Another Weekend of Perfect Waves at San Miguel

We spent the weekend at San Miguel for the 3rd Annual Walter Caloca Open, a surf contest that brings together competitors from Mexico, the U.S. and around the world.

The waves were a blast!!

Sunday morning--San Miguel channeling Lowers.

Sunday morning–San Miguel channeling Lowers.

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That’s me channeling Terry Fitzgerald at J Bay in 1975.

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My eldest son Israel.

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My youngest son Daniel.

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IB surfer Sean Fowler.

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San Miguel local Kevin Meza.

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Zach Plopper

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Israel

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Israel

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Contest organizer Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO.

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From left to right: Me, my youngest son Daniel and friends Josh Johnson and his dad Daren Johnson.

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Junior boys finalists including from left to right: Gavin (3rd), Daniel Dedina (2nd), Dakotah Hooker (4th) and Josh Johnson (1st).

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Daniel.

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Daniel

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Josh Johnson

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Daniel

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Beach cleanup Saturday.

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Shaping New Ideas with Plus One’s George Gall

George surfing Indonesia. Photo courtesy of G. Gall.

George surfing Indonesia. Photo courtesy of G. Gall.

George Gall grew up blocks from the water in Ocean Beach body surfing and riding inflatable mats. Today the third generation board shaper runs Plus One Surfboards.

Serge Dedina: You are a third generation shaper. You would think that the adversity that surfboard shapers face economically would have pushed you away from shaping. Why have you stuck with it at Plus One Surfboards?

George Gall: My grandfather made boards starting in the 1920s for himself and his friends. I don’t know that he made any for money, plus the number of surfers was not that many, so his income came from other sources. He was a bit of an artist, I was told he did graphic/sculpting work on buildings in Balboa Park, worked at the Navy Aircraft Rework Facility on North Island, and worked as a chauffeur/assistant for a prominent San Diego family, the Luces.

I only remember my dad having one foam/glass surfboard and they only had their own boards for surfing and abalone diving. So again there was not a lot of economic pressure to make a living from surfboard building, which is probably why I never heard any discouraging parental words to not shape boards.

George at work. Photo: K. Stucki

George at work. Photo: K. Stucki

Likewise, I had other careers. I went to college and got degrees in mechanical engineering and then mathematics. All the while I made boards, I kind of thought I was going to go the full corporate route, and I did, working for the Space Systems Division of General Dynamics on the rocket program that launched payloads like Cassini, the GPS array and military payloads for the Air Force and CIA.

Then the big change for me happened, wanting to surf more again, I took a big chance and changed careers. I became a high school math and computer science teacher and worked in Chula Vista. This opened me up for summers off, perfect for surfing and travel, and making even more boards.

I was busy to the point of surfing less and working more. Not for the money as much as wanting to make good boards and to stoke people on them. I enjoy it.

George at work. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrew Photography.

George at work. Photo courtesy of Michael Andrew Photography.

Dedina: Is San Diego a good place to be a shaper?

Gall: This is a double-edged sword. Southern California has always been the pre-internet hotbed for innovation and the active lifestyle. This means lots of board makers come here to establish credibility and all the major ingredients: the blank makers, resin and glass suppliers had set up shop near San Diego.

It is good to be a shaper in San Diego, for many reasons: cred, leading edge, testing and close to media to share designs and do business. San Diego is a bad place to be a shaper because there are so many shapers trying to do the same thing, thus the market becomes a bit saturated at times, and the price and profit for boards is probably the lowest in the world outside of China.

San Diego can be an aggressive market due to pro surfers wanting sponsorships and low-ball pricing. Access to materials to home builders has an influence on killing the margin needed to make a living from surfboard building.

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

George field testing his designs. Photo courtesy of G. Gall

Dedina: It seems like there is more support for local shapers from the industry and the media. Does that translate to greater sales? Has it helped at all?

Gall: There has been a huge shift from the mindset of pre-2005. Gone are the days of shaping 40, 50, 60 of the same board over and over. Supplanting this is the desire for fresh designs. This paradigm shift has brought the spotlight on “alternate” designs, on new ideas, and thus local shapers.

