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.

 

Surfing Hurricane Carlotta

Hurricane Carlotta was located off the west co...

Hurricane Carlotta was located off the west coast of Mexico near 15.6N 105.1W with maximum sustained winds estimated at 130 knots, gusts to 160 knots. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the morning of June 13, three of my WiLDCOAST colleagues and I set out in search of waves on the southern coast of Oaxaca.

Our planned conservation activities for the day had been cancelled due to the rainfall and wind forecast due to the presence of Hurricane Carlotta off of the coast.

Burrito in Puerto.

Unfortunately the wind was sideshore and the surf was blown out. This wasn’t a case where the Hurricane was creating great waves.

However, we made the most of the 2-4’ point waves. After all, the water was 82 degrees, and every once in a while a fun wave would line up.

After a few hours, a couple of surfers from Cancun showed up. They were staying in adobe and thatch huts a couple of miles down the beach.

“You guys know about the storm coming,” I asked them.

“What storm,” they replied.

Burrito barrel riding in Puerto.

“There’s a hurricane coming,” I said. “You might want to seek higher ground.”

On the way back to Huatulco, we stopped in at Barra de la Cruz, famous for its world-class right point. My son Israel, 16, spent the week there with local surfer Pablo Narvaez and his family.

“Israel’s at the beach surfing,” said Pablo when we arrived at his two-story bamboo and wood house. “The surf is small anyway.”

A few minutes later Pablo and I arrived at the beach facing the point and were shocked to see 6-8’ shorebreak on the inside with 10-12’ waves hitting the point. The wind was howling.

“I surfed earlier,” said Israel who had spent the week living on stalks of bananas picked from the local huerta and grilled fish. “And then it started getting really gnarly.”

We chatted with Pablo for a bit. “In 1997, Hurricane Paulina really hit us hard,” he said.

I hoped Carlotta wouldn’t be so bad.

When we returned to Huatulco I was happy to find my good friend Daren Johnson and his son Josh waiting for us at the friendly Hotel Mision de los Arcos. They had been staying at some rustic huts at a spot further south.

That afternoon the National Hurricane Center had upgraded Carlotta to a Category 2 hurricane. Winds were expected to reach up to 120 miles per hour.

Later that evening, Israel and I gathered at a café on the Huatulco plaza with Daren, Josh and my WiLDCOAST colleagues Eduardo Najera, Ben McCue, and Zach Plopper along with a Swiss surfer-engineer who we had met earlier in the week while surfing.

The wind started howling and the rain started pouring. An electrical post exploded across the street.

After a round of tlayudas, we hit up the local ice-cream shop for paletas and headed back to our hotel to wait out the storm.

“Since I have experienced a big hurricane in the past (Wilma, category 5, biggest hurricane in Cancún history) I wasn’t that worried. However, I forgot about the mountains and rivers that were behind us,” said Eduardo.

The following morning the rain and the wind had stopped. We decided to check the surf. Cleanup crews were removing fallen trees from the roads. But overall in Huatulco, the damage seemed minimal.

“Despite hours of build up and uncertainty Carlotta whipped through overnight fortunately not wreaking too much havoc in the Huatulco-Salina Cruz region,” said Zach.

At the point from the day before we were surprised to see that the tremendous storm surf had dissipated. However, the waves resulted in local beaches losing up to six feet of sand, making it difficult for sea turtles to nest at some areas.

Further north it was a different story.

“The hurricane was really intense. My buddies and I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Anthony “Burrito” Zambrano, of Imperial Beach who had been in Puerto Escondido.

“The rain started around 6 o clock then it started getting really windy. The windows were whistling, the lights went out and our room got flooded with water, like 2 inches deep. We heard things getting blown around. The shingles from a bunch of houses and hotels got blown right off their roofs.”

“Over 30,000 homes where affected from Puerto Escondido to Puerto Angel. Mazunte and the surrounding area was a mess,” said Dr. Carlos Rodriguez, a veterinarian with the Mexican Sea Turtle Center in Mazunte.

