We arrived embarassingly late for this interview, delayed by a fun morning session in clean, four-foot surf working off the Rockaway jetties. Preparing excuses as we pulled up, we found Joe conveniently distracted: his brother had stolen his lunch sandwich and left for work.
Strikingly, Hurricane Sandy came up in conversation almost immediately. Two years on, we still wanted to know every detail of what Joe had witnessed. Using his finger, he drew a map in the dust on the wall of his shaping bay showing where nearby houses had been destroyed in fires that broke out during the storm. We talked about the damage to his shaping bay. He pointed upwards, above eye level, at a line on the door of the garage showing us where the water reached. His entire bay and his mom's basement were destroyed, including all his tools. "The strip lights came right back on though," he laughed, rolling up the garage door. Before we started shooting the shaping bay, Joe wanted to have a quick tidy up - a kind of practiced mindfulness - dusting shelves, lining up tools, sweeping the floor, to ease his mind into the flow of going to work on a blank.
"I never really shape a board in one sitting," Joe explained as he set to work on a Dave Parmenter outline for a channel bottom single fin. "I could do it quicker, but I like to sit there and think about it and make sure everything is right. I think when you spend more time looking at the thing, you can see more. This [a wicker chair at the tail of the board] is the best angle. You sit here and just look at it from both sides and you see certain things just start happening as you work. I start to get really obsessive looking at it - I forget about everything else. That's why I told you guys to bring water and food. You can be in here for so long and you just don't even know it."
Joe has had the fortune to work with some of the world’s most innovative shapers, many of whom drop by to see him when they're in town. Manuel Caro of Mandala Custom Shapes in Leucadia, Southern California, has been a big influence and mentor. "He came out after we met while I worked at Mollusk. He got to see my shaping setup and he was tripping that I shape. He came by and just wanted to work - I was like: 'Dude, I just want to watch! You don't have to say a word to me!' I did, I watched everything and then Manny would go back and explain what he was doing to the blank and why it works."
Similarly, Joe has spent time in the shaping bay with the likes of Josh Hall and Andrew Kidman. "Andrew I've worked with the most. He's like a family member to me. He's a legend - who does what that guy does? He makes the best surf movies, takes amazing pictures of people that are so far out of reach. He's involved in the history, a side of surfing that most people are not aware of and don't even pay attention to when it's presented to them. The guy spends his life reporting on an area of surfing that most people don't give a shit about. A lot needs to be said about that… Without Andrew's work, there are a lot of surfers around today who wouldn't even know about what Derek Hynd has achieved!"
Joe has shaped almost a thousand boards now. "I haven't had much time in formal training with those guys. I’ve made a lot of boards, screwed up a lot of boards. You kinda get to know where you’re at. The first board I ever shaped was complete dogshit. I made it for a friend. I'm not showing it to you. It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen!”