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Interview: John Weber - Surfrider Foundation

If you’re a ocean-going soul and you’re not already aware of an organization called The Surfrider Foundation, it’s about time you got an introduction. 

In its own words, Surfrider is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.

Under the banner of this mission, Surfrider is focused on five key initiatives: to ensure public beach access, promote clean water, fight against plastic pollution, protect the ocean and preserve the coastlines around the US. It’s a tall order, but as the saying goes: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. 

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To learn more about the critical and complex work Surfrider does on our behalf, we dropped a line to John Weber, Surfrider’s Mid Atlantic Regional Manager. 

Weber grew up in Bergen County, New Jersey. His grandmother had a beach house on Long Beach Island, were he caught the surf bug during long school summers. After some time away from the ocean at college in Virginia, he found his way back to the Jersey Shore where he’s lived ever since. We asked how John became involved with Surfrider.

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“A few years out of college, in the early 90s, I went to this classic longboarding event with a friend. Surfrider had a table there and they invited us to attend a chapter meeting later on. After we surfed my friend wasn’t interested in going to the meeting, but I decided to go along and learned more about what Surfrider does. I was interested in helping out, and started going to the chapter meetings regularly. They gave me things to do like tabling at surf contests and concerts.”

Weber took up a day job organizing professionally for NJ Citizen Action - a not-for-profit that fights for social, racial and economic justice. He continued volunteering for Surfrider, taking on more responsibility as time went on. 

In 2005, Surfrider brought on a new CEO and restructured to operate regionally. The organization began searching for full-time regional managers to help organize the dozens of chapters in every corner of the US. Weber’s professional background in not-for-profit organizing meant he was perfectly poised to take on the role. He became the first Surfrider employee on the East coast, and has now worked there for 13 years. 

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Somewhat uniquely, Surfrider measures its impact by the number of victories it wins when pitching itself against politicians and businesses whose actions could harm the ocean or the coast. Though the organization is largely comprised of volunteers, this simple indicator of success helps Surfrider to stay focused in its efforts and to learn lessons from each campaign that can be applied to the next - even when the next campaign may involve new volunteers or take place in a different part of the country. These guys really understand how to win a political fight.  

We asked Weber about the actual process involved in legislative battles. “My role has a practical function, in that a lot of hearings and meetings take place in the middle of the day. Volunteers are generally at work during the day, so I go to the meetings, cover them and provide input. I answer a shit-ton of emails and have a lot of conference calls! My goal is to try to organize support for a specific position or idea so it’s all in one place. This way our voice is more powerful and impactful. I’m not running around trying to convert people who don’t believe in a particular point of view. You’d be exasperated trying to convert them! It’s a matter of getting people who already agree to do something.”
 

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Surfrider’s power to effect change and protect coastlines and oceans depends on its activist network. “We’re not doing this through high-priced lobbyists in D.C,” Weber explained. “At a local level politicians care about whether people are going to vote for them. We train volunteers so that when they do stand up in front of a town council, they’ve got the science and the speaking skills to make the case in their communities for protecting the coast and the beaches. We invest a lot in that training - that’s how we rack up the victories. We do it without spending lots of money. We can make a big difference with three people turning up at town hall meetings and speaking a few times.”

We asked Weber about where the work of Surfrider intersects with climate change, especially in an era of unprecedented environmental threat and climate change denial

“On climate change, Surfrider has a unique position. We recognize that it’s an underlying factor - what we see happening on our beaches and in our oceans all relates to climate change, but we’re not working on the emissions end of the problem. Someone wants to put up a seawall. Why? The water level is rising and the beach is eroding - that’s climate change, but we’re at the table with insurance companies, real estate developers and risk assessors. We’re not going to convince them with charts and graphs about global warming. We’ll convince them with the dollars and cents: ‘You will lose money.’ That makes it easier for people. Also, we keep our work local and grassroots: ‘Your local beach is disappearing and here’s a plan to protect the private property.’ If they love the beach, they’re in - we had them at ‘beach’. People can actually see the local manifestations of that work.”

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Of all the challenges faced under Surfrider’s broad remit, we wanted to know the most pressing issues for the East Coast region Weber manages. 

“Oil and gas affects the whole East Coast, so it’s number one to me,” Weber said. “In this region and for the NYC chapter, the Williams Transco Pipeline is a big one - it’s coming from New Jersey and multiple chapters are affected. NYC is doing an incredible job on that right now, and it feeds into the bigger climate change debate. When we’re fighting the fossil fuel industry, it’s never about the facts. We can win the fight because of power, because we have amassed an amount of power politicians can’t ignore. I can get more votes by bringing in the wind energy people, because it’s about creating a new industry.”

Another issue at the top of Weber’s list is plastic pollution in the ocean. The scale of this problem has come to the fore in recent years with scientific documentation of the mind-boggling Atlantic and Pacific gyres, swirling with slowly-degrading plastics that are working their way into the food chain. 