“Roads where closed so nobody could leave their towns. In places like Mazunte, the community has really pulled together. But in other communities like La Escobilla, Vainilla, Barra del Potrero, Santa Elena and their surroundings aren’t as lucky. Families lost their roofs, food, clothes and didn’t have electricity for 10 days so there was no way to communicate.”

On July 8th, Mazunte will hold a concert to raise money for the reconstruction effort.

“It has been a tough two weeks but the communities are very positive they can pull through this mess,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “But there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Diane Castenada of WiLDCOAST has organized a fundraising effort to support those in need. Go here to donate.

Steve Pendarvis on Creativity in Surfboard Design

Steve Pendarvis. Photo: Steve Pendarvis.

Anyone who surfs the reefs and beaches of Central San Diego has come across the original shapes of Steve Pendarvis and his Pendoflex line of  surfboards. The irreverant and innovative Sunset Cliffs surfer is part of the long line of unique San Diego shapers and designers that includes Skip Frye and especially Steve Lis.

Steve has worked with Canyon Surfboards, Classic Glass, Superior Glass, and Diamond Glassing. Some of the surfers who have ridden Steve’s boards include Buttons, Dave Rastovish, Dan Malloy and Gavin Beschen.

Photo: Steve Pendarvis.

Serge Dedina: When did you first start shaping surfboards?

Steve Pendarvis: In the 1960s when I was in my early teens, I started shaping and building surfboards. I was always tinkering with projects: boards, model airplanes, boats, bikes, all finely tuned.

Dedina: How did your interest in shaping begin? Did you wake up one day and say, “I want to be a shaper.”

Pendarvis: Having projects naturally led to building surfboards. Not to mention 2 dollars for resin, 40 cents per yard for cloth, skateboard marine plywood for fins, blanks from Ridout plastics or G&S for about 8 bucks. Yeah baby! $20 dollars or less to make a new toy, now we’re talk’n!

Steve field testing his Pendoflex design in Baja. Photo: Steve Pendarvis.

Dedina: With all the pop-out surfboards made in China and computer-shaped boards, is the role of the underground shaper still even relevant?

Pendarvis: Yeah, I still have my planers and sanding blocks humming, hands on is key for me. A lot of the innovation comes from underground shapers. If a design becomes trendy, it is often picked up by corporations and mass-produced and may eventually be popped-out overseas.

Photo: Steve Pendarvis.

Dedina: Given the market forces that are forcing the consolidation of the surfboard industry into a more corporate structure, why are you still handcrafting surfboards?

Pendarvis: To each their own. I prefer the work ethic of making a carefully hand-crafted surfboard.

Dedina: What is the value of a handcrafted surfboard?

Pendarvis: Absolutely custom for the client is what it’s all about!! Hand-crafted surfboards are built for the customer, thus the word custom!!

Dedina: Your shaping and surfboards have been associated with Central San Diego and especially the Sunset Cliffs. Why have the Cliffs been such a hotbed of surfboard innovation and design?

Pendarvis: Can’t really say, except for beaches and reefs a plenty!

Photo: Steve Pendarvis.

Dedina: Many of your Pendoxflex designs have used alternative surfboard technology and building techniques. Can you describe some of the alternative ways you are designing and building boards and what materials you are using?

Pendarvis: The Pendoflex has a high torque, high speed, tail design built into the tails; it’s a stand-up derivative of a Greenough shell, which I then back-fill with foam to bring the deck flush with the rest of the board. A Pendoflex taps more of the available energy, sort of like a Fiberflex skateboard, weighting and unweighting,building speed on speed. It’s really cool.Subtle flex characteristics fuel powerful rail turns, while the board conforms to the wave face.

Generally my boards have a foam core, for instance US Blanks (PU), and WNC or Marko foam (EPS), and here and there, balsa, agave, cork and veneers.

Photo: Steve Pendarvis.

Dedina: Who are the surfers and shapers who are inspiring you to think differently and continue to progress in your shaping?

Pendarvis: Some are Skipper (Skip Frye), Stevie (Steve Lis), Greenough, Paul Gross, Dan Hess, the Campbells, the Thompsons, Brian Conley and the Murpheys, legless.tv, and others. And everyone and thing that comes across your senses helps define your relativity.