This translates into different sales, depending upon which side of the threshold the shaper is working. If they were once doing 300 boards a week of the same design, the rise of the local shaper counters their effort. If the shaper is one of the local brands, then yes, they are going to feel an increase in demand, if their designs are good.

However, the local shaper hits a ceiling because there are other local shapers on either side of the shaper’s “territory.” If that shaper has a good share of a particular coastal stretch, then that shaper usually does well, just servicing that business model.

As the territory expands, then the shaper is no longer perceived as a “local shaper” requiring a morph of the public image. In my book, the board has to work, it has to be fun, and the business will come.

Plus One asymmetrical boards.

Plus One asymmetrical boards.

Dedina: What are the trends you see for surfers and the type of boards they are riding right now. What are the hot shapes?

Gall: Experimentation. The average surfer has seen the iconic top surfers trying “new stuff.” With this permission slip, the average surfers are cleansing themselves of the “one-design” constraint of the last 20 years. With this experimenting there will be successes, which will manifest larger quantized jumps in better designs than the small incremental refinements of the old designs.

With this greater design mutation, it is assured you will see greater, more noticeable progress in surfboard design; the door is now open wide, pushed by newfound creativity and also financial reasons. In a way, it is good to see this wide array being tried in the water. Along with this, we are seeing surfing change, less “clonish” with different styles and approaches.

On the other hand, imagine being a surfer who finally gets the hundreds of dollars together to get a new board who must make a decision to go with a “known” design, usually reinforced as a “model,” which implies more credibility to a board, or to take an expensive gamble on an unknown concept that might result in being stuck with it for a while, having to get rid of it, and having to endure criticism from peers–the all-stagnating peer imperative.

George and his racing SUP design. Photo: G. Gall.

George and his racing SUP design. Photo: G. Gall.

Dedina: Is the economic incentive to use more sustainable or “green” materials there yet?

Gall: We are still on the uphill side of sustainable boards at the leading edge of performance surfing. I often wake up wanting to go in the shop and build something that was grown or was from something used previously for another purpose, so it would not be a waste.

Everyone in my family built wooden boards and that weighs on me, especially now. The big difficulty is educating the buying surfer to understand that purchasing a sustainable board is much more than just getting another board to ride.

Seeing the big picture offers a satisfaction, and to some a fulfilling duty, to make a responsible surfboard purchase. We are trying new materials all the time and are in contact with many of those dedicated to finding the coming viable solutions. I do not think there is a surfer out there who would be opposed to owning and riding a surfboard that was 100 percent green. The constraints right now seem to be cost, durability, performance and convenience.

Shaping machine Plus One design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Shaping machine Plus One design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Dedina: What can the surf industry and even the surf media do to promote having surfers work with local shapers? Could local shapers work together more effectively to create a trade association to promote the art of shaping and buying handcrafted surfboards?

Gall: Most of the push is word of mouth. The push is being felt the strongest where it matters the most: in the water. But whether at the local break, or big contest, or daredevil surf spot, the credibility of the shaper is in how the board works in the water. In most cases there is a core group or core surfer who is devoted to a particular board concept.

The shaper needs to be dedicated to listening to the surfer, produce the dream into a reality, and maybe answer the phone every once in a while. Reputation is, or should be, made by the merits of the shaper. The modern “word of mouth” is social media.

I get more and more boards ordered on an Internet-only basis, and it is working. In fact I am seeing less errors on orders since we have written histories on boards and idea development. This has actually made my workload easier and a little less stressful.

Plus One computer aided design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Plus One computer aided design. Courtesy G. Gall.

Another thing I see happening post-2005 (blanks) and post-2007 (economy) is that the remaining shapers have had to pull up their stakes and regroup. It is now common to see five or six shapers have their boards made under the same roof.  At Plus One we have six to eight shapers who will come in to do their work, all of their own brand.

This strategy is a good starting point to go to the next level which is to promote the trade. Shapers are more networked together now than ever before. We have tribute shows and a semblance of a trade show open to the public. A trade association would strengthen the small local shapers and give them a voice and a channel to improve what they make.

