surfboards

feature, portrait, shaper, surf session

Interview: James Otter - Otter Surfboards, UK

As you may know, yours truly is from England, and though I deeply love living in New York, from time to time I glance over my shoulder to see what I’m missing. Brexit isn’t one of them, but Otter Surfboards most certainly is.

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We recently caught up with Otter Surfboards founder, James Otter, to find out more about his wooden surfboard company. Otter descends from a family of farmers and carpenters, so if there’s a gene for finding pleasure in working with your hands, Otter almost certainly has it. Growing up connected with the land and with craftsmanship Otter went on to attended one of England’s more outdoorsy, coastal universities, Plymouth. It was here that the idea of building wooden surfboards first struck.

Ice Cream Headaches: Tell us about the genesis of Otter Surfboards - where did the idea come from?

James Otter: The thought of making my first wooden board actually came from a magazine: The Surfer's Path. I was studying furniture making, heading into my final year and through the summer break they ran an issue called 'The Wood Issue', which exposed me to a whole world of wooden surfboard makers. I loved the idea of it, so began working out how to use local timber to make surfboards. After two years of experimenting, I got to a point where I was happy with the boards and started working out how to sell them.

James Otter Wooden Surfboard Workshop Angle Portrait .jpg

ICH: Did you know right away that you could make it work, or were you considering other paths at the time?

JO: I definitely didn't know if it would work, but I was young, so didn't have any financial commitments or dependants, and I had the 'If not now, when?' question rattling round my head. So I jumped into it and gave it all the energy I had. Luckily I've had such supportive friends and family that are still by my side to this day, who have helped make it all possible.

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ICH: You've said in previous interviews that you were surprised and very happy to discover that teaching people how to make these boards was almost as fulfilling as making them yourself. What is it about teaching, or the combination of teaching and making, that’s so satisfying?

JO: By teaching people to make things, you open them up to what they are capable of doing with their own two hands. It gives them such belief and confidence that you can't help but smile. Today, not many people stop and take the time to make anything, let alone something they plan on playing with in the ocean, so the excitement and anticipation that rattles round the workshop during our courses is just magical.

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ICH: What's the hardest thing about running this company?

JO: For me, it's simply the ambiguity of it all. We never know when the next order might land in our inbox, which leads to some pretty lean months, even years, which can be tricky to deal with. Although we definitely aren't in this to make lots of money (I think that would be incredibly hard), we do need to make enough to keep going, and that can be challenging at times. Luckily, after 8 years’ running the company, we're still here and still smiling. It still doesn't feel like a 'real job', hanging out with friends, laughing and surfing for most of our waking hours.

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ICH: For people who are deeply attached to surfing, but who’ve never tried a wooden board, what would you say to convince them to give it a go?

JO: I know for a fact that it isn't for everyone, but for those with an open mind it can transform your surfing. Our boards finish about 25% heavier than a typical foam board. They have momentum and carry speed, so they really suit big, smooth turns and flowing lines. If that's the kind of surfing you aspire to, then they could be just what you're looking for. Also, knowing exactly how they are made and what they are made from - literally being able to see where the trees once stood - is a big plus side for us. We make our boards to the absolute best of our abilities and know they will last decades, all of which contributes to better care for our planet.

Surfer Jonny Leon

Surfer Jonny Leon

ICH: How important are partnerships with other brands or sponsored surfers in spreading the word about your work and your boards?

JO: We love working with like minded people, companies and charities. It's a way to elevate what we do and expose ourselves to new audiences, so it works really well as a way of getting our name out there. It's also one of the most enjoyable parts of the job because each new partnership or project demands creativity and a new story.

ICH: Is there any surfboard technology you're aware of, or following, that you believe could make a meaningful dent in the environmental impact of mainstream surfboard manufacturing, and what are the barriers to wood as a material playing a bigger role in the industry?

JO: I think there are several that are interesting to keep an eye on, but it's a tricky question because most of them are still based on a very capitalist attitude of selling more products to make more money. It's really encouraging that you have larger manufacturers trying out new materials and manufacturing processes to try to make boards more sustainable, but there is also a heck of a lot of miscommunication and green-washing. The big manufacturers still, ultimately, rely on selling a huge volume of products to make their businesses viable. We focus on doing the least amount of harm we can and making the best product we can, but above all for us, we are building a community of like-minded individuals who will make real changes in their local communities. We can all make a difference.

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ICH: What is your vision for Otter Surfboards in the long term - do you plan to keep growing organically, or are there other plans for growth or diversifying on the horizon?

JO: There are some fairly natural progressions for us, but we enjoy doing what we do so much that it's mostly about the preservation of that. It's funny, we got together a few years ago as a team and decided that growth for us doesn’t mean chasing targets for more customers and more sales. Instead, it’s about finding ways to improve our customer's experiences, add more value to the surfboards and our care for people. We've got a few projects and plans up our sleeve, but ultimately we're keen to keep doing what we already do. When you have customers that make positive, life-changing decisions off the back of their experiences with you, it feels like we could hang up our tools tomorrow and be more than happy with how we’ve affected the world around us.

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We’d like to thank James Otter and photographer Mat Arney, for their time. Check out Otter Surfboards at their website here.

For news, action and offers, follow Ice Cream Headaches on Instagram here.

shaper

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

portrait, feature, shaper

Lucid Dreaming with Luc Rolland

In your wettest and wildest dreams of surfing, where your soul drifts apart from your body to surf mystical breaks on rugged coastlines, shrouded in softly-lit morning mist, lapped with peeling, blue-green, head-high waves, and where magic wave-craft infuse your surfing with unequalled grace, Luc Rolland is your shaper. 

We were fortunate to get an opportunity to meet with Luc after two separate trips to France last year to enjoy the honestly-it's-tempting-to-just-fucking-move-there Côte des Basques. We'd seen Luc's shapes here and there online, but we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for until we met the man himself. 

Luc was born in St Cloud, France and grew up in Biarritz where he spent time in the ocean and eventually learned to knee board. Aged 13, amidst the shortboard revolution, he saw friends ripping the lamination off longboards to re-shape them into shortboards. “I couldn’t believe they would trash these classic old boards,” Luc said. “I asked my dad to buy a polyester slab and I made a board for myself. I just painted it because we didn’t have resin. Two sessions later it went to pieces,” he laughed.
 
Luc pushed his creativity in other directions. He told his mother he wanted to become an inventor so he would never have to make the same thing twice. He painted, drew and made sculptures. 
 

At school Luc performed poorly because he couldn’t stop daydreaming. “The school told me: ‘You don’t have the capacity to stay in regular classes’. My parents and I went to visit a ‘manual activities’ school where they taught vocational skills. My parents choose ceramics for me because it had potential to lead to a job. I was super happy - it was just the best three years!” After his vocational training, Luc was accepted to study at a prestigious art school in Paris, returning home each summer to build surfboards for his friends. 
 
Since then Luc has forged a living from his sculpture, painting, ceramics and, increasingly in later life, from his shaping. In his studio, relentlessly assailed by his cat Mimi, Luc showed us some of his work. 

Unlike most shapers, Luc doesn’t use templates, and he prefers not to use an electric planer when he works. He leafed through a sketchbook, showing the earliest formulations of his ideas. Some pages feature a single curved line, fuzzy with a few strokes. On the next page will be something radically different, yet clearly an extension of the same thought.
 

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“There is no accident, it is all conscious decisions,” Luc said. “There is a similar language throughout the boards. Some people call it retro but I like to say it is actually very modern. It is really hard to go back into the past. I have no interest in it.”
 
In his large cuboid studio, extraordinary, space-ship-like prototypes perch on racks. “This one is inspired by a cuttlefish,” Luc explained. Nearby are racks stuffed with longboards, mid-lengths and fun-shapes, a pick-n-mix of perfection. Many feature robust ¾” stringers and most are either white or black, understated, elegant and glassed with astonishing precision, perhaps finished off with a translucent, pearlescent fin. 


If he doesn’t look to the history of surfboard design for the language of his craft, where is he finding it? “It’s like asking me, ‘why am I me?’ I have no idea how it comes to me. It is metaphysical! Creation is auto satisfaction - you get into a process of research to feel better. I am not looking at what others do, but we are always influenced by what’s been done. I learned through that, but now I want to go towards myself, towards my own ideas. ”

Though the space overflows with surfboards, we were surrounded by a thousand other experiments: functional ceramics, experimental sculptural forms, scratchings, paintings, etchings, sketches, strange surfboard fins, all of it physical and direct. There is a black and white through-line but this is interrupted by bursts of neon color and glittering metallics, almost in an act of self-resistance. 

“My mom was a drawing teacher, so there is this positive and negative, an inside and an outside. The line creates a vibration between the two spaces. Because I’m an artist, I have an idea and then I have a strong desire to materialize it. I believe in the idea of the perfect board and the perfect wave so when I work it’s more about a feeling or a sensation than a material.”
 
Luc calls his boards “rêve de surf de rêve”, or “dreams of dream surfing”, and dreamlike they may seem, until they find their way out of the studio and into the ocean where, for the lucky owner, those dreams start to get very lucid indeed. 

See more of Luc's work here.

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

shaper

Campbell Bros X Son of Cobra Bonzer - Russ Short 3

When a new surfboard joins the Ice Cream Headaches family, we like to make a little fuss so it feels right at home. On this occasion, the board in question is a Russ Short 3, designed and shaped by the Campbell brothers and glassed by surly Frenchman Son of Cobra. It is a modern ode to the elegant, game-changing bonzer design we've written about before. 

How, we hear you ask, was this extraordinary resin work achieved? Paul cured and then shattered a thin layup of black resin, then mixed the flakes with white tinted resin before applying the mixture to the board. The result is a fantastic pain in the ass to sand, and exquisitely beautiful. 

The proud new owner is a very happy (some would even say smug) Mr Roubinet who has been waiting in ernest for the perfect swell to take this beautiful spaceship for a test-drive.

We wouldn't be doing this creature justice if we didn't show you how it surfs, so here's a little taste...

feature

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

shaper, portrait, feature

Tony Caramanico - Barn Storming Part I

A while ago, Tony Caramanico made the grave mistake of inviting myself and Julien to check out his barn full of surfboards in Montauk. Tony has lost count of the number of boards inside, but the place is bursting at the seams. The last census tallied close to a hundred.

Needless to say, we emptied the barn across Tony's lawn and proceeded to photograph a stack of them in painstaking detail, peppering him with questions about the history of each one, and occasionally trying to stuff one into our car when he wasn't looking. At the end of the day he pretty much had to ask us to leave, but thankfully before that happened, we managed to extract some of the stories behind the highlights!

HOOK GUN

"Montauk board builder Jim Goldberg made this beauty for Eric "bull" Olsen, for bigger waves. It's a real piece of Montauk surf history.  I acquired it from Eric and it is the only one like it. It was made in the late nineties, but it really represents board design from the late sixties and early seventies."

 

RASMUSSEN TWIN FIN

"This is the last board Ricky made for me before he died.  It holds lasting memories for me and I rode it in an Andy Warhol video filmed here in Montauk around 1982. In 2015 it was exhibited in the "Surf Craft" show curated by surf historian Richard Kevin here on Long Island, NY."

Props to Tony for hanging out and sharing all these great stories - we were truly stoked to browse through such an incredible collection. Stay tuned - we'll be sharing lots more in the coming weeks!

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Words by Ed Thompson

Photographs by Julien Roubinet

shaper, portrait

Son Of Cobra

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

The factory that produces ...Lost surfboards in San Clemente, California is not what you might imagine. Three unassuming, blockish buildings house an operation that churns out thousands upon thousands of precision-made surfboards each year. 

Behind one building there is a small backyard, mostly taken up by an inflatable pool, swirling with liquid residue from paint experiments. The rest of the yard is full of junk, broken timber and an old Oakley sunglasses cabinet. Even rodents steer clear. A squirrel is once rumoured to have fallen into a bucket of acetone, never to be seen again.

At the end of one building there is a two-rack shaping room where Paul Lefevre, or Son of Cobra as he’s known, works on ...Lost’s special orders. 

Paul came to glassing through a combination of luck, mistake and sheer audacity - depends who you ask. He grew up in France and took a stab at shaping his first board aged 14. He went on to university in France to study graphic design. At weekends, he would visit shaper Axel Lorentz in Bidart to help out with board decoration. After he graduated, Paul took a year to travel across Australia.  

After some time traveling, Paul found himself in need of cash and approached Sean Wilde (Wilde Shapes) in New South Wales. As a wind-surfer, surfer and occasional shaper, Paul had only knocked together a total of less than 20 boards in his life. “Christmas time there is super busy for shapers,” Paul explained, ”so they were looking for extra help. I told them I was a shaper and glasser. They asked how many I could do a day and I replied two, maybe three. They said 8 was the minimum... But I got the job.”

Over the years that followed, Paul worked for Dale Chapman and Peter White (Classic Malibu) and in France’s Basque country at the Pukas Surf Factory, one of the biggest in Europe and the license holder for Matt Biolos’ ...Lost brand. Eventually Matt saw some of Paul’s work and invited him to come to California. Five years later, after a stint at UWL Surfboards, he accepted the offer. 

When we talked to him, it sounded like glassing, now his area of deep expertise, came to him rather than the other way around. “Yes, and I’ve started to regret it,” Paul said. “I see all these random guys putting out boards and no one is paying attention to quality. You can see there is nothing behind it besides a cool photo.” He continued, ”I’ve been shaping as long as I’ve been glassing but never advertised it. I find it sort of lame. Glassing is more underground but it’s incredibly important.” A good glasser can make the reputation of a shaper, Paul explained. “A number of shaper made their name thanks of the quality of the glassing.”

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

Paul with a Russ Short 3, shaped by Malcolm Campbell

Paul’s passion for craftsmanship runs deep. He has mastered his art and, in an industry stale with recycled ideas, his innovation and creativity shines. Yet, in a spirit of artistic dejection, he argues that he cannot achieve fulfillment through board building anymore. “It is frustrating to see how the handmade, craftsmanship movement has become another marketing tool for large companies, overshadowing people who’ve dedicated their lives to it,” he explained.

Browsing Paul’s work, Julien came across this Malcom Campbell Bonzer and couldn’t resist. Paul’s ties to the Campbell brothers go back to his days at UWL. “I find it hard to believe people spend that much on a Hayden Shape when you can afford a board from shapers like Malcolm Campbell. He’s the most humble guy and super discreet. This board has a more pronounced double concave, closer to the ones he made in the 70’s. The fins are set at an 18º inclination, and there is a beak in the diamond tail. For the glassing, I used white tinted resin with dried flakes of black resin mixed in.” 

As you can imagine, the flakes create a lot of extra sanding work when the resin finally cures. But just look at the thing!

Word is though, while living in France he claimed he was happier in Australia… such is the permanent dissatisfaction of a Frenchman. And a true master. 

surf session

Hurricane Hermine

As with any good swell, Hermine kept us guessing until the last moment and then showed up with a blank check for fun times. The week before the swell arrived in New York, reports called for 12-14 feet at 10-12 second intervals - Pacific proportion with an Atlantic period and almost impossible to believe.

Aaron Austin

Aaron Austin

Jacques Naude

Jacques Naude

What arrived was not 10 feet, but it was nothing short of spectacular - well overhead waves that touched down on a high tide, easy us in gently with wall-y rollers and occasional chucking sections to keep us on our toes. As the tide dropped out on day one (of three!) the waves started to get bigger, hollower and more technical. It's rare that an Atlantic swell lasts for more than a day, let alone two, but Hermine truly delivered with three days of picture perfect waves in warm water and groomed with perfect offshores. 

With the wild swell report came a sense of trepidation from our beloved servant-protectors. Park rangers and police lined the beach, blaring sirens and shouting "the ocean is closed" through bullhorns, but to no avail. The size and the impossibly perfect conditions were too good to resist and New York surfers turned out to take their share. We even did the responsible thing and paused to take a few photos... 

Jeff Anthony

Jeff Anthony

Jeff Anthony

Jeff Anthony

Aaron Austin

Aaron Austin

Will Warasila

Will Warasila

feature, shaper

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!

shaper, feature

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










feature, shaper

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

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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










surf trip

Michoacán, Mexico

It being Spring and a very long time indeed since we last saw our swim shorts, we recently made a trip to Mexico to find some Pacific waves and pre-season sunshine. Being New Yorkers, we're not above a little base tanning, but a tanning salon is no place for two grown men with surfboards. 

We landed in Guadalajara and picked a line for the Michoacán coast, driving as fast as our feeble rental car could carry us, stopping occasionally to take photos and to sample the ceviche in Tecomán The report had shown the last shreds of a previous swell lingering for a shoulder-high evening session after the long drive. A fresh pulse swung into the coast the next morning and kept up for the next four days, easing slightly for a few days and then picking up again at the tail end of our visit. In short, we scored. We shared a perfect, peeling left point and occasional crunchy rights with a handful of friendly locals and a passing video crew from Vissla. For 10 perfect days.

As the sun began to climb in the sky each morning we would wait for the 'morning sickness' in the water to pass. Once the air had warmed and the wave settled, we would walk towards the point, first across the river mouth, picking our way over round rocks and then through a dense palm forest, littered with fallen coconuts. On some mornings we startled a nervous donkey tied up to a wooden fence by the beach, setting the creature off on a prolonged bray that echoed up the river valley. 

Eventually, we would emerge on the other side of the forest in a shady patch, dropping off water and something to eat after the session. We figured our way out into the water over seaweed-slippery stones and paddled out to the peak, marked by a huge cactus growing on the beach in front of the jungle. Then, for as many hours as our arms lasted, or until the sun had become so hot and high in the grey-blue above that the water offered no comfort, we surfed in glassy, peeling perfection.

Cam Richards - Vissla Team

Cam Richards - Vissla Team

The tiny village by the river mouth was peaceful and friendly, with a few small, family restaurants serving up ceviche, tacos, gringas and quesadillas prepared to perfection.  

Michoacán province has had a troubled and sometimes violent past due to the growing, manufacturing and trafficking of drugs to America, but the area seemed only mildly tense during our stay, with relaxed checkpoints on the roads and occasional patrols to the beach from Federales and even the military.

Almost the only downside on the whole trip (barring an episode with some seemingly undercooked octopus) was a long walk across hot rocks to access the point and the defensive line of bristling Pacific sea urchins waiting just beyond the rocky water entry. One errant step on the way in or out was a costly mistake we had all made several times by the end of the week. The wave was worth every urchin-spine. 

Above: The palm forest and unfinished shacks standing on the beach in front of the point; the wave itself, viewed from above on the curving coastal road of Michoacán.

Below: Local kids playing in the warm lake at the mouth of the river; Cam Richards picking a high line during an evening session. 

Cam Richards - Vissla Team

Cam Richards - Vissla Team










Video

Videos

Our aim with this project is to create original writing and photography based on our journey. Our journal is a place to share notes from the margins of what we're doing. Generally we want to offer something unseen, not just act as a messenger for other people's work.

That said, when something touches us and is somehow left unnoticed, we're very glad to spread the word. Recently we've come across two videos that have left us both frothing.

The first video is a collection of super 8, camcorder and hi-res footage put together by Duncan Campbell, the other half of Campbell Bros Surfboards, who, with his brother Malcolm, invented the bonzer (two long-base, low-profile keel fins near the rails and a regular single fin*). It features style masters Russ Short, Rob Machado, Taylor Knox... and the two brothers themselves.

It can sometimes be an uneasy relationship surfers forge with a storm. We are very lucky to enjoy this tribute to what hurricane Joaquin offered us in the Northeast, but in the same moment we must think of those in the Southern states who have suffered from it. 

Three local surfers, Jeff Anthony, Shane Murphy & Pete Egan spent one of the storm-swell days in Rockaway with cameraman Thomas Brookins. They came back (the very same day!) with some of the best barrel footage we have ever witnessed!

Enjoy:

Spring Playlist

At the Fish Fry last weekend, we noticed a few boards by ex-New Yorker, Christian Boalt, of Token Surfboards. Some really fun looking spoon-y and fish-y boards made an appearance and, although we didn't get to try all of them, the craftsmanship and creativity that had been poured into them was impressive. 

Later on while checking out the Token website, I found this awesome Spring playlist. It pretty much nails the current vibe in New York on the head: relaxed and optimistic about the warm sunny days ahead. Have a listen below.

- Ed