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“It’s a reminder that we’re not paying attention and we’re mucking the place up. Who wants to go surfing with a bunch of plastic crap in the ocean? Surfrider has been working on it for over ten years, and a newer offshoot is our ocean friendly restaurant program, with a goal of serving 500,000 plastic-free meals. Hundreds of restaurants have registered for that program. As seemingly the whole world has changed its attitude about plastic straws, one of the requirements for participating restaurants is ‘straws on request’ - i.e. for people who actually need them. You can live your entire life with a reusable coffee cup and a reusable water bottle. This kind of programmatic work is never really done - there is nobody on the opposing side fighting against you. Millenials are more on this than older generations for sure. Young kids just get it - it hurts animals!”

Finally, we asked how Weber stays motivated when this line of work can seem like an endless uphill battle. 

“The legendary environmentalist John Miur said, ‘All the victories are temporary and all the losses are permanent.’ I don’t know why I’m hopeful. There seem to be more losses than victories, but I’m super motivated by the volunteers that come out of the woodwork - they have plenty of passion. Because people continue to come forward and take a basic step like helping with a beach cleanup or leading an action, I continue to be hopeful.”

We'd like to thank John Weber for taking the time to educate us about the important work Surfrider does. 

Our enjoyment of the world's oceans is literally Surfrider's mission, so if you haven't already, please --> join the Surfrider Foundation <-- right now!

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Interview by Ed Thompson

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New IndieGoGo Perk: Conatus Surf Club Lesson!

We are very excited indeed to announce a new addition to the IndieGoGo Perks lineup for our campaign. 

We've teamed up with our friend philosophy teacher and surf coach, Dion Mattison of Conatus Surf Club. If you buy the perk, Dion will be offering 3 hours of personal tuition AND you'll get a copy of our book beautiful book! 

We wanted to let you in on Dion's radical, holistic teaching method, so we asked him a few questions to introduce himself. 

Tell us how you came to surfing in the first place?

“My dad is a surfer and I grew up on a sailboat. My mom is an avid swimmer, sailor, kayaker and body surfer. My grandparents are underwater photographers. Being an ocean person is in my DNA. I liked the water from the start.”
 

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What got you interested in teaching?

“I believe people have callings in life. If you attune yourself in a certain way you can be in a position to understand what your calling is. Perhaps more than surfing, my calling is to be a teacher. And like surfing, I started to be aware of this from a very young age. I enjoy sharing ideas and ways of seeing and being with people. I love to ask questions about why things are the way they are and finding appropriate ways to describe complex phenomena. I believe that the practice of philosophy in an original sense, as a dialectical process, is an attempt to unlock the highest potential of the human species. I believe that education is the key to unlocking our highest potential in every field of knowledge. Surfing is such a field."
 
"How I feel about the push-in-style surfing schools is no secret: I think they’re an ethical disaster. So I dreamed up a teaching practice where the end goal was to populate the lineup with respectful, graceful, efficient, and proficient surfers. This idea was in its infancy around 2003 in San Francisco. I was finishing up my BA in religious studies at UC Berkeley, already knowing that I planned to become a professor. I worked in a surf shop and just decided to give the idea a go. It took off and I operated through word of mouth for basically the next ten years.”
 

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How do you see your experience of life in New York as connected to surfing? 

“I moved to New York to pursue my PhD in philosophy at the New School for Social Research. I knew there were waves in New York and New Jersey, and I like the cultural upshots of city life, so it was a logical destination for me. I drove across the country in my 1975 BMW 2002 with three surfboards on the roof: a shortboard, a fish, and a log for giving lessons. I went surfing in Long Beach on my first day in New York: July 3, 2009. It was 1-3 feet, offshore, and kind of firing (I rode the fish). I knew from that first session that New York, academia, and surfing were going to be a nice combination for me."
 
"My surf coaching business, which I officially named Conatus Surf Club in 2013, has taken off here. I facilitate many people’s practices, having created something of an intentional surfing community on the way. So for example, I teach a course on ancient philosophy on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:00am - 9:40am, which gives me plenty of time to surf after class. Tuesdays and Thurs-Sun are all open for surfing and coaching, if the forecast is right. I have found that our waves are great for learning surfing because they’re mostly small and gentle, and then when they’re big they are quite perfect.”
 

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You have quite a unique approach to teaching people to surf. How does it work?

“My approach is holistic - it is both intentional and reflective. I use Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory of language games to inform my definition of surfing as a form of life with a specific set of changing grammatical structures. My goal is to guide students in understanding various ways of being in and around the ocean. I teach them how to be surfers — to describe waves, bathymetry, wind and swell forecasts, rip currents, ability levels and riding styles of other surfers, board shapes, etc. This empowers people to assess where to paddle out and position themselves in the lineup. Physiologically speaking, my method is based upon paddling form and breath."

"You know a proficient surfer when you see one paddle, so it makes sense to focus on this first before focusing on standing up and riding down the line. You cannot even work on that if you cannot catch waves on your own. I match this with wave judgment. A lot of this is me being a kind of meditation teacher and enforcing patience, which leads to better judgment. I also start filming students from early on in the practice. It can be hard to watch oneself struggle ungracefully but ultimately going through that honest reflection with yourself catapults you further faster in your practice. It’s like writing rough drafts and having the guts to revise them. You see things differently and you can learn from your mistakes. This component obviously becomes crucial for advanced intermediates looking to enhance their repertoire and style.”
 

