Dane x Channel Islands… More all-American exceptionalism than Apollo Creed feeding cheeseburgers to a bald eagle at Mt Rushmore. Photo: Maassen
From Tom Curren to Kelly Slater to Dane Reynolds, no single craftsman has been so intimately involved in America’s surfing success. Put it this way, Merrick’s boards have helped win at least 19 world titles (Slater, Curren, Lisa Andersen, Sofia Mulanovich). “It’s a dream to sit on the beach at Pipeline and watch somebody like Kelly,” tells Merrick. “A goal of mine has always been to create tools for guys like Kelly, to help facilitate their vision.” In 2006 Merrick sold his Channel Islands label to snowboard manufacturer Burton, but he still continues to produce new, barrier-pushing design concepts for his well-heeled stable of team riders. He also maintains his own private shaping room in the company factory, pulling out the planer only when inspiration strikes.
Two words: Occy Thumbtail. Rusy and Occy go together like Napoleon and Josephine. Like a lot of shapers, Preisendorfer got his start fixing dings. When he was but a young, San Diego gremlin in the early 1970s he charged 10 bucks a ding. By the end of the decade he launched Music Surfboards, which eventually led to Rusty and the famous R-dot as we know it today. Throughout the end of the ‘80s and into the 21st century his thrusters were considered the pinnacle of high-performance equipment. Eventually Rusty’s interests shifted to developing boards that had a more everyman appeal. “There are needs for people other than the short board customer,” he prophetically pointed out several years ago. judging by the rack in just about every surf shop in the States, he was right.
The godfather of West Coast surfboard construction. Until Martin lost his battle with cancer in 2012, he was a fixture in the Hobie Surfboards shaping factory. Shaping for everybody from Phil Edwards to Rabbit to Tyler Warren, he’s credited with building over 80,000 boards in his lifetime. Known for his gentle, caring nature, he was never too busy to take the time out to talk a little story or show somebody a trick or two of his highly refined trade. “Terry Martin was a master surfboard shaper. Actually it would be fair to call him ‘THE’ master. It is certain that nobody else deserves that title more than he does. Terry shaped surfboards for more than 55 years and made the transitions from both wood boards to foam boards and from longboards to short and back again,” eulogized Corky Carroll last year.
When it comes to leading the pack in progression it’s hard to touch Matt “Mayhem” Biolos. Cutting his teeth in the gritty San Clemente surf ghetto, his shapes first rose to prominence under the feet of pioneering aerialists like Shane Beschen, Shea and Cory Lopez, and Chris Ward. Today it seems like every surfer on both the men’s and women’s world tours are ordering up Biolos’s boards by the batch load. He’s the shaper of choice for Kolohe Andino, julian Wilson, Taj Burrow and too many others to name. But he keeps it real. “They all just come to the shop and hang out,” smirks the man who traces his influences back to early Orange County punk rock days. “The problem is, I can’t ever getting any fuckin’ work done.”
This Endless Summer star gets a little bit of credit for every Pipe barrel ridden from about ‘67 onward. Why? The ‘down rail’ design, which is of his invention, allowed early Pipeline specialists to finally cut the corner on their bottom turns. “We could finally put ourselves in the eye,” said the mystic Hynson. The design innovation took early shortboards and turned them into Corvettes. The down rail’s been called the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of modern surfboard design as it literally unlocked and expanded surfing as we know it today. The creation came about after some heady, if not totally tripped out ‘experimentation’ on Maui.
“If you’re going to go out and risk your life, you better have a board you can trust.” That comes from Greg Long, fresh off of being named the 2012/13 Big Wave World Champion and winning the Surfline Performance awards at the Billabong xxL Big Wave Awards. Chris Christenson shares that same view point, which is part of the reason the two get along so fabulously. Building big-wave guns for the new army of paddle-in surfers, Christenson’s responsible for putting lumber under the feet of luminaries like Long, Grant “Twiggy” Baker, Ian Walsh, Mark Healey and others. In that inner circle of helmet he’s also credited as a key component in the resurgence of paddle-in surfing. “We’re demanding more from our boards today,” says Long, “and Chris gets it completely.”
If you go way back in the annals of American mainland surfboard design, Bob Simmons stands as the progressive, pioneering father. The creator of the original twin-fin, his designs were based off of naval theory, specifically Lindsay Lord’s 1963 book “Architecture of Planing Hulls.” Today his influence is seen in just about every hipster’s quiver as he’s the patriarch of the “mini Simmons” and his concepts are once again back in vogue. “What he had and did for his time was remarkable,” says john Elwell, who was an associate of Simmons in the final years of his life. “Even those that don’t fully understand all that he did and meant over the years universally recognise that, Simmons was way ahead of the pack by light years.”
A Phil Edwards shape remains one of the most sought after boards by collectors around the world. Around 1963 Hobie released a line of his boards, which were among the first “pro models.” He was paid $23 for each one sold, making him one of the first actual pro surfers in the history of the sport. Innovative and creative, he also got into building catamarans, and as the Shortboard Revolution took hold in the mid to late ‘60s he turned more and more to sailing.
Dick Brewer is not only responsible for bringing the world some of the earliest Hawaiian big-wave guns, he also was the catalyst for the Shortboard Revolution. In 1967, Brewer, Bob McTavish and Nat Young found themselves on Maui, hacking down boards, putting some serious vee in the bottoms and foiling the hell out of their fins. That would be plenty to fill up any man’s biography, but the self- proclaimed surfboard guru wasn’t done yet. In the mid-’90s he was also behind various incarnations of Laird Hamilton’s tow boards, primarily built out of balsa.
When it comes to the Pipeline pintail, Arakawa might be the most sought after gunsmith in the Islands. “You pick one up, put it under your arm, you can feel the balance in it immediately,” says jamie O’Brien. “Nothing gets by him, not even the smallest detail. Pick one up and you can just feel how good it’s going to go, you just know.” That kind of surfer/surfboard relationship is key when it comes to places like the North Shore, and Arakawa’s built a reputation and thriving business on it. Every winter when the hordes descend on his small slice of paradise he loads them up with boards by the truckload.