lifeguard for the State of California and
the City of Imperial Beach, I know lifeguards play a critical role in
making sure that our beaches remain as safe as possible for the public.
Mike Martino is part of a group of lifeguards in San Diego County who
work to maintain the highest professional standands for lifeguard
agencies. Additionally, he has played an important role in documenting
the fascinating history of lifeguards in San Diego.
Serge Dedina: I was intrigued by the mention in your book, Lifeguards of San Diego County,
that the earliest reported lifeguards were in China in the early 18th
century. How did early pre-20th century lifeguards operate?
Mike Martino: The early life-saving groups were local. A group
called the Massachusetts Humane Society set up a lifeboat station in
1807. The men who worked the stations were local volunteers and their
rescue efforts dealt with foundering ships. Beach going for recreation
and swimming was still (on a societal level) a 100 years away.
Serge Dedina: Who were some of the lifeguard pioneers in San Diego County?
Martino: Some local pioneers are George Freeth, Louis Chauvaud, Calvin “Spade” Burns, Charles Hardy and Emil Sigler just to name a few.
Dedina: We take it for granted that very few people drown on
public beaches in the U.S. anymore and especially in Southern
California, but a few cases of mass drownings in San Diego played a key
role in pushing public agencies to form professional lifeguard services.
What was the key tragedy in San Diego that caused a major perception in
understanding the need for lifeguards?
Martino: In San Diego, the major event occurred on May 5, 1918
at Ocean Beach. The surf was running somewhere in the 8-10 foot range,
and a massive rip current swept beach goers off their feet and out into
the swirling currents and surf. When it was all over, 60 plus people had
been rescued and 13 people had drowned.
Dedina: When and where did professional lifeguard agencies evolve in San Diego County?
Martino: My best guess is that lifeguards were hired by the
local private bath houses somewhere around the early 1900s. Those
private businesses eventually petitioned San Diego City Council for
funds to support lifesaving operations, and then those private/public
relationships morphed into the government-sponsored services. The first
San Diego City Guards were policemen with aquatic skills.
Dedina: Emil Sigler was a legendary City of San Diego
Lifeguard. Who was he and why was so such a seminal figure in the
development of lifeguarding in San Diego?
Martino: I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Emil when I researched my book Lifeguards of San Diego County.
He worked as a seasonal lifeguard and commercial fisherman. Eventually,
he left lifeguarding to fish full-time. Emil was the consummate
waterman. He surfed, dove, fished and dedicated his life to the ocean.
He lived more than 100 years and lived the type of waterman’s life most
of us can only aspire to.
Dedina: Why and when did you become a professional lifeguard?
Martino: I became a seasonal lifeguard in 1986, and I did it
because my best friend had been a state lifeguard and encouraged me to
join. Early on, I did it to earn money for college, and then eventually
pursued it as a career.
Dedina: Why do we need lifeguards to safeguard our beaches and water bodies?
Martino: Beach lifeguards—the people you see in the towers—are
the first line of defense against drowning. Good lifeguards intimately
know the stretches of beach and bodies of water they are assigned to
protect. They provide your family with valuable information and safety
advice, and then when things go bad, they come out and rescue you.
Dedina: Today, there are lifeguard agencies charged with
patrolling beaches from Oceanside to the Mexican border. What type of
physical skills and ocean knowledge does it take to become a lifeguard
and remain a professional lifeguard?
Martino: Lifeguards have to be comfortable in their own mind.
Your stimulus has to be internal, not external; 95 percent of the time,
we’re just watching. When the time comes to perform, a lifeguard has to
be physically fit and calm under pressure. I tell my young staff all the
time, this is the closest job you can find to being a super hero.
Dedina: Are there estimates for the annual number of rescues
and assists carried out annually in San Diego County by lifeguard
agencies? What else to lifeguards do besides rescue swimmers in
Martino: With all the agencies combined throughout the county,
10,000 rescues and assists is a good base number. Over that number and
it is a busy year. Under that number and it is a slower year. We also
reunite thousands of lost children with their parents, perform first
aid, patrol on rescue boats and perform cliff rescues. In the case where
I work, our permanent staff are state peace officers with full police
powers, so we make arrests too.