Dedina: You and your wife Cher are known as super positive and a stoked couple who continually look on the bright side of life.  Since the members of Sunset Cliffs surfing crew have not always been known for their laughter and good cheers (at least with outsiders) why do you think it is important for surfers to be positive and create connections outside their local surf spots?

Pendarvis: As you know every dog’s gotta leave his mark on the fire hydrant. Hey, that’s my hydrant! And you can use it too mate! I dunno, share and share alike. I still get my poker face going from time to time when the bait ball shows up, loading up the zone, Yikes!

We look for the positives, and appreciate friendship and kindness among people.

Steve and his wife Cher.

*****

You can find out more information on Steve Pendarvis and his Pendoflex surfboards here.

Historic Surf Weekend in San Miguel

Sean Fowler nails it during the final heat.

“My brother Travis and I were competing in the Vans Pier Classic and lost out on Friday, March 30th,” said Mexican-American ripper Dylan Southworth, who lives in Sayulita, north of Puerto Vallarta. “We saw the swell was on the rise and figured we would head down to Ensenada.”

Dylan and Travis were part of an international crew who found themselves surfing a historic swell at San Miguel in Ensenada on Saturday and Sunday as part of the 2012 2nd Annual Walter Coloca Memorial Open Surf Contest organized by United Athletes of the Pacific Ocean (UAPO) and WiLDCOAST.

Luis from Venezuela during the opening heat.

That wasn’t all that was going on.

“On Friday March 30th, the day before the surf contest we held the first ever forum, La Nueva Ola, on the state of surfing in Baja at CETYS University in Ensenada,” said Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO.

“Scientists, surfers, coastal conservationists, politicians and business owners discussed issues related to coastal access, water quality, the economic value of surf spots and efforts to improve the current situation of the region’s coastline.”

Speakers from Pronatura, Autonomous University of Baja California (UABC), WiLDCOAST, Surf Ens, CETYS University, Locales Surf School and UAPO presented their collective efforts to engage youth in the sport of surfing and reestablish a clean and accessible surfing environment.

“Although limited coastal access and poor water quality is currently limiting economic and recreational opportunities for surfing, there is a new wave in Baja California to improve the situation,” said Zach Plopper of WiLDCOAST.

Alfredo Ramirez of UAPO.

The forum was a good way to launch the Walter Coloca Open over the weekend. More than 60 surfers from Mexico, Venezuela and the U.S. came together to surf in the second year of an event organized by Ramirez.

“The contest is about one ocean, one passion and one family,” he said. “We share the same ocean so it is important to come together and surf together. Waves bring us together across the border. We are all part of a surfing family.”

Saturday was for the junior, school and body board divisions. Venezuelan Derek Gomez ripped his way to both finals in both the age 12-15 and 16-18 divisions. Judges and spectators were amazed by his solid style and explosive surfing.

Travis Southworth.

Equally impressive was Imperial Beach’s Josh Johnson who scored a perfect 10 (the only 10 of the event) in the 12-15 semi-finals with a double barrel ride across the entire cove section of San Miguel. Josh placed second in his division.

Zach Randall, 13, from East Lake Middle School came in third. Second place in the 16-18 division went to Andres Aguirre from Ensenada.

Also making the final were Michael Roccoforte from El Cajon, and Jorge Olvera from Ensenada. Paloma Aguirre of San Diego won the Open Body Board division with Ensenada’s Jose Peralta coming in a close second.

The Open Division of the contest took place on Sunday with an increasing combination of swells. I joined Imperial Beach surfer Sean Fowler and South Mission Beach’s Craig Macias in the rising swell Sunday.

Dylan Southworth

“The swell was the product of a compact, but intense, storm that was located just a few hundred miles off the California coast,” said Kevin Wallis, surf forecaster for Surfline. He said it brought 30-50 knot-plus winds and seas of over 30 feet.

“Because of the storm’s proximity to California, the swell it created rapidly filled in and it was kind of like someone flipped on a light switch, going from small to moderate size surf from a previous swell to very large surf in a matter of 30-60 minutes as the new west swell filled in. Definitely a cool thing to witness.”

Mysto waves north of San Miguel.

