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Board Stories

Jeff Divine’s roundup of board stories is almost senselessly broad and deep.

Light / Dark

Piano Man

Hanging on the beach at Makaha all day is akin to being on an East Cape beach in Baja. You’ve got to have an umbrella, plenty of liquids, and an attitude of “slow.” Surf, eat, float on your back, lay on your stomach pulling sand up around your chest, say “Hello,” talk awhile about it “all,” and eventually go home with the strength sapped out of you. Dru had it all down with a twist. He’d surf, talk, and then retire to his van where he’d play beautiful, soothing concertos, van doors open, tradewinds blowing, a beautiful beach, and pounding shorebreak.

Curren’s Quivers

Tom Curren’s notoriety spurred shapers from all over the world to give him boards in the hopes of feedback, a commercial connection, or perhaps a logo-prominent photo in a magazine. Tom’s eccentric choice of boards has been shown often over the years.

In 1992, while traveling with his band, he and Sonny Miller happened into a New York surf shop. Sonny lost track of Tom, who was in the back rummaging through the used board rack. For $30, Tom walked out with a yellowed 1970s-era Rick twin-fin kneeboard.

Weeks later, as the horn blew to start a heat, Tom was nowhere to be seen. By the second page, he came trotting out of the canyon area at Hossegor with the Rick twin-finned kneeboard underarm. Tom paddled out and proceeded to “smoke” the competition—an embarrassed Matt Hoy. Toward the end of the heat, Hoy was so far behind that he asked to try Tom’s board. He couldn’t even stand up on it and wailed, “Mate, why me?”

Once, while in Brazil for a contest, Tom gave away his whole new quiver to the local neighborhood surf kids. His curiosity to experiment caused conflict years ago in Indo when his main sponsor, Doug Warbrick, kept questioning his choice of a small fish to surf large “Fish Bowls” during the filming of the now famous Search videos. Tom insisted that he was going to ride the fish, and told them all how and what he was going to do with the 5’10” Tom Peterson-shaped Fireball in the grinding 8- to 10-foot waves. The historical session can be seen on The Search 3 video.

Tom took an 11′ big-wave Rhino chaser gun surfboard that his dad, Pat, had made for him out to El Capitan. He crouched low on the tail sitting in the barrel while speeding down-the-line with the nose of the board way out on the shoulder. The $12,000 gun is now all dinged up from Tom’s usage.

In Panama, he pulled up to perfect surf, but had no board. The recent storm had washed up a lot of flotsam all up and down the beach. Tom went for a walk, found an odd piece of foam and proceeded to paddle out.

Tom’s quiver is a product of his experiments. All have names like the Canoe, Dragon, Medusa, Humpback, Flowing Water, and Edith. One unfortunate board (far right) he called the “Matt Morey,” a former Matt Moore thruster that he had chopped down into a 4′ asymmetrical with a tiny fin in the corner. The Canoe (second from left) was a board Tom shaped in ’82 that he surfed a lot at Rincon and which no one else could even stand up on. (Top middle) Board given to Tom by Kelly Slater with Kelly’s artwork. Months later, most of this quiver ended up for sale at a neighborhood yard sale.

The Graveyard 

On the side of Gerry and Herbie’s old house at Pipeline, on any given day, there would be a pile of that month’s broken boards. Directly in front is the “hammer” that does most of the damage—the reef and wave at Pipeline. Once broken, they become community property: given to the Haleiwa Surt Center, or fixed and passed on to kids to learn to surf on. Herbie used to take a pile out front and torch them in a “pray for surf” sacrifice. Every now and then waves would wash everything from underneath the house into a big pile up at the back fence.

Everyone would leave boards under there and nothing was sacred. Need a leash? Take it. Fins and leashes were the first to go. Finally, Herbie had a great idea to save the broken boards and compile them into a giant sculpture with the help of his famous artist wife, Dibi. He’s collected at least 30, including Owl’s Big Red, a Horan gun, and others from Beschen, Healy, Occy, Andy Irons, Kalani, Lopez, Dean, Archy, the Hos, and CJ Hobgood. As Herbie says, “No one cares. Snapping three in one day isn’t that unusual. They all get them for free anyway.”

Seebold’s Keel 

In 1973, San Diego G&S shaper Steve Seebold saw Nat Young at Swami’s on an extreme pintail with keel fin. He was too nervous to say hello to his hero, so he got out of the water and watched. When Nat came in, he followed him up the stairs and into the parking lot, taking mental notes the whole time. He translated it into his own version, and soon the whole San Diego G&S team, including Tim Lynch, Gary Keating, Reed, and Joel Mayne, were onto it. Seebold’s early version was too stiff, like being on a railroad track, but great for carving long lined-up walls such as Bells, where designer Pat Morgan originally came up with the idea. Seebold went to the Islands in ’74, staying with Mike Purpus at the houses on the road at V-land, which are now demolished. Australian shaper Richard Harvey came by to check out the “seppo” Seebold keels. Harvey straightened Seebold out about the “tracking” problem. Seebold needed to make the peak of the fin in the center, rendering it much looser. Seebold quickly shaped three new boards and glassed them in the backyard at V-land. Today Steve rides a 6’5″ winged Lis fish.