Dedina: What prompted the formation of the SDR Alert or San
Diego Regional Aquatic Lifesaving Emergency Response Task Force and what
is its purpose?
Martino: On August 25, 2003 a helicopter crashed off the shore
of Moonlight Beach. Lifeguards from throughout the county were used for
the search and recovery, and the logistics and resources needed far
exceeded what any one agency could provide. So after that event all the
lifeguard chiefs got together to form a group that pools our resources
and skills. At least once a year, all the agencies get together and
train for a mass casualty/rescue and recovery drill. Most recently, we
worked with the airport to train for a plane crashing in the water.
Dedina: What is it about lifeguarding that is so rewarding?
Martino: Lifeguarding is a career I have never regretted
choosing. There is always something to be done. Training to accomplish,
equipment to master, people to help. It’s a public service career I am
proud to be a part of.
The swell had finally hit.
Steamer Lane was 6 to 8 feet on the sets with fun waves and not that many people out. My sons Israel (16), Daniel (14) and I quickly donned our wetsuits and jumped into the lineup.
We were on the second part of our Thanksgiving week excursion up the coast of California to visit college campuses in the world’s best public university system (Israel is a junior in high school) and hopefully catch a few waves.
Before heading north, we checked out Southern California schools and surf spots.
My wife, Emily, flew into San Francisco the day before Thanksgiving and we planed to join my dad, my brother and the rest of our family for a feast.
The Lane, a World Surfing Reserve, is ground zero for Northern California surf culture (technically it is Central California—but I’m calling Santa Cruz and SF Northern Cal). It is a frenetic beehive of surfers, waves, coastal culture, and surf-gazing tourists.
It is the Main Street of surfing in the United States, with a lighthouse and panoramic view for the wave-filled lineup of Monterey Bay. I couldn’t think of a nicer place to spend an afternoon.
While the boys gleefully jumped off Lighthouse Point and into the Slot, I carefully walked down the upper staircase and delicately threaded my way down the rocks and into the lineup at The Point.
While I fought the crowd for a few lined-up rights, the boys snagged set waves, then found waves to take them inside, where they would run up the inner staircase, back to the outer rocks, fling themselves back into the lineup and start all over again. Grom heaven.
After a couple of hours at the Lane, we hurried northward along the Pacific Coast Highway. Our destination was Half Moon Bay and Pillar Point, home to Mavericks, one of the world’s most infamous and challenging big-wave surf spots.
After hitting a bizarre pre-Thanksgiving traffic jam in Half Moon Bay (which is literally in the middle of nowhere), we found the Mav’s parking lot at the base of Pillar Point.
The boys ran down the trail ahead of me.
“Hey, Dad,” said Israel, running back toward me after a couple of minutes on the trail. “That’s Greg Long,” he said, pointing to a lone surfer walking down the beach carrying a big-wave gun.
And sure enough, we were lucky to catch a moment with one of the world’s best big-wave surfers.
“The waves are coming up,” Long said. “It’s not super big, but I wanted to get ready for tomorrow.”
All I can say about Mavericks is that I have a deep well of respect for the surfers who challenge themselves on what has to be one of the gnarliest and most difficult waves to surf on the coast of California.
The rocks, the waves, the paddle, the sharks, and the boils come together to make it a true surfing gauntlet.
As the sun set, the boys and I joined a couple of locals and a group of Japanese surfers on the cliff above the beach and watched 12- to 15-foot waves pour through the surf zone.
It was gnarly. And it wasn’t even that “big.”
For the next two days, in between wonderful meals at my brother’s house, the boys and I enjoyed great waves at Fort Point and Ocean Beach in San Francisco. We couldn’t have been more stoked.
So for those of you who spend your time and money searching the world for great waves and adventure, make sure you haven’t overlooked our wonderful surf-filled state.
- Up the 101: A Tour of California College Surf Towns (sergededina.com)
- Mavericks Surf Contest 2012: The Big Wave Brawl Begins (bleacherreport.com)
We were on the beautiful Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus on the second day of our college and surf tour of coastal California. My youngest son Daniel, 14, was along for the waves and to get a peak at cool college surf towns.
