No matter what job he took, throughout his life, Stretch always came back to making surfboards until it eventually bcame his career. Photo: SR

The Inertia

“The first board I ever made was a stinger swallow single-fin, kind of like what (Larry) Bertlemann was riding at the time. This is 1978,” William “Stretch” Riedel, the innovative shaper behind Stretch Boards, tells me over the phone. Actually, he made two boards. The other one was a 6’6” round pin, single-fin – for a friend of his. Though he was wielding a planer for the first time at 20 years old, it was far from his introduction to the craft.

When Stretch was growing up in Malibu and learning to surf at Third Point, his father, Mike Riedel (also known as “The Noodle”), was a shaper at Velzy-Jacobs. As such, Stretch’s descriptions of his childhood are casually peppered with brushes against the pillars of the shaping world. His dad’s best friend was Tom Morey. Mickey Muños was one of his babysitters. “I spent time in the shop, but that was sweeping up balsa dust, pathetically,” he says.

There was a brief hiatus from surfing when his family moved to Canoga Park and, from age 11 to 15, Stretch found himself landlocked (“those were the motocross years,” he tells me). As soon as Stretch and his brother could drive, though, they would travel all over, from their home break of Malibu, to Rincon and La Conchita in Ventura, to El Capitan in Santa Barbara.

Then, in 1977, they moved to Gilroy. Things were different in the Bay Area. The Santa Cruz surfers turned up their noses at the 6’0” to 6’6” shortboards the Riedel brothers rode. “The smallest board you could get in Santa Cruz was a 6’8” single-fin,“ Stretch explains. “You would get heckled if you were on anything short. Like, ‘Oh, you’re a kneeboarder.’”

It also didn’t help that he and his brother seemed to get all the waves “We could surf pretty good,” he says, on account of the pair surfing virtually every meaningful wave up and down the Southern California coast. “We came to town on the shorter boards and most lineups we kind of dominated, so we were always getting shit.” The Santa Cruz surfers would hurl insults at the brothers in the lineup, calling them “valley kook” or “L.A. kook,” but they didn’t care.

The real problem was when Stretch finally trashed the twin-fins he’d brought up from LA and needed to replace them. “So I was like, ‘Okay, well, I don’t want to ride these big boards. They don’t work,” he tells me. “Bertlemann and Buttons, that’s all going on at this time. We were skaters also, so we were already trying to do skate-style surfing and, on a 6’8” single fin, it was like, ‘This isn’t going to work, so I’m just going to make my own.’”

He bought two blanks at Monterey Bay Fiberglass and took them back to Morgan Hill. His friend had an old, abandoned trailer that they gutted and made some racks for. Really, they just nailed some pieces of wood together and threw a towel over them. “It was ghetto,” laughs Stretch. “We just went for it.” There were barely even any lights in the trailer, just a fluorescent bulb.

He called up his father for advice. “It was a super short conversation,” he says, “Like, ‘Dad, how do you do this?’” The Noodle walked Stretch through the steps, like Velzy had once done for him. He instructed Stretch to make a cardboard flip template, then transfer it to the blank and plane it into the right shape. He’d have to be careful during that part, though, because he didn’t have an electric planer. All he had was a jack plane, a single-bladed hand tool normally used for woodworking. It wasn’t really the right tool for the job, but it would do.

So Stretch went to work, shaping the templates with the jack plane in the hollowed out trailer, under the fluorescent light. He shaped his friend’s board first, in case something went wrong on the first try.

It surprised him how long it took. “I figured ‘this will take me an hour,’” he remembers. “I think I started at noon and ended at midnight. It was like six hours apiece. I just went straight, full on.” By the end of it he was wrung out. “I gotta go home,” he thought. “I think I’m done.”

He brought them over to Santa Cruz to have them glassed at Tony Mikus Fiberglass, where the boards were given an opaque, light-blue tint. I asked Stretch what he thought, when he held the finished piece in his hands for the first time. “I was stoked, but I have pretty high standards,” he replied. “It was like, ‘Okay, well, I hope they work. They’re a little rough.’”

He was still a ways off from becoming a professional, though. “I think I probably had visions of grandeur at first,” he says. “Then I did it and went, ‘Okay, that was gnarly.’”

So, for five or six years after that, he worked a series of other jobs: electrician, boat builder, cabinetmaker, furniture maker. Jobs where he could work with his hands; always building or making something.

All the while, he continued to make boards for himself, and it was only a matter of time before he was finally pulled back in to the world he had inescapably orbited his entire life. Stretch was born to be a shaper.

Editor’s Note: The Inertia’s Cooper Gegan works with well-known shapers to tell the stories of the first boards they created.


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