Matt Howard 

Matt Howard is one of the best noseriders ever. Highly educated, highly motivated, and highly altered, he came burning down the Coast Highway from Malibu one day, wreaking havoc at every stop. A famous studio and surf photog had barred him from the premises. He spent five minutes with Herbie, who threatened to break his legs. The next stop was the TSJ offices. We had already heard from the grapevine he was heading our way, so the strategy was to let him do what he wanted to do and be off. Within minutes, Matt’s creative swirl was all being unloaded, filling up our neighbor’s numbered parking stall. An instant quiver tableau emerged which I couldn’t believe or resist.

Cereal boxes, fabulous artwork, contraband, rubber bands, tennis racket, toilet seat, driftwood, wax, pitchfork, fins, gas can, newspapers, skateboards, and a beautiful quiver of Cooperfish and Liddle boards with his own unique artwork were all arranged. By the second change of his outfits, I had gotten up on a ladder for a different angle as he proceeded to serve tennis balls at my head. People in the business complex were beginning to gawk and as he presented his latest performance art piece called “Mangina,” I began to worry what the Orange County Sheriffs might think. The proceedings soon fizzled out, Matt loaded back up, and was last seen heading due south on 101.

Carl Ekstrom 

The wave machine at New Braunfels, Texas, is awesome. Two submerged Swiss-built Flygt pumps push water out toward padded-wave forms that, when the dial is turned up, create a 5-foot, overhead, standing wave. When you wipe out, you are sucked into a replica of a running river flowing around a football-sized water theme park. The Texan owners put in the wave machine to rev up revenues by 30 percent. Kids line up in droves during the hot Texas summers, or at other machines in the broiling desert of Dubai and the cool Norwegian days of July. The portable wave machine, called Bruticus Maximus, is sponsored by Swatch and travels the world with its large barreling wave.

Carl Ekstrom is a genius La Jolla surfer-surfboard builder with a long history of design accomplishments. The asymmetrical surfboard tail, furniture, European vintage race cars, a quiver made for artist Andy Warhol, a home he designed himself, and, more recently, a Reebok shoe and a military combat helmet packed with electronic gear such as a GPS and motion-sensor beams. At his home Skunk Works, he modeled the first wave forms and the boards to ride them with. Big Rock local and entrepreneur Tom Lochtefeld drove the project along.

The form of the wave machine boards combines technologies from skating, snowboarding, and surfing. Ekstrom says that they started out like cut-down Boogie boards. With input from famous snowboarder Terje Haakenson, skater Chris Miller, and surfer Kelly Slater, he slowly developed the board for advanced users. They have now evolved into a 4-foot-long by 12-inch-wide by 1-inch-thick shape with vacuum track rails like bodyboards.

Flippy

Usually when you walk into the Flippy compound, you might want to whistle to pinpoint which house he’s in. The lady next door to Flippy passed away a while back, so he bought her house, tore down the fence between, and uses both. You might find Flippy out front on the beach dragging in a load of fresh seaweed to feed his abalone tank where the abs started out the size of quarters and are now as wide as grapefruits. Or he might be in the entry patio revving a jet ski in a cloud of exhaust. The surrounding exterior of the house is covered with his colorful float collection. Into the living room of the acquired neighbor’s house, you feel like you’re sitting on the beach and the sandbagged frontage attests to the shorebreak peel-offs that sometimes swirl through. Swatches of Hoffman fabric designs, numbered and laid out, are everywhere.

“Check this out!” he barks as he pulls the large dining table covering off (seats 12), revealing through the glass a gigantic ab collection small to huge, pink to green, nested by size and type. An 11-inch pink ab is the only one he needs to find to top off the collection. But the dominant feature is the collection of boards on the ceiling, hung perfectly aligned. Redwood Hot Curls, Pacific Systems Homes, Simmons, and additional hundreds stashed at the Hoffman warehouse make up the finest surfboard collection known to man. When Flippy travels, his standing rule to his caretaker is: If the surf threatens, open the front and back doors and save the boards.

Blinky’s R.B. Quiver 

It took months of politicking to get a board out of R.B. in the mid 70s. The list of people courting him was huge. Blinky’s strategy was direct: lots of cash and “stash” laid out for a shape and glass job. In one month the quiver was done, glassed by J.R. and laid out on the front lawn. Like an excited kid at Christmas, Blinky couldn’t contain himself, and all ’da boys came over to check the rails. “Oohh, aaah, cough, cough.” Paul Miller claimed he could pull an Evel Knievel jump over the whole thing. He pulled a hard right turn at the last second, no one dared to defile a brand new Brewer quiver.