“I can’t believe they have a surfboard shaping bay in the Student Union,” said my 16-year old son Israel.
The first stop on out trip was Ventura where the boys were determined to surf in the wake of Dane Reynolds.
Reynolds skipped in and out of the ASP World Tour and made the hollow beachbreaks of his laid back hometown world famous.
But the spot of choice was closed out. So we checked Emma Wood, a reef and beachbreak on the northern edge of town. A couple of years ago the boys surfed there with Dane.
“I even talked to Dane,” Israel said. “He was so cool, and of course he was shredding.”
But Emma Wood was sort of small and the offshore reef was only just starting to show the rising swell.
So we decided to head back further south and check out beaches known for their excellent wave quality and territorial locals.
Upon our arrival at the parking lot at the north end of the beach we could see it was good. A-frames broke up and down the half-mile long beach with small packs on every peak.
Our next stop was Santa Barbara. This beach town is the Beverly Hills or Monte Carlo of coastal California. It is so over-the-top gorgeous and so luxurious that it makes Laguna Beach, its sister-city in upscale chic, seems almost run-down.
We were on our way to a campus tour of UC Santa Barbara, one of the four universities we planned to visit on our tour.
If you’re the parent of surfers, you know that expensive and overrated East Coast private universities are off the list of acceptable schools. Thankfully our great state has the best public university system on the planet and a few of them are close to great waves.
UCSB is situated on a pointbreak and counts surfer-singer Jack Johnson as an alum.
At the end of our tour, we head down to for a peak of Campus Point. Only a few surfers enjoyed the knee-high point waves.
“This place is awesome,” Daniel said.
The next morning, two hours north, we dawn patrolled Morro Bay. Overhead A-frames broke up and down a beach that seemed endless.
The boys and I shared peaks for a couple of hours and then headed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
After our surf session, a wonderful campus tour, and the visit to the on-campus shaping bay Israel said, “That’s it. This is where I’m going.”
I hope he gets accepted.
Garth, who has lived, surfed and advocated for coastal and marine protection in Hawaii, Australia and Baja California, was a member of the California Department of Fish and Game‘s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative (MLPAI) Regional Stakeholder Group.
As a result of that effort a new network of marine protected areas (MPAs) was established in Southern California with reserves at Swami’s, Black’s-Scripps, South La Jolla, Cabrillo-Point Loma and the Tijuana River Mouth. These MPAs conserve key marine ecosystems such as kelp beds, reefs, sea grass beds – the ecological features that provide the foundation for some of our very best waves.
Serge Dedina: Why should surfers care about marine conservation and creating MPAs in Southern California?
Garth Murphy: Because we have 300 wave-rich surf spots to choose from and over a million Southern California surfers average 20 surfs a year – for 20 million yearly immersions in what usually happens to be our ocean’s most bio-diverse coastal marine habitats. The Marine Life Protection Act recognizes traditional surfing as a compatible recreational use of the ocean resource, permitted in protected areas except at mammal haul-outs, bird roosts and estuaries. A network of Marine Protected Areas, by protecting and conserving complete coastal ecosystems and habitat, enhances the biodiversity and abundance of marine life, enriching our experience, while minimizing and controlling potential habitat-destructive human activities, which directly affect us.Dedina: Why is preserving marine ecosystems of Southern California so important for surfers?
Murphy: Southern California surfers and marine life share natural coastal ocean habitats of every important class: estuaries and river mouths, beaches and inter-tidal zones, surf grass and eel grass beds on composite reefs like Cardiff; rare cobble reefs like Trestles, Rincon and Malibu; rocky reefs like Windansea and Laguna; submarine canyons like Blacks, and sand bars at Newport and Pacific Beach; as well as man-made habitats like the Piers at Huntington and Imperial Beach, rock jetties like the Wedge and Hollywood by the Sea, and artificial reefs.
As a boon to surfers, thick coastal kelp forest canopies, which shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, also protect us from the afternoon winds, refining ocean surface texture and grooming the swells to extend our surfing hours and the carrying capacity of affected surf spots. Habitat-based marine protected areas preserve everything within their boundaries, including our cherished surf spots.