What can the person who gets our surf coaching perk on IndieGoGo expect in their sessions with you? 

“It depends on ability level. If you are a complete beginner you will get two basics lessons where you’ll learn how to check the surf, where to paddle out and why, proper paddling form, and lineup etiquette. Every person is different so I don’t promise anything in two beginning sessions other than perhaps the most difficult and rewarding 1.5 hours of your life (3 total). Some people get it right away and are catching waves in the first session, others are wrestling the board like it’s a bucking bronco learning to do the “sit turn”. We tailor it to your pace and comfort level."

"For advanced beginners and intermediates we’ll assess the strengths and weaknesses in your surfing, help you with wave judgment and paddling form, and get some video for you to reflect on your body and wave positioning. We’ll also take a look at your quiver and make suggestions based on our sessions together. If need be, we’ll put you on 1 or 2 different boards from our quiver so you can try out shapes that might be ideal for you. For beginners we provide all equipment.”
 

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Our IngieGoGo supporters can buy a lesson for NY or CA. Who teaches out in California? 

"Conatus Surf Club also offers our brand of holistic and intentional surf coaching in southern California. Our point man out there is Mike Siordia. Mike is a genuinely awesome guy with tons of knowledge about all southern CA surf spots, surfing culture and board design history. He is a longboard ace but also a well rounded surfer proficient on any chunk of foam. Mike has worked with young aspiring professionals, adult beginners and intermediates. He can get you paddling through any lineup with ease, increase your ability to glide and trim, and help you understand lineup dynamics and etiquette."

What do you love about surfing in NY?

“When it’s perfect here it’s really perfect. Plenty of space to spread out and find your own peak. Plenty of locations to explore. If you’re respectful the locals notice it and don’t hassle you. The flat spells make time to get other stuff done.”
 

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Beach House Classic Part V: Gerry Lopez - Lightning Bolt

One of the moments of pure joy during the making of our book was finding Eric Beyer's cache of rare and treasured surfboards at Beach House Classic Surf Shop in Bay Head, New Jersey. We've already shared the stories he told us for his Michael's Fremont double-ender egg, and his beautiful blue G&S with the original fin. In the final installment of this series, we're very excited to share the story of this 7'6" rounded pintail Lightning Bolt. Over to Eric.

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"Lightning Bolt Surfboards got its start during the shortboard revolution. The company was founded in 1972 by Gerry Lopez and Jack Shipley, and by the end of the decade it had become the most iconic surfboard brand in existence. Known as “The most frequently tubed surfboards in the world”, the label dominated big waves line ups all around the globe. Lightning Bold boards were ridden by the best surfers from coast to coast."

"This gem is an iconic 7’6” round pin barrel rider. It came to me as a trade in from a customer from Belmar late in the summer of 2003. He had stopped surfing because of a knee injury suffered in his mid 20s. When he brought it in, he told me stories of getting some serious hurricane surf at the L jetty in Avon as well as point breaks from Montauk to Point Judith, RI."

"Later that fall, I got to ride it in some really nice overhead Bay Head South Swells and had a blast! It was super progressive considering its age. It really held in well, it was quick out off the bottom turn and caught waves like a dream. I was carrying Lightning Bolt surfboards shaped by Craig Hollingsworth at the time, so I figured I would give him a call."

I told him about the board and he asked me a few questions. He wanted to figure out if Gerry Lopez had actually shaped it or not. Craig told me that based on the resin (not painted) bolt and the ultra-fine resin bolt pin-lines on the deck, one of Lopez's signature details, and the fact that "a pure source" was written along the bolt, it was almost certainly shaped by Mr. Pipeline himself. The capstone that confirmed his suspicion is that the signature is on the resin surface, not a laminate placed under the resin. It currently hangs on our shop’s ceiling above a painting of Lopez surfing Pipeline behind the counter."

Huge props to Eric Beyer for sharing so many great stories and boards with us. If you get the chance, pop down to Bay Head and check out the store for yourself! 

Finally, we're very excited to let you know that we are now accepting pre-orders for our book Ice Cream Headaches: Surf Culture in New York & New Jersey. Grab your copy today!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

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Justin Mulroy - Lifeguards

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There are few jobs more complimentary to life as a young surfer than lifeguarding, as we learned when we interviewed 20-year veteran lifeguard and surfboard shaper, Charles Mencel for our book.

So, as you can imagine, we were seriously stoked to hear from Justin Mulroy, a lifeguard and photographer from New Jersey who has spent several years documenting lifeguarding culture in Sea Girt and Monmouth County. We'll let Justin take it from here!

"Lifeguarding at the Jersey shore had always been a dream job. Growing up a surfer, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to spend the summer. From eleven to fourteen years old I was a Junior Lifeguard and every surfer I knew was on the patrol."