When I arrived at San Miguel on Sunday, the surf was in the 3-4’ range. By the time the contest was over the sets were 6-10’.

“This was definitely the latest I can remember seeing a swell of that size and westerly direction, which allowed it to get into many SoCal breaks,” said Wallis.

“Thirty surfers put on an exceptional show of surfing for the spectators and judges,” said Plopper, who helped to sponsor and organize the contest.

Women's finalists.

Dylan Southworth surfed consistently to the final and took home first place. In a close second was Imperial Beach’s Sean Fowler.

Placing third and fourth were Cheyne Willis from Hawaii and Travis Southworth. In the women’s division big-wave surfer Narra Nunez took the win and Everardo Montoya won the longboard division. Both surfers are from Ensenada.

Zach Plopper and Men's Open Finalists.

“The 2012 Walter Caloca contest at San Miguel in Ensenada was one of the best contests. The vibes were great; surf was pumping all weekend, especially with only three other people out,” said Fowler. “Thank you to the locals and all the sponsors for throwing such a great contest.”

“Travis and I we found ourselves in the final with great waves,” said Dylan. “Super stoked to get the title,” said Dylan. “A lot of good competitors entered and everyone was ripping.”

Travis Southworth.

Zach Plopper after the contest was over when the swell started pumping.

That's me in my first or second heat. I stared the semi right after finishing my second heat, competing against the Southworth brothers and Luis from Venezuela. I was super tired and they all ripped! it was an honor to surf with them--all great guys and great surfers!

Surf and Boules in Ensenada: A Super Day in the Biarritz of Mexico

Zach Plopper ripping San Miguel after the surf started pumping after the contest was over.

Spend the day yesterday in Ensenada at the 2nd Annual Walter Coloca Jr. Memorial Surf Contest organized by UAPO and WiLDCOAST. It was an epic weekend with one of the craziest NW swells I’ve ever seen in April (the surf jumped from 2-4′ in the morning to 6-10′ in the afternoon). I’ll post more about the contest later this week.

Javier Martinez the propietor of Boules in San MIguel in Ensenada.

But besides the great surf the highlight of the day was strolling over to Boules, a 2-year old restaurant that is perched above the inside break at San Miguel. Located inside a restored vintage building, Boules is a great addition to the Ensenada food scene. Owned by Javier Martinez (Javier’s brother David owns the insanely great Muelle 3) and his wife Galia Ahlborn, Boules is Biarritz meets Mexico. An earthy unpretentious and rustic location and similar tasty, simple, but delicious food.

Efrain with the mushroom and roasted zuchini appetizers.

While I sampled roasted zuchini with parmesan, roasted artichoke, mushrooms, fresh yellowtail (jurel) sashimi, and risotto with mushrooms and duck, with my staffers Sofia and Efrain, I watched the surf roll into San Miguel and chatted with Javier.

The bar at Boules.

Surfing is just part of the reason to visit San Miguel. But like a lot of surfers and foodies, I am finding that the innovative and original food being offered up throughout Ensenada is what is going to have me coming back for more. Don’t wait to visit Ensenada before the whole scene blows up. But for now get down to Boules for a pleasant afternoon lunch or dinner. You won’t regret it.

WiLDCOAST staffers Efrain and Sofia at Boules.

Risotto with mushrooms and duck.

Sofia and Javier. For such a cool place, Javier and Galia are incredibly down-to-earth. Javier sat and chatted with us for a while. We had a mutual friend, Luis Guerena the legendary founder of Tijuana No! a seminal Mexican ska-punk band who passed away and who I wrote about in my book Wild Sea.

Mural at Boules.

What could be better than great food and watching world-class surf. That's me in one of my contest heats. My bottom turns couldn't match the vertical surfing of fellow competitors who were half my age and seriously ripped.

The Coastal Wonders of Oaxaca

Image

Mazunte is a small fishing village about an hour north of Huatulco in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Its white sand beaches and tranquil waters obscure its deadly past.

“Up until 19990, when Mexico banned the legal sea turtle fishery,” said Manuel Rodriguez Gomez, the congenial Director of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center, “More than 2,000 sea turtles were killed each day in Mazunte.”