Dedina: What about water quality? Would marine reserves help our efforts to keep beaches free from polluted runoff?
Murphy: Coastal ocean water quality is not just a function of land pollution runoff. Over-exploitation and depletion or collapse of important food web components causes imbalances that degrade marine ecosystems and make the ocean more vulnerable to disease outbreaks and opportunistic invasive species like stinging jellyfish, algae blooms and toxic red tides, diminishing water quality and habitat suitability for marine life and surfers.
On the contrary, robust, bio-diverse marine ecosystems with intact food webs are resilient, resisting and adapting to environmental change and pollution, maintaining water and habitat quality. Estuaries are marine life nurseries, fresh/salt water interfaces that empty into many of our finest surf spots. We absorb that same water through our eyes, ears, nose and mouths on duck-dives and wipeouts. Rebuilding and maintaining bio-diverse estuaries with a full range of marine life creates healthier nurseries, and encourages upstream compliance with pollution regulations. The result is better water quality for all of us.
Dedina: So in the end, how does preserving our marine heritage in Southern California benefit surfers?
Murphy: The California surfing style evolved in a unique marine environment of glassy peeling waves. Stylish surfing and our beach lifestyle have become an important part of California history and culture –and media focus – generating an endless wave of glossy-color surf magazines, surf videos and feature films. The success of the $7-plus billion surfing industry, centered in Southern California, depends on maintaining the high cultural value of the traditional California surfing experience: as exciting, invigorating exercise, as a get-away, as a sport, a meditation, a dance, a family get-together and photo opportunity –enhanced by a vibrantly alive and healthy ocean.
The ocean is Earth’s largest and most accessible enduring wilderness. Regular contact with wilderness is a human, and especially American, cultural value, manifested today in the ocean by the popularity of surfing. A full and abundant spectrum of marine species – from whales to hermit crabs to phytoplankton – is an integral part of our ocean-wilderness experience.
Marine Protected Areas enhance ecosystem awareness by exposing us to a broad diversity of marine life. They encourage monitoring of potential problems and upstream compliance with complementary air and water quality regulations. The positive water quality and life-giving effects of marine protected areas are a valuable gift to the surfers and marine species who share them.
- Helping North America’s marine protected areas adapt to a changing climate (sciencedaily.com)
- Marine Protected Areas skyrocket (bbc.co.uk)
With gas averaging $4.72 a gallon in San Diego County, commuters and especially surfers are scrambling to reduce their fuel consumption. Surfers waste gas while driving non-stop coastal loops in search of the best waves and endlessly idle their vehicles during street end or beach parking lot surf checks.
Surfers love their gas guzzling bro-dude monster surf mobiles that boost macho core-scores but put a strain on bank accounts and produce smog alerts. Find a surfer and you can guarantee he’s packed his quiver in the back of a lifted 4×4 F-350 crew cab, which makes sense when hauling a trailer filled with sand toys to Glammis but not so much when it comes to driving a mile to the beach.
There are, however, some creative and innovative ways to save fuel, the planet and money in order to arrive at the beach for a surf. That’s because although for some conservatives, “conservation” is a dirty word, for this old-school cheapo, anything that directs less of my paycheck to the monolithic retrograde oil industry and all the dictators who love to sell us petroleum (e.g. Hugo Chavez), is a good thing.
Trade in Your Gas Guzzler
For everyone who bought their mega-truck on zero percent financing and now pay $170 to fill it up, run to your nearest auto dealer and trade it in for a hybrid or electric vehicle. My 2010 Honda hybrid averages about 40 MPG and it fits four groms With the money I save on gas I can afford to buy the groms tacos at Rubios after a run to Blacks. If the groms don’t like your new wheels with less legroom make them hitchike.