Hurricane Sandy, Climate Change and Sand Replenishment

As I watch the news reports of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge, I think of the south county coastal area where I live and surf.

Imperial Beach is a low-lying coastal city connected to Coronado by a thin strip of sand. Any storm with a potent tidal surge would immediately obliterate the homes, dunes and streets of my coastal backyard.

Understanding the the impact of Sandy on the beaches, barrier islands and cities of the East Coast is critical for the residents of Southern California in order to evaluate the costly efforts to preserve local beaches.

Now that SANDAG is finishing up its $28 million regional sand replenishment project, we need to ask if having government agencies continue to spend billions of dollars nationally dumping sand on our beaches to forestall the inevitable reduction in size due to man-made erosion, violent storms and sea level rise, is really worth it.

That is especially true in light of new proposals by the Army Corps of Engineers to spend $261 million on sand projects just for Encinitas, Solana Beach and San Clemente.

Beach replenishment and beach nourishment are euphemisms for what are really beach dredge and fill that turns the beach into an industrial site during construction,” said Surfider Foundation Environmental Director Chad Nelsen. “They should be designed to minimize impacts to nearshore reefs that are important recreational (surfing, diving, etc.)  and ecological resources.”

Terry Gibson, a longtime surfer and fisherman from Florida who is the Senior Editor of Fly & Light Tackle Angler, has spent a considerable amount of effort evaluating the impacts of badly managed sand replenishment projects on the East Coast.

“Near shore reefs or other types of essential fish habitat are typically buried or silted over, without adequate much less kind-for-kind mitigation,” he said.

According to Gibson, “Chronic turbidity is often a problem. The entire slope of the near shore environment typically changes so that wave quality from a surfer’s perspective is degraded or destroyed. And you often lose the qualities that make a beach attractive to sea turtles, not to mention the impacts to the invertebrates that live in the beach and are a requisite forage source for fish and birds.”

The San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation is currently monitoring the impacts to surf throughout San Diego from the current SANDAG regional effort via video monitoring. In Imperial Beach the SANDAG project has shut down the surf for about 75 percent of our beachfront.

“At IB we’ve been seeing a trend towards decreasing surfer counts and decreasing ride length,” said Tom Cook of San Diego Surfrider.

According to Julia Chunn of San Diego Surfrider, “We hope that video-based monitoring, similar to our current Surf Monitoring Study, will be required of all large beach nourishment project in the future.”

For this reason, it is my view that the current SANDAG project is preferable to the incredibly expensive projects the Army Corps has slated for Solana Beach, Encinitas and San Clemente. Those proposed federal projects come with a price tag that in light of the cost of Sandy’s storm damage and federal fiscal woes, seems obscene.

Additionally, the federal project planned for Solana Beach-Encinitas, that in the long-term is designed only to protect 300 feet of beach, would involve more than double the amount of sand SANDAG deposited on beaches throughout the entire county. These Army Corps projects are relics of the past that do not reflect our climate-contorted and fiscally prudent future.

SANDAG sand project 2012 in Imperial Beach

Clearly we are going to have be smarter and more resourceful with our tax dollars when it comes to conserving our beaches. The process works best when all stakeholders as well as scientists can come to the table with local agencies and evaluate the most cost effective and sensible solutions to coastal erosion, rather than when Army Corps push through massive dredge and fill projects with little public oversight and accountability.

“These projects should be considered temporary solutions that buy us time to find sustainable long term solutions to our coastal erosion problems because they are expensive, short lived and will not be sustainable in the face of sea level rise,” said Nelsen.

Why Marine Protected Areas Benefit Surfers

Cabrillo MPA in Point Loma, San Diego.

Any North County or southern Baja vet most likely has run into Garth Murphy intensely evaluating surf conditions from shore and gracefully riding the best waves of the season. A California icon who partnered with Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller in their infamous and pioneering Surf Research company, Garth is the author of the epic novel of California, The Indian Lover, and the son of noted fisheries biologist Garth I. Murphy, who was La Jolla’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography‘s first PhD, and a professor at the University of Hawaii.

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.

Looking toward the San Diego-Scripps MPA and Black’s Beach in La Jolla.

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.

