Howard Fukushima, a high-school chum and surf partner had a grandfather who allowed us to use an empty storefront he owned in Wahiawa. It was our first real shop and production increased at the same time as the quality went up. My next investment was a Skil Model 100 planer, and I was completely tooled up. Racks were easily built with scrap lumber, and everything else was available from Fiberglass Hawai’i.
Word spread and there was always some surfer who wanted to get a new surfboard. Soon there was a waiting list. A constant flow of board building sharpened my skills, as any steady practice will do. Eventually the Wahiawa location petered out. The noise, smell and mess irritated the other tenants in Howard’s grandpa’s building, so we had to move. One empty shed or garage or backyard after another served the purpose. A temporary shop was easy to set up and to take down and move.
Probably the biggest help to both Buddy and I in those beginning days was being invited by Chris Green to watch him shape. Chris was a cowboy from Wyoming who showed up in class one day at Kailua High School and jumped right into surfing. He was one of those rare individuals to whom surfing came very easily. In a short time he became adept at it, turning heads at the local surf spots.
His increasing skills led to an interest in board building and he worked for a while at Mickey Lake’s Inter-Island Surf Shop, the premier surfboard factory of the time. Later he became the head shaper at Surf Line Hawai’i, working for Fred Swartz. In the earliest stages of shortboards, Chris’ youthful exuberance and shaping skills meshed perfectly with the innovative nature of the new shapes. Unafraid to experiment and able to test ride everything himself; his boards were the cutting edge of the new era in surfboard design. Buddy and I would spend hours at the Kona Street shop soaking up as much as we could from Chris.
The following year Dick Brewer asked me to move to Kaua’i with him to do some ghost shaping. Working closely with RB improved my shaping by leaps and bounds. As the shapes got better, so did the surfing. Better equipment always means better surfing. As the boards got shorter and more refined, maneuvers and places on the waves that had been impossible before suddenly became the standard. All the boards we made were going to Fred Swartz at Surf Line Hawai’i. When the Hanapepe Surf Shop had finally run its short course, RB and I went back to O’ahu and began working at Surf Line. Chris Green had moved on to the greener pastures of Upcountry Maui. I sanded RB’s boards, but eventually Fred allowed me to make my own signature models to put in his store.
After a few years, Jack Shipley, the head Surf Line salesman and I would move on to start a shop of our own called Lightning Bolt Surf Company. Buddy Dumphy would step into the void at Surf Line Hawai’i and continue to shape at a prolific rate. In his personal life, he was forever going against the grain, always jetting off in a wild and unexpected direction. In the early 1970s when the entire world of surfing was into shortboards, Buddy began making beautiful and functional longboards. Except for the occasional old-timer, a longboard was seldom seen in the lineup of Ala Moana. Buddy would knee paddle out, wearing his characteristic sardonic grin and have a wonderful time riding in that old and graceful way.
If the flow was moving in one direction, it was certain Buddy would be maneuvering along a different current. When everyone had long hair, his was short. Then hairstyles went short and he had the longest, wildest head of hair of anyone we had ever seen. That was just the way he was; contrary to a fault, but in an unassuming and endearing way. I loved and respected the guy and our circle of close friends felt the same. Tragically he was killed while driving his VW van. It was a head-on collision with a confused Japanese tourist driving on the wrong side of the road as Buddy was turning out of a side road in Kahuku. It was just one of those things: fate or destiny, or something like it. The world of surfing lost one of its great artists and an important link in the history of the shortboard revolution.
We all still talk about him, about how he would laugh at anything that made the rest of us boil. Or how he could flip out at the silliest thing, like when he came home and found his sister had scratched one of his blues records. His collection was impressive, many impossible to find recordings imported from Europe, covering the whole field of blues artists, past and present. He took a hammer and smashed each one to pieces because he didn’t want to find that she had scratched another. And he laughed about it afterwards. Those of us who knew him will forever miss Buddy. I’m sure he’s still laughing somewhere.
If you’re interested in more stories from Gerry, check out his Patagonia blog, The Cleanest Line, or his book Surf Is Where You Find It – a hardbound collection of 38 stories with new and vintage photographs.