Pipeline Master/Shaper

Buddy and I, both goofy foots, liked the same places, and one of our favorites was a hollow little break called Velzyland. The Kailua surfers frequented this spot since it was the first stop coming from the East Side. We knew all of them from Ala Moana, but even so, a crowd of 10 surfers, while still friendly, was considered massive.

The right at V-Land is more popular than the left. It’s a short, tubular section that ends in a deep-water channel with an easy paddle back out. The left has more sections, is less reliable and is a challenge to get back outside when the ride is over.

One day Dick Brewer paddled out while it was my turn in the water. We had the empty lefts to ourselves and traded waves back and forth. During a lull as we sat waiting for the next set, he asked me how I liked Jock’s board. I said truthfully that it was the best surfboard that Buddy and I had ever ridden. I told him how Jock had generously loaned us his board almost daily for the past month. RB then offered to shape me one of my own. The great Dick Brewer, shaper to the stars – I was stunned to speechlessness.

I ended up following him to Lahaina, Maui where he made me a surfboard that would turn not only my surf consciousness upside down, but the collective world of surfing as well. The board was, for the time, an outrageously short 8’6” in which RB joined a hotdog nose with a full gun tail to create the very first mini-gun. Later this period would become known as the shortboard revolution and that board was its opening shot in Hawai’i.

I brought that board home and immediately showed it to Buddy. He was as jazzed as I was. Everyone who rode it couldn’t believe the freedom this design allowed. Brewer stayed on Maui, swamped with orders from his own team riders and all the others who wanted to jump aboard the new glory train. In all truth, it was the younger guys who were most interested. I remember one big day at Hale’iwa with a strong west swell and Kona winds which are straight offshore there. Jackie Eberle had heard about this new board of mine which was the only one on O’ahu so far.

He jumped off his 10’0” full gun, shoved it at me and said, “Lemme try that thing.”

Half an hour later, he paddled up, shaking his head and pushed it back, “This thing doesn’t paddle for shit, gimme my board back.”

But change was in the air, it was the winter of 1967/68 and nothing would be as it was before. Spring rolled around and small south swells began to appear. The comfortableness and closeness of Ala Moana put life back on a more stable track. Chasing surf in the Country had been hectic, it was unfamiliar ground and wasn’t without some doubt and vexation. Town was home and Ala Mo’s was our snug little spot.

My mini-gun had been glassed very lightly to enhance its performance characteristics, but hard use was taking its toll. I had already patched several large dings caused by collisions with other much stronger boards, but the dents on both top and bottom were unsightly and not fixable.

That board had been my first experience with piece working the construction: purchasing the blank first, getting it shaped and then paying for the glass job separately. It had proved to be very inexpensive compared to buying a complete board from a surf shop. I began to think about getting another, but Maui was far away.

Buddy, meanwhile, had been thinking too. One day, out of the blue, he announced, “Let’s make our own boards.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Buddy had this colossally irreverent attitude towards the established way of doing things. He didn’t believe one had to be a consecrated surfboard builder to make a surfboard. He had it all thought out. First we would strip off the fiberglass from our noseriders which might as well have been dinosaurs and we never rode anyway. Since, in his mind, there wasn’t anything holy about being a shaper, we then would simply shape new boards from our salvaged blanks. Finally, we would do all the glassing ourselves. I could only nod my head in a dazed way.

I had actually seen it done firsthand with RB shaping and John Thurston glassing my 8’6”. Buddy questioned me thoroughly about the entire process, and I was surprised to find that I had paid close enough attention to be able to relate the steps to him. We went down to Fiberglass Hawai’i where its owner, Ken Culler, sold us enough resin and fiberglass to finish our boards. The total cost was about $15 for each board.

Buddy’s father had two sawhorses which we set up in the driveway of their St. Louis Heights home. Buddy went first, using a block plane and a surform tool. Soon his surfboard began to take its new shape. Finishing it off with a block and sandpaper, it sat there ready for glassing. My board soon followed and we laminated them side-by-side on the sawhorses. Buddy had found some Hare Krishna posters of blue, elephant-headed people with six arms and we glassed them under the top coat of glass. The trade winds blowing down from the mountains swept away all the foam dust and the strong resin smell. Several neighbors noticed our labors as well as the ensuing mess, and came by to watch.

A few days later, we had new surfboards to ride. They were 7’6”, shorter and unlike any surfboards anyone had seen before. But they rode like the wind, and the other surfers took note. When I paddled in, a guy in the parking lot offered me $80 cash money for my new board. I quickly took it before he changed his mind. Buddy sold his a couple of days later.

We hunted down some old boards and built more new ones, which we immediately sold to finance the next set. Practically overnight, we found ourselves gainfully employed in a business of our own. With the outrageous mark up we were instantly cash rich. I invested in a heavy-duty power sander to facilitate stripping down the old boards. At 5000 rpm, grinding off the rails then peeling away the old fiberglass was an easy chore. Because there was someone’s new board in the works almost daily, I moved onto my mother’s back porch and we had two production locations going. Building surfboards is a messy endeavor. Buddy’s neighbors wrote him up in the local newspaper’s complaint column, and my mother finally had enough as well.

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