Keeping the Stoke Alive

During a recent trip to Mexico, a hurricane that slammed the coast of Oaxaca a week before rearranged the sand banks at a remote point. I took a two-mile march up the coast, noticed a new post-hurricane wave spinning down the beach and paddled out.

Out in the lineup a set came. I caught the first wave and drove down a head-high wall that kept slightly open as it peeled along a narrow sandbar.

For me the essence of living a stoked life is being able to see and try new experiences and tap into the energy of the ocean.

I met my wife Emily in 1985 on my first day as a UCSD study abroad student in Lima, Peru. Emily, who is from Wisconsin, had just turned 20. I was 21.

We immediately realized we shared a passion for adventure, the outdoors and the ability to laugh at our misfortunes. Soon we were clambering up rocks to reach 16,000-ft. alpine lakes in the Andes and exploring the culturally rich coast of northern Brazil.

A few years after our marriage in 1989, we found ourselves living in a 14-foot trailer in an off-the-grid fishing village in Baja with our Australian Shepherd Chip while we carried out graduate research on gray whales.

At the end of our two-year stay in Baja, Emily became pregnant with our oldest son Israel and we moved back to the U.S. Three years later my youngest son Daniel was born.

That is when life got really good.

Before my children were born I was pretty much over the marginal conditions of the beach break I grew up surfing. As soon as my two sons were old enough to enjoy the beach, all of a sudden the mundane became exceptional.

A normal day at the beach became the best day ever.

With kids you get to experience everything new again and again. Their laughter as they jump over waves holding my hand and their joy the first time they surf a real wave.

A few years ago, the boys and I hiked down to Black’s Beach on one of the best days of the winter. Normally I would have avoided the super-packed lineup of one of the world’s best beach breaks like the plague.

But whereas I was frustrated trying to compete with the likes of Jordy Smith for set waves, the boys were stoked to share waves with one of their heroes.

After a few waves I went in and found surf photographer Jeff Divine on the beach.

“You know, with kids, everything is an adventure,” he said.

Six months after that experience at Black’s, Emily was kind enough to let me take the boys to Australia for six weeks to live in a van while we chased cold and powerful winter surf along the New South Wales and Victoria coasts. Emily came over and spent an additional month with us, which included a trip to New Zealand.

The memories of our adventures—finding perfect, empty waves in Ulladulla, watching Daniel light up as we encountered a mob of kangaroos on a wild beach, surfing Bell’s Beach, hiking around glaciers in New Zealand and watching tiny penguins waddle up a beach on Phillip Island—will be embedded in my memory for the rest of my life.

I have never had much money, and I am not sure how to go about making much of it. My life is richer for all the experiences I have had and the family that is my greatest joy.

What has kept my stoke alive are those moments of transcendence in which something new brings my family together around shared adventures, experiences and making the world a better place.

Deep Design: Daniel Thomson on Surfboards, Physics and Simmons

Dan Thomson putting it on a rail. Photo courtesy of Tomo Surfboards.

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.

Carl Eckstrom and Daniel Thomson at the Hydronamica opening in San Diego earlier this year.

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.

One of Dan’s Simmon’s inspired planing hulls.

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?

Stu Kennedy with his Tomo quiver. Photo courtesy Tomo Surfboards.

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

Josh Hall, 31, the president of the Pacific Beach Surf Club  is one of the San Diego’s core shapers and surfers.

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.


Serge: When and where did you decided to get into shaping?

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.

Josh and surfing innovator Carl Eckstrom at last year’s Sacred Craft Expo

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!

Paddling from Trestles to Tijuana

Last day of the paddle at the Silver Strand State Beach in Coronado.

One of the most important tools for evaluating the state of our coast, is to carry out a transect from top to bottom. Two San Diego County coastal advocates and surfers, Shannon Switzer and Kristian Anders Gustavson, recently organized and led a seven day padding expedition from Trestles to Tijuana to get a better sense of the challenges we face in protecting our greatest natural resource.

Shannon, 28, is a National Geographic Young Explorer and 2012 Freshwater Hero.