"At the time I saw lifeguards as people with the best job in the world, but I was clueless about what being a member of Sea Girt Beach Patrol actually entailed. I scraped by my first year on the beach, grinding through the foreboding lifeguard test, a 500-meter swim and a mile and a half run. The swim was tough, but, to my relief, I completed the run rather easily."

"At 16, I was the weakest member of my Rookie class, but seeing the people I was surrounded with quickly changed that. Training for the first time for something other than surfing, I sought to compete in the traditional lifeguard tournaments held across the beaches of Monmouth County, the prize: bragging rights as the most athletic patrol." 

"The tournaments consist of running, rowing, swimming, and Paddleboarding with a few unique events thrown in, depending on which town is hosting. Every town ordered and set up their own events in the most advantageous way possible to their individual beach patrol."

"Lifeguards at Sea Girt Beach Patrol are watermen and women that understand the lineup better than most of the surfers out in the summer. We swim around in hurricane surf, laughing. We have great responsibility as first responders not only to people in distress in the water, but to anyone who may need assistance on or near the beach."

"The roster ranges from 16 year-old rookies to 70 year-old veterans, the oldest, known as 'Ace'. Ace leads the beach with his morning announcements and holiday speeches, always concluded with a resounding “Praise Him!” Working for Sea Girt is more than just a summer job: it is looked forward to all winter long, keeping people swimming, running and training... even in the dead of winter."

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We'd like to thank Justin for reaching out to share his photos and his story, and for the service he and his fellow lifeguards do for their local communities! 

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Words by Ed Thompson & Justin Mulroy

Photographs by Justin Mulroy

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Mike Nelson - Three Frames

A couple of times now we've convinced local photographers to dig into their archives and share a few of their all-time favorite images with us. Last year were stoked to share selects from Matt Clark and Fiona Mullen who also told us about the extraordinary circumstances that sometimes lead up to making a really memorable image. 

We're kicking off 2017 with another photo series, this time from Long Beach lifer, Mike Nelson, one half of the duo behind Unsound Surf Store. 

Mike's photography is truly rich, showing off the accumulated wisdom from uncountable sessions and endless hours spend shooting and surfing the length of New York's coastline. Yet, his work is so full of passion, excitement, color and drama, you might think he'd only recently picked up his first camera. Mike possesses a quality often found in truly talented artists - the ability to produce accomplished, professional work and yet somehow hold on to the childlike wonder at the subject of inspiration. In his own words, Mike talks us through three of his favorite shots below. 

"Long Beach NY, sunset. Sometimes its just nice to get away from the crowd and watch Mother Nature do her thing. This photo was taken a couple months ago during one of our hurricane swells here in Long Beach, NY. The photo is not cropped or edited at all, just the way the big man upstairs wanted it to look. And it's perfect…"

"Winter storm Mars, 2016. Mars was a significant swell and even though the conditions were challenging I was lucky enough to get a couple great shots. This one in particular is a shot my good friend Vic took with my secondary camera body, I asked him to hold it while I set up my bigger lens in a “sheltered” area near the boardwalk in Long Beach NY. He snapped a couple of photos as I tried to track Balaram Stack out in the water. Kinda cool how it came out and I think it really embodies what we all go through here in NY during the winter surf season." Amen - Ed.

"Sam Hammer, NJ. This photo was taken two winters ago. All of us up here in NY and NJ seem to chase the wind on any given swell event. New Yorkers are always running down to Jersey as soon as those flags turn westerly, and likewise when they swing around to the North all the Jersey boys migrate the other way. Given our somewhat stagnant NY Metro traffic, this can often take 2-3 hours each way. For me that time is spent with images like this one of Sam Hammer running rampant through my head. When I finally walk over the dunes in New Jersey, this is what I'm hoping to see."

We highly recommend you avail yourself of a few minutes checking out some more of Mike's work on his website. 

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

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Beach House Classic - Part IV

In August and September we brought you the stories of a couple more surfboards from Eric Beyer's collection at Beach House Classic boardshop in New Jersey. Here's the next installment, with the story of this 70s G&S. 

"This board came out of the short board revolution of the early to mid 1970s," Eric explained. "It's a 6’10” G&S double winged swallow tail, single fin in royal blue, with a super cool resin rainbow on the deck." We marveled at the outline, forward weight in the nose and the intricate, vibrant resin work.

Eric continued, "This board, like so many others, came in to my hands by happenstance. A good customer of mine came in to the shop and asked if I did ding repair.  I told him I do.  He had a board that meant a lot to him, but which needed some love. He went out to his van and brought this beauty into the shop!"

"Gene had bought this board in his early 20s and it soon became one of his favorites. In the late 70s, he had traveled out west to California and up to Alaska in a Winnebago, surfing this along the way. I’ve seen some photos, and Gene truly was an original Hippy," Eric told us.

"When the repairs were complete, he asked if I would like to give the board a few rides, then hang it from the ceiling in the shop.  On a nice Bay Head South Swell I had a great session. It took a little figuring out to keep her from side slipping, but I got used to the ride and got a few screamers! Later that day I stripped off the wax and it’s been on the ceiling ever since."