You know that really mean and grumpy silverback who screams at you everyday in the lineup even though you’ve surfed together for over twenty years and live down the street from him–well, next time he lovingly blasts you with an insult, pitch him on a carpool. As in, “Hey bro—look I know surfing makes you incomprehensibly angry, but why don’t I ease your pain by joining you on the beach commute and we’ll share some tasty waves together.” Paint a picture of all the fun you’ll have and even offer to let him bitch slap you around in front of his crew for spilling yerba mate on his ride. So make some new friends, save some money and bring peace and joy to your spot by bringing carpooling to your lineup.
Recover a Bike from the Trash and Ride it to the Beach
I come from a long-line of hardened dumpster divers or what eco-hipsters now call “freegans.” As a grom, my crew and I roamed the streets salvaging bikes, surfboards, wetsuits and anything else that could propel us to the beach and in the water (no one in IB had any money in the 70s). I continue that tradition with my kids and often depend on the largesse of my eighty-year old immigrant father—the Freegan King of California—for a parade of old bicycles we’ve cobbled together as urban surf machines (my kids first line of bikes proudly emerged from a dumpster run—we fixed them up together). I’m currently cruising a 80s’ Schwinn ten speed girl’s beach cruiser that my father either liberated from the street or found very cheap at a garage sale that I’ve outfitted with Carver Surf Racks (that cost more than all of our bikes combined), and a big basket No more parking problems and I burn a few more calories during my daily surf commute. The Trestles locals are the fittest surfers in California and seem to have bike rack and trailer systems dialed. I have noticed more people switching to bike surf commutes in the past month than ever before. So search the streets and alleys of your local millionaire laden beach town (La Jolla is gold) and enjoy the gifts of our throwaway consumer society in order to save money, get in shape and improve air quality.
Take the Bus
The Southern California coastal region is chock filled with trolleys, trains and busses. A monthly pass costs anywhere from $72 for adults to $18 for seniors. So go ahead and make a few friends while swinging your longboard around the bus during the morning beach commute. Last year my kids and their friend Jake caught the ferry, two buses and the Coaster from Imperial Beach to San Clemente in order to spend a few days surfing Lowers, and it only took five hours one way. Time is money and since no one seems to have any money, spend your time wisely, meet new people, and cruise to the waves in our wonderful transit system.
Your significant other and mom are correct–surfing in an incredibly selfish and self-centered sport that accomplishes very little and interferes with your job, life, and relationships. So nix surfing, reduce your overhead, and spend more time at home with your spouse and children. Who knows, they might even remember who you are.
Daniel Thomson of Tomo Surboards is a young and innovative surfer who is part of a core group of San Diego shapers pushing the edge of design and development to move surfing to the next level. He has been affiliated with Richard Kenvin’s Hydrodynamica project that is based on the influence and theories of San Diego’s legendary surfing innovator Bob Simmons.
Serge Dedina: Why did you starting shaping surfboards? And what is it about creating surfboards that you love?
Daniel Thomson: I was fortunate enough to grow up in a surfing family so I pretty much have been surfing since I can remember. My dad (Mark Thomson) is a respected shaper in Australia so ever since he made me my first board, I was involved in the shaping process. As I evolved as a surfer, my desire to shape more specialized equipment became apparent so I continued to follow my passion for exploring the connection between creative art specialized for performance surfing.
Dedina: Who are your shaping and surfing influences?
Thomson: My dad obviously. George Greenough was a family friend during my younger years so his work definitely made an imprint on me. More recently the work of Bob Simmons uncovered by the research of Richard Kenvin has been inspiring. Also, I like to look outside of surfing for inspiration: modern aviation, quantum physics and the universe challenge the mind to think deeper for new ideas.
Dedina: How did you end up shaping and surfing in San Diego?
Thomson: After making a few trips out to San Diego from 2004-2010, I realized that the market for progressive designs was stronger in California. Also, I was ready for a change of pace in my life.
Dedina: Your boards have been associated with the hydrodynamic theory and movement espoused by Richard Kenvin that was directly influenced by the design of Bob Simmons? How did you interest in the legacy of Simmons and the partnership with Kenvin occur?
Thomson: Richard was visiting in Australia back in 2003 on one of his first Hydrodynamica missions. He was looking to connect with Dave Rastovich.
In hope that he would be able to film him riding some of the keel fin fish boards he had brought over, Richard tracked down my dad as a support filmer and naturally my dad suggested to Richard that ‘I give these fishes a go.’