Shannon Switzer

Kristian, 27, is the Director of Research & Explorations for Below the Surface, was named one of Outside Magazine’s Chief Inspiration Officers for 2012 and ‘Hero of the Heartland’ from the American Red Cross.

I caught up with them last week as they finished their paddle in Imperial Beach just north of the new Tijuana River Mouth Marine Protected Area.

Kristian on a break after 40 miles.

Serge: You recently paddled from Trestles to the U.S.-Mexico border. What was the purpose of the paddle?

Kristian Anders Gustavson: This paddle was the first annual event to celebrate the anniversary of Below to Surface, which was founded in the summer of 2008. Trestles to TJ was meant to draw attention to the impact of riverine water pollution on the coastline, and is the official launch of the Riverview Mobile App which is part of Below the Surface’s Riverview Project, or “Google’s Streetview for Rivers.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked closely with Below the Surface to develop the Riverview Mobile App, particularly to include information about the health of waterways for spurring grassroots stewardship of our rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

Shannon Switzer: I envisioned this paddle as an up close and personal way to see our coast in one connected piece, rather than in snippets, which is how I usually view it. I wanted to show the San Diego community that this connectivity means all of our actions, both on land and at sea, have a direct impact on the coastline and motivate people to do their part in caring for the beaches we all love and enjoy.

Serge: What were your favorite parts of the paddle and coastline?

Paddling on the sixth day offshore from Coronado. Photo: Eddie Kisfaludy/Oceans Aloft

Shannon and Kristian: Paddling along Camp Pendleton was a treat. So was paddling Sunset Cliffs, through the kelp forests just offshore, and coming around Point Loma to see downtown San Diego and the Coronado Bridge along the horizon. That was pretty epic.

Serge: Why was it necessary to highlight the conditions of our coast above and below surface?

Shannon and Kristian: Everything in the environment is linked together, and an action like dumping old household cleaning supplies down the drain at home can have a negative impact on both people and wildlife in the ocean. Because of our unique location on the coast, we have a responsibility to be aware of these connections and to modify our behavior accordingly.

Serge: How many people participated in the Paddle at the start, how many finished and what were the unique challenges that you faced logistically and paddle wise?

Shannon and Kristian: The first day we began with about 15 paddlers, by the end of the week we had about eight. This was because we started on the weekend, when more people were available, and then continued through the work week. Also, our first day was our longest at 20 miles, which I think weeded out a few paddlers. Logistically it was tricky getting all the boards and paddlers together in the right place each day.

15 paddlers from a variety of organizations including Below the Surface, the SUP Spot, the Mission Continues, National Geographic Young Explorers, the Eco Warrior Project, SUP Core, Expedition 1000, Red I Nation, Namaste SUP and endurance athlete Ryan Levinson came coming together for this inaugural event.

Serge: Were any parts of the coastline distressing in terms of pollution and or other human impacts?

Shannon and Kristian: We were happily surprised with the condition of our coastline. The most heartbreaking thing to me was all of the trash in the water. Every hundred yards or so we would find plastic shopping bags, water bottles, balloons, etc. It is frustrating to see something that is so easily prevented. The only specific stretch of coastline that was distressing was at the sewage outfall near Point Loma.

Serge: What were some of the wildlife species that your team spotted. Were you surprised to see so many animals off of our coast?

Shannon and Kristian: We saw heaps of wildlife: seals, sea lions, porpoises, bottle nose dolphins, a shark or two, garibaldi, tons of jellyfish, marine birds. We weren’t surprised by the number of species we encountered, because we see a lot of this marine life while surfing, but it’s always a thrill when wildlife pays a visit. The average visitor or tourist may be surprised to see how truly wild it is off San Diego’s shores.

At the finish in Imperial Beach at the Tijuana Rivermouth Marine Protected Area.

Serge: From the vantage point just offshore, does it seem to make the problems that we face coast-wise less challenging or more challenging?

Shannon and Kristian: Seeing the immensity of the coastline from offshore on a little board definitely puts things into perspective. It didn’t make coastal problems seem more or less challenging, but rather confirmed the need to continue moving forward with policies and personal practices that will benefit our coast and the San Diego community too.