I guess you could say there's not much to this story - the retiring of an old board after one last victory dance. For the owner of a surf store, it's just another perk of the job. 

And yet, how many beautiful beloved old boards lie rotting, stuffed in the rafters or half-buried in sand and mud beneath New Jersey beach houses?

Thankfully not this one. Gene and Eric both know what it means to be lucky enough to own and love a beautifully crafted, handmade surfboard. And they know that when the time comes to retire it, the least you can do is provide a proper sendoff and leave the board in safe hands for future generations to enjoy. 

Thank you Eric and Gene for taking great care of this board and sharing it with all of us!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

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Beach House Classic - Part III

"Holy shit, look at that thing," I said to Julien as Eric plucked this board off the shop ceiling and passed it to me from the stepladder, breaking into a huge grin. This board is a key step in the transition of surfboard design from single fin, to twin fin, to the bonzer we discussed in our last post and finally the thrusters we know today. 

Over to Eric for the story of this remarkable shape.

"This is rocket ship of a surfboard. It's a 5’4” Nectar Original Simon Anderson Thruster. It has a double winged swallow tail, channel bottom with airplane wing fins: another piece of history. 

"In the late 70s Australian surfer Mark Richards was dominating on his version of the twin fin, making it the hottest board of the late 70s and early 80s.  Simon Anderson had been shaping surfboards since 1972 and under the Energy Surfboards label since 1975. He had been successfully competing on the world tour and even selected to surf in the Pipe Masters. Anderson found he struggled with the loose riding twin fin, wanting more control.  In 1981, he decided to throw three of the same sized fins on a square tailed surfboard design, creating the first 'Thruster'.  That year, while only surfing in 2 thirds of the contests, winning 3 of them, he finished 6th in the world and was named Surfer Magazine’s Surfer of the Year. Surfers from all over the world started trading in their twin fin surfboards for Thrusters."

"It was the spring of 1984 and I was at University of Rhode Island. The URI Surf Club competed in contests in Point Judith, Cape Cod, New Hampshire and Newport and I qualified for the ESA Regionals that were held at the famed Casino Pier in Seaside Heights, NJ (RIP)."

"After the contest, I went to Grog’s Surf Palace and this board was on the used rack.  I was riding a 6’0” HIC thruster at the time and wanted to go a little smaller and looser. I remember Grog saying, in his gravely voice: "You know what you’re going to be able to do with this thing?” Throwing the board over his head in an arcing motion, he went on, "bust some serious airs.” I rode this rocket ship for a while, never busting any airs, and retiring it when one of the airplane-wing fins sliced my heel open during an overhead session at outside Point Judith. It sat in my parent’s basement in NJ, all but forgotten. After I had opened the shop, I grabbed it while at home for Christmas one year. Now it hangs on our ceiling of history!"

Once again, thank you to Eric at Beach House Classic for sharing his board collection with two nerds who took apart the ceiling display in his store to photograph a few of the boards. Seriously though, look at those fins!

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Beach House Classic Collection - Part II

This is the second part of our series exploring Eric Beyer's collection of boards at Beach House Classic Boardshop, Bay Head, NJ. This time we get the story behind this beautiful Bing Bonzer. 

"This is an original 5’10” 1975 round nose Bing Bonzer," Eric told us. "It was brought in to the shop in June 2010 by a good customer. He found it in the used rack at another local surf shop and thought I’d love it… he was right! I rode it a couple of times and it worked really well… super smooth ride and really responsive in the turns. Really nice logo, super cool fins and some extreme concaves!"

"This board is a piece of history… a piece of the puzzle that got us from the logs of the 50s and 60s to what we currently ride. The Campbell Brothers put 3 fins on a board well before Simon Anderson designed the Thruster, and they were on to something. The Bonzer was designed and created by Malcolm and Duncan Campbell in the early 70s on the points of Ventura and Santa Barbara." We spoke with Bing Copeland of Bing surfboards who filled in the details. The Campbell brothers made a short super-8 film demonstrating their innovative shape. They drove around showing their clip to several shops, but Bing was the only one that took an interest. 

"The brothers convinced Mike Eaton and Bing Copeland to shape some Bonzers for Bing’s team riders to try. The response was awesome. Besides it’s history in the timeline of surfboard design, this board is special to me because I still deal with Bing and carry Bing Surfboards. I sent them pictures of the board and this is the response I received: 'Nice looking Bonzer Eric. Your board would have been 1975 or later. Mike Eaton was in San Diego at the time he made the rounded noses and he also rounded the trailing edges of the Bonzer Runners.'" 

Eric explained to us that the trailing edges of the runners, which were originally sharp angles, were rounded off to reduce the number of injuries the boards inflicted in the lineup. The deep concaves force water out of the back of the board in powerful jets, giving Bonzer's fantastic drive and acceleration to project laterally across the face of the wave.

The runners, a pre-cursor to the curved fins used in thrusters, gave the boards much more bite and control in turns than their single-finned counterparts. On a point break, where the wave face is a 'fatter' slope, the runners offer an advantage over the deep draw of the lateral fins on a thruster: because they are shorter they have less drag and no flex. Thruster fins, developed later, have more drag but provide better traction to hang onto the face of steeper, barreling waves. 