A few sessions later, we had some awesome footage of Rasta and me riding these boards. After that I kept in close contact with RK and continued my natural progression in refining the fish design.
Dedina: What are the types of surfboards you are shaping now and specifically what are the designs that you see working best in Southern California?
Thomson: Generally all my boards are fairly suited to California because of the straighter curves and wider tails. The boards that I am currently most excited about are my new Next Generation Modern Planing Hulls (MPH).
They are basically 21st century adaptations of the original Bob Simmons plaining hulls mixed with wakeboards technology. They seem to be very functional designs with a whole bunch of potential to be seen as an apex high performance design in the future.
Dedina: Explain what the hydrodynamic principle means for surfboard design and surfing in general?
Thomson: Broadly speaking, you can apply some sort of hydrodynamic principle to any surfboard. More specially describing a hydrodynamic planning hull is a board designed to minimize drag through several different streamlining methods including utilizing a parallel rail line from nose to tail with a wider nose tail profile and straight-line fin placements
Dedina: What materials are you working with right now?
Thomson: I have always been a firm believer in epoxy resin for its strength, durabilty and flex memory. I am currently working with XTR (closed cell styrofoam) Epoxy and several applications of vacuum bag carbon fiber.
Dedina: You are shaping boards for WQS surfer Stu Kennedy. How did that relationship come about and how do you work with him in terms of giving and receiving feedback?
Thomson: Stu has been a close friend from my hometown of Lennox Head so I have shaped for him quite a bit in the past. When I was home visiting in March, I showed Stu some of the latest boards. He was pretty blown away on how they surfed, and he has barely set foot on a regular short board since he tried one.
Since I shaped him a new quiver of the MPH’s he has been dedicated to riding them in high-level completion as he feels he can achieve his best performances on these boards. He recently placed 9th in the 6 star WQS in England and a 17th in the U.S Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach.
Dedina: Are most pro surfers too conservative with the boards they are riding?
Thomson: Most definitely. The cutthroat nature of competition doesn’t nurture experimentation. Most elite surfers have grown up there whole lives riding one style of design and is not confident riding something unorthodox. Most are jaded to the fact that there could be a left field design out there capable of performing better, so they tend not to have faith in something new. Things are changing though.
Dedina: There’s a photo with Kelly Slater and you when you were a grom and more recently Kelly commented on the boards you shape for Kennedy. How has Kelly’s surfing and his own departure from pro surfing surfboard orthodoxy influenced your own career as a shaper and a surfer?
Thomson: I have always been experimental in nature with my equipment so I haven’t so much been following Kelly design wise. However his surfing is what inspires me most to figure out ways to improve my design to allow me to surf at higher levels.
Dedina: Where do you see yourself going with your shaping career? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Thomson: I would obviously like to be successful. I am more of a surfer/designer than a ‘shaper’ so hopefully I will be surfing more and not be a slave to the shaping room. I have always done it for the love of surfing and a healthy creative outlet. So as long as I am doing that, I will be happy.
- Sliding the Glide with Shaper Josh Hall (sergededina.com)
His innovative and stylish shapes and surfing directly connect him to his mentor and surfing legend Skip Frye. On clean fall days I often catch up with Josh in the lineup at La Jolla Shores where we swap stories about Baja and Spain.
Dedina: When did you start surfing and why? Do you remember your first surf session?
Josh: I started surfing toward the end of 8th grade and beginning of high school. Kind of late by today’s standards. Growing up, my family was always at the beach. We’d go to south Carlsbad every summer for two weeks from when I was born until now, so I was always in the water. My grandfather boogied almost until he was 80! And my half brother was a big surfer, but being ten years older we weren’t real close when I was young so it was up to my friends and I to get it going on our own.
Hall: Once I got the full addiction of surfing, I knew I wanted to build boards. More as a way of being able to stay in surfing and surf forever. I grew up surfing on Felspar St. in Pacific Beach, right next to the Crystal Pier. There was always a heavy group of older locals that were all in the board building business–Joe Roper, Bird Huffman, Larry Mabile, Hank Warner, Glenn Horn. All those guys checked the pier every day so being around them was a huge influence on me. And of course, everyone’s hero Skip Frye had Harry’s Surf Shop with his wife Donna and great friend Hank right there, a half block from the sand.