A Day at Trestles

We had a surfing “exchange” student spent a few weeks with us this summer. Eneko, 16, hails from the Spanish-French border city of Hendaye and thoroughly enjoyed his time in California. On his last afternoon we hustled up to Trestles to catch a new southwest swell. While Imperial Beach was small, blown out and closed out, Lowers was firing, with a bevy of pros to inspire the boys. It was a fitting end to Eneko’s trip that he called, “The best experience of my life.”

They surfed hard.

Daniel on a left. The waves were perfect A-frames.

Israel.

Pro surfer and Trestles local Tanner Gudauskas was shredding.

Eneko

Josh puts it on a rail.

WCT surfer Heitor Alves was ripping. He made this.

Alves couldn’t have been nicer. Eneko (left) and Israel (right) were stoked. There are very few sports in which boys can compete in the same venue as their heroes.

Adventure Mexico

The mud hole looked like a lake. I wasn’t about to risk losing a rental car by driving through it in order to surf point waves with no crowd.

I figured it was better to walk barefoot through the black, smelly water that harbored snakes, horse poop, clouds of mosquitoes, squishy stinky mud, sharp sticks and then traipse through a mile of dank marsh to find waves, then risk getting stuck in the pit.

The lake we decided not to drive through.

While Daren Johnson and I evaluated our chances of driving through the water feature created by Hurricane Carlotta, our sons Josh, 15, and Israel, 16, ran through a trail in the mangrove forest and crossed the dunes to check if there were any waves at the point that was a couple of miles away.

About 15 minutes later they returned. Both were out of breath, sweating and clearly not having a good time.

“The surf is flat,” said Israel. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

“If we go somewhere else it is going to take us hours to find waves,” said Daren. “Let’s surf here.”

So we parked the car on the only dry spot we could find, loaded our backpacks with food, water and sunscreen, took off our shoes and hiked barefoot through the swamp, mangroves, dunes, and finally what seemed like an endless beach.

As we neared the point I could see set waves breaking off the rocks.

Half an hour later we had settled into the lineup and caught dreamy rights with just a couple of other surfers in the lineup.

I caught a couple of waves that were as good as any I’ve ever surfed—looping barrels that I raced my 6’6” Novak quad down the line on to stay in position.

On my recent trip to Mexico, I spent a lot of time walking through the rainforest, swatting mosquitoes, being attacked by no-see-ums, and hoping that I’d come around the bend to find perfect waves.

During one foray into the forest to find a point the locals assured us had good surf, we found a local guide to navigate the rocky and hilly trail.

The sun was scorching and the humidity was overpowering. Pedro, our guide was barefoot and wore a thick long-sleeve rugby shirt.

“I crossed the desert in Arizona during the summer on my to Washington,” he said when I asked him if he was hot. “So this is pretty easy.”

Israel and Josh scrambled to keep up as Pedro ran up hills through the forest. With my long legs I was able to hang on.

After about 45 minutes we arrived at a giant jumble of rocks.

“The waves are down there, “ said Pedro pointing to the point. “Just climb down the cliff.”

I wasn’t too interested in risking injury sliding down the rocky precipice to find a few waves.

“We’ll paddle around the point Pedro, ” I said pointing to a small beach to the right of the point that was a safer entryway into the surf.

While we caught waves, Pedro patiently threw out his fishing line from atop the boulders.

On our return Pedro ran through the forest. I barely kept up. Josh and Israel fell behind.

We arrived back at the tiny village an hour later exhausted but were elated to find the beachbreak looking fun.

A couple of local kids were snagging the 3-4’ offshore A-frames.

Josh and Israel paddled out while I made arrangements for a local family to cook us up some freshly caught fish.

Out in the water the locals were stoked to see us. Very few traveling surfers visit the isolated village that depends mostly on government subsidies for growing a smattering of crops and protecting the leatherback sea turtles that nest there.

Out in the lineup I gave some wax to a grom.

“Thanks,” he said. “We don’t usually surf with wax on our boards.”

After catching a few waves, Esteban, the proprietor of the beach shack, waved us in.

Grilled fish, beans, rice and cocoanuts were waiting.

Just another adventure in Mexico.

 

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