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet










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Michael Fremont

After we posted the first part of our series featuring some of the surfboards at Beach House Classic shop in Bay Head, NJ, we decided we should contact the shaper himself. That would be one Michael Fremont who shaped under the name Michaels Fremont with his buddy, Tony Michaels (Confused? Us too.) in New York and later San Diego in the early 70s.

At home on Walnut Street, Long Beach, NY

At home on Walnut Street, Long Beach, NY

We caught up with Michael, who now lives in Encinitas, California but grew up in Long Beach, NY. 

"I was born in '49," Michael told us, "and my family moved there in '52. My father had a house built on Walnut street and when I was 13 I started surfing with my best friend and his older brother Mark Weisberg. He was one of the original guys surfing there after he'd been stationed in Hawaii."

At the time, Mark surfed occasionally with a guy name 'Bahama' Pat. Pat's family owned a liquor store in Long Island and he was not exactly an encouraging sight for parents of would be surfers on the beach. "He was one of these guys who all summer long hung out at the beach," Michael explained, "he had a straw hat, looked like a bum. He was a surf bum. So it took me a year to convince my parents that surfing was OK. When I was 14 I learned to surf down the street at Franklin and surfed ever since."

Michael Fremont surfing

We asked Michael what it was like surfing there at the time. "There weren’t surfing beaches," he told us, "so the only time you could go was before the beach opened and after the beach closed and sometimes the cops would come chase you away anyway. I got pretty good at surfing in New York - it was the only sport I was ever good at! I couldn't run very fast and I couldn't throw very far - that eliminated the normal high school sports."

Michael graduated high school in '66 just as a seismic fault was developing in society. "There was something wrong with the civil and social structure," Michael said. "The song of that year was Buffalo Springfield - For What It's  Worth. 'There's something happening here...' That captured the mood. It was a generational shift: it became clear that our generation was not going to follow the footsteps of the generation before. We were true believers in what America could be and we were disappointed in what it was. With the civil rights movement we were starting to get an enlightened history of the United States. We were idealistic but disappointed at the same time, becoming cynical. The definition of a cynic is a disappointed romantic!"

We asked Michael if he had been drafted into the Vietnam war. "I was waiting, and I had done my pre-induction physical but I got a high lottery number in the draft so that ended my problem with the army. I was absolutely opposed to Vietnam. I would not have gone. I would have become an expat. I had friends that were totally screwed up when they came back."

Finding some cover from the sun beating down at Swamis

Finding some cover from the sun beating down at Swamis

After high school, Michael moved to Huntington Beach for college but ended up spending the winter of '68 back home in New York after getting sick. That winter he started making surfboards. "It was hard to get the materials," Michael explained. "I had to order blanks from the west coast. I bought a little planer and set up a shaping / glassing rack in my parents’ garage."

The picture shown here is the first proper surfboard Michael made, in the Spring of 1969:

The first board Michael shaped

The first board Michael shaped

People liked the boards and he continued making more. Although he can't recall, he believes he might even have made a board for Russell Drumm, whom he had known growing up on Long Island and with whom he spent one winter in Puerto Rico. In the fall of '69 Michael went back to the west coast and started shaping under the Michaels Fremont name of the board we found at Eric Beyer's shop, the first board Eric owned. Michael believes he made that board in about 1970. "That was a foil egg shape. For the east coast you had to make it rounder and hippy-er. It would be called a 'foil' and it had a down rail going to to an up rail."

Michael has since stopped shaping and now lives and works in Encinitas, CA, but he was stoked to hear we had photographed one of his boards at Beach House Classic and we're very happy we managed to catch up with him and close the loop!

Michael on Long Beach in 1968 with a Jim Hanley shaped Bunger

Michael on Long Beach in 1968 with a Jim Hanley shaped Bunger

To support our ongoing work, please check out the prints section of our site. Our beautiful, hand-signed and numbered, fine art giclee prints last a lifetime and will look genuinely stunning on your wall. Buying a print directly supports our project!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs from Michael Fremont's personal collection

 










portrait, shaper

Dave Parmenter

Dave Parmenter signed off his response to my last email as follows: "...please feel free to write with any questions or queries on the true history of surfing and surfboards." In a way, that sums him up perfectly.

There is a saying.

He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool - shun him. He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a child - teach him. He who knows and knows that he knows is wise - follow him.

Say what you want, Dave Parmenter is one of the wise ones. He understands both surfing and shaping in immense depth, having enjoyed successful careers at both. He's a straight talker and, even as he sets to work on a blank in front of us, he's frank about the failure of the surf industry to define the parameters of its central engineering challenge in quantitative, scientific terms.

One of his first obsessions as a child was planes, in particular the British-built Spitfire that won the critical battle for the skies of Europe during World War II. "It's just the most beautiful thing," Parmenter told us. "That and the Winchester 1895 rifle." 

