I am nobody. I am nothing. I am but a silent power tool, but I have a story. I’ve lain in this closet for half a decade, waiting. Waiting to be plugged back in. I’ve done lots of work and in a wide variety of places. My current owner, the boss, has taken me to California, Hawaii, New Zealand, and Australia. Some other places too, but I can’t remember.
My heart, my electrics, were re-wired a few decades ago so that I could plug in to 240 volts and continue working in the Southern Hemisphere. My brother, in a storage shed somewhere, is still a Northern Hemisphere tool.
How did I get here? It’s a long short story.
When I was stolen from a factory in Southern California I was already old and well used. A surfer just picked me up on impulse and split. He was a 60s rebel from a well-heeled family. As a black kid he was filled up with “Panther Power” but he was just another surfer. He once shot up a lifeguard tower with a stolen M16, but he also managed a surf shop. The 60s were strange times.
He was no shaper and had no idea what to do with me. In my boss, he found a ready customer with the required $25. Change of ownership is easy where cash and willingness are involved.
From there I went to work in garages and eventually factories. Time span? About 47 years.
My boss loved me and took very good care of me. My blades were always sharpened when needed, or before, and we had spare blades too, just in case the blank glue chipped my teeth. We had spares in abundance: triggers, power cords, blade-adjustment plates, and brushes, so many brushes. The boss learned the hard way not to feather the trigger during fine cutting. You can actually weld the points together in a trigger that way.
I’m a tool. Leave me running.
Guy Okazaki saved us hundreds of dollars and many hours of downtime when he simply turned the exhaust chute around to prevent foam dust from entering my motor. Fafner sealed and shielded bearings were the best, but even they lasted 8- to 10-times longer via this one trick. I think Guy O said B.K. showed it to him.
Life is full of tricks.
We made so many surfboards I can’t count the number. In fact, we made surfboards, kneeboards, windsurfers, and even a few bodyboards together. Foam dust was as much a part of our lives as beer and old t-shirts. We worked hard, and in some awful places, but we loved the life. There were times, deadline pressure-filled, drug-fuelled times, when we worked too much.
One such time I bit my boss. It was a big bite and his upper thigh still bears my mark. I got him once more after an all-nighter. He put me in his lap, started to blow out the dust with an air hose and pulled my trigger. Lucky he had coins in his pocket! He still has the scars though. He always said this was his only disappointment with me. He wanted to use me his whole life without an accident. He did quite well, but he still has scars. At least, he says, he’s got all of his fingers. Some don’t.
For many we brought joy and growth, for others, setbacks and wasted money. Not all designs work and when you’re building things that have little precedent you’re going to lose a few. The successes were golden though and the surfers who liked them prospered. Boss had a personal rule: experiments were for his boards. Proven stuff went to the public. The boss always claimed that was why he was such an average surfer.
The big factories hated us but when they went the way of the dinosaurs, and we went into creating shorter boards, the new factories adored us and let us work harder than we ever would later in life. Not much money but lots of experience, lots of blanks.
It was then that my boss chopped the tail end off my sole plate in order to fit the new curves and the nose-kicks. It worked really well and I took on a special pride in being “one of those” planers.
We worked with some amazing people too. Probably two of the best glassers in the world at the time, and easily the best pinliner/glosser ever, Wayne Miyata. What a bunch of characters they were. Sadly, most are dead now but that’s the way it goes, I’m told.
The shapers we worked with varied. Tired old grinders who didn’t even surf but had a system figured out so well that they could knock out 20 beautiful boards over an undisturbed weekend. We took the tricks from them that were good, left the rest undisturbed.
Clean-cut guys with good hand skills were around in abundance too. Some made careers of it. Some got out early. Some got drafted. It was a mirage, so many young men, in a world of dust and filth, creating beauty.
And then there were the guys who loved the craft and the history and the future. Guys who knew they were helping surfing improve, guys who loved the sculptural aspect and amazed us with their ability to use a straight tool to create beautiful curves. These were the ones we gravitated to and learned from, when they were willing…which some were, and some were most definitely not. There are few alive today who realize what I can do in the hands of a good operator. Kinda sad to think of that, but I’m told that’s the nature of progress.
When you look at me you’re looking at scratches and scars and marks of experience. There’s that line of Heli-Arc weld where my cutterhead housing cracked. Beautifully done. And my sole plate shines like scratched glass from running over thousands of abrasive surfboard blanks, polished with labor and sweat.
But today you’ll also see a full separation crack where my handle is broken from an unfortunate accident last year. I fell out of the closet. And I desperately need a new power cord, maybe even one with a clear plastic tube covering the part that runs across the blanks. The boss always promised me that, but somehow we end up just wrapping tape around that part of the cord. Eventually, it will split there too.
Numerous other little cracks should be attended to, but my boss is finding it very hard to locate a welder with the skill of a jeweler and the smarts of a metallurgist. Maybe we’re done? I don’t know. Boss has sort of lost his drive after all these years and when the kind guys at JS Surfboards decided to give him free boards, well, he just stopped shaping completely…except for the few he made for his kids.
That was a very big turn-on for the boss, those free boards. He was never a hero or even well known. When those guys took him on board it was the biggest flattery that ever happened to him. He’s still so stoked. A little kindness buys a lot of loyalty.
This year’s injuries haven’t helped matters much. He says that after 55 years surfing he’s been very lucky, and I suppose that’s true. Still, getting a torn meniscus a few weeks before your rotator cuff gives up on you isn’t good. You’re beached. And if you’re too old or too poor to waste a few years on operations and recovery, you’re also done.
Maybe the cortisone will get the job done well enough. Hard to say just yet. The boss says he’s feeling the urge to grind a few out and get back in the water. He’s always thinking about new ideas, but, well, I guess only time will tell.