Serge: How did your relationship with Skip Frye develop?
Hall: Well surfing Felspar everyday, you’d see Skip in the mornings cleaning up trash around the cul-de-sac and then you’d see him later surfing. But it really started when I was 18-19 and ordered my first board from him.
Dedina: Is the role of a mentor critical in producing good surfers and shapers?
Hall: Absolutely. Skip has taught me everything I know about both surfing and shaping–weather, tides, swell directions, periods, everything to do with waves. And of course over the last ten years, he has bequeathed to me a lot of his design theory and his evolution as a shaper/surfer.
It is critical to spend time paying dues, working from the ground floor up, starting at sweeping and packing, then maybe to fins, then maybe other glassing things.
Too many people nowadays just pop up and go, “I’m a shaper,” and they might not even surf. It takes time, and lots and lots of practice. I am just really fortunate to have started with the right person to follow. It is important to ride the boards your are building and watch boards be built. That helps build your overall design knowledge every day. I just happened to be (and still) learning from someone who has 50 years of experience.
Dedina: You and Skip seem to represent San Diego and California’s forgotten art of style and soul. Do you see the need for style once again being recognized or has it been lost with the rise in more technical and aerial surfing maneuvers?
Hall: I think style is important, for sure. For me, hanging around those older guys when I was a grommet, it was for sure all about style. They could pick out any surfer in the line-up from their style, from the pier to the point. As much as big industry seems to be taking over, in my opinion, there’s a HUGE movement of individuals right now, whether surfers or shapers or both, creating their own identities and I think its a far better picture of what’s really going on right now.
Dedina: With the rise of machine-produced surfboards and mass production in China, you’ve made a commitment to creating handcrafted surfboards. Do you regret becoming a shaper? Is it still really possible to make a living as a shaper anymore in the U.S.?
Hall: I don’t regret at all becoming a shaper. Surfing and shaping has given me everything I have. Now some shapers have been able to turn it in to a bigger-than-hobby business, which is possible still, but for me it’s all so I can surf.
These days I think it is really important that your shaper be a good surfer. You are going to want to be able to talk to them about certain waves or how you’d like to surf, and the guys that just design on the computer might not be able to fulfill what your looking for. Now don’t get me wrong, the machine is another tool, and has a place in the business, its just different from my philosophy for why I shape.
Dedina: What is it that you love most about creating surfboards?
Hall: Well, without getting too romantic about it all, you take this fairly crude foam core and literally sculpt it with various tools by hand in to this visually pleasing foil, that is actually beyond super functional in a really inconsistent medium. And the phone calls you get from a customer right after that first session on a new board. The stoke in their voice is extremely satisfying.
Dedina: What kind of shapes do you see working the best in San Diego and Southern California?
Hall: Well, I’m a fish guy. In the various lengths, forms and fins set up, a fish can be the most versatile shape in the universe. My other creed is that everyone in San Diego should own an 8-foot egg. It’s the panacea of surfing. A short board for a long boarder and a long board for a short boarder!
Dedina: In your role as the President of the Pacific Beach Surf Club you’ve helped to continue the club’s role in coastal stewardship and giving back. Why is it important for surfers to take responsibility for safeguarding the beaches we use?
Hall: Well first off the ocean is the biggest resource we have in the entire world, and if we continue to treat it the way we have been IT WONT BE HERE for future generations. So part of the goal of the club is to help further along that thought.
We need to do everything we can to help keep it clean. We do about four annual beach cleanups a year and donate to organizations who are able to do more with it than just our little club in PB. Raising awareness is something I learned from Donna and Skip back in the Harry’s days.
Dedina: You have spent a lot of time in Spain, studying and now surfing and shaping. How did your interest in Spain develop and what is it about northern Spain that has you spending so much time there?