Today, Manuel and his team of biologists, manage a beautiful sea turtle aquarium and museum, as well as conserve some of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting beaches.

Image

“It is amazing to me that a little more than twenty years ago fishing communities in Oaxaca that made their living from killing sea turtles are the ones who are now investing their efforts in protecting these amazing animals,” said Manuel.

I traveled to this unique corner of Mexico to hold an ocean film festival and meet some of the leaders who have made the sea turtle recovery and other coastal conservation success stories possible.

I brought along my surfboard in the hopes of catching waves at Puerto Escondido and Barra de la Cruz.

Image

Mazunte was a stop on my way north from Huatulco to Puerto Escondido where WiLDCOAST, the conservation organization I run, was holding the first night of the film festival tour.

Known as the “Mexican Pipeline” Puerto Escondido is a balmy pleasant town that reminded me of Rosarito Beach back in the 1970s.

The beach at Zicatela, where south swells funnel into shallow waters to create arguably one of the world’s heaviest beach breaks, is lined with palapas, restaurants, surf shops and hotels.

During south swell season some of the world’s best surfers such as Greg and Rusty Long descend on Puerto to catch dredging barrels with elevator drops.

During our event in the town’s main plaza just north of Zicatela, about 250 people, enjoyed our ocean films and learning more about preserving sea turtles.

Image

Sergio Flores of WiLDCOAST and Manuel Rodriguez of the Mexican Sea Turtle Center.

“We need to take care of our beaches,” said longtime Puerto surfer Roger Ramirez at the event who runs the the Oasis Surf Academy along with his lovely Uruguayan wife Sol.

The surfers of Puerto are fighting efforts to develop nearby Punta Colorada, a world-class bodyboarding beach.

The next morning, I wandered down to Zicatela. The wind was offshore but the surf was 1-2’ and closed out. I still enjoyed surfing the warm water micro-barrels.

“It needs to be a bit bigger,” said Jason, a surfer from San Diego who knows Puerto well. “But there is swell on the way. So maybe we’ll get lucky. “

Image

The following day I found myself at a remote beach south of Huatulco surfing dredging barrels at a right-hand point with a few local surfers and my WiLDCOAST colleague Ben McCue.

The first south of the season had arrived.

Later that afternoon we drove into the village of Barra de la Cruz, about 45 minutes south of Huatulco for the final leg of our film festival.

“You have time for a surf,” said Pablo Narvaez, a leader in this indigenous village that is host to one of the world’s most perfect waves and a critical beach for the recovery for endangered leatherback sea turtles.

Image

That's me surfing Barra.

“But the sand isn’t right yet,” said Pablo. “We’ll need a few more swells to drag the sand from the beach out onto the point.”

At the beach, Ben and I threw on our trunks and jumped into the water to  share a few head high point waves with an eclectic group of local surfers and visitors from Brazil and Ireland.

About an hour later, we caught up with Pablo and the town’s leaders as we screened films for about 200 local children and their parents.

Image

Pablo pointing making a point with me and Ben McCue in Barra de la Cruz.

“We aren’t interested in development,” said Pablo. “We went through all that after the 2006 Rip Curl Search Pro we hosted. People made offers to buy our beach. We’re beyond that though.”

The community of Barra de la Cruz is run in the old ways. The beach has been left undeveloped. Residents volunteer their time to staff a small surfside palapa restaurant.

Surfers pay a twenty-peso entrance fee to use the beach and clean bathrooms with showers. Revenues from surfing tourism are reinvested back into the community.

“We are not interested in money,” said Pablo. “We are only interested in receiving training to help us run our eco-businesses. Money only brings us problems. But if we have strong businesses, we’ll have a strong community.”

Image

The coast beyond Barra.

During my dawn patrol the next day the surf was even bigger. The right point I surfed the previous morning was firing.

I snagged a few hollow rights for a quick session before my return flight home inspired by the beauty of coastal Oaxaca and the determination of its people.

Thanks to the Ayuntamiento de Puerto Escondido, Centro Mexicano de la Tortuga, Parque Nacional Huatulco, and the community of Barra de la Cruz for their hospitality.

%d bloggers like this: