We had just moved out West from out East and had settled in a little town called Seal Beach. We could come to learn over time that not many people knew about Seal Beach but those who did loved it. We had found it on accident while driving up the PCH from Newport to Los Angeles before we knew that the PCH died in Long Beach so that it could make room for the port and San Pedro before coming back to life further north in the South Bay.
When we moved to Seal Beach I could finally expand the board quiver a bit. I had a garage just steps from the sand, a significant change from my apartment in Manhattan where I had to take my surfboards up and down elevators and through city streets in order to hop the train to Long Island or New Jersey. Part of what had been driving me towards shorter boards at that time was just the mere practicality, regardless how it affected the way I surfed. Now I could have different boards for different conditions, or just different frames of mind, surfing something longer or shorter or wider or less finned or old and beat up just because I felt like it. I could even run back up the sand and switch boards if I really wanted to.
I was in the market for a longer board, but didn’t have the budget to just go walk into Harbour and drop two grand on a local classic, plus I’ve always had a thing about finding great used gear, something with a story. The Harbour would have to wait, but I would get it one day. In the meantime I was hitting Craigslist and keeping my eye out on used racks around town.
Still on a high from the newness of moving to SoCal and fulfilling the lifelong dream of living in a small beach town where I could hear the surf from my bed and surf all the time, I found a listing for a handmade 8’6 out in Garden Grove and the pictures looked good. To complete the full aesthetic I had Sublime on repeat so Bradley would be my companion. We took this trip to Garden Grove…
Dude, I’m taking a trip to Garden Grove! I texted a friend back in NYC.
I was a little apprehensive when the guy told me he had made the board himself, but that all went away when I pulled up to his house. In a completely non-descript suburban neighborhood where most houses were impossible to distinguish from one another, this guy stood out – perfectly manicured lawn with impeccable gardens, a restored vintage VW bus parked in the driveway. When we went inside, we jammed for a bit on his handmade guitars before he showed me out to his workshop, the kind of place we all dream of having with tools perfectly organized and a few projects going, the smell of sawdust still in the air although none was to be seen.
This guy was a craftsman, and maybe had just the right amount of OCD, and any worries I had about the board evaporated.
He told me that the guy across the street was a shaper and had helped walk him through this project, so there was some experienced oversight, and you could see that the glassing was outsourced to the same shop that glassed for many of the larger shapers in Orange County. But with age had come wear and tear and shoulder injury necessitated a bit more board for him now.
‘I took it out and caught a few waves. It rides great, but I’m not going out there to just catch a dozen waves, I’m there to surf. You know what I mean?’
A dozen waves sounded pretty good to me, but I just nodded.
At 8’6 the board wasn’t exactly a longboard, but was cut in that classic shape, had a beautiful triple stringer design and faint pin stripes that divided the board into thirds. He had designed his own logo, subtle and understated, of a pelican perched on a pier pylon. There was no name or claim for himself, just the style and perfection that could be seen everywhere in this man’s life. I took the board, haggling just a little on the price, and strapped it to the roof.
In time I would come to know what he meant by ‘being there to surf’. As I grew more fit and more skilled and dialed in my local break, for the first time I would have sessions where I was the guy who seemed to be catching all the waves, the guy always in the right spot who was out before anyone else showed up or stayed out after when it was dark or able to just out paddle people who came to give surfing a try one day.
Eventually I would begrudgingly leave Seal Beach and I would leave that board with a friend who had just moved out West from out East and would be happy to learn where Garden Grove is and maybe just get a dozen waves or so one day. Then he would move on but the board would stay, now a dozen years later that old board with some dings and repairs and a bit of yellow fade and sometimes old wax if it hadn’t been surfed in a while, there for us when we come to town sometimes, living a trippy surfboard existence in a rack of old boards in the back of an old cottage in Venice Beach.
Maybe one day I’ll get it and bring it with me, but it’s a California board living a California board’s life. Getting surfed in Venice and making runs up to county line or sometimes back down to Seal Beach when we visit old friends there. Old friends and old boards and old places where our family grew and we could hear the waves from our bed and just walk down to the sand.