Hall: Well I got a degree in Spanish Literature from SDSU in 2003, and lived in Salamanca, Spain for one year during my undergrad. The love for Spain first came about because my best friend and my former Coronado High School Spanish teacher Smoky Bayless took a group of us kids to Spain. That trip changed my whole life.
Besides many other reasons (friends, family, food, wine, surf, culture) the Basque Region is where the majority of the Spanish and French surf industry lives. So that’s why I stay there so often. My friend Peta has a factory in Irun that I shape at and then the boards get glassed in Soustons, France.
Dedina: : You also spend a lot of quality time off the grid in deep Baja. How does the wildness of surfing in Baja contribute to your evolution as a shaper and surfer?
Hall: Baja brings to me a peace of mind. It is paradise down there. As far as shaping goes, depending on the swell and spot, you can have more actual time surfing on a wave in one trip then you do here for an entire season. That alone is worth gold for R&D purposes.
Dedina: Anything else you want to add?
Hall: I’ve only been able to get here with the help of a whole heap of different people and so for that I am humbled and appreciative. I just hope that I am but a small reflection of all those influences. Slide the glide!
On my dawn patrol down the trail that meanders along San Mateo Creek, I scanned for wildlife, and smiled when I came upon the sandy beach that delivers surfers into the cobblestone reef and waves at Upper Trestles, a masterpiece of natural engineering.
The surf was firing and the small crowd was friendly.
It was fortuitous that I happened to be at Trestles that morning.
Because if Peter had not lived and dreamed of a coastline in California that belonged to us all, there just might not be a San Mateo Creek or surf at Trestles.
“Peter Douglas is to the California Coast what John Muir was to the Sierra Nevadas,” said Surfrider Foundation CEO Jim Moriarty.
The watershed and wetlands of lower San Mateo Creek, part of a California State Park, would have been destroyed by a toll road.
Trestles as we know it would be gone.
The architect of Proposition 20, the citizen’s referendum that established the Coastal Commission, Peter was also one of the principal authors of the Coastal Act, arguably the greatest single piece of legislation worldwide that provides a blueprint for conserving and safeguarding our greatest public trust.
Without Peter, not only would we not have many of our most treasured public beaches, in many cases, we would not have access to much of our coastline.
“In the summer of 2003 our family trekked the entire coast of California,” said Nichols. “The enduring beauty of that mega-transect, owes so much to the battles fought and won by Peter Douglas. His legacy provides unmeasurable emotional and cognitive benefits to the world each day through the beauty of our protected coast and ocean.”
Besides the fact that Peter was a force of nature, he was a dedicated public servant who took his mission to safeguard our coast for all very seriously despite the political fallout it caused him.
One of his many strengths was his capacity to treat people with respect and to make the commission meetings, known for their length and ability to test the patience of anyone, more humane.
“Peter Douglas always made it a priority for he and the Coastal Commission staff to listen to and respond to Surfrider members and local stakeholders,” said Pierce Flynn, former executive director of the Surfrider Foundation. “This ‘local listening’ was a key to Douglas’ and the Coastal Commission’s successes.”
As a first generation American raised on the public beaches of California, who proudly worked as a California Ocean Lifeguard, I thank Peter and the Coastal Commission every time I surf and enjoy the beach with my family.
What really motivated Peter was his absolute joy in the coast and ocean and his belief that everyone has a right to share in the richness of our coastal heritage.
“We had a late afternoon tour that extended into the early evening at South San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge with Peter,” said Andy Yuen, project leader for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex.
“We were standing on the Refuge levees with the soft sunset glow reflecting off the ponds and San Diego Bay, birds wheeling overhead, and you could tell that Peter was completely jazzed that this special piece of San Diego Bay was conserved for wildlife.”
The California coastline is where we get to experience the joy of nature and the roar of the surf.
Where we share in the laughter of our children as they build their first sandcastle and play in the waves.
Where we spend hours around campfires telling stories and singing songs with our friends and family.
In California, the coast is our life. And our life is the coast.
We can thank Peter Douglas for that.
- Coastal defender Peter Douglas dies (gogreennation.org)
- Celebrating 40 Years of California Coastal Protection this Oceans Day (switchboard.nrdc.org)