He compares the innovations in surfboard design to the challenges faced by the earliest attempts at flight. The movement of the vessel through water or air is similar. But where aircraft engineering has adopted a sober, technical and precise language to express the intricacies of physics that dictate its limits, surfboard engineering has taken the low road. This, Parmenter acknowledges, is because people's lives generally don't depend on the calculations involved. 

In fact, Parmenter tells us, shapers have often adopted technical terms from aircraft engineering without their appropriate usage. "People were using deliberately obscure terms like drag co-efficients and laminar flow," Parmenter explained. "Even before I was a commercial shaper, I was an aviation nut and I knew it was all bullshit and pseudo-science. When I came of age and started to become a figure in the surf community, I tried to make shaping like we would in aviation: accessible and understandable to the average person."

This has been something of a life mission for Parmenter. His website welcomes enquiries from people all over the world, from those about to build their first board to shapers with a hundred plus under their belts. "Any 300-hour pilot will get in a plane and they can talk about it later and say: 'Yeah, it flies like this,'" Parmenter continued. "With surfboards you can't get anyone to agree on anything."

In spite of his yearning to formalize the science of surfboard shaping, Parmenter advocates for a more ground-up revision of the industrial manufacturing hierarchy - one which would likely have the opposite effect. "We need a protestant reformation in surfing," he said, pulling out a saw and beginning to trim an outline from the blank. 

"In the way that Martin Luther said 'fuck the Pope and the Vatican: everyone has the right to interpret their own religion for themselves.' We don't need Rusty and Al Merrick, as great as those guys are, we don't need these monolithic companies and all their marketing. All our surfboards really came from the backyard revolution which was basically flipping off the surf establishment of the 60s."

Lowering his voice slightly to the level at which conspiracy can be discussed in confidence, Parmenter went on: "That was actually pretty hairy. When boards started getting short,  it was not in the interest of the big manufacturers like Greg Noll. They had rows of 10'2" noseriders and overnight they couldn't sell them - they became obsolete. People were stripping them down and re-shaping them. They ran huge smear campaigns, even in Surfer magazine, against backyard builders saying: 'don't fly by night, go to a reputable shaper'. The big companies put Grubby Clark at Clark Foam under a lot of pressure not to sell blanks in low volume to the small guys. And he just said 'fuck you.'"

Having read with interest the precise and charged language in Parmenter's writing, and especially now hearing it in person, I was interested to talk with him about how language is used to express the surf experience. I particularly loved the following sentence on his website, describing one of his shapes, a 12'6" cross-country paddle board "...tailored for Central California cloudbreaks with displacement hull and chine rails to outrun patrolling white pointers." The words 'outrun' and 'patrolling' infuse the description with a sort of Vietnam-era paranoia that powerfully evokes being hunted by the "white pointers" cruising by some distant wave, far from the shore. Language seems to be a topic that interests him considerably.

"In surfing it's a huge thing and nobody knows about it," Parmenter explained. "If you're familiar with Orwell's essay on Politics and the English Language, he talks about euphemism and the dumbing down of language. Like when we say 'the village has been pacified.' Orwell railed against language being reduced down until you can't even think or express anything. Surfers, especially in California and Hawaii, all speak in about twenty-five prefabricated sentences. It obliterates thought because nobody takes the time to choose words. '-How was it? -It was gnarly, dude, pretty fun out there...' People don't pick for words that have that carriage of meaning or even humor. After a while, like big Joe Stalin, the lie becomes big enough that you start to believe it..."

It was a huge pleasure to meet and interview Dave. We want to thank both Dave and Phil Browne from Glide Surf Co for letting us visit Heavensap to badger Dave while he was supposed to be cranking through a not-insignificant stack of local orders. 

Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet










feature

Eric Beyer - Beach House Classic Boardshop - Part I

The surf industry is notoriously tough to break into and it's even tougher to thrive in. Beach House Classic, a longboard focused surf shop in Bay Head, NJ, has been around for over two decades, serving up stoke in bucketloads. Even more impressively, through founder Eric Beyer's eye for surf history, the store has become an important repository of knowledge and board design, boasting an extraordinary collection of historic boards from shapers near and far. "I don't collect them," Eric explained to us, "they tend to find their way to me."

We interviewed Eric for the book, but wanted to run a parallel series of photos documenting some of the boards from his collection, many of which are suspended from every corner of the ceiling in the shop. We asked Eric to share a few of their stories in his own words. 

"My first board was a mid 70s 5’10” Michaels Fremont single fin. It's a double ender, every bit of 23” wide and 3½ inches thick out to the rail. My Dad bought it for $50 from a buddy right before the summer of 1979, the summer I learned to surf."

"We got up to Cape Cod in August. I had my 5’10” double ender and my best buddy Doug had just picked up his first board at a garage sale, a mini mal McTavish Tracker."

Boards in hand, Eric and Doug had to figure things out for themselves: "No one in either of our families had ever surfed," Eric explained, "so we learned the old school way: trial and error. We got down to Nauset Beach and found some waist high peelers rolling in on the unguarded south beach so we jumped in. After a few wipe outs, I stood up and flew down the face… I’ll never forget the feeling of freedom. I was hooked!"

