Fish Fry surfboards

"Garage shapers are often at the forefront of board building innovation. Just when it seems like they’ve tried every crazy thing imaginable, they find something new: Foam fins, channels in place of fins, zero rocker… mismatched rails?" Photo: Casey Butler

The Inertia

Richard Kenvin is sitting on the beach in an SD baseball cap, watching as an insulated crowd pulses in chilly, waist-high waves.

He is having “wetsuit issues,” he tells me.

“What kind?” I inquire.

“Well, I left my wetsuit in someone’s car.”

“Ah.” That is an issue.

We are at the 5th Annual New York Fish Fry in Long Beach. The sky, the sea, and the sand are all variations of drab taupe, but that sand is populated by several frisky surfboards. Their fullsuit-clad riders, who are not assigned, gaze upon them lustfully while casually chatting each other up. Even though it’s 10 a.m. on a Saturday and the weather is not-so-grand, the human atmosphere is upbeat.

A saturated, glasses-free Mike Machemer coasts by, saying, “My friend needs some booties,” soliciting anyone’s extras as temporary surf alms.

The beached boards are many different colors, many different dimensions, but mostly one shape. They’re all available for test-drives. As long as you’ve got a wetsuit, which Richard now does. The sense of community is tangible on Lindell Boulevard on the outskirts of New York City.

Last night, a dryer SMASH faction hosted The Surfers Studio: From The Garage To The Grill with Richard, photographer Ryan Field, and shaper Josh Hall.

Surfers Studio is basically a riff off Inside the Actors Studio,” Mike said. “Tyler (Breuer) is a huge fan. I think the idea came out of doing Q&As with filmmakers at the [New York Surf] Film Festival–these really amazing, at times emotional interviews with people who really share parts of themselves–and how inspiring that can be.”


From The Garage was like a really excellent, surf-centric college lecture in which booze was not frowned upon. It also happened to be held in the Tribeca Grand Hotel, which, well, I’ll just say it’s fancy.

Richard and Josh laid their extensive historical and shaping knowledge before an intimate audience of about thirty. Ryan’s projected photos were incredible, but I got the feeling that even they don’t do these boards justice. They’re just so extraordinary and… unique. How many things in the world can truly claim uniqueness? That tri-fin fish certainly can. It is bizarre and amazing. Ryan Burch’s “Lord Bords” are, essentially, rough-shaped, mega short blocks of finless foam. They seemed absurd until I thought, “Huh. That looks remarkably like a boogie board, and people seem pretty fond of those.” Later, I saw a clip of Burch absolutely killing it on little more than a Lord Bord. I’m talking airs, 360s, and proper hacks with barely any finnage to speak of.

The unusual boards were interspersed with some nasty wipeouts. It’s my understanding that most people consider fish too wobbly for bigger waves, but, ironically, kneeboarder Steve Lis developed the fish in the mid-60s as a way to safely escape San Diego’s heavier barrels.

While quirky and perhaps imperfectly hewn garage boards may now seem the stuff of hipsters, Richard reminded us that they originally filled voids. People simply wanted to “build boards that weren’t on the shelves,” he said. And, as he later added, “infinite tweaking” is possible if we set aside preconceived notions of how surfboards should look and behave. “Everything’s constantly evolving.”

“It kind of taps into that punk culture,” Mike said of DIY shaping. “Are you gonna wait to get a record deal? Or are you just going to put out your own record? The fish is a prime example of that.”

Garage shapers are often at the forefront of board building innovation. Just when it seems like they’ve tried every crazy thing imaginable, they find something new: Foam fins, channels in place of fins, zero rocker… mismatched rails? Carl Ekstrom’s eccentric-yet-brilliant designs fall into this category. Richard shared a great story about Ekstrom: He shaped nothing for a full 30 years, then suddenly became re-inspired. He’s now in his 70s and building unabashedly futuristic, asymmetrical prototypes. I think I heard that Kelly and Dane have a couple of his boards. He works in his garage.

And just going back to punks and hipsters for a second, I don’t think it’s outrageous to claim that there’s this anti-sentimental, anti-heritage denial of fringe boards on the part of mainstream surfing. There’s a stigma attached to both boards that are considered throw-backs and those that are considered too edgy. There’s even a stigma attached to the fish. Anyway, watching this seminar of sorts, I realized that, while I’m still a thruster devotee, I really want to surf an alaia. And a boogie board. At least once. And I’m not ashamed to say it.

Listening to Richard and Josh, and now at the Fish Fry, I am most struck by the fact that these guys are the very definition of watermen. They are so head over heels with the act of riding waves and, really, exploring and experimenting with every possible aspect of that. And the best part about it is, it’s contagious.

Next week, SMASH presents The Surfers Studio: An Evening With Mark Kelly, Managing Director of Global Surf Industries. In other words, the rebuttal. For more information on SMASH and tickets, visit SMASHsurf.com.


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