The Quigg Gun 

Allan Seymour stands proudly with a Joe Quigg 11’1″ 1956 balsa gun custom made for Buzzy Trent. Seymour calls this a Stradivarius of boards. “It’s chambered balsa construction, light weight, and made for down-the-line speed. Quigg made very few big-wave guns and this one represents the state of the art. Everything before this was real heavy.” This, along with Seymour’s 1935 oil painting of Gene “Tarzan” Smith surfing at Canoes by F. Viazt, is his prized possession. Allan says, “This is one of the rarest boards on earth; anything by Quigg is a piece of art.”

The Bolt Era 

In the 1970s, the pro surfer era was in its infancy, the first world champion was crowned, Quiksilver was just coming out of the garage, and a large majority of the world’s best surfers rode Lightning Bolt surfboards. Back in their hometowns, they rode their Safaris, McCoys, and G&Ss, but as soon as they landed in the Islands, they went directly to Boscoe Burns or Steve Cranston to pick up their quiver of new Bolts. Jack Shipley had teamed up with Gerry Lopez and had corralled many of Hawaii’s best shapers under one roof. This was an incredible feat in itself. You could go down the racks at Shipley’s Bolt store in Honolulu and check out the new Lopez, BK, Abellira, and Parrish shapes.

This was when the South Africans and Australians were “busting down the door” and, through their balls-out attitude, dominant performance, and photo takes at all of the main North Shore spots. Rabbit would arrive in the Islands with minimal money, but a few days later, he’d be showing off his quiver of brand new Lightning Bolts shaped by Tom Parrish. Shipley gave away about $50,000 worth of boards in four weeks. I’m sure if you counted up photos printed in the surf mags with a Lightning Bolt logo and added up the name surfers who rode them, you’d find an accomplishment never equaled since. And there were no salaries paid to the riders, a common practice today.

Turner’s Mini-Guns 

Jim Turner was a great roommate and the best semi-gun shaper on the North Shore in the early 70s. An era when the living room stereo played Santana or Hawaiian music over and over, E-man, Garner, and Tiger went to the Waialua cockfights every Saturday, and the hippie lifestyle was in full bloom. Turner’s words: “Oh, some goldenseal will heal that cut real quick.” I remember well as the Haleiwa doctor gave me my first shot for a raging staph infection, swollen glands, and a foot with a giant volcano pimple on it. My new vegetarian diet included Turner’s delicacy—cashew butter—and after a couple of weeks, I felt so weak I couldn’t function. I read up and found out I’d have to eat six pounds of beans a day to get the proper protein. The gambling parties with Buddy Boy, Tiger, Baxter, Garner, Callahan, and Gary Chapman raged through the night, while during the day Turner shaped, honing his skills, and soon had Hakman and every Sunset surfer lined up for boards. By the mid 70s, Turner was a renown shaper, and at the house on Keiki Road, his 25-board quiver was lined up in the living room—all the best picks from the litter compiled over years of cajoling and bartering.

Diffs, Brewers, Turners, Callahans, Waimea guns to Rocky Point hot-dog boards—boards ready to pick depending on the swell that we checked right out the front door. Our surfing life was pure: smokin’, coffee, Sunset dawn patrols, day-after slide shows with all the North Shore boys, no TV, a piano, community smoothies, and a big pot of split pea soup on the stove we shared for days. Aricia’s roadside food truck was lunch after surfing, and Turner had a constant stream of excited surfers wanting his boards, peeling off deposits at all times of the day. Life was good. A “Turner” was the pre-Parrish-era hot board to have. One winter, Jim prepaid his rent ($75 a month) and went off to Colorado to ski. He returned with even more orders and deposits piled up. He took another ski trip, and we never saw him again. Soon, his creditors started to come by, and one of the more irate ones took two boards out of the rack as payback. From then on, each day brought a new depositor, and by the end of the month, the whole quiver was gone. Attention all collectors who have a Jim Turner 1971-72 era Sunset Beach semi-gun: They are the rarest of the rare.

Gary Keating 

Gary Keating was a giant of a man-child—6’4″, 230 pounds—and built like a Roman warrior. He was a ringleader and motivator of our small clique of surf buddies. Keating was one of the first people I knew who collected surfboards and was proud of his quiver. Soon after this photo was taken in 1976, Gary found himself caught up in the confusing crosscurrents of the day—good versus evil, Jesus, Satan, Thai weed, and the Bible. One Saturday, he showed up at La Jolla Shores with his entire collection of boards, lined them up on the seawall and sold them all, citing a passage from Revelation that prophesied, “In the end there will be no sea.” Gary later committed suicide, an act that rocked the San Diego surf community and left many of us wondering just which way was up.