With the Cape Cod waters a chilly 59 degrees, they learned they could rent wetsuits, or 'snugs' as they were known, to get a little extra water time. "My Pops took us to Jaspers and got us set up. It made all the difference in the world!"

"Later that week, we got up for a dawn session and found Doug's suit missing. We'd left them out to dry on the railing of the cottage. We realized that we had just heard the garbage truck pass. Even though the garbage men denied it, we knew what happened. The problem was, we had to explain it to Jasper's surf shop. The guys were cool… they treated us like locals and not the kooks we really were, earning our business for years to come."

Years later, Eric had the same Fremont board on display in the window at Beach House Classic.

"I got an early morning message from a guy claiming he shaped the board," Eric told us. "I met up with him and found out it was Mickey Fremont, now a lawyer in Encinitas, CA. He was in the area for a wedding and was trying to track down some of his old boards. Growing up in the 70s in NYC, he and a buddy shaped boards on the empty third floor of his buddy's parents' department store. He hung out in the shop that morning and shared a few stories. He was desperate to buy the board, but I wouldn't let it go. Although at first he wasn't too happy, Mickey appreciated that someone wanted it as much as he did. A way cool guy and a real piece of local surf history."

 

To support our work with this project, please check out the prints section of our site. Our beautiful, hand signed and numbered, fine art giclee prints last a lifetime and will look genuinely amazing on your wall. Buying one directly supports our progress with this project!

Get the latest via instagram

Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet










feature, surf session

When the magic happens...

Some days, the ocean works its magic. Friday the 8th April 2016 was one of those days.  

Balaram Stack

Balaram Stack

Last week, perfectly timed for a Friday we both had free, a 10 second period South swell whipped into the New Jersey shoreline for a one-day-only showdown. This swell angle and mid-length period, groomed by a steady offshore wind, sent absolutely perfect overhead barrels driving up the beaches all day long.

During the peak of the swell in the mid-morning there were barely even sets - just seemingly mechanical barrels grinding down the beaches to the whoops and cheers of anyone (read:everyone) who had the day off. Fortunately, we had made plans earlier in the week to link up with one of New Jersey's top pro surfers, Sam Hammer, to try and catch him in action.

Sam Hammer

Sam Hammer

As we pulled up to the spot, Sam had just broken a board. He sprinted up the beach, leapt the fence and dove into the back of his car to grab another before we could even say hello. A quick nod and a fist bump and he was back in the water in about 2 minutes remaining there for at least the next 4 hours. 

Sam Hammer

Sam Hammer

Hucking gear up and down the beach for the whole day gave us a decent workout, but it also yielded some photos we're really stoked to share here and a few special frames we'll be even more stoked to share with you in the book. Enjoy!

portrait

Hotdogger - Rendez vous au New York Surf Club

We are delighted to announce that a preview of our project is now available in Hotdogger, an awesome french surf magazine based out of Biarritz, France.

It features Chelsea Burcz, Mikey DetempleJoseph Falcone, Chris GentileMichael Halsband and Tom Petriken.

You can pick up your copy in France in places like Colette, Vans, Helder Supply and more!

Scene 2 - 5.jpg

shaper, portrait

Mick Mackie

A couple weeks ago we drove down to Bay Head in New Jersey to interview Clay Pollioni (stay tuned for an interview preview!) On the way back, we stopped by Phil Browne's shaping studio in Asbury Park, The Heaven Sap. We wanted to meet with his latest guest shaper, Mick Mackie, an incredible innovator who has carved a living from foam and resin for the last 30 years in New South Wales, Australia. 

Mick is quiet, unassuming and seemed somewhat surprised that we'd come out to see him at work. It shouldn't have been a surprise though - we were very excited to see him in action.

Mick makes some pretty unusual looking surfboards, drawing inspiration for several of his outlines from snow-surfing, a proto version of snowboarding. Snow-surfing uses a fish-tailed board, with familiar surfboard nose shape, but includes an in-swept, concave tail outline, making it look even more fish-like.

Cracking open a beer, Mick explained to us that the convex shape in his "Sidecut Fish" design lets the rail dig deeper and engage more sharply against the water surface during a turn, which gives the turn a smaller radius and more bite. 

And concave tail outlines are only the half of it. Mick is also delving deep into the possibilities of flex tail builds. When he'd finished his beer, he set back to work helping Phil prepare a carbon fiber and resin layup for an extraordinary looking board which was almost half flex-tail. 

Anyone who knows the economics of surfboard shaping (unfavorable) knows what a risk it is to try and forge a new path in the field of board design. Materials are expensive, labor arduous and the margins razor thin, even on the most popular designs.

Mick has thrown caution to the wind and is currently using carbon fiber, kevlar and fiberglass combined with flexible rubber compounds to build flex-tail boards that literally throw you out of a turn after compression, giving the release even more power and snap. 

When he's not blending snowspots and wave-riding to push the limits of surfboard design, Mick also makes damn fine single-fin pin tails and classic fish. To see some of his work, swing by Glide Surf Co in Asbury Park, New Jersey. But hustle